I've been holding out with my old MICH helmet setup for quite some time and finally decided to splurge to see what all this high cut business is about. The latest Ops-Core Fast SF helmet with their AMP headset package really shows off how the tech can shine when designed from the start to work together.
For quite some time I've been rocking a MICH / ACH helmet, which is still pretty respectable, and for a good chunk of time I couldn't figure out the high cut (open ear zone) helmet craze. When the high cut options first started popping up it was mostly to accommodate larger ear-pro / comms gear (vehicle style), but most people didn't need this since companies like Peltor were offering good headset options at the time that would fit under helmets. There of course were still problems like having to re-arrange pads to compensate for the headset upper band and generally being a pain in the ass to put the helmet back on which was required to give your ears a break, but otherwise if your headset was going to fit, cutting out the sides more and more was just removing helmet protection.
Eventually companies got the bright idea to try and attach headsets directly to helmets via side rails and then the helmet side cuts finally made more sense. This was a big ease of use jump where now one could give their ears a break with helmet still on or depending on the design at the very least was a lot easier to get the helmet back on with headset functionality. One downside to this however was this rail connection took up enough space to interfere with the rail mounting zone that was commonly being used to place gear such as flashlights. Jumping to the options of today, the Ops-Core Fast Helmet and AMP combo is a great example showing the next improvement evolution of this concept having the mounting kit attach to side-rear rail zone. Not only is the majority of the side rail freed up for use again, but the arm location now offer even more positional options for comfort, rest, and storage.
I don't represent the average majority being monkey size so I'll be giving more of a small dude size perspective which seems to also be around the average female warrior size. Getting started looking into the helmet sizing I followed the Ops-Core measuring instructions doing the classic headband measurement with a measuring tape. There can be a bit of fudge room here when doing it on your own since angle and tightness can adjust your measurement along with your hairstyle of the time, so best you can do is try to measure a few times and average it out. At the time I measured at 21.75" and saw I fit under the M size class so didn't think much about it since I was easily a M on the old MICH. Once the Tan M came in I tossed it on as is and generally things seemed to ride pretty high so I was worried I did something wrong. Even after making sure to loosen the OCC-Dial size adjustment and put in some more thin pads it was still pretty borderline so I double checked my measurements and on that day I was looking more 22"+ which then led me to notice the L size recommendation starts at 22" and they recommend if you are borderline to go a size up.
It is a pretty big investment so I called in to get some advice on the situation and one of the first things they recommended was to take the Universal Nape Pad out. The UNP seems to come on the helmets by default and is somewhat height adjustable, but it wasn't helping my situation at all. Even though it isn't particularly thick and more of a platform for the foam pads, I did notice a fit improvement by taking it off and using the slim nape pad. Besides giving a little more room it also made looking up / having my head in a combat prone position more comfortable so the best I can tell is that the UNP is more for giving additional support for larger people or those with heavy helmet setups. After adjusting the Tan M as much as I could I was able to get it pretty darn comfy, but I was worried I was unnecessarily cutting it close on adjustment options so arranged to also be able to try a size L helmet.
The size L helmet I got a hold of was multicam which has a pretty sweet coat job, but also came with a left hand shooter chin strap which was a reminder that part is actually important. It feels weird messing with the buckle using the opposite hand you are used to and the buckle can be in the way of your main cheek weld zone. That said the chin strap can be swapped out, I was mostly looking at edge case sizing. Offhand the L didn't seem to offer as much vertical depth as I expected, but did have more noticeably more horizontal space. To try and dial things in, even though I had more space to work with I still took out the UNP and pad wise had to use the thickest .75" pads on the sides and depending on ride I wanted used slimmer thickness pads down the middle. I was able to get the fit feel pretty solid on both sizes so after at least 1 hour of doing small adjustments on each and quickly swapping between them to test comfort I'd say I the size M ended up feeling slightly more stable. There are a lot of additional variables such as how tight the chin strap is, but I'd say the main change was the M was more stable to prevent horizontal "spin" rotation compared to the L. This likely is due to the slimmer pads only have so much give before reaching the hard foam compared to the larger pads that have a lot more squish room.
If I planned on doing a lot of head knocking or carrying heavy stuff on top of my head I'd lean towards size L to get the bonus cushion, but as is I think the slightly more "rigid" fit of the M feels more stable for heavy helmet movement. Again I do feel like I'm coming close adjustment wise on using mostly .25" slim pads and not tightening the OCC dial much at all, but the end result does feel nice. It is also hard to pass up that sexy multicam coat, however helmet covers are a quick way to adjust that. As another consideration I recommend getting started with making the helmet comfortable without accessories. When adding the AMP package it gives bonus side stability so things just tend to get better from there. If new to tactical helmet setups also plan on some trial and error time to find the balance of helmet ride height, chin strap tightness, and what you actually want to mount on the helmet. You might look cool/aggressive with the helmet brim close to your eyebrows, but when you have eye-pro on you'll find yourself smashing them down to your nose if don't leave the recommended .5" to 1" gap. Even once you get your chinstrap situation to a place you feel comfortable with, also give it a good jaw wide open test (YO WARFACE!) to show how everything can be connected. When going from a raw setup to putting on NVGs you may need to adjust both chin strap and OCC-dial to get the weight / angle balanced back how you want it.
