NOTE: The task of following up to Arnie’s own extremely thorough ‘pre-review’ of this unique piece of kit is, at best, daunting…and at worst, pointless. If you’ve read Arnie’s article, then you may have already made up your mind. However, I hope you’ll be able to build up a more complete picture with a choice of two whole articles at your fingertips. Enjoy!
Way back when when you’re new to the sport, you’re always likely to come across obstacles and dilemmas that can temporarily bring your progress into the hobby to a grinding halt. For me, as for any other budding grunt, I’m sure, one of the major things preventing me being able to legally shoot people I didn’t know in the face was the obligation to wear full face protection. The rule is generally applicable to under-18s; being at first unaware of this, I found myself standing in the cold on my first skirmish day at Eversley, facing the option of either a battered Sansei mesh mask for hire, or a £35 V-force mask from the guys at the AD stall. Needless to say, I didn’t want to look more stupid than I already did. Sorry Sansei, but I didn’t fancy having one of those hire masks breaking into pieces on my face in the middle of an assault…I plumped for the V-force mask. All the ‘cool kids’ had them, anyway…
Less than a week later, I said goodbye to the V-force mask. Now, I’m an optimistic person, and I do try to find good things about all of my purchases, no matter how disappointing they are, but in an overwhelmingly practical situation like, for instance, a skirmish, you can’t afford to be too forgiving. The mask slipped off my face far too often, the foam strips absorbed all the sweat (it’s a grimy business, is face protection) and my glasses were so uncomfortable inside the thing I had to retreat to the safe zone and adjust them. More than once. But the killer blow for the old V-force, the worst aspect of that ‘standard’ piece of equipment, was the ability it possessed to steam up with the slightest hint of heat emanating from your face. It was like a cloud had dropped from the sky and started to hang around on your eyeball. Horrible. I had to look for something new…and fast!
A new beginning My first encounter with the BLOK helmet came from Arnie’s own pre-review. I was looking for a replacement to the quickly-departed V-Force mask and, as is usual for me, wanted something really unique. Just from looking at the pictures, it was easy to tell that being unique was practically the helmet’s middle name. After reading the review, I set about clicking around on every part of the page to try and find out more; fortunately, the links I eventually found didn’t let me down.
The subject of the review, then, is the production version of the fairly rare BLOK full head helmet from Extreme Procurement. I have to admit, my own ideas on the history of the helmet are pretty blurry – I’m not one to be totally clued up about everything, I must admit – but they have slowly built up a reputation amongst the community; it surprises me, then, to find that there is very little material on the BLOKs available on the web. Here, I hope to give a pretty complete picture of the helmet and cover most of the major areas concerning the quality of any decent face protection out there. In truth, I have gone through two periods of BLOK ownership, making up three helmets overall. The reason for owning so many was not due to the original having something wrong with it, rather that I decided to sell my first helmet and pick up two (for a very honest price) to suit woodland and CQB needs.
First impressions Having built up a few limited opinions before selling my original helmet, I have decided to revert to an impartial view of my current pair. Don’t worry; as every helmet I have owned was exactly the same as the next one, the first impressions will be no different.
So, when tearing the cardboard from the outside of the packaging, what do we have inside? The standard BLOK helmet comes with itself, a neck protector strip, a visor cleaning cloth, the obligatory instructions and a pair of useful earplugs (I say useful – I doubt they will get much use), all wrapped in a simple clear plastic bag. Weighing the thing in your hands, you can immediately recognise one of its merits – it is extremely light. The material seems to be some kind of rigid synthetic fabric with the pattern printed on I’m not sure if the one-colour helmets are the same; I would assume the colour is printed also); the surprise comes in that its rigidity doesn’t seem to sacrifice lightweight build for real strength. It actually has both! Turning it the hands, you can see the visor is pretty large and is attached well – actually bolted onto the rigid helmet frame. The Velcro strap systems look pretty well-placed; nothing to shout about really, and the neck protector strips (these come already Velcroed on) seem rather swanky and look as if they would do their job – however, I would recommend taking them off as soon as you get the helmet out of the bag. They look cool, yes, but they do restrict head movement quite severely. Off with ‘em!
The helmet, then, seems rather well set up at a glance. How does it really perform in all the important areas though? It may look cool, but…hang on, come to think of it, does it look cool?
What IS that thing on your head? The BLOK is very much a unique-looking piece of kit. I can assure you right now that, unless you have had previous experience with one of these, it is nothing like any of the full-face masks you may have worn and is, to be honest, pretty rare. The common reaction of a fellow ‘softer when you take the thing out of your kitbag at the start of the day goes something along the lines of, “What?” Putting it simply, you just don’t see many BLOKs anywhere. That makes people like me feel really special. But special for the right reasons? Is it a thing of beauty, or a veritable turkey of design?
