Which Helmet Shield is Best? Clear vs Smoked vs Mirrored
When it comes to selecting the right shield for the right application, there are a multitude of options available to suit every occasion.
UV protection, glare, anti-fog and aesthetics all act as determining factors when choosing the right shield for you. Blocking sunlights harsh rays (blue light) should be the main objective for daytime driving. This high-energy visible (HEV) blue light is more likely to cause glare when it enters the eye, compared to other forms of visible light.
Most of the well-known manufacturers, such as Bell Racing Helmets, Arai, OMP and Stilo will now offer a range of shield types protecting you from this.
As a racing driver, your vision is your main sensory input, it’s what tells the body they’re driving. Without proper vision, racing drivers' performance can be massively affected.
In this article, we will cover each type of shield with its correct intended use and why you will need at least 2 of the following types.
In motorsport, you are more than likely to encounter a number of different weather and track conditions that will effectively determine which helmet shield should be worn.
The most common being the middle of the day, dry weather conditions with optimal sun-light. However, as your racing career develops and your experience grows, you will indefinitely have to experience a range of other conditions to drive in.
Rain is another factor that can determine which shield to go for. If you are in an open cockpit or closed cockpit vehicle, when it rains, there is a significant drop in sunlight as well as a significant chance of water spray from other vehicles. With this in mind, a dark tinted shield is probably not the right option for you.
Furthermore, night racing, as well as dusk or dawn racing, will also increase the risk of low light levels. Whereas sunset or sunrise can cause demand for a dark tinted visor to conquer light flaring or glare.
For each shield type below, Fast Racer will give you the ultimatum when it comes to picking the correct shield for the correct scenario.
Clear shields tend to be the default when buying a new helmet. They are as simple as they look. Molded clear polycarbonate offers protection to the eyes and face when closed.
There is not much to say when it comes to clear shields. Out of all the available options, clear plastic should give you optimum visibility in low light levels and wet conditions.
It would make sense for all drivers to have at least one clear shield when racing in the wet or to use in significantly reduced light levels (night time, dusk, dawn). In other words, do not throw away your clear shield that comes with the helmet.
This being said, there are upgraded versions of clear shields that can make significant differences to its anti-fog properties.
For example, Bell racing helmets offer a double pained (two-layer) shield that allows air to pass in between the layers. This will massively help reduce the risk of fogging and is strongly recommended, especially in cold or wet weather conditions.
A smoke effect shield relates to the level of tint that shield has. The tint’s purpose is to block harsh sunlight and UV, similar to how sunglasses work.
Smoked shields are usually matte in finish and can come in a range of colours. The most popular choice is black. Price-wise, black smoked shields can be more expensive than clear alternatives but are usually cheaper than mirrored or iridium options.
The ideal conditions for smoked shields are middle of the day driving and semi to low-level light. Using smoked shields in wet or foggy conditions is generally not recommended but can be used if a “light smoke” option is chosen and not “dark smoke”.
For daytime driving including sunset and sunrise, it is recommended that you opt for a dark smoke shield. You will have considerably better vision and reduced glare when compared to a clear shield.
Yellow tinted shields have been around for a long time now and are also an option to consider. The idea being that yellow tint helps deflect blue light emitted by the sun, making colour contrast in your surroundings greater. This should support your ability to pick out certain colours and shapes in your vision.
Yellow tinted shields are supposedly better suited for night driving, however, this theory has been disproved and is shown to have no visible benefits when compared to a clear shield.
Mirrored Shields | Irridium Shields
Mirrored and Irridium shields are by far the coolest on the list, with almost all Formula 1 drivers sporting a colored shield.
Although available in a number of different colors, they all essentially do the same thing and that is supposedly to provide the highest level of UV and sun glare protection. This statement is fairly open-ended and in our research, provides a very small difference in protection when compared to a dark smoked shield.
Aesthetically, mirrored and irridium shields look and feel the best.
If you are thinking about having your helmet painted, or have already made that decision, then color matching your visor would be sensible. Your helmet is your motorsport signature, people will remember you by it, so be proud of it.
Out of all 3 types on the list, mirrored and iridium are the most fragile; scratching easily. Mirrored shields also require the most amount of maintenance, with smoked and clear requiring very little. This is due to the mirrored finish which when left dirty or oily will deteriorate the reflective coating.
Furthermore, iridium finishes do not react well to water or being left wet for a prolonged period of time. If you drive an open cockpit helmet in the wet, it is recommended to change out a mirrored shield for either a light smoke or clear alternative.
The other downside to mirrored shields, apart from their price, is their visibility in low-level light. Similar to a dark smoke shield, wearing a mirrored shield has a significant tint and would not be recommended when driving at night.
Conclusion: What you Need
It is strongly recommended that you have at least two shields; one for high-level light use and the other for low-level light or wet weather use.
Photochromatic shields (visors that change color depending on the levels of light) unfortunately have not broken into the market successfully, and, until they do, it would be wise to carry two types of shield.
The first type is either a clear or light smoke/yellow tint shield. These are optimal for low light and or wet weather driving as they allow for the highest level of light clearance. The Bell GTX 3 has a range of shields under this category, check out the SE03 product line for this. Also the Bell rs7 includes a number of different shields to cover these scenarios from the SE07 ranges.
When buying a clear or smoked shield, be sure to look into its anti-fog properties, double-layered shields offer a significant reduction in the risk of fogging up.
For high-level light, such as the middle of the day or sunset sunrise conditions, a dark smoke shield will suffice, however, if you are looking to spend the money and prefer the aesthetic, then a colored or mirrored shield might be the option for you.
The performance difference between dark smoke and mirrored/iridium shields is negligible, so bear this in mind when choosing.
Author: Matt Lambert | Right Motorsports