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Updated December 2021
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Buying guide for Best hard hats

Whether you’re a miner digging coal and minerals out of the ground to fuel our modern economy, a construction worker building the infrastructure for it, or an industrial employee in that modern economy, you need to protect yourself from on-the-job head injuries. Those injuries can leave you bedridden for years or even the rest of your life. Sometimes, they can be fatal.

Obviously, you need a hard hat to protect your head. But which one?

Choosing a hard hat involves more than simply finding the cheapest one around as you need to put some careful thought and consideration into it. There are plenty of brand names to choose from, along with differing styles, colors, and fittings.

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If your hard hat sustains any cracks or dents, it’s time for a new one.

ANSI hard hat requirements

Hard hat production is regulated by the Occupational Safety and Health Organization, or OSHA. Certain standards must be met by all hard hats. These standards adhere to requirements established by the American National Standards Institute, or ANSI.

ANSI has divided hard hats into two types: Type 1 and Type 2. Type 1 hard hats protect the top of the head. Type 2 hard hats protect the top and sides of the head. Type 1 hard hats are common in North America, while the Type 2 hats are common in Europe.

ANSI has also established three hard hat classes: E, G, and C. Each class represents the degree of protection the hat provides from electrical shock. All hard hats fall into one of these three categories.

  • Class C (Conductive) hard hats provide no protection against electrical shock.
  • Class G (General) hard hats have been tested at 2,200 volts for one minute with three milliamps maximum current leakage, meaning very little electricity will get through.
  • Class E (Electrical) hard hats have been tested at 20,000 volts for three minutes with nine milliamps maximum current leakage. They have also been tested at 30,000 volts with no burn-through detected.

Hard hat materials

A variety of materials are used in hard hat manufacture. They vary from low-cost, lightweight plastics to immensely strong but high-priced composites. The following list is organized from cheapest to most expensive.

HDPE (High-density polyethylene)

This is technically a thermoplastic polymer. Hard hats are molded and therefore easy and inexpensive to make. They often come in a wide variety of colors. The main advantage of HDPE is a high strength:weight ratio. They have good impact resistance but do not comply with electrical standards. They’re susceptible to UV and other environmental contaminants, so they lack the long-term durability of other hard hats.

ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene)

This is another thermoplastic polymer. Again, it’s easy to form into the required shape, and it's also easy to machine after. It’s not quite as light as HDPE, but in addition to its high-impact protection, it meets most electrical standards. As a result, it’s the most popular of hard hat materials.


Glass strands are used to reinforce sheets of plastic webbing, which are bonded together in layers using resin. The result is a very hard shell. As you might guess, impact protection is excellent, but unfortunately, electrical protection is not. They are a little heavier than ABS.

Phenolic Resins

Also called Phenol-Formaldehyde Resins, these are synthetic polymers used in a wide variety of products, from pool balls to brake pads. The resin itself is hard but brittle, so it’s laminated with paper, fiberglass, or carbon fiber to give it strength. Phenolic resin hard hats have superb resistance to impact but only moderate electrical protection – generally Type G. They weigh about the same as fiberglass models.

Carbon Fiber (also called Graphite)

This is an organic polymer made of carbon strands almost a thin as spider silk. Weight for weight, it’s five times stronger than steel. The strands are woven into fabric sheets and laminated. Carbon fiber hard hats are light yet incredibly tough, and they offer excellent electrical protection.

Hard hat styles

Cap style

Cap-style hard hats are like baseball caps made from hard material. They have a brim in front to shade your eyes from the sun. Due to their shape, these hats are narrower from side to side than from front to back, making it easier to wear them in tight spaces.

Full-brim style

These hard hats have a brim all the way around the hat. They protect the neck and ears from sunlight and provide an extra margin of impact safety from falling objects. Full-brim hard hats work well in open areas but aren’t recommended for tight quarters, such as underground mines.

Hard hat fit

Some hard hats ride high on your head. They give you a lot of room between your head and the hat, so air can get in and circulate. However, they also feel top-heavy, as if they may fall off at any moment.

