Last updated
Various helmets for numerous activities, with different head-protection goals. A martial-arts helmet protects from kicks and punches to the face. A hard hat protects from objects dropped on it. Bicycle, ski, and motorcycle helmets protect the head from impacts on hard surfaces. A selection of various helmets.png
Various helmets for numerous activities, with different head-protection goals. A martial-arts helmet protects from kicks and punches to the face. A hard hat protects from objects dropped on it. Bicycle, ski, and motorcycle helmets protect the head from impacts on hard surfaces.
French cyclist Jeremy Leveau wearing a bicycle helmet Tour du Doubs 2014 - Pontarlier - Jeremy Leveau.jpg
French cyclist Jérémy Leveau wearing a bicycle helmet

A helmet is a form of protective gear worn to protect the head. More specifically, a helmet complements the skull in protecting the human brain. Ceremonial or symbolic helmets (e.g., a policeman's helmet in the United Kingdom) without protective function are sometimes worn. Soldiers wear combat helmets, often made from Kevlar or other lightweight synthetic fibers.


The word helmet is derived from helm, an Old English word for a protective head covering. [1]

Helmets are used for recreational activities and sports (e.g., jockeys in horse racing, American football, ice hockey, cricket, baseball, camogie, hurling and rock climbing); dangerous work activities such as construction, mining, riot police, military aviation, and in transportation (e.g. motorcycle helmets and bicycle helmets). Since the 1990s, most helmets are made from resin or plastic, which may be reinforced with fibers such as aramids.


Some British gamekeepers during the 18th and 19th centuries wore helmets made of straw bound together with cut bramble. [2] Europeans in the tropics often wore the pith helmet, developed in the mid-19th century and made of pith or cork.

Military applications in the 19th–20th centuries saw a number of leather helmets, particularly among aviators and tank crews in the early 20th century. In the early days of the automobile, some motorists also adopted this style of headgear, and early football helmets were also made of leather. In World War II, American, Soviet, German, Italian and French flight crews wore leather helmets, the German pilots disguising theirs under a beret before disposing of both and switching to cloth caps.[ when? ] The era of the First and Second World Wars also saw a resurgence of metal military helmets, most notably the Brodie helmet and the Stahlhelm.

Modern helmets have a much wider range of applications, including helmets adapted to the specific needs of many athletic pursuits and work environments, and these helmets very often incorporate plastics and other synthetic materials for their light weight and shock absorption capabilities. Some types of synthetic fibers used to make helmets in the 21st century include aramid fibers, such as Kevlar and Twaron. [3] Race car helmets include a head and neck support system that keeps the helmet (and head) attached to the body in severe collisions. [4]

Helmet types

A reenactor wearing a sallet Knight-in-Shining-Armour.jpg
A reenactor wearing a sallet
A depiction of Owain Glyndwr, prince of Wales in full armour riding his stallion on his great seal Owain Glyndwr Siegel 2.jpg
A depiction of Owain Glyndŵr, prince of Wales in full armour riding his stallion on his great seal

Helmets of many different types have developed over time. Most early helmets had military uses, though some may have had more ceremonial than combat applications.

Two important helmet types to develop in antiquity were the Corinthian helmet and the Roman galea.

During the Middle Ages, many different military helmets and some ceremonial helmets were developed, almost all being metal. Some of the more important medieval developments included the great helm, the bascinet, the frog-mouth helm, and the armet.

The great seal of Owain Glyndŵr (c. 1359 – c. 1415) depicts the prince of Wales & his stallion wearing full armour, they both wear protective headgear with Owain's gold dragon mounted on top. This would have been impractical in battle, so therefore these would have been ceremonial. [5]

In the 19th century, more materials were incorporated, namely leather, felt and pith. The pith helmet and the leather pickelhaube were important 19th century developments. The greatest expansion in the variety of forms and composition of helmets, however, took place in the 20th century, with the development of highly specialized helmets for a multitude of athletic and professional applications, as well as the advent of modern plastics. During World War I, the French army developed the Adrian helmet, the British developed the Brodie helmet, and the Germans produced the Stahlhelm.

A motocross helmet showing the elongated visor and chin bar MotoX Helmet.jpg
A motocross helmet showing the elongated visor and chin bar

Flight helmets were also developed throughout the 20th century. A multitude of athletic helmets, including football helmets, batting helmets, cricket helmets, bicycle helmets, motorcycle helmets and racing helmets, were also developed in the 20th century.

Helmets since the mid-20th century have often incorporated lightweight plastics and other synthetic materials, and their use has become highly specialized. Some important recent developments include the French SPECTRA helmet, Spanish MARTE helmet or the American PASGT (commonly called "Kevlar" by U.S. troops) and Advanced Combat Helmet, or ACH.


