Head protection has been a necessity throughout history. Intended to protect the skull and brain from traumatic injury, helmets have been made from a variety of materials that have evolved over time to meet the expected threats encountered. As always, the largest driving factor in the evolution of protective headwear has been warfare. So understanding the aspects of today’s modern helmets, and what delineates two of the top competitors on the market, is often a core question to those considering a future purchase. This editorial is a continuation on an informative series written by High Ground Media to provide insight to the consumer on body armor, and also the materials commonly used in tactical nylon gear.
Disclaimer: The purpose of this editorial is to inform the consumer on the similarities and differences between the two top competing helmets on the market. It is not intended to sway the consumer into purchasing one brand over the other. Both Ops Core and Team Wendy are companies that have been manufacturing quality products for decades and are regarded as the “best” in their respective fields. Ultimately, the consumer is left to choose for themselves which helmet best meets their needs and addresses any threats they expect to encounter.
Who Are They?
Gentex Corporation (parent company to Ops Core) has a 125+ year history in manufacturing some of the most technologically advanced head and noise protection systems for civilians, the space industry, and the armed forces. In late 2011, Gentex acquired Ops Core—a leader in tactical helmet systems for the military. Gentex uses Chesapeake Testing (a division of NTS located in Belcamp, MD) for testing to NIJ testing standards, ICS Laboratories for technical testing, and Intertek for quality assurance to ensure its products are manufactured to a high standard. Gentex has offices in Carbondale, PA (headquarters), Boston, MA; Rancho Cucamonga, CA; Manchester, NH; Letchworth Garden City, Herts, U.K. (European Headquarters); and Stranraer, Scotland. The history of Gentex was featured in a 2014 PBS documentary focusing on its numerous contributions to safety and industry.
Team Wendy is an Avon Protection company, and since 1997 the company has been dedicated to producing world-leading head protection. Formed after the owner’s daughter Wendy Moore was tragically killed in a skiing accident and associated traumatic brain injury, the company has worked tirelessly to offer both tactical and civilian sports head protection. In 2020, Team Wendy was purchased by Avon to offer an extensive product line in respiratory and head protection products. Team Wendy is based in Cleveland, OH and also utilizes the NTS chain of facilties for verificiation of NIJ standards.
A (Brief) History of Helmets
Helmets have been part of conflicts going back to antiquity, often involving primitive and simple materials (leather, bone, animal hides) intent on protecting the head from blunt forces (as well as for ceremonial purposes or to be visually intimidating). The earliest recorded usage of manufactured helmets was around the 2500BC period from the Sumerian and Akkadian civilizations. By 1700 BC Mycenaean Greeks had improved the rudimentary manufacturing to bring forward the first examples of Bronze Age helmets. But this was still an individually-manufactured process via smithing, and often extremely time and labor intensive. The Assyrians perfected this process by introducing the first concept in mass-production for helmets around 900BC that were largely focused on supporting infantry and other conventional forces and protected the wearer from the sword or spear. Some examples of helmets during this ancient time period include: the Corinthian helmet, the Roman Galea, the Great Helm, and the Armet Helm.
The application of helmets, and their design, remained largely unchanged until the 17th century. This was due to the amount of financing necessary to manufacture helmets being constrained to the ruling parties at the time, and the form of warfare remaining unchanged throughout much of the Dark Ages. The only aspect that did change was the material used in the helmet that evolved to address rising advents in metallurgy and iron. It was after the 17th century that the use of helmets on the battlefield dropped sharply due to the onset of gunpowder, which enabled select soldiers (typically musketeers) to propel a cast bullet at sufficient speed over relative short distances to penetrate most armor. The appearance of grenadiers on the battlefield also meant that threats no longer were limited to swords or projectiles—but now shrapnel as well.
By the 18th century, weapons on the battlefield had evolved into repeating firearms. And as warfare evolved, the need to protect soldiers was forced to rise as well. By the time WWI took place, helmets were predominantly leather for early aviators while the current mild-steel formed helmets of the day consisted of three dominant designs:
- Adrian helmet – A French army helmet introduced in 1915 that was considered one of the first influences to the modern-day combat helmet.
- Brodie helmet/M1917 – Made from Hatfield steel, the singular design used by both British and American forces was made from multiple segments into a singular helmet.
- Stahlhelm – Developed by Dr. Friedrich Schwerd in 1915 following an extensive study on head wounds suffered from the trench warfare. This design was carried over by the Germans through WWII.