For me, the answer is simply that the BLOK ranks up with the coolest looking head protection out there. It depends on personal preference, I’m sure, but when I look at the helmet, it positively screams seriousness. The image of a Stormtrooper is conjured, but not in the sense that you are, basically, cannon fodder – no, if you wear this, you are hard to the core. The general design work is brilliant; the shape of the helmet is kept remarkably well considering its base build material and is pretty slick to boot. The thing is designed to be discreet whilst able to cover the entire head – something that I feel has been very much accomplished with the BLOK. The one-size design does leave the helmet looking slightly too tall at times, giving the false impression of a larger head, but with the average-height player, this should not prove too much of a problem. The patterning on the DPM version is absolutely flawless (up-to-date British DPM, no less) and, along with the rather clear observation that nobody really has an all-DPM bit of headgear, fits in beautifully with even the cheapest of surplus get-ups; the black version reeks of CQB usability and is just as sleek as any goggles-over-balaclava look you may care to try. The fact that the entire order of my original choice of helmet had been reserved for the police force’s training purposes only serves to give the BLOK an extra dimension of supercool; knowing this, you start to appreciate that the helmet was designed by serious people to be a serious piece of equipment. In general, the BLOK is certainly something that will attract attention (remember, with attention comes friends) and will most definitely look good on the field.
So, top aesthetics – but, like an expensive car, looks alone won’t be enough if the thing has to have a major tune-up every few weeks. Is it tough enough to stand the harsh environments of both the field and, naturally, the safezone at Ambush Eversley?
Unbreakable? The BLOK is constructed of a very lightweight, yet quite rigid, material. It’s hard to describe really; the material is stiff enough to form the shape of the helmet and to repel oncoming BBs, yet is flexible enough to yield against the stock of your weapon. It certainly isn’t heavy and it feels as if you can knock it against as many trees as you like without doing it any damage. The material is tough, but very comfortable – it will stretch to fit those of you with larger heads, too. There is little danger of the material ripping at the seams, purely because the main parts of the helmet are made of one big piece of material. The stitching is top-notch and shouldn’t come loose any time soon either.
The joining points between Velcro and helmet are brought together by a strong glue. This seems to be pretty durable, though I suspect a lot of wrenching at the choke points on the helmet or drenching the thing in sweat might loosen the Velcro pieces over time. The glued areas should really be checked after each game; sweat is nothing to laugh at when it makes your helmet come apart. Having said that, the glue seems strong enough after a few skirmished, so I’m not going to worry too much.
The muzzle is a separate piece of material, joined to the visor, which is in turn attached to the main helmet piece with a couple of large bolts. This is very rigid and is certainly never going to break unless you really want it to; the airhole below the chin is a simple ring of that material, so pretty sturdy on all counts (though the staple holding the airhole together might be a place to watch).
The visor barely needs mentioning, as it is absolutely solid. The perspex is curved nicely and has a good shape to it, and, as far as I can tell, could probably withstand a brick being thrown at it. As Arnie’s preview states, the whole thing is supposed to be able to withstand BBs fired at up to 270fps; well, I’d put good money on this thing being capable of standing up to over-the-limit AEGs. The visor is, at least, much tougher than the V-force shields. Alongside real skirmish impacts, a number of crude firing tests prove only that the thing is certainly sturdy and can soak up a lot of the impact – firing an entire hicap wind from a 310fps AEG into the helmet neither hurt when my head was inside it, nor marked the visor when it was sitting unprotected in the line of fire.
All in all, the build quality seems to be very respectable, and I can’t see the thing breaking for a long time. Both of my helmets have been pulled/knocked/thrown about a bit and neither of them look or feel any different from when they first came out of the box. Nice.
What do you see? One of the crucial things to be considered when choosing a full face mask is the available field of vision and the quality of the lens. It’s already been established that the visor is of impressive quality, but what is it like to look through it?
Well, when inside the helmet, you start to really appreciate its design. Clearly, a lot of thought went into the field of view for the user and, as such, the visor is given as much space as possible on the front of the helmet. Peripheral vision is left superbly intact; there is no sight of the sides of the mask at the corners of your eyes at all, whilst the visor is curved perfectly to fit the mask’s shape. The curve does not distort your view, even though the visor is slightly slanted as well. In fact, the experience of looking through the visor when your head is encased in the mask is quite unique; when coupled with the mask’s light weight, it almost feels as if you are not wearing a mask at all: the vision is perfect, with the largest field of view possible.
However, the tests don’t stop there. Possibly the largest problem players have with their masks and goggles is the issue of fogging – the primary reason why I dumped the V-force. I chose the BLOK for its claim of a completely anti-fog lens and, after reading Arnie’s preview speculations, was convinced that it would do the job well. And, for the most part, it does. Inside the helmet is hot, and I do mean hot…but no problem, as no matter how hot you get, the mask doesn’t steam up. A vast improvement over most standard masks already. But is this really correct? Well, the lens certainly never steams up, no matter what the temperature. However, during the course of a game, the lens can (and will) start to blur a little. It’s hardly steam, but around the edges of the visor, you will encounter patches of blurry moisture that slightly hinder your peripheral vision, and it develops pretty quickly. It’s frustrating, yes, and it does get in the way when you’re trying to aim. I may be being picky, but I really can’t stand anything short of perfect vision when I play, so even minor blurring is an annoyance. I fix this with a spray of an anti-fog solution, which does the trick perfectly – though others may be able to bear the blurring. It’s just a shame that, in this area, the mask isn’t totally perfect.
