Choosing A Climbing Helmet

Helmets are an increasingly common sight as the prevailing opinion on aesthetics changes. They used to only be associated with trad climbing on loose mountain crags but thankfully this is no longer the case. As helmet designs improve and they get lighter, more comfortable and cooler looking every year the list of excuses for not wearing one gets shorter.

So why should you be wearing a climbing helmet? Many climbers will forego a helmet at single pitch crags in the UK, but why is this? The chance of a head injury may be small but the actual injury will most likely be very serious. A fall can often end up with the climber inverting and their head colliding with the wall.

Personally I will never head out mountain cragging without a helmet, not just from a selfish perspective, but if you are half way up a multi pitch route and get knocked unconscious, your partner is going to have a real headache (no pun intended) trying to get themselves and their now useless meat bag partner off the mountain.

Now you’ve decided you need a helmet (good) or want to update your existing helmet there is now a massive range out there, so where to start?

Essentially Climbing helmets break down in to two categories; Tough ABS Thermoformed Plastic shell helmets (like the Petzl Elios) and lightweight EPS Foam helmets (like the Black Diamond Vector).

helmet post 1
Some head first Alpinism on Piz Badile

ABS Thermoformed Plastic helmets are the kind that most people will think of when they think of a climbing helmet. You will see them at activity centers, and crags everywhere, they are the favorite of Winter climbers and Alpine climbers all over the world. The main advantage of these helmets is that they will take multiple small knocks and bumps without denting and you can throw them in your hold-all next to your rack without worrying about any damage. If you are in an environment where you are likely to encounter rockfall these are the ones to go for as smallish rocks landing on your head are not likely to result in catastrophic damage to the helmet. Below is a comparison of our Hardshell helmets.

 Weight  Adjustment  Ventilation

Petzl Elios
300g Two push buttons Great and adjustable The Petzl Elios is a classic which Petzl update every few years. The current version features vents that can be closed making it a versatile helmet for year round use in all conditions. The rear adjuster uses two push button sliders which gives a good fit but can be a little fiddly with gloves on.

Black Diamond Half Dome
290g Wheel, great for gloves Good The Black Diamond Half Dome is the lightest unisex hardshell helmet that we stock. It has good ventilation but may get a little hot when working hard on really hot days. The rear adjustment is a wheel that is easy to operate, even with gloves.

Mammut El Cap
315g Two push buttons Good The Mammut El Cap helmet is a unique looking design. The small peak protects your eyes from glare and small debris and the back of the helmet extends nearly to the neck, offering similar levels of side protection as a foam helmet.

Petzl Elia
285g Two side buttons Great The Petzl Elia is a ladies specific version of the Elios. The rear adjustment has been modified so it sits higher up the head, leaving room for a pony tail. The size adjustment has been moved round to the side of the helmet, making it actually easier to adjust with gloves on. There is a lot of ventilation but this is not adjustable like the unisex Elios.


helmet post 2
Facewest Luke enjoying Black Diamond Vector’s ventilation on a hot day in Pembroke

EPS Foam helmets are a more recent development and are in most cases are so light you do not notice you have one on until it saves your life. Construction wise think a cycle helmet with an extra, thin polycarb shell. Their advantages over rigid plastic helmets are; weight, ventilation and they will protect the side of your head against falls more effectively that a rigid plastic helmet. Additionally they are what you will see all the pros wearing so they look cooler too!

 Weight  Adjustment  Ventilation

BlackDiamond Vapor
186g Ratchet Adjustment Amazing The Black Diamond Vapour is our most ventilated helmet and at 186g one of the lightest around. In addition to the usual EPS foam and thin polycarb shell Black Diamond have also added a layer of Kevlar and Carbon which improves strength and durability without compromising on weight. If you are looking for some protection without having to put up with a sweaty head then this is your helmet.

Petzl Sirocco
145g Textile adjustment Great The Petzl Sirocco is a modern day classic. Currently the lightest climbing helmet available its distinctive looks have been dividing opinions from Stanage Edge to Chamonix. Once you try one on though you’ll understand, it’s so light you will forget it’s there until its stops a loose rock splitting your head open. Also popular with ultra light fanatical SkiMo racers.

Petzl Meteor
220gg Ratchet adjustment Good The Petzl Meteor is a slightly heavier (but still only 220g) EPS Foam helmet popular with winter climbers as the magnetic buckle and ratchet adjustment are easy to use with gloves.

Black Diamond Vector
231g Ratchet adjustment Great My personal favorite the Black Diamond Vector is only 231g and doesn’t sit too high on your head. It has plenty of ventilation and solid helmet clips. The rear size adjustment sits just under the base of your skull which gives a nice comfortable fit that feels like its cradling your head. I’ve also found that when worn with ski goggles it forms a nice seal between the top of the goggles and the rim of the helmet which is a nice bonus on cold Scottish winter days.

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