Following the close of WWI, with the expansion efforts taken by US and European nations (to include the Hoover Dam and Golden Gate Bridge), the need for helmets to protect more than just soldiers spread into the construction industry. But these helmets were inconsistent in materials and effectiveness. That respite was short lived however, when by the opening of WWII the need to protect against bullets, shrapnel, and debris had extended the variance of helmets into two main designs:
- M1 helmet – Issued to US troops in 1941 and made from Hatfield steel, the M1 remained standard issue until 1985.
- Stahlhelm (1933) – Updated by German authorities in anticipation for its European operations, the Stahlhelm underwent a number of revisions between 1933 and 1945 in an attempt to address current battlefield threats.
Todays’ modern helmet design came about out of the Personal Armor System for Ground Troops (PASGT) program in 1983, which drew influence from the M1 design and the 1933 Stahlhelm. These more modern helmets blended technology and ballistic fabrics to offer lighter, and more efficient helmet protection. From that singular PASGT program, as wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rose to prominence in the 90s and early 2000s and missions/threats evolved, so too did helmet design and the number of companies. Today, two of the top companies manufacturing helmets for professional and civilian use are Ops Core and Team Wendy.
Helmet Ballistic Ratings Explained
As explained in a previous post, HGM explored the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) and its current ranking system for body armor (per Standard 0101.06). HGM also explored current materials incorporated into body armor, which are similar to those used in helmets today. The NIJ is regarded as the defacto standard bearer for the armor industry, and a majority of current helmets on the market are “tested to meet” NIJ Level IIIA threats using the predating NIJ testing method for helmets. On its blog, Team Wendy further explaines how this rating system applies to helmets (specifically theirs) and the advanced standards that today’s modern helmets are designed to address. However, helmets are not “certified” by the NIJ for the express reason that it is extremely difficult to get a consistent, measurable result of a bullet striking a curved surface (such as on the crown of a helmet). Thus, manufacturers generally send helmets to NIJ-approved or third-party testing labratories to measure performance against NIJ Standard 0101.06 (thus leading to “tested to meet” product descriptions).
Head to Head: Ops Core vs Team Wendy
The purpose of this article will be to demonstrate the similarities and differences between two of the market’s leading producers of ballistic helmets. Both Ops Core and Team Wendy are considered apex manufacturers given their longstanding history, R&D, technology, and support to law enforcement and the military. In this publication we will be examining the Ops Core FAST XR (featured left) and the Team Wendy EXFIL Ballistic (featured right). As of this post, the most recent release in the Ops Core FAST line of helmets is the XR and RF1 models. Both helmets are part of the FAST series (started in 2017), and tested at Chesapeake Testing to meet NIJ IIIA threats as well as those more commonly experienced overseas (such as the 7.62×39 projectile). The current ballistic helmet models offered by Team Wendy are the EXFIL Ballistic and the EXFIL Ballistic SL, and both meet NIJ IIIA threats. The EXFIL Ballistic was initially released in 2014, and the EXFIL Ballsitic SL was released four years later as newer and lighter materials were introduced.
The similarities between the XR and EXFIL Ballistic illustrate a common base approach in helmet design. Both the XR and EXFIL Ballistic share a 2-part, non-split ballistic design whereby the exterior shell and shock absorbing liner are a singular form to assist in the mitigation and dispersal of impact and blunt strike forces.
The XR and EXFIL Ballistic have similar NVG shrouds whereby the standard 3-hole mount includes a removable mount interface made from CNC aluminum to interchange with any number of common interfaces. One slight difference between the shrouds is the XR has integrated bungee retention lanyards, whereas the EXFIL Ballistic has bungee retention lanyards included in the accessory kit (but not permanently fixed to the helm.
The weight of both helmets is also very similar, with only a few ounces separating the difference between the two. The XR measures between 2.68 and 3.11 pounds (size dependent), while the EXFIL Ballistic measures between 2.6 and 2.75 pounds (size dependent).
Fragmentation and blunt force testing is often done at a variety of angles and over various points of the helmet. The XR is tested to mitigate fragmentation at 17gr V50 ≥ 3250 ft/s, and has a blunt force protection of <150 G’s at 10 ft/s (per ACH CO/PD 05-04: 2007). Similarly, the EXFIL Ballistic is tested to meet a fragmentation threat of 17gr V50 ≥ 2400 ft/s, and has a blunt force protection of <110 G’s at 10 ft/s (per AR/PD 10-02: 2013).