With the sizing dilemma story aside, one of the first impressions of the Fast SF Helmet is that it is noticeably light for a ballistic helmet. My old MICH with rail package and monkey sweat was coming in at about 3p 6oz while the Fast SF M was about 2p 4oz with no AMP headset stuff attached. That kind of weight savings goes a long way in being able to add gear like NVGs, strobes, lights etc. They come with a helmet bag which is nice if want to baby your helmet, offering some padding and a built in zippered accessories pocket. It perhaps is a bit overkill when considering most probably plan on not being nice to the helmet doing tactical activities, but a welcomed bonus. I'd just say if wanted to go all out it would be better to include an padded NVG storage zone, but in a pinch jamming it in the inner pouch is better than nothing.
The accessories kit includes a good pile of pads, I wish I had some more in the slim .25" size, but the spread included should work for most. I was happy to see split rings were included as my old ass NVGs didn't have a good mount point for the retention bungees in their default state. I was getting confused there for a bit since I didn't see split rings on any one else's setup so just assumed maybe bungees were not for me. Thus this seemingly small addition finally let me give the whole bungee retention thing a try. It seems to come close to the controls thanks to the old mount point, but nice to at least have the option now. A good pile of 10 slim zip ties are also included for some cable organization options. To get to play with the rails, one Picatinny and Wing-loc adapter are included. For the price, having 2 of each would be more appropriate, but most users are probably only going to use 1. Hence the name the Picatinny adapter allows one to mount gear made to interface with Picatinny rail, while the Wing-loc is more for DIY options to screw objects to it. For a pro-tip on the Picatinny adapter, be sure and loosen the security screw first so you can actually mount it to the helmet rail.
Getting to the core of the helmet the Ops-Core rails haven't changed much, but the bungee retention system has been moved to the NVG mount so there is a little less distance to the connection point and it frees up space for more rail uses. For a change not first obvious, the side rails now consist of the main skeleton ARC exterior rail and a shim accessory mount under it. This allows for some more connection options while still keeping the main exterior mount zones free. The NVG shroud / mount is still the usual boss 3-hole style with the most popular mount included, and now the main plate can be swapped out to offer support for alternate versions like ANVIS. Loop velcro zones come pre-applied to the helmet exterior which seem to be a good balance of having attachment zones yet not over doing it to where the whole helmet is just loop. The chin strap, being one of Ops-Core original products is relatively unchanged since they got it pretty right the first time. It does appear they made the main connection screws brackets a little easier to use as a small upgrade. Compared to older style chinstraps the Ops-Core ones find a good balance of being adjustable while worn yet using overall small hardware to reduce bulk.
Compared to the MICH the FAST SF interior is a more layered system. The first protection zone is a bike helmet style hard foam which gives some impact protection and a little bit of standoff for airflow. Pads then connect using hook and loop where modern pads are more of a 3D mesh style foam as opposed to first gen MICH pads were more gel-like that could get a bit stiff in cold weather. The OCC dial / adjustment system is definitely a big upgrade compared to styles of old offering a quick way to adjust fit while worn. This is quite appreciated when wanting to jump from a more relaxed fit to needing more support when it is go time with NVGs on. Turning the dial on the back clockwise crunches in the front to back sizing, while counter-clockwise allows loosening. This doesn't adjust the left and right spacing much, but the end result is still very useful to being able to quickly adjust helmet fit. For a small issue the dial knob is a little "floaty" where although the setting won't slip, the knob itself can kind of jiggle around. Not a deal breaker just one of those small things where you play with it and feel like it could be better.
Jumping around a little, The Amp (Adaptive Mission Platform) comes ready to go in a headset configuration. Offhand they look pretty "typical", but all the small details really add up. Starting with comfort the ear-cups have pretty solid shape adaptability. At first I thought they were gel-style since the exterior felt similar to the the Sordin Gel-cups, but likely there is just foam of some sort in there. Whatever the material, they seem to do well forming around things like eye-wear while keeping a good seal. The microphone is easily removable and even side-changeable securing with a simple screw. 2 plugs are included if you don't plan on using a mic at all to keep those ports clean for later. 2 down-lead ports are available to allow connecting to 2 comm inputs which is normally a pretty premium headset feature. 2 separate battery compartments are used as well which house 1 AAA battery each which may sound typical, but one will appreciate this more after dealing with the crappy 2 batteries in 1 cup crap system on the Sordin / MSA headsets. Every part besides the microphone plugs have lash retention straps included. They are like little rubber clasps which is kinda of different, but they seem to holding up fine. So far my only issue is they are a little harder to grip without slipping when resecuring wires to the default headstrap. The headstrap is simple, however secures the wires with one-wrap like material which makes it much easier to get on and off. This is in contrast to older headset designs where one had to basically destroy the headstrap to use the core parts attached directly to a helmet. How easy the side connections are to release is also greatly appreciated. They just pop out purposely with no fuss, yet stay in just fine when worn on one's head. Clearly Ops-Core made an effort to allow being able to change the AMP from a headset setup to a helmet setup with as little hassle as possible.
