Tactical Helmet Truth: the humble Brain Bucket

The RDX tactical helmet cover from RE Factor.
July 17, 2021
Categories:Arms and Armor

One could argue that a tactical helmet is any form of head protection worn to…well, protect your head. That holds true whether your platoon is assaulting a mud-brick compound or people are throwing bricks at your head. However, there is more to it than that, particularly when you look at ballistic protection (if any), helmet accessory modularity, and comfort.

Most all of those considerations depend on intended use and budget.

A well-dressed brain bucket. This one is worn by @lilithorion in an image from @triple_feed (q.v.).

A well-dressed brain bucket. This one is worn by @lilithorion in an image from @triple_feed (q.v.).

Improved technology, better materials, and vastly more capable manufacturing processes (in no small part due to two decades of war) have significantly improved the protective capabilities and comfort of the tactical helmet. It has served to remove helmets from an often-military/occasionally-LEO realm and put them into a much more accessible place. What would once have been considered an expensive, high-end combat helmet is now available to the everyday first responder and everyman responsible citizen alike.

They certainly beat the brain buckets they’re using in protests overseas, though we absolutely laud their creativity.

Tactical helmet, homemade riot style

Hopefully, that’s why you’re reading this. We’ll try to make this article something that helps you identify what you might and might not need, how accessories do (or don’t) work together, and what some of the helmet cognoscenti have done to their brain buckets!

This is a work in progress and will be frequently updated. If you don’t see what you need, or you’d like further clarification, check back. Leave a comment with questions and observations.

Special Forces helmet deployed

What is a Tactical Helmet?

In the military/firearms/LE world, “tactical helmet” is the term used to indicate head production worn during combat operations or their relative law enforcement equivalent. It is often referred to as a “lid”, “brain bucket”, or just “bucket”.

More often than not it indicates a ballistic helmet rather than a bump helmet, though sometimes it’s used interchangeably (which is unfortunate, as we’ll explain).

Riot helmet accessories: @ChrisTranFiveOh

A tactical helmet set up by one of our friends initially for duty use, then later worn at great length violent unrest in a large metropolitan city. Read on for further details regarding this particular ballistic helmet and lineup of helmet accessories.

There are those who opine the first tactical helmets were akin to the Brodie and Adrian helmets of WWI iconology, but the Triarii (Roman Triarii, not Nealen-style future war Triarri) might dispute that.

Roman helmet with transverse crest

A roman helmet with transverse crest, from the HBO series Rome.

It’s important to note the difference between a ballistic helmet and a bump helmet.

The former is rated for armor protection* and should stop a bullet. That’s what most people wear most of the time if they think they might get shot at or blown up.

The latter is just to protect your noggin from blunt force trauma.**

They can be used in both permissive- and non-permissive environments, and are used for everything from technical rescue operations to skydiving and skateboarding to providing a platform for attaching NVGs while hunting or driving at night. Sometimes they’re worn solely to mount ear-pro, camera, or lights…all of which can also be attached to a ballistic helmet.

Sometimes it keeps the rain outta your face. (Though not at all well.)

WWI helmets

The following is neither. It’s a shameless plug for the silly idea Lord Chillycock had of making a Viking helmet out of Multicam Black Cordura.

Homemade viking helmet sewn out of MC Black.

Lord Ser Ryon Chillycock‘s hand-sewn Viking helmet in MultiCam black. Will it protect your head? Maybe from a sunburn. But it will support a night vision device and strobe! (As long as you don’t move too fast.)


Tactical Helmet Accessories


Before getting your lid all jocked up (in fact, before buying your lid), there are some questions that should be answered.

1. What is the “mission”, i.e. intended use?

• Keep a bullet from splashing your brains on the wall?

• Protect your skull from falling debris and thrown objects?

• Staged at home in case of unlikely need?

• Staged in vehicle as a contingency for likely need?

• Regular wear as a part of daily job description?

Tactical helmet and well-considered helmet accessories.

This example further detailed from above is a Gentex helmet, jocked up with kit from TNVC, Unity Tactical, Surefire, Thyrm, Otto Engineering, and Galvion Solutions. Not tagged in this image are Spiritus Systems and 4D Tactical. Read a full explanation below.

2. What enhancements will be necessary, i.e. mandatory, to successfully conduct your mission?

• Gas mask?

• Night vision device?

• Communication device?

Examples of a variety of accessory options available for Ops Core helmets (including a ballistic mandible)

Examples of a variety of accessory options available for Ops Core helmets (including a ballistic mandible)

3. What accessories or modular features will enhance your ability to successfully conduct your mission?

• A light?

• A strobe?

• An ability to accommodate range-style eyepro?

• Comms headset friendly?

• A ballistic mandible?

Some helmets are “cut” (i.e. shaped) to be more friendly toward (and comfortable wearing with) radio headsets ad other implements. Others are set up with rails and the like to mount accessors. Some accessories will fit most any helmet.

Some are useful. Some are pure Mall Ninja.

One example of the former is the are the First Spear Helmet Covers discussed on 2 Cent Tac. can help with camouflage, mounting accessories, securing accessories, and offer other advantages as well. Face shields, illumination tools, and earpro (hearing protection) are others that fall in the useful category.

Find tactical and bump helmets at Tactical Sh!t online: after you do your research.




