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Having a great climbing experience with a quality climbing helmet

Sarah explains why a quality climbing helmet will give you a great climbing experience.

Climbers in the Alpine regions are known to be very safety cautious, as they are always found with their complete protective gear - including a climbing helmet. However, in most climbing or bouldering parks, there are a lot of climbers without climbing helmets taking on risky climbs at significant heights. In situations where one of the climbers loses a grip on the wall and falls, there is a glint of fear and panic in the eyes of the onlookers and participants. A climbing helmet is vital to an individual’s head as it helps protect and cushion the head against unforeseen and unanticipated circumstances. We will discuss all that you need to know about climbing helmets and how they are beneficial for great climbing experiences.

What is a climbing helmet?

A climbing helmet is a critical piece of equipment which protects an individual’s head against a collision with various harmful objects. These objects include but are not limited to ice, rocks, stones, carabiners, or belay devices.

Similar to other climbing protective gear, climbing helmets are ensured with a safety standard (EN 12492). One of the prerequisites a helmet must-have is its ability to resist the impact of a metal substance weighing five kilograms from a height of two meters. To protect the head and cervical spine, the helmet must meet a shock-absorption of no more than 10kN. Climbing helmets are easy to come by, most notably in sport climbing, alpine climbing, ice climbing, high altitude mountaineering expeditions and via ferrata. With helmets, climbers are significantly protected against falling stones and ice and also a fall itself. When analysing helmets, three distinguished shapes are available.

Types of helmets

Hardshell Helmets

Also known as classic shell, hardshell helmets are made of hard plastic or polycarbonate. Softer, shock-absorbing materials further cushion it.

Foam Shell Helmets or In-Mould Helmets

These type of helmet is manufactured from superior-quality foam polystyrene with a partially covered thin layer of plastic. The plastic comprises In-Mould, otherwise known as injected mould. The foam shell helmets share the same similarities as the Petzl Sirocco. It is made up of EPS and EPP, which makes it extremely light at 145 or 165 grams.

Hybrid Shell Helmets

Hybrid shell climbing helmets are combinations of foam and hard shell helmets. A hard shell encloses the expandable polystyrene foam.

The Up And Downsides Of Various Helmet Types

Hardshell Helmet

Pros:

  • It is not sensitive during transport and multi-load
  • It has good airflow
  • This helmet has a frontal load that provides sufficient shock absorption, i.e. pressure from above

Cons:

  • It is quite heavy, depending on the brand. Most of them weigh with the range of 300 to 400 grams
  • Using this type of helmet without safety glasses can cause tension in the neck and cervical spine

Foam-Shell/In-mold Helmet

Pros:

  • This type of helmet is very light, weighing around 145 to 220 grams - depending on the brand and size
  • It protects the cervical spine and neck, most notably for those that frequently stare upwards
  • It features a better cushion with lateral and posterior loading

Cons:

  • Its frontal loading poses a risk in exposing one’s head and cervical spine
  • Also, it has higher sensitivity during transport

Hybrid Shell Helmet

Pros:

  • Its weight falls in between the hard- and foam-shell helmets
  • It is robust but quite light

Cons:

  • This type of helmet is ideal for more playful climbing
  • It is heavier as an in-mould helmet

According to a study conducted in the U.S., the standard for climbing helmets is not aimed at impact injuries. The rate of head injuries is 12 times more generated from injuries sustained during collisions than from falling objects - an analysis of the accidents in the U.S. and Switzerland. This implies that none of the helmet types is ideal as crash helmets, except they have additional certification. Nevertheless, the in-mould helmet still offers a higher quality value against collision injuries.

Durability Of A Climbing Helmet

Two factors determine the durability of a climbing helmet:

  1. A case scenario where the helmet gets damaged, or
  2. When the helmet gets old

The Helmet Gets Damaged

The sole purpose of a helmet is to protect an individual’s head from plummeting rocks and other objects while climbing. Whereby the impact is significant, the helmet is likely to break, thereby distributing the energy across its surface area. In such a situation, it is recommended to replace the helmet even if the surface appears to be intact.

