Just like any outdoor sport, there are inherent risks in climbing. From falling off the wall to rock fall – gravity can cause some major issues in terms of sending a route. To mitigate some of these risks helmets can be donned as the first line of defense.As with any sport, helmets won’t be the end-all, be-all for safe practices, but will be sure to act as a solid barrier for preventable head injuries. These can include, but aren’t limited to:
- Loose rocks or hardware falling from above
- climbing and hitting your head on overhangs
- Hitting your head on the wall from swinging after a fall
As all helmets purchased from reputable distributors will meet industry-related impact standards, your main concern will be choosing the right helmet. To do so, you’ll need to take into consideration helmet type, your climbing discipline, and proper fit.
Before moving into climbing discipline considerations, it will prove beneficial to understand construction types of the helmets. Currently, there are two types of helmets that are properly constructed (although terminology may differ) – the hardshell and shell-foam helmets.
Hardshell helmets are typically more durable, made with a traditional lid and features a sturdier outer shell (typically ABS plastic) and will be paired with strap suspension systems and a thinner foam liner. Benefits include improved lifespan and lower cost.
Shell-foam helmets sport a thick outer layer of impact-absorbing polystyrene /polypropylene foam which is then protected by a thinner polycarbonate shell. Due to the higher ratio of foam to shell, the forces from impacts will be dispersed and dissolved due to deformation of the helmet. Therefore, they can offer a lower weight and higher breathability.
Now that you know what each helmet can provide, you can further draw upon what types of climbing they may best be suited for.
Multi-pitch climbing or Mountaineering: Shell foam helmets will be the best consideration as you will wear the helmet for longer periods and have extra weight, so breathability and low weight are a must.
Due to whiteout conditions being an ever present possibility in mountaineering, ensure you choose a bright colored helmet.
Ice climbing: Look for a shell-foam model with minimal vents. Due to the large possibility of falling debris, you wont want the vents to expose you to whatever may be raining down.
Sport climbing: Typically done in warmer months, look for shell-foam with ample ventilation.
Cool-weather/single-pitch sport climbing: Because you can take the helmet off while waiting your turn to climb or belay, you can choose to trade the comfort of a shelled foam model for the durability and affordability of a hardshell.
Belaying: Protection from rockfall and dropped gear is a concern, so it’s important that you also wear a helmet while belaying. Use whatever you brought for the climbing segments
Not only is it important to know what the helmets are capible of and in what environment they will work best, but it is also important to consider how the helmet works with you. The considerations here being helmet lifespan and helmet fit.
As with all gear, helmets will naturally degrade and become obsolete over time. From things like natural wear and tear to degradation due to UV rays, the helmets sustained use can only last so long. Most helmets that get moderate (casual) use need be replaced after 10 or so years. As with helmets of all other sports, if these helmets take a major impact they should immediately be replaced. Hard falls will break-down the foam core’s structure, in turn making it useless. For those who climb very regular and have high exposure to the sun,
In regards to helmet fit, I highly recommend checking out the helmet in person before buying. A snug fit is very crucial in proper protection, so it’s very important you get a helmet that will fit your head shape/size/construction.
To get a secure fit, “start with the front rim straight across your forehead. After you adjust the fit, but before you buckle the chin strap, shake your head from side to side and tilt your head slightly back. The helmet should remain snug.” (1)
Another thing to check is the adjustment straps and system. You’ll want to make sure when wearing the helmet you can bring your head through full range of motion without causing strain or discomfort. You should also fiddle with the adjustment straps and clips to see how they’ll work for you when you go on your hike.
There’s some basics on climbing helmets. If you want to see some specific examples, check out the black diamond half-dome https://amzn.to/2wqGyGa , the mammut el cap https://amzn.to/2KGpyyF , or the black diamond vapor https://amzn.to/2rrhOIY
Ultimately, your safety and well-being is going to be your responsibility. If you don’t take the proper steps to provide yourself with adequate safety and knowledge for the task you will undertake you will be subjected to hardships. Therefore I encourage you to get 1-on-1 instruction and experience when pursuing activities like climbing.
I hope you enjoyed the article! If you did please follow along for more tech talks, trail reviews, and summaries on various outdoor sports!