Selecting a MIG welding helmet should be driven primarily by one factor: safety. A quality helmet is essential for shielding your eyes, face and neck from the high heat and bright light generated by the welding process, and skimping on a good helmet could result in permanent vision damage or severe burns.
However, the helmet also must be comfortable enough that you’ll wear it, which is where personal preference comes into play. Depending on how frequently you weld and the length of each welding session, the helmet’s fit, weight and style are important considerations when deciding which model to buy.
Things to Look For in the Best MIG Welding Helmets
Your welding helmet should provide adequate protection in any environment while also meeting your needs in these key areas.
As mentioned above, welding can be a high-risk activity due to the heat and light involved. Your helmet should meet the current ANSI Z87.1-2003 safety standard, which means the helmet stood up to the following criteria:
- Withstood high-velocity impact tests
- Met specified shade and switching speeds in extreme temperatures (23ºF to 131ºF)
- Provided total infrared and ultraviolet light filtering at every shade setting
- Tests checking if they provide 100% infrared and ultraviolet filtering on every shade setting
Not all helmets sold today meet these stringent requirements, so be sure that your choice specifically states that it adheres to the Z87+ or ANSI Z87.1-2003 standards. Products simply labeled “ANSI Approved” may only meet an earlier, less safe version of the ANSI guidelines.
Welding helmets use two primary lens types: variable shade and single fixed shade.
Single fixed shade lenses tend to cost less than variable shade lenses, but they lack the convenience of variable shades, as they require you to manually raise and lower your helmet in different settings. However, if you’re new to welding or your timing is off, you could run the risk of exposure to arc flashes before your helmet is secured. Single fixes lens helmets are best for welders who generally use only one type of material and one welding process. Their default shade level is usually set at #10.
Variable shade lens helmets include auto-darkening filters and an electronic lens. When the lens is deactivated, the shade level is set at a #3 or #4, which allows users to easily see through it. When you start welding, sensors in the helmet detect the changes in light and automatically darken the shade level to a range of #9 to #13. Because they don’t require you to constantly raise and lower the helmet, variable shade lenses can reduce neck strain and minimize the risk of inadvertent exposure to the welding arc.
Lens Reaction Time
Lens reaction time indicates how quickly the lens adjusts its shade level. Reaction time can have a significant impact on a helmet’s price, with more expensive helmets boasting much quicker reaction times. Times vary from 1/3,600 of a second for budget-friendly helmets to 1/20,000 of a second for professional-grade models. The main advantage of quicker reaction time is a noticeable reduction in eye fatigue, particularly if you expect to weld for long periods of time without a break.
Variable shade lenses may be powered via a combination of internal solar panels and various battery types. Some helmets use lithium batteries, which offer long life but can be costly to replace. Other helmets use more common AAA batteries, which are cheap and widely available, but provide only about 2,000 hours of welding time on average. Variable shade helmets with solar assist panels require intermittent charging through extended exposure to direct sunlight.
The more sensors a variable shade helmet has, the better the coverage (and the more expensive it will be). Hobby level welding helmets will usually have 2 sensors, while you can expect to have 4 sensors for professional grade helmets.
Ideally, your welding helmet will be as light as possible, which reduces the strain on your neck and enhances your comfort while working. You might be surprised by the difference a few ounces can make after a long day of welding.
Because you’ll be wearing your helmet for hours at a stretch, you’ll want it to be comfortable. Check to be sure that the helmet you choose uses more than one band to evenly distribute the helmet’s weight to prevent stress points. It should also be well-padded at your brow and the back of your neck. Shells made of thin plastic tend to be the most comfortable, but the helmet will also need to be strong enough to repel high heat, sparks and molten material.
Best MIG Welding Helmets: Our Top 5 Picks
With dozens of models on the market to choose from, it’s not unusual to feel overwhelmed by your options. We’ve done the homework for you to narrow the list down to the following five models, which reflect the highest-performing helmets in safety, comfort and convenience.
Whatever welding type you do or how long your sessions run, the 3M Speedglas Welding Helmet is the premier model for beginners and professionals alike. The variable shade lens automatically detects welding arcs and darkens in a lightning-quick 0.1 milliseconds to save you time and protect your eyes from infrared radiation and UV rays. The helmet also includes adjustable-shade windows on either side of the helmet to enhance your peripheral line of sight.
The helmet’s ergonomic design and padded interior straps provide maximum comfort for extended welding sessions. Oversized knobs make it easy to adjust the helmet’s settings without removing your gloves.
- Viewing area: 73 x 107 mm + side windows
- Auto Darkening Lens Classification: 1/1/1 and TrueView
- Switching time: 0.1 milliseconds at 23°C
- Delay control: 40-800 milliseconds
- Power supply: Two replaceable Cr2030 3V lithium batteries
- Warranty: Three years
- Full protection against infrared radiation and UV rays
- Large main viewing window with ample side windows
- Designed to match the natural contours of the human head
- Long battery life
- Exhaust vent reduces heat and humidity to prevent fogging
- Shade can be locked in light or dark state
- Adjustable interior straps and headband ensure maximum comfort
- Doesn’t include solar assist panels
- High cost
Lincoln Electric VIKING 3350 Welding Helmet, $333 and up
The Lincoln Electric VIKING 3350 Welding Helmet is packed with features that earned it a well-deserved spot on our top five list. Its innovative 4C lens technology provides a sharper, clearer field of vision in four main areas: clarity (Optical Clarity 1/1/1/1), color (real color view), carat (light weight) and cut (even shade from every angle). The helmet includes multiple lenses, a comfort-enhancing bandana to wear underneath and its own carrying bag.
