One of the smartest things a climber can do is buy the best climbing helmet. They generally aren’t that expensive, and a helmet can truly mean the difference between life and death. When climbing outside, it is clear that having a helmet is better than not having one.
Helmets, like heads, come in all shapes and sizes. Some helmets are better for ice climbing, while others are better for multi pitch routes. You can bet that Dani Arnold and Tommy Caldwell don’t use the same helmet. Be smart, like a pro, and let us guide you through an investigation in the best helmet for your climbing style.
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Table of Contents
- Climbing Helmet Buyer’s Guide
- Top 7 Best Climbing Helmet on the Market Review
- To Conclude
Climbing Helmet Buyer’s Guide
In order to know what kind of helmet is right for you, you need to do your research first. Think about what type of climbing you do and what you need from your helmet: Do you trad climb? Ice climb? Mountaineer? Are you a new climber or an experienced climber? Are you used to climbing with a certain type of helmet? How has that helmet worked for you? Do you have a small, medium, or large head?
If you have never climbed with a helmet before, it is a good idea to try out a multitude of helmets in order to figure out which ones you like best. If you can, check out some friends helmets at the crag and weigh the benefits and disadvantages for you and your climbing style.
The material of a climbing helmet essentially impacts almost every other part of the helmet: the weight, durability, and breathability. Most climbing helmets are made up of a protective foam on the inside and a type of shell on the outside.
You will find that the most common foam is called EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) foam. However, every once in a while a helmet will come along with EPP (Expanded Polypropylene) foam on the inside. What is the difference, you ask?
Essentially, EPS is easy to produce, it is cheap, not recyclable and it can normally absorb one hard impact before it must be retired. EPP on the other hand, is more expensive, but it can endure multiple impacts and it is recyclable. EPP is obviously the better choice because it is safer and long lasting, but it comes at a cost. If you are taking big whippers, have had concussions in the past, regularly climb where rock is falling, or really want to be as safe as possible, then it is definitely worth it to invest in EPP.
The outside of a helmet is often constructed of one or two materials: polycarbonate or Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Most modern helmets are made of some thickness of polycarbonate, but there are a few that still use ABS because it is cheaper and lighter. Shells come in varying density, meaning that their durability depends on how thick the layer of plastic is. Hardshell helmets are what we think of when we imagine a more traditional climbing helmet.
They contain, you guessed it, a hard plastic covering that is substantially thicker than other helmets. For this reason, they don’t just act as a cover for the foam (which is often considered the real protectant). Rather, they are also considered a protective part of the helmet. Hardshell helmets are great for ice climbers and people who regularly climb where rock is loose. If a shell is thinner, then it actually isn’t protecting the head, but rather protecting the foam underneath.
The weight of the shell is dependant on the materials. Both types of foam are generally pretty lightweight, so the shell will play a large factor in the weight of the helmet. Hardshells are often heavier because the plastic is thicker. If the plastic is applied in thinner layers, then the helmet will weigh less.
Just as the weight depends on the materials, so does the durability. Although EPP foam is more expensive than EPS foam, EPP lasts much longer than EPS. EPP can only withstand one major impact before it is crunched (think peanut packing foam), whereas EPP can withstand multiple hard impacts before needing to be retired. On the outside of the helmet, the thicker the shell the more durable it will be.
If a shell is all exposed EPP foam, then it is much more likely to be damaged by anything that hits it. If a shell has a thin layer of plastic or polycarbonate on it, then it also will not be very durable. If the plastic or polycarbonate is thicker, then it will be the most durable helmet, able to withstand many impacts without denting.
Breathability is also dependant on the materials (surprise, surprise). A helmet will be more breathable if there is a thinner layer of plastic or polycarbonate on it. It will be less breathable if the plastic is thicker. However, even if a helmet has a hardshell, it can still potentially be breathable if it has vents. Some helmets even come with a ventilation system that opens and closes.
It is really important to find a helmet that fits you well. Some helmets just seem like they were made for your head, and you will feel lucky if you find a helmet like this. Otherwise, you need to get a helmet that is easily adjustable.
Look for two things: First, a rear adjustment wheel that will make the helmet fit the circumference of your head. Wheels are the easiest way to adjust a helmet. Second, look for adjustable straps that go around the ears. This will enable you to shift the chin strap forward or backwards, ensuring that the helmet is sitting at the proper angle on your head.
Top 7 Best Climbing Helmet on the Market Review
1. Best on a Tight Budget: Black Diamond Half Dome
Nothing can really beat the $60 price of the Half Dome helmet. It may look simple, but it packs a protective barrier like you wouldn’t believe. For this reason, you will often see official outdoor recreation companies, such as NOLS, use the Half Dome for their trips. Not only is it cheap, but it is also safe.
2. Best Lightweight: Petzl Meteor
Because the Meteor is made of polycarbonate, this helmet is super light. You can really use it for anything, from a casual day at the crag to a full blown mountaineer trip. The breathability makes it comfortable for a hot summer day and a sweaty alpine ascent. Despite it’s lightweight nature, this helmet is tough as nails when it comes to protecting your head.
3. Most Adjustable: Edelrid Shield II
If you are looking for cushy and comfy, this helmet is for you. With easily adjustable straps positioned under the ear, an extra padded interior, and a rear adjustment wheel, this helmet was made to fit any head shape and size. What’s more, it is a very nice looking helmet that can make any climber get their swag on while at the crag.
4. Best for Ice Climbing: Mammut El Cap
The El Cap has everything an ice climber needs. Firstly, it’s hard shell keeps little ice chips from making an impact. Secondly, it has a brim that will shield your eyes from those flying ice chips. Thirdly, It is low profile enough that it fits under the hood of a coat, to add extra warmth.
5. Best Hard Shell: Petzl Elios
If you like to climb in places where rock is regularly raining down on your head, then you might be a masochist… Or someone from England. HOwever, if this is you, I won’t judge. I only implore that you buy this hardshell helmet from Petzl. It’s not very expensive, and it will keep your head safe from falling debris. Plus, it has an openable and closable ventilation system, so you can open it up when you need some air and close it when things are about to get serious on the wall.
6. Best for Multi Pitch: Black Diamond Vapor
This helmet is ready to take on the bog walls with its breathability and long wearing comfort, without sacrificing any safety. Because it is partially made out of carbon, it is light but also always ready to protect your noggin.
7. Best Overall: Mammut Wall Rider
The wall rider does exactly as its name implies: rides any wall. With a relatively affordable price, lightweight but durable dual material construction, and extreme comfort, this is the all around best helmet. It is good for a day at the crag, a day on a big wall, or even a day on a frozen waterfall. What’s more, this helmet comes with MIPS Brain Protection System, meaning that you are way less likely to get a concussion if you smack your head while wearing it.
When climbing, safety always takes precedence. We trust our gear to keep us safe, and all of it is essential to living. However, some people choose not to look at helmets as essential. Climbers who disregard the safety of helmets are, well, frankly they are idiots. Don’t be that person who doesn’t climb without a helmet.
There are so many comfortable, breathable, and durable helmets on the market now, meaning that you don’t have an excuse to not own one. They can mean the difference between life and death when you take a hard fall, so choose life and buy the best climbing helmet.