Combat Helmet Setup (Visual Guide For Military)

How to set up your combat helmet isn't always covered in boot camp and unless your unit has specific SOP's you might be on your own there as well! We are fortunate enough to have several members of our team with extensive Special Operations experience who help put this helmet set up guide together! As with any gear, set up will be user-specific, but we will cover common set-ups for the basic "grunt" up to "I have way too much stuff on my ballistic helmet!"

First rule:Always look cool! While most books, shows, and videos about the community make most of us cringe the CBS show SEAL Team must have had a little help as the helmets are mostly set-up as they would be in combat in the teams.

Navy SEAL helmet setup

Issued Helmet or Aftermarket?

The majority of you are working with an issued ballistic helmet that typically falls under the ACH/ECH or MICH category. This means you have the bare basics in pads, chin-strap, and a night vision shroud.

This is where you need to ask yourself, what do I need? Do you need the ability to mount a light on your helmet? Are you wearing the helmet for extended periods? Is most of the use with the helmet happening at night with NVGs? Do I need to use communications headsets in conjunction with my helmet?

An issued helmet can be upgraded to accommodate the majority of these needs and we will cover that, but you may be into it cost wise about the same as an aftermarket helmet at that point depending on accessory choices.


(Photo-Viper Modernization Kit from (

If you need to use full comms headsets with your helmet and are not issued a high-cut type helmet, we would highly suggest an aftermarket option. We have an awesome guide here on some of those options as well.

ACH/ECH Initial Setup

One of a soldier's most fundamental tasks is setting up his advanced combat helmet (ACH). When considering all the standard operating procedures involved with the military, it's hard to believe there are no hard and fast rules for an ACH setup. However, we have a few experienced infantrymen at Hard Head Veterans to walk you through the process.

As part of your ACH setup, your helmet will need a few essential elements:

  1. Pads: Most issued ballistic helmets will have a five- or seven-pad system. It often takes a little maneuvering to get a suitable setup. If you're looking for an even more comfortable fit, check out our guide outlining the best tactical helmet pads.
  2. Harness and chinstrap: All standard-issue helmets come with a harness and chinstrap. Most helmets contain an H-Harness system suitable for light-duty use, but it can quickly become ineffective when adding extra accessories or equipment. For more options on a better harness system, explore our guide.

If you're a soldier, you already know the demands of wearing your helmet for extended periods. That's why it's essential to add a little comfort to your headgear if you can deal with the extra weight, especially for cushioning.

ATE or FAST Helmet Initial Setup

Normally a high-cut style helmet from a good manufacturer will already include their top tier suspension and pad systems, but if they don't you can revert to the same guides above to improve them. Be sure to follow the manufactures recommendations on set-up to get the best protection and fit.  For example, our ATE Ballistic GEN2 helmet has a pad system that is designed to be layered.


The "Grunt" Helmet Setup

 Most of you have heard of the acronym KISS, but for those who haven't it stands for "Keep It Simple Stupid"! If you are a grunt, you most likely already know that you tend to walk for long periods in full kit, carry lots of heavy things, and seldom take your helmet off. All important things to consider when you are deciding what to stick on your brain protector. 

Shroud Accessories

This one is pretty easy, as the only thing that's going on your shroud is an NVG mount. There are other things you can stick there, but if you keep that mount attached you probably won't have to tell Sgt. Pecker or equivalent why you lost a 400 dollar piece of metal.

Sgt. pecker face palm

Got Rails?

If you are using an ACH helmet you most likely don't have rails, but there is a solution! You can upgrade your ACH to add em with this product ( or the many other options out there. If you are using an aftermarket helmet, it will already have some type of rail affixed for mounting accessories.

  1. You might already have a light on your primary weapon system, but there is that ole saying that "one is none, and two is one" thing. Lots of options when it comes to helmet-mounted lights,
  2. More and more units are starting to implement comms for everyone, and if you are stuck with an ACH or mid-cut helmet we are sorry. Get some gel pads for the headset and try to enjoy the squeeze. 3M Gel pads
  3. If you, however, have an above the ear cut helmet, get yourself some adapters to mount directly on the rail.

Your ACH/ECH might not have velcro already added as most aftermarket helmets do. If it doesn't, the easy solution is to add some!