The pivoting design allows for freedom of movement without impeding your work, and adjustable pads and straps can be customized to fit your head for excellent comfort.
- Viewing area: 95 mm x 85 mm
- Auto Darkening Lens Classification: 1/1/1/1 optical clarity rating
- Switching time: 1/25,000 sec
- Delay control: 0.1 ms – 1.0 sec
- Power supply: 1 CR2450 replaceable battery
- Battery life: 2,000 hours
- Warranty: Three years
- 4C lens technology
- Highest 1/1/1/1 optical clarity of all models on our list
- Expansive viewing window
- Adjustable pads and straps give it a custom fit
- Includes all essential lenses, helmet bag and bandana
- Comes in a wide range of colors and styles
- Somewhat heavy (nearly four pounds)
- Moderately expensive
If weight is one of your most important considerations when choosing a welding helmet, the Miller Electric Digital Elite is the way to go. At just over a pound, this model is far lighter than any of the others on our list, allowing you to weld for hours without fatigue or soreness to hold you back.
ClearLight lens technology allows more colors of the visible light spectrum to penetrate the lens so you see clearer, more natural tones, while four independent arc sensors provide superior lens response for all types of welding jobs. In addition to Weld, Cut and Grind modes, the Miller Digital Elite also includes “X-Mode,” which uses electromagnetic technology to eliminate sunlight interference and maintain arc detection even if the sensors are blocked.
- Viewing area: 9.22 sq. in.
- Switching time: 1/20,000 sec
- Delay control: Yes
- Low Battery Indicator: Yes
- Weight: 1.13 pounds
- Warranty: Three years
- Includes four operating modes and four arc sensors
- Comes with five outside cover lenses, two inside cover lenses, magnifying lens holder and carrying bag
- Extremely lightweight
- Wide viewing window
- Hood occasionally comes down unexpectedly
- Modestly-sized viewing area
This well-rounded model from Jackson Safety has it all: high ratings for optical clarity; variable shade ranging from #9 to #13 to shield your eyes during welding; sensitivity and delay settings for various welding environments and task durations; and an adjustable internal band to ensure a comfortable fit.
The lightweight plastic shell is just 1.24 pounds, yet durable enough to withstand impact and protect your face and neck from the intense light and heat generated during the welding process. The curved front cover plate is designed to reduce fogging and prevent heat buildup inside the helmet.
- Viewing area: 96 x 68.5 mm
- Auto Darkening Lens Classification: 1/1/1/1
- Switching time: 0.15 ms
- Delay control: Yes
- Power supply: Solar cell
- Weight: 1.24 pounds
- Warranty: Five years
- Variable shade range
- Excellent optical clarity
- 1/1/1/1 optical clarity with Balder technology
- Three interior knobs for adjusting shade, sensitivity and delay
- Longest warranty of any model reviewed
- Solar powered only
- Does not include grind mode
With a price tag that won’t break the bank, the Hobart Impact Welding Helmet is the perfect choice for the welder on a budget. The impact-resistant nylon shell is both lightweight and high-quality to protect you from the hazards of welding, and the auto-darkening lens responds within 1/25,000 of a second once it detects an arc or flash. The adjustable headgear with gel pad provides a custom fit for hours of comfortable use.
- Viewing area: 7.05 sq. in.
- Switching time: 1/25,000 sec
- Delay control: 0.1-1.0 sec
- Power supply: 1 replaceable lithium ion battery
- Weight: 1.27 pounds
- Warranty: Two years
- Very affordable price (the lowest on our list)
- Variable shade range (#8 to #13, with #3 light shade)
- Adjustable settings
- Lens cover frame is difficult to take off and put back on
- Short warranty time
Frequently Asked Questions
How should I store my helmet?
To ensure continued performance, helmets should be stored away from heat or moisture and in their original packaging or included carrying bag if possible. Keep it in a location where it’s unlikely to fall or experience other impacts.
What are the advantages of auto-darkening helmets?
Auto-darkening welding helmets use liquid crystals, light sensors and electronics paired with a special lens to change from a moderate to a dark tint almost instantaneously—literally faster than the blink of an eye. This technology allows you adequate light to position the electrode or wire feed gun on your work without needing to manually flip the helmet down before striking an arc. Additionally, since the tint is created electronically, it adjusts precisely to specific welding types and environments for maximum protection.
How big should my viewing area be?
Along with lens quality, viewing area size is one of the most important aspects of welding helmet design. An ample viewing area allows the welder to work easily in tight spaces with high levels of accuracy, so be sure the helmet you select gives you a sufficient field of view for the types of jobs you’ll be doing.
How many sensors should my helmet include? Entry-level models typically include two light sensors that control the darkening of the lens. Helmets with three or four sensors will be more responsive to arcs and provide more accurate levels of shade for different job types and work environments.
With so many choices on the market, it can be hard to figure out which welding helmet will work best for you, which is why we’ve narrowed the field to five of the very best models out there. While each of them has its own unique combination of features and design, any of them will serve you well in your welding pursuits.