The Helmet Gets Old

The material of a helmet determines its lifespan. Climbing helmets, regardless of the type, are composed of plastic. Over the years, the plastic becomes brittle. Should there be a breaking impact, such a helmet will not quickly distribute the force over the surface. Generally, a date is being assigned by manufacturers on when climbing helmets should be in use. One can find it in the included instructions. Otherwise, it is ideal that one changes a helmet every four to five years, depending on how often it is being worn. Helmets are also affected by UV lights.

Multiple-Certified Climbing Helmets

There are several helmet requirements for activities such as skiing, cycling, and climbing. These requirements are focused on various sports-specific load directions and intensities. You need to check out models that are up to par with relevant EN standards before purchasing a helmet for diverse alpine varieties. For example, if you are looking for a certified climbing and ski helmet, the Mammut Alpine Rider is most suitable for such tasks. Whereas, the ideal certified helmet for skiing, climbing and cycling is the Salewa Xenon. However, these helmets are more expensive than regular types.

Helmets have bold colours - and it is for a reason; it makes them easily spottable. They also feature ventilation slots to help the head stay cool. However, this feature must not compromise stability.

Putting On A Climbing Helmet

A climbing helmet must be correctly and firmly placed on the head to ensure comfort and protection. Due to the helmets being manufactured for a specific area, they usually have a particular head circumference. This helmet also comes with an adjustable and firm lock that helps hold it firmly on the head, to prevent it from falling off a climber’s head in an emergency.

There are two adjustment systems on a climbing helmet: a ring or strap and a chin strap. The former helps to enclose the lower part of the head, while the latter keeps the helmet in place. The ring is first placed far when fitting the inner adjustment, and then put on and adjusted via the adjustment mechanism to ensure stability on the climber’s head. To find out if the helmet is in place, you can move your head sideways. If it does not wobble, then the optimal fit is achieved. The helmet is also protected from slipping off by the two chin straps.

The following are factors to consider when selecting a climbing helmet:

  • There should be sufficient padding in its interior, especially if you will be wearing it for longer periods.
  • It is ideal to have a headlamp attachment fixed to it. With this, you can easily fit a headlamp which you can use in the dark.
  • Some women's helmets are available as well, such as Petzl and Elia. This type of helmet has a recess at the back for both tied and long hairs. This enables women to feel comfortable when putting on such helmets.
  • You should be careful when packing your helmet, as they could be exposed to extreme pressure - especially with in-mould and hybrid climbing helmets. Avoid placing heavy objects on them.

Purchasing A Helmet For Various Activities

For Alpine-Climbing

If you choose to engage in Alpine-climbing, you will need a reliable and lightweight all-rounder. However, the classic routes and alpine sports are climbing at a pro-level that would require a certified climbing helmet like the Edelrid Salathe. Also, you need a helmet that offers a high degree of safety, despite it being featherlight weight. Another great option is the Petzl Sirocco.

For Via-Ferrata Climbing

This type of climbing activity would require a robust hardshell helmet - an example being the classic Edelrid Ultralight. You could as well use the Black Diamond Half Dome.

For Sports Climbing

In this event, you need an in-mould helmet like the Black Diamond Vapor.

For Ice Climbing or High-Altitude Mountaineering

Less airy climbing helmets trump in this type of activity. Helmets such as the Mammut Alpine Rider are ideal for these types of climbers. Also, the helmets in this category must have enough space underneath - an example being the hybrid helmet Grivel Salamander.

For Multi-Sports

Other all-mountain helmets serve various climbing purposes. They are the go-to-for-everything helmets you can count on. An example of this helmet is the Skybo from Skylotec.

These tips will help you make the right decision on what type of helmet best suits your climbing activity. If you wish to know more about available helmets for purchase, please visit this link: a guide to climbing helmets.


Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • JONES, S. (2019) Having a geat climbing experience with a quality climbing helmet [WWW] Available from: https://www.brianmac.co.uk/articles/article525.htm [Accessed

About the Author

Sarah is a professional freelance writer with plenty of years of experience and has worked/wrote for various kinds of article niches. She finds freelancing as a way to express herself as well as to maintain the balance between her work and time with her family. If she is not working, she loves to read, hang out with friends, as well as exercise to keep her health and fitness in check.

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