Tactical Helmet Lights and Light Mounts


1. Echo Arms Velcro Light Mount Review

by Alex Ko (@Notorious_Nocorium), Via Insta

Sometimes helmets have limited available rail real estate for mounting lights. A common example of this scenario is when you’re running ear protection that mounts to the upper rails via 3M Peltor ARC Rail Mounts or Unity Tactical MARKs (Modular Attach Rail Kit).

Thyrm VariArcs…won’t work with these setups, as the ear pro mounts are situated where the VariArc would go. A viable option definitely worth considering is the Echo Arms series of Velcro mounts.

Echo Arms sells a M-Lok compatible Velcro backed polymer plate. These are available in a few configurations ranging from just the plate itself, to the plate + a picatinny rail, or the plate with a low profile single CR123 cell light body compatible with Surefire Mini Scout Light components.

Echo Arms helmet light mounting option, from a review by Alex Ko.

Here you will see two of Echo Arms’ available options: The Fast Attach Plate with their Low Profile Light Body and the Fast Attach Plate with the Surefire Mini Scout Pro (M340V model).

Echo Arms Fast Attach Plate + Low Profile Light Body

• The Fast Attach Plate + Low Profile Light Body is an elegantly simple solution. It allows you to mount a light with minimal hardware relatively inexpensively. All that you need to add is any compatible single CR123 Surefire Mini Scout/E-Series Light Heads, and a Surefire compatible clicky tail cap.

Echo Arms Fast Attach Plate with the Surefire Mini Scout Pro using the Pro's included M-Lok attachment.

Another combo that I’m excited about is combining the EchoArms Fast Attach Plate with the Surefire Mini Scout Pro using the Pro’s included M-Lok attachment. This allowed me to mount the light extremely flush to the shell of the helmet, significantly reducing the light’s snag hazard potential.

The Echo Arms Fast Attach Plates are just an all around great solution that allows you to still securely mount a decent light to your helmet utilizing the Velcro loop present on modern helmets.

Echo Arms tactical helmet accessory mounting kit.

This isn’t done yet.

We haven’t gotten close to addressing everything yet, so stand by. We’ll be talking about other useful accessories at a later date. We’ll also be looking at some other uses for a good helmet.

There are some good ones out there.

Beer straw helmet accessory

Some helmet accessories are purely for convenience, of course…which doesn’t make ’em a Bad Thing at all! 📷 unknown.


Safer Noggins Nowadays

Helmets have come a long way from the steel pot helmets of yesteryear. New composites and accessory mounting has enabled the helmet to be a platform for so much more than keeping you from scrambling your brain. Everything from mounting night vision, strobes to alert people of friendlies in the area, to flashlights and all manner of recording systems are becoming the norm.

Check back frequently, this is an ongoing project that will feature several squared away contributors.

*Though not as well as body armor, which in the US is regulated by the NIJ and actually has a tested Compliant Armor List. You don’t get the same sort of information about your helmet, so caveat emptor! 

**This could be from enemy action or debris kicked up by a really bad storm.


Thoughts on Ballistic Helmets

Appendix 1: Individual officer purchased ballistic helmet (@christranfiveoh).

Riot helmets during unrest (foreground has ballistic protection)

Foreground: ballistic helmet accessorized for use during “mostly peaceful protests”, visor lowered. 📷 Antifa.

Lid Logistics: A Quick Rundown of Helmet Accessories for Today’s Police Officer

by Chris Tran

When I first got on with my department in 2006, I was issued a plethora of riot gear items to include a surplus greasy PASGT helmet and face shield. With an ill-fitted cloth helmet cover, sweat-infused leather suspension system and raggedy chinstrap, I was outfitted as well as my department deemed acceptable for the time.

Flash forward a few years, and I decided that I was the only one to take care of me. On the recommendation of my friend Chip Lasky of Unity Tactical fame, I bought a Gentex TBH-II for work. Here it is in its current configuration with accessories I deemed necessary for my application as a patrol-level officer that is often on the riot line and working numerous parades/protests/demonstrations.

  1. Gentex TBH-II MC Gentex is OpsCore’s parent company, this is basically the same thing as their FAST helmet at almost 50% of the price.
  2. TNVC MOHAWK. This houses a battery pack for my NVGs for when I LARP on the weekends, and also serves as a counterbalance for the…
  3. Galvion BATLSKIN face shield.
  4. Spiritus Systems LIDSNAKE to hide/protect the battery lead for my NVGs (TNVC SENTINELS).
  5. Surefire X300 with a legacy Unity Tactical EXO that protects the wings from accidental activation.
  6. THYRM Variarc attaches the X300 to the Opscore ARC Rails and allows me to rotate the light 360 degrees to illuminate the task at hand.
  7. OTTO Engineering NoizeBarrier Range SAs.
  8. 4D Tactical Zero G Deluxe Pads

What do you use on yours? Any better/other ideas that will help someone or keep them better protected?



Find helmets and helmet accessories on Optics Planet.


A Note about Riot Helmets

A riot helmet is not a ballistic helmet. They are not “bulletproof”. A ballistic helmet, however, can be a riot helmet. It depends upon how it’s configured and used.

Then there is the “field expedient” or DIY riot helmet.

DIY riot helmets in Kiev

DIY riot helmets (and armor) in Kiev, Ukraine. 📷 unknown


Riot helmet classification

A riot helmet classification profile from the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) more than 40 years ago.


More from the Maesters!




Echo Arms: https://echoarms.com/, @echoarms.

Nocorium: https://nocorium.com/, @notorious_nocorium





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