As the coat of arms was originally designed to distinguish noble combatants on the battlefield or in a tournament, even while covered in armour, it is not surprising that heraldic elements constantly incorporated the shield and the helmet, these often being the most visible parts of a knight's military equipment.

The practice of indicating peerage through the display of barred or grilled helmets first appeared around 1587-1615, [6] and the heraldic convention of displaying helmets of rank in the United Kingdom, which came into vogue around Stuart times, is as follows: [7]

Earlier rolls of arms reveal, however, that early heraldic helmets were depicted in a manner faithful to the styles in actual military or tournament use at the time. [8]

See also

Related Research Articles

Kevlar Heat-resistant and strong aromatic polyamide fiber

Kevlar (para-aramid) is a heat-resistant and strong synthetic fiber, related to other aramids such as Nomex and Technora. Developed by Stephanie Kwolek at DuPont in 1965, the high-strength material was first used commercially in the early 1970s as a replacement for steel in racing tires. It is typically spun into ropes or fabric sheets that can be used as such, or as an ingredient in composite material components.


The Pickelhaube, also Pickelhelm, is a spiked helmet worn in the 19th and 20th centuries by Prussian and German military, firefighters and police. Although typically associated with the Prussian Army, which adopted it in 1842–43, the helmet was widely imitated by other armies during that period. It is still worn today as part of ceremonial wear in the militaries of certain countries, such as Sweden, Chile, and Colombia.

Motorcycle personal protective equipment

To improve motorcycle safety many countries mandate the wearing of personal protective equipment such as protective clothing and helmets. Protective clothing may include certain types of jackets, gloves, boots, and pants. Jackets meant for motorcyclists are typically made of leather or specialized man-made fabrics like cordura or Kevlar. These jackets typically include padding on the elbow, spine, and shoulder regions. This was once quite bulky, but modern technology and materials have made it unobtrusive. Gloves are generally made of leather or Kevlar and some include carbon fiber knuckle protection. Boots, especially those for sport riding, include reinforcement and plastic caps on the ankle and toe areas. Pants are usually leather, cordura, or Kevlar. Except for helmets, none of these items are required by law in any state in the USA, or in any part of the UK but are recommended by many of those who ride.

Motorcycle helmet

A motorcycle helmet is a type of helmet used by motorcycle riders. Motorcycle helmets contribute to motorcycle safety by protecting the rider's head in the event of an impact. They reduce the risk of head injury by 69% and the risk of death by 42%. Their use is required by law in many countries.

Zylon Chemical compound

Zylon is a trademarked name for a range of thermoset liquid-crystalline polyoxazole. This synthetic polymer material was invented and developed by SRI International in the 1980s and manufactured by Toyobo. In generic usage, the fiber is referred to as PBO.

Twaron is a para-aramid. It is a heat-resistant and strong synthetic fibre developed in the early 1970s by the Dutch company Akzo Nobel's division Enka BV, later Akzo Industrial Fibers. The research name of the para-aramid fibre was originally Fiber X, but it was soon called Arenka. Although the Dutch para-aramid fiber was developed only a little later than DuPont's Kevlar, the introduction of Twaron as a commercial product came much later than Kevlar due to financial problems at the AKZO company in the 1970s.

Sallet War helmet

The sallet was a combat helmet that replaced the bascinet in Italy, western and northern Europe and Hungary during the mid-15th century. In Italy, France and England the armet helmet was also popular, but in Germany the sallet became almost universal.

Bascinet Medieval European open-faced military helmet

The bascinet – also bassinet, basinet, or bazineto – was a Medieval European open-faced military helmet. It evolved from a type of iron or steel skullcap, but had a more pointed apex to the skull, and it extended downwards at the rear and sides to afford protection for the neck. A mail curtain was usually attached to the lower edge of the helmet to protect the throat, neck and shoulders. A visor was often employed from ca. 1330 to protect the exposed face. Early in the fifteenth century, the camail began to be replaced by a plate metal gorget, giving rise to the so-called "great bascinet".

<i>Stahlhelm</i> German steel helmet for soldiers

The Stahlhelm is a specific type of German military headgear made of steel, which is primarily intended to provide protection against shrapnel and fragments of grenades. The term Stahlhelm refers both to a generic steel helmet and more specifically to the distinctive German military design.

Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops

Personnel Armor System for Ground Troops is a combat helmet and ballistic vest that was used by the United States military from the early 1980s until the mid-2000s, when the helmet and vest were succeeded by the Lightweight Helmet (LWH), Modular Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH), and Interceptor Body Armor (IBA) respectively.

