I don’t know anyone who enjoys wearing hard hats, but they are an OSHA requirement for some of the overhead work we do and, eventually, most of us manage to get used to them. Until recently, I thought that not much has changed when it comes to hard hats. Sure, the new ones seem more comfortable, functional, and—dare I say it?—cooler looking. But the internals—the suspension that protects the noggin—are largely the same as they’ve been for a long time.

Last winter, at the World of Concrete trade show, I noticed that many booths had hard hats, but I was working at the show and didn’t have a chance to look closely into them. When I got home, though, I did some research and found WaveCel’s T2+ Max, which had the features I was looking for, including a full brim to block the sun, a vented design, and a light weight. This is an ANSI-rated Type II hard hat, which means that it is designed to offer protection from lateral blows and objects hitting the head from the front, back, and sides, as well as the top (Type 1 hard hats protect only from blows to the top of the head). It has an adjustable fit and accessory rails for options such as a four-point chin strap, a head lamp, earmuffs, and a face shield. I also liked that it is made in the U.S.

After speaking with a rep at the company, I realized I knew next to nothing about hard hats. He explained that most head injuries we are trying to prevent with hard hats come from glancing blows, which cause the brain to move inside the skull (I knew that) and to rotate (I didn’t know that). According to the inventors, the WaveCel, which was first used for sports and bicycle helmets, can absorb up to 73% more rotational force than other hard hats and has up to 98% lower predicted risk of concussion than a standard helmet lining. Now, I take that all with a grain of salt since the authors of the study cited by the company rep are also co-inventors and patent holders. But I’m convinced this is a better design; watch the videos on the company’s website to see for yourself.

With all of that as prelude, is this hard hat comfortable? I received three samples, and my crew and I wore them for several weeks as we lifted exterior walls with our telescoping forklift (when local safety rules require hard hats in the presence of an overhead hazard) and when we framed interior walls (even when they weren’t required). We didn’t have to wear them every day, but we did anyway.

I can say I have never worn a hard hat as comfortable as this one. It has a slightly lower profile than others I’ve worn, has good air circulation because of the vents (unvented models for cold-weather work are available), and has a built-in sweatband that works well. The hat didn’t wobble or fall off when we were bent over framing walls, and we didn’t have to crank it super-tight to keep it in place. And I think it made me look cool. At $150, it isn’t cheap, but I think that the safety factor, comfort, and style that it offers make it well worth the cost. wavecel.com

Photos by Tim Uhler