  1. Strobes make it easy for the fly-boys not to accidentally mistake you for the bad guys, or even other ground elements. We like the  Programmable with their Programming Interface Module.
  2. Morale patches are vital, but more importantly blood types, and call-signs can be very helpful.
  3. Counter-weight pouches are typically used to off-set the weight of NVG's, but many make for great storage of batteries, chem lights, and other small necessities. The rear of the helmet also makes for a good place to velcro in a tourniquet.

The "cool guy" Helmet Setup (Common helmet set-ups found across Special Operations communities to include Navy SEAL's, SWCC's, Green Berets, Ranger's, MARSOC and PJ's)

Army Ranger Helmet

 We wish our helmets looked this cool!  

We will be the first to admit that a tactical helmet setup with all the goodies looks pretty cool. We will also be the first to admit that lots of that stuff sucks to have to wear and should be avoided when possible. Cameras, nods, headsets, strobes, lights, etc all add weight.

Rails and Accessories

Rails are the easiest way to attach needed accessories to your helmet. Most aftermarket headgear contains rails, but if yours does not, we have a solution for you.

Here are a few accessories you might want to consider adding depending on your duties:

  • Light: A helmet light comes in handy for a number of different options, and also as a back up to your weapon light. 
  • Gel pads: This extra cushioning provides an added comfort layer. 
  • Adapters: These help you integrate hearing protection or comms directly onto your rail.
  • Strobes: This programmable lighting system facilitates troop-to-troop identification.
  • Patches: In addition to identification, morale patches are essential to the military culture and heritage.
  • Counter-weight patches: These are perfect for storing chem lights, batteries and other small necessities.
  • Helmet covers: Covers can be valuable for managing your comms setup or adding a particular color without using spray paint.

Remember, as cool as these accessories look on your headgear, they add weight. If you can avoid them, it's probably a good idea.


Night vision shroud mount 

Rail Set-Ups

In the early days of the GWOT, the majority of American Special Operations did not have high-cut helmets or helmets with rails on them. (It's the main reason Hard Head Veterans was even started!) Thankfully that has changed to the majority having them now.

  1. You guessed it, lights are the first thing we will mention. Check out the light guide above for more information. Important considerations are the color and if you need an IR light. Many prefer a very small red admin light mounted to the helmet, but there are options for blue, IR and of course white.
  2. Everyone is on comms, adapters make them more comfortable! (
  3. Cameras are another accessory weighing down helmets that more and more SF units are asking guys to wear. They are used for evidence, training/de-briefs, and of course to document the user's experiences. Here are the most common ones. (

Shell Accessories

Look at all this space to add more stuff! You might be seeing a pattern here with our negative view on more stuff, but unfortunately, it is the nature of the beast at times.

 1. Again, strobes make marking and identification easy. We like the Programmable with their Programming Interface Module.

2. Morale patches are vital as always but don't forget blood types, and call-signs. IR patches are especially helpful under NVGs. (

 IR patch for helmet

3. Counter-weight pouches are typically used to off-set the weight of NVG's, but many make for great storage of batteries, chem lights, and other small necessities. The rear of the helmet also makes for a good place to velcro in a tourniquet. Don't forgot items such as strobes can pull double duty as a counter-weight as well. 

Strobe as counter-weight for helmet

4. Helmet covers can double tap to help with wire management, as a counter-weight, and of course to change the color of a helmet without having to rattle can it.



Helmet cover 

Final Considerations

Sgt. Pecker Moons out Goons out

Sgt. Pecker will be the first to tell you that the tactical helmet setup should always be specific to yourself and your team. Your 11B (Army Infantryman) setup is going to be much different than someone doing VBSS (vessel boarding search and seizure). Try not to be too quick to add accessories, and if you do add something and find you don't need it, don't be afraid to pull it off! All that stuff adds pounds you may not need. Check our helmet weight calculator to see exactly what you mean, you may be surprised how everything adds up.

The most critical thing to remember before you go outfitting your helmet is that each setup should be specific to your team's duties and functions. If you have something unnecessary on your helmet, take it off — it's probably not worth the extra weight.

It's also important to consider that a well-equipped aftermarket helmet can cost about the same as a standard-issue helmet with all the upgrades and accessories.