Usability wise the main business buttons are on the bottom left with the NFMI button on the side left. The volume up and volume down buttons are easy enough to use consisting of holding to turn on and holding the appropriate one after with change to max and min volume power. Tapping buttons as you might expect does incremental changes. To turn the unit off on has to hold both buttons, but since there is a separator knub in the middle I can't do this reliably with one hand at all. I end up having to do this awkward 2 hand grip to turn the AMP off consistently. It isn't the end of the world, but makes me wish there was just a specific power button or a different setup as I'm able to press both buttons on old Peltors without much fuss.
Not to be overlooked, the AMP system has the option to be NFMI compatible which are special plugs using Near Field Magnetic Induction technology. This allows the headset to use this magic like tech to transmit the headset signal to the plugs with no additional batteries needed in the plugs themselves. In comparison if one wears typical plugs with a headset the "dead" plugs are cock blocking any sound the electronic ear pro is trying to provide. The NFMI plugs are overall small in size and come with 3 tip sizes that can be screwed on and easily replaced if ever needed. They come with a thin cord for retention which works well for that purpose, but can get a little snaggy if wearing a lot of layers of gear and clothing. I wish there was some easy way to release the retention cord however as they seem to be welded on as opposed to something like knotted on. So far I haven't come across any comfort issues with the retention cord in combination with the headset.
Starting to bring things together the plugs offer a 30 NRR (Noise Reduction Rating) on their own while the AMP Headset is 22 NRR. 22 Sounds a bit crappy at first, but is about average for that headset size class. When using both together one gets all the way up to 34 NRR which is appreciated if doing tactical work that is even louder than usual such as being around armored vehicles all day long. The side NFMI button is pretty easy to use being a single button to toggle the headset to be in normal mode or NFMI mode. In addition to having a lot of cool features a big selling point of the AMP is the sound quality is noticeably nice compared to the competition. When I first activated them I was truly surprised how close they sounded to "normal" hearing. From there one can further boost the sound when want to hear ninjas trying to sneak up on you. Not stopping there, the quality manages to even get a little better when using the NFMI plugs, I suppose since a little less distance from source to ear drum. When using good lithium batteries the AMP headset provides about 120 hours runtime in normal mode and about 80 hours in NFMI mode.
Taking the party back to the helmet, the Rail Mount kit provides the extra parts to combine the powers of the AMP headset to the FAST SF helmet. The included instructions are fortunately pretty straight forward to give some tips to know what position the mount arms should be in to make installation easiest. I was a bit clumsy on the very first try, but after that everything the process becomes quite easy. Again the main headset earcups are easy to snap into the mounts so from there just a little bonus care is needed from there to secure the wires. For this, one also receives adhesive backed loop triangles and one-wrap pieces to aid in cord slack management. The spacing is a little tight on the triangles so from my learning experience you just have to get them about as close as possible to the chin strap bolts as a reference point so they don't pass the helmet edge. The instructions seem to suggest putting most of the cord up under the helmet shell which makes for snag reduction, but some may want to play with other options as the slack can still up as more than needed even to put the AMP in all possible positions.
Most people will probably connect the rail arms to the first lowest connection point, but they can be pushed up further on the rail if desired. Not stopping there, the arms can extend out a good deal and offer quite a bit of rotation so between all these adjustments the vast majority of face and ear types can be accommodated. The main spring tension isn't adjustable as far as I can tell, but the result feels good to me where get enough pressure to get your ear-pro seal, but not so aggressive that it hurts your head. Now getting to why to even have a "Super High Cut" helmet in the first place, the rail side connection points allow the ear cups to be rotated away from ones face making it super easy to give the ears a breather break while still wearing the helmet. The arms can be then rotated to make the cups sit lower profile more on the upper portion of the helmet so not quite so spread-eagle like. If not going to use the ear-pro for a while the cups can be rotated even further more towards the back which shifts the weight balance quite a bit, but gets all the headset business nice and out of the way. The cord slack is setup for the swing arms to rotate up and back as opposed to down which makes sense as the most natural possible arm movement.
The end result helmet package shows the obvious benefits of the a single squared away company making all the parts of a helmet and comm system together. I haven't tried every helmet rig out there, but the FAST SF Helmet and AMP combo is easily the best I have come across. I'm somewhat glad I held out with ol' MICHy for so long so I can really appreciate all the tech and design upgrades. Objectively the helmet is lighter, more adjustable thus more comfortable, more feature friendly so wear it more, all while offering enhanced hearing/comms and ear protection. As usual top of the line warfighter gear made in the USA is not cheap, but if wearing a pro-level helmet rig is a part of your job, the FAST SF Helmet / AMP package is certainly worth considering if looking to upgrade or want to start with the latest and greatest.