Overall, the vision when wearing the BLOK is excellent at best and just good at worst. The anti-fog lens works to the extent that the mask never fogs as such, which is fine for most people, but the odd blurry patch still serves as a reminder that there still isn’t a truly anti-everything system available. As a devoted fan of anti-fog solution, I would never wear eye protection without spraying some on first anyway, and this helmet is no exception.
Mmm. Soft The BLOK’s fabric-like build material certainly gives it the edge in comfort over its rival systems; the mask is nice and soft inside, with plenty of space for your face to fit in. People with larger heads are accommodated for, as the mask can be pulled to fit most people’s skullsizes. As the helmet is extremely light, it’s not hard to forget exactly what you’re wearing when out in the field; when adjusted properly, I find that the quickest of head movements can go unhindered, as the helmet sits well on the head. If fastened tight enough, there is no slippage to be found; the mask is rock solid around the skull. Though when jerking your head from side to side, the surplus length of the Velcro adjustment strap can quite easily make noise against the collar of whatever BDU you happen to be wearing; I would recommend carefully measuring the strap and removing all unnecessary length. This way, the helmet is comfortable and silent.
The major comfort factor that many users can attest to is the temperature inside the helmet. Do not use a BLOK if you are averse to sweating. As you may expect, spending a long time inside the BLOK can be a little claustrophobic and, when running around your favourite skirmish site, you will get hot. I do not find the heat distracting at all; however, if you like to be cool when playing, having a BLOK on your head is not for you. So long as the helmet is removed to air out every once in a while, the playing experience will not suffer. In my opinion, if you’re not getting hot and sweaty in the first few games of a day, you’re either impossibly fit or you’re just not working hard enough. In any case, I can get by without noticing the heat on most days – though summer games will inevitably rack up the sweat factor and, when removing the helmet in cold conditions after a particularly fast game, you can expect a few looks as a nice column of steam rises from your head. Impressive.
Breathability is good once you get inside; your cool, fresh air is drawn in through a small hole (perhaps 2-3cm diameter) in the ‘chin’ of the mask. Depending on how much you run about, this may or may not affect how much you become out of breath – however, I find breathing through the comparatively large hole much easier than through slits in the face of a conventional mask. Of course, this cannot compare to going out with just glasses or goggles, but I suspect that if you’re the type who doesn’t mind having their teeth shot out, this helmet won’t be for you anyway =) Overall, the amount of air that you can take in is pleasing, and you will certainly not suffocate.
A minor, but important point to note is that the air hole is the only opening for the mouth – being directed down towards the user’s chest, this means communication is slightly harder. It takes little time to learn to shout a bit louder, but the ideal solution would be the use of a throat mic or similar; you will find hushed comms difficult face-to-face unless you and your tem-mate are in close proximity or are linked with a radio. Hearing is not a problem at all, as the well-cushioned earpieces have drilled holes to aid listening as well as protect the side of your head, but the decrease in user volume when wearing the mask may be of concern to some players. This does not largely affect me, as my voice is generally pretty loud, but it should not be overlooked if you are looking for the perfect full-face mask.
Of course, to keep the helmets in good condition and to maintain the proper levels of comfort, they require a good manly clean every once in a while. The best way is to deal with both parts of the helmet separately – first removing the visor by unscrewing it from the main material (the Perspex is held in place by a number of strong screws; it won’t be falling off any time soon). The visor needs washing and wiping down with a soapy liquid, being careful not to damage or scratch the surface – though this in itself is tough. The rest of the helmet should be scrubbed down with the same stuff, and rinsed with cold water immediately afterwards – this way, you will remove any stains and let the material dry without it warping. As the helmet will inevitably soak up your sweat as you play, the wash is pretty essential to stop unsightly white salt-marks creeping up on the surface; it’s a dirty job, but it’s got to be done.
The verdict As I have owned a number of the helmets, it’s clear that I personally like them. But from a neutral standpoint, is the BLOK full-face helmet a worthy addition to your airsoft wardrobe? Taking into account its undeniably positive aspects, having experience with the mask or not doesn’t really matter. It’s a solid yes – if you can live with the small number of cons, like the heat inside the mask and the not-quite-fogless visor, you’ll find that the BLOK can prove a gem on the battlefield. It’s tough, light and visually appealing, and, available in black, British woodland DPM or flat OD, will fit in well with most loadouts.
Factors such as heat and breathability may sway it one way or the other, depending on the user. However, after wearing the BLOK for some time, I can honestly say that I would never willingly go back down the line to the most ‘basic’ of face masks. I may progress to goggles in the future, but as far as full-face (or full-head, in this case) protection goes, the BLOK is the standard-setter.
Looks 8/10 Personal opinion, but it looks great. Serious and different without being stupid.
OVERALL 8/10 Certainly not perfect, but it’s not that far off. A solid and interesting addition to your normal loadout, that will save you from broken teeth and painful welts in style.
Site links: Arn’s pre-review of the BLOK helmet (waaay back when)
External links: Links to external sites of interest.
By Player One