Other hard hats sit too low, which doesn’t provide any cushioning space between your head and the helmet if something were to fall on your head.

The best fit is one that is snug enough to keep the hat from moving when you suddenly shake your head or give a hard nod. The amount of room between the webbing that sits on your head and the shell of the hat should be at least one finger thick — possibly a little more. Two fingers of space would be too much, though, so don’t go that high.

"The importance of wearing a hard hat cannot be overemphasized. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells us that over 1,000 people died in 2012 from head injuries at work. "

Hard hat color

Modern hard hats are available in a wide variety of colors, from basic black to white to bronze. There are multiple shades of fluorescent eye-catching colors, camouflage, and even patriotic designs available.

There are some “hydro-dipped” hats that can be colored and patterned just about any way you want. You can put logos on them, emblazon your name in fancy fonts, or have them glow in the dark.

Over the years, certain hard hat colors have become associated with certain positions or duties.

White: Managers, foremen, and supervisors

Brown: Welders

Green: Safety inspectors

Yellow: General laborers

Blue: Carpenters

Orange: Road crews

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means.  It’s a general guideline of commonly accepted usage.

Hard hat prices

Regardless of what price you pay, all hard hats have to meet the ANSI standards. However, for a little more at checkout time, you can get a little more in your hard hat.


The low price range, around $9 to $15, gives you a basic hard hat. You can get it in a multitude of colors, but aside from that, there’s nothing fancy about it.


These hard hats cost from $20 to $30. Hats here may be made of premium phenolic materials that not only meet but exceed the ANSI standards. Many hats in this price range also have replaceable sweatbands and pads.


For $50, you’ll find hard hats made of fiberglass. Many are electrically safer and have chin straps for added stability. Some hydro-dipped hard hats are also in this category.

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Did you know?
Hard hats are required by law on most construction sites, around heavy equipment, and in mines.


  • Make sure the hard hat you choose has slots for safety glasses or other face protection, if that’s required on your job.
  • Inspect your hard hat daily before going to work. Check it for cracks and dents as well as damage from UV rays.
  • Discard your hard hat in case of impact. Every impact beyond the casual bump could weaken the shell, leaving you more vulnerable to injury in the event of another impact.
  • Never wear your hard hat backward or sideways. Hard hats can’t protect you properly if you wear them incorrectly.
  • Don’t wear a cap of any kind under your hard hat. You’ll distort the fit, and it will be subject to being dislodged in the event of an impact.
  • Don’t leave your hard hat in the sunlight. Over time, the UV rays from the sun can make it brittle. UV damage can be detected by the discoloration it causes.
  • Don’t store items in your hard hat while wearing it. Any impact would drive the shell down on your items — and the items into your skull. This is a big no-no.
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Hard hats are lighter than most people think. The average hard hat weighs less than 15 ounces.


Q. Can a hard hat fit be adjusted while you’re wearing it, or do you have to take it off to change the fit?
Both options are available. Some hats allow you to make knob adjustments while you’re wearing them. These hats tend to cost more, but the convenience may be worth it. Other hats must be taken off to be adjusted.

Q. What is the difference between a hard hat with four-point suspension and a hard hat with six-point suspension?
“Suspension” refers to the webbing that separates your head from the helmet. A hat with six-point suspension has more points of contact with your head and therefore greater stability. A hard hat with four-point suspension has only four points of contact with your head. The latter are generally less expensive.

Q. Should I get a hard hat with replaceable sweatbands? If so, why?
Hard hats without replaceable sweatbands have a noticeable downside to them. Consider the fact that you’ll be wearing your hard hat to work every day for years to come. Over time, your sweat will not only build up, but the salt in that sweat will eat away at the material. Eventually, it will fall apart. If it can’t be replaced, your hard hat won’t fit anymore, and you’ll have to replace the whole thing. Therefore, buying a hard hat with replaceable sweatbands can save you money.

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