M1 helmet

The M1 helmet is a combat helmet that was used by the U.S. military from World War II until 1985, when it was succeeded by the PASGT helmet. The M1 helmet has become an icon of the US military, with its design inspiring other militaries around the world.

Pith helmet Lightweight cloth-covered helmet

The pith helmet also known as the safari helmet, sun helmet, topee, sola topee, topi, or salacot, is a lightweight cloth-covered helmet made of sholapith. The pith helmet is an adaptation of the native salakot headgear of the Philippines.

Body armor

Body armor, also known as body armour, personal armor/armour, or a suit/coat of armour, is protective clothing designed to absorb or deflect physical attacks. Historically used to protect military personnel, today it is also used by various types of police, private security guards or bodyguards, and occasionally ordinary civilians. Today there are two main types: regular non-plated body armor for moderate to substantial protection, and hard-plate reinforced body armor for maximum protection, such as used by combat soldiers.

Great helm European helmet, 1220 to 1350 AD

The great helm or heaume, also called pot helm, bucket helm and barrel helm, is a helmet of the High Middle Ages which arose in the late twelfth century in the context of the Crusades and remained in use until the fourteenth century. The barreled style was used by knights in most European armies between about 1220 to 1350 AD and evolved into the frog-mouth helm to be primarily used during jousting contests.

Modular Integrated Communications Helmet

The Modular Integrated Communications Helmet (MICH) is a U.S. combat helmet and one of several used by the U.S. military. It was developed by the United States Army Soldier Systems Center to be the next generation of protective combat helmets for use by the U.S. Army.

Combat helmet

A combat helmet or battle helmet is a type of helmet, a piece of personal armor designed specifically to protect the head during combat.

Helmet (heraldry)

In heraldic achievements, the helmet or helm is situated above the shield and bears the torse and crest. The style of helmet displayed varies according to rank and social status, and these styles developed over time, in step with the development of actual military helmets. In some traditions, especially German and Nordic heraldry, two or three helmets may be used in a single achievement of arms, each representing a fief to which the bearer has a right. For this reason, the helmets and crests in German and Nordic arms are considered to be essential to the coat of arms and are never separated from it.

Usage of personal protective equipment

The use of personal protective equipment (PPE) is inherent in the theory of universal precaution, which requires specialized clothing or equipment for the protection of individuals from hazard. The term is defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), which is responsible for PPE regulation, as the "equipment that protects employees from serious injury or illness resulting from contact with chemical, radiological, physical, electrical, mechanical, or other hazards." While there are common forms of PPEs such as gloves, eye shields, and respirators, the standard set in the OSHA definition indicates a wide coverage. This means that PPE involves a sizable range of equipment. There are several ways to classify them such as how gears could be physiological or environmental. The following list, however, sorts personal protective equipment according to function and body area.

Portuguese M1940 helmet

The M1940 helmet was the primary combat helmet used by the Armed Forces of Portugal, from the 1940s to the late 1960s. The M1940-63 and the M1940-63 Paratrooper are improved versions of the M1940 helmet that were introduced in the 1960s and are still in limited use. Besides being used by the Armed Forces, the M1940 and the M1940-63 helmets were also used by the Portuguese Security Forces, including the Public Security Police and the National Republican Guard (GNR). This helmet was largely replaced by the PASGT in the early 1990s.

Gefechtshelm M92 German combat helmet

The Gefechtshelm M92 is the standard issue combat helmet of the Bundeswehr, first fielded in 1992 as a replacement of earlier M1956 steel helmets that were previously used during the Cold War. It is made from Aramid composite materials and is used by all branches of the Bundeswehr.


  1. "helmet (n.)". etymonline.com.
  2. Hopkins, Harry (1985). The Long Affray. London: Secker & Warburg. ISBN   0-436-20102-X.
  3. "Materials of Motorcycle Helmets".
  4. Lance, Rachel (6 December 2020). "A Race Car Crash from Hell—and the Science That Saved Its Driver". Wired . Retrieved 7 December 2020.
  5. http://www.gutorglyn.net/gutoswales/llun.php?src=diddordeb_sel_og.jpg&teitl=Great+Seal+of+Owain+Glynd%C5%B5r+&testun=The+reverse+of+the+Great+Seal+of+Owain+Glynd%C5%B5r.
  6. Fox-Davies, Arthur Charles; Johnston, Graham (2004) [1909]. A Complete Guide to Heraldry. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing. ISBN   1-4179-0630-8. P. 319.
  7. Fox-Davies, P. 303.
  8. Fox-Davies, P. 316.