When you’re choosing an auto-darkening welding helmet, you need to opt for something very reliable. The purpose of this type of helmet is to keep your eyes safe from the light of the arc. A reliable auto-darkening helmet would have highly responsive arc sensors that detect the arc and immediately darken the lens, so you don’t get flashed. If you can’t rely on the helmet to auto-darken properly, you may as well get a passive helmet. Although it’s more of a hassle, at least your eyes will be protected.
That’s why I rounded up the best auto-darkening welding helmets for the job, so you can weld away without worrying about your eyesight. At the same time, you can forget about the hassle of lifting your passive helmet up every time you need to look at your work. And the best part is that they’re all solar-powered. This means they will charge from the arc, so you don’t have to buy batteries all the time.
Since the “industrial quality” welding helmets can cost up to $600, I’ll present to you the best professional, mid-range, and budget-friendly helmets on the market. Depending on how much you earn from welding, as well as whether you’re a professional or a weekend warrior, you can choose which auto-darkening helmet is the right fit for you.
Best Mid-Range: Lincoln Electric VIKING 3350
This auto-darkening welding helmet is impressive all-around. The Lincoln Electric 3350 features a 12.5-inch lens, with 4C display technology really gives off a true-color picture with an optical clarity rating of 1/1/1/1, so your eyes will never get tired from welding. The shade range is a standard 5-13 with a shade 4 in light state. The 4 arc sensors have a reaction time of 1:25,000th of a second, which is fast enough for your eyes not to detect the arc flash. The Lincoln Electric is quite comfortable thanks to the patented X6 headgear, which uses 6 contact points to distribute the weight evenly. However, the main tightening ratchet might get flimsy after a few months. My favorite thing about this welding helmet is the external grind mode button.
Best Budget Pick: YESWELDER, EH-091XL
Although it costs only a third of the price of the Lincoln Electric VIKING 3350, this Yeswelder auto-darkening welding helmet has the same features and more. The 14.8” lens is the biggest you can get for the money and it also has a true color display with a perfect 1/1/1/1 optical clarity rating. The shade range is 4-13 with a shade 3 light state. The reaction time of its 4 arc sensors is 1:30,000 sec. All of the control dials are on the left outer side of the helmet. Plus, the dials are big enough for you to adjust them with gloves on. Although the headgear is surprisingly comfortable, it’s not very durable and you might have to replace it after a month or so.
Best Professional Helmet: 3M Speedglas 9100 with ADF 9100XXi
A classic when it comes to welding helmets, the 3M Speedglas looks pretty sleek, feels comfortable to wear, and has amazing features. The silver panel in the front has buttons that let you choose between grind mode and your presets. You can create the presets from the easy-to-use control board on the inside of the 3M Speedglas. The display is really improved compared to their older models and provides a true-color picture. There are two side windows for a full panoramic view, which you can shut if you need to. The “Grab & Go” feature will automatically turn the helmet off if you leave it down for a while, while it will automatically turn on when you pick it back up. This will really extend battery life. Lastly, the ergonomic fit of the 3M Speedglas is unparalleled.
Bonus Pick: Optrel Crystal 2.0
This helmet has arrived from the future, and it has the features to prove it. The Crystal 2.0 has a never-before-seen, fully-automated shade level adjustment, or an auto-pilot if you will. It recognizes the brightness of the arc and decides which shade to use. If you don’t want to use it, you can adjust the shade and sensitivity without taking the helmet off because the controls are external. The coolest trait, however, is the twilight feature which slowly lightens the picture once the arc is gone. This is not only very pleasant, but it really decreases eye strain. And when in light state, you’ll realize that for the first time ever, you can see clearly. The shade 2 light state means that you’ll never have to take the helmet off while working. Alas, it can’t all be perfect. If it hasn’t completely switched to light state (i.e. during the “twilight” period), the sensors won’t detect the arc, and you will get flashed. But once you get used to this (i.e. waiting it out), you’ll be safe.
Before deciding which helmet is right for you, here are a couple of factors you should consider. Even if you don’t choose one of the helmets I’ve recommended, this buyer’s guide will still be useful in your search.
If you’re going to weld for more than a few hours a day, your neck will feel the difference between a light and a heavy welding helmet. Of course, after a while, your neck will build up the muscle to carry the weight of a welding helmet more easily, but there will still be some growing pains till you get there. So try to go for a helmet that doesn’t weigh more than 2 lbs.
Even a lighter helmet can be a pain in the… well, neck. If the headgear is poking you or tweezing your hairs out while you’re trying to weld, it’s not going to be a very good weld. It can really take the focus away from your work, or worse, lead to an injury. So other than weight, headgear designed with proper weight distribution is something to look out for.
There are two types of people when it comes to this: people who only want to see the weld, and then take the helmet off, and people who want to see enough to be able to move around while wearing the helmet. It’s up to you to decide which way suits you better.
If you’re in the former category, you can go for a helmet with a more limited viewing area and one that doesn’t necessarily have fancy darkening features. If you’re in the latter category, you can opt for a helmet with a broader viewing area and maybe even true-color technology.
Have you ever tried wearing someone else’s spectacles? Your vision is all blurry, and after a minute or so you will start feeling eye strain and you might even get a headache. It’s very much the same thing if you’re looking through a blurry display. That’s why there’s a special optical rating that tells you the clarity of the lens. For instance, the perfect score is 1/1/1/1. A helmet with a 1/1/1/2 will be almost as good, but with a bit of a bend in the lens that can result in a little blurriness. Try to get a helmet that doesn’t have a lower optical rating than 1/1/1/2.
The welding helmet is not only for protecting your eyes, but it also has to protect your head and neck from sparks, spatter, and flying, hot, sharp metal. Look for a helmet with plastic that’s sturdy enough to withstand such conditions.
For the price of one 3M Crystal 2.0, you can buy five Yeswelder EH-091XL. So not everyone can afford the most expensive helmets out there, or maybe welding is nothing more than a hobby for you so you don’t want to spend a small fortune on a single piece of equipment. If you’re going to weld for a living, go for a more professional-grade welding helmet. They’re more reliable and last longer.
Best Auto-Darkening Welding Helmet: Conclusion
If you’re looking for a low-budget solution, then the YESWELDER, EH-091XL is the perfect choice. To sum it up quickly, the helmet features all the high-end features for a fraction of the price of a high-end brand. Some of these features include a perfect optical clarity score, true-color technology, a large viewing display, four arc sensors, and a shade 3 in light state.
If you can afford it, the 3M Speedglas 9100 is a perfect choice that you can’t go wrong with. It has some really amazing features like “grab & go”, which automatically turns the helmet on when you pick it up, and presets so you can personalize the settings according to your own preference.
Something between those two helmets is the Lincoln Electric VIKING 3350. It’s a reliable auto-darkening welding helmet with real high-end features and headgear so comfortable that welders buy it separately to replace their existing one.
If you’re into sci-fi-inspired technology, then you should definitely give the Optrel Crystal 2.0 a try. It really is the next step in the evolution of auto-darkening welding helmets. The auto-adjusting shade is so convenient that you might never want to use another welding helmet again.