Both the XR and EXFIL Ballistic have numerous hook-and-loop panels around the crown of the helmet for attaching identification panels, unit/morale patches, lights, or other accessories. On the XR there are six panels of hook-and-loop (predominantly around the sides and rear), whereas the EXFIL Ballistic has four (that are generally larger/longer).
Differences between the XR and EXFIL Ballistic illustrate the more minute differences between Ops Core and Team Wendy, although the two helmet models are not exact comparisons (the EXFIL is closer to the Ops Core FAST SF released in 2018 and both having the same NIJ IIIA rating). When it comes to the materials of the ballistic shell (and respective protection level), the XR is the latest helmet to enter the market from Ops Core (released in 2022) and is made from a hybrid composite of carbon (for hardness), unidirectional polyethylene, and woven Aramid (a type of Kevlar material by the DuPont company). This gives the XR a rated NIJ IIIA protection level, but also has been tested to defeat 7.62×39 lead-core projectiles as well. In contrast, the EXFIL Ballistic has been in production since 2014, and uses a proprietary mix of polyethylene and other fibers to give it a NIJ IIIA protection rating.
Sizing between the XR and EXFIL Ballistic differs as both companies try to address the variances in head circumferences. Ops Core has a wider variance in helmet sizing, offering four individual sizes (between Medium to 2XL) that, combined with the three different thicknesses of foam padding, allow for more specific sizing to be selected to the individual. Oppositely, the EXFIL Ballistic only comes in two sizes (Medium to Large, and XL) so those near the ends of the sizing spectrum may find difficulty in having a more comfortable fit.
How helmets design and implement a retention/suspension system is also the underlying difference between the XR and EXFIL Ballistic. The XR features Ops Core’s Low Profile OCC Dial that enables the wearer to use a dial at the back of the head that loosens/tightens the surrounding polymer retention bands with nylon comfort sleeves. In comparison, the EXFIL Ballistic uses a Boltless CAM FIT™ with micro-adjustable dial to allow the wearer to rotate for adjustment. As the dial turns, a coated stainless steel cable and low-friction guides tighten/loosen as desired. The internal padding material between the Ops Core and EXFIL Ballistic demonstrate further differences in retention/suspension. The XR utilizes Ops Core’s Lux Liner (made from a type of foam) with 10 interior comfort pads to cradle the head. These pads attach via hook-and-loop and are interchangeable with multiple thicknesses to find the most desirable fit. Additionally, the Lux Liner has vent holes in the shell to mitigate and dispel some of the retained heat inside the helmet while worn. In contrast, the EXFIL Ballistic uses a Zorbium® foam liner with 16 interior comfort pads that attach via hook-and-loop, and are interchangeable with two thicknesses and can be repositioned to find the most desired fit. This proprietary polyurethane impact and comfort foam is also used in the standard issue U.S. Army and Marine Corps 7-Pad System.
Both the XR and EXFIL Ballistic have different accessory rail systems that are intended to address a multitude of needs whereby the user can attach lights, cameras, hearing protection and more. Ops Core has its skeletonized Arc Rail, which gives a low-profile rail with a slotted shuttle design for attaching picatinny or accessory rail segments, or proprietary-designed “headborne” Ops Core accessories. In contrast, the EXFIL Ballistic has the EXFIL Rail 3.0, which is 25% lighter than the EXFIL Rail 2.0, and compatible with all EXFIL accessories, to offer a slotted shuttle design with integrated picatinny rail segment ready for attaching accessories.
Finally, cost is also another delineating factor between the XR ($2,100) and the EXFIL Ballistic ($1,205.08) which reflects the differences in underlying R&D, core materials, protection rating, padding/suspension, and time on the market/availability.
With these considerations, the goal of this editorial was not to promote one product over the other—both Ops Core and Team Wendy are quality manufacturers. But the point was to illustrate to the reader the qualities of both products, and enable the consumer to reach their own conclusion on which helmet best fits their individualistic needs and the expected threat profile they could encounter.
This editorial is written by High Ground Media as means to inform readership. Partnering with HGM; Gentex and Team Wendy are world-recognized leader in protective helmet design and manufacturing at recognized NIJ levels. Gentex and Team Wendy ballistic armor is manufactured here in the United States, tested to NIJ standards, and available to all end-users where local laws do not restrict civilian ownership.
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