The climbing helmet is one of the most important pieces of equipment. It protects the head against falling objects, be it rocks, ice, carabiners or belay devices. We explain what matters. Continue reading
Climbing helmet - because not all good things come from above ...
It's rare to see a climber in alpine regions without a helmet yet, go to a climbing or bouldering park and you'll see many a climber on the wall without head protection. However, when one of the climbing partners loses a grip on the wall and falls, there's a look of panic. To cut a long story short: Outside, a climbing helmet belongs on the head of a sensitive climber. It's solid protection against falling stones up to a certain size. After all, a stone the size of a cube with a sufficient drop in height can cause life-threatening injuries. Everything you need to know about climbing helmets you'll find right here:
Which types of climbing helmets are there?
Like most climbing protective equipment, climbing helmets also have a safety standard (EN 12492). Among other things, the climbing helmet must withstand the impact of a five-kilo-heavy metal weight that falls from an above distance of two meters. A shock-absorption of no more than not more than 10 kN must be met to protect the head and cervical spine. Climbing helmets can be found especially in the areas of alpine climbing, sport climbing, ice climbing, via ferrata and on high altitude mountaineering expeditions. Helmets give ideal head protection against falling stones or ice and also during a fall itself. In principle, three different shapes can be distinguished:
Hardshell helmets: Hardshell helmets are known as a classic "shell". They are made of hard plastic (polycarbonate), in which softer, shock-absorbing materials are incorporated. One such classic is the Edelrid Ultralight.
Foam shell helmets / In-mold helmets: They are usually made of high-quality foam polystyrene (expanded polystyrene) and are partially covered with a very thin plastic layer (In-Mold = injected into the mold). This helmet type is very similar to the Petzl Sirocco. This helmet is not only made of EPS, but also of EPP - and is extremely light at 145 or 165 grams.
Hybrid shell climbing helmets: These helmets are a combination of both hard and foam shell helmets. The EPS foam is additionally enclosed by a hard shell. An example of a helmet of this construction is the Mammut El Cap or the Edelrid Zodiac.
Especially on long and difficult alpine routes light helmets are an advantage. | Photo: Salewa/Frank Kretschmann
At a glance: Pros and cons of various helmet types
Advantages: + good shock absorption at frontal load (= load from above) + not sensitive during transport, multiple load, + good air-flow
Advantages: + very light (145-220 grams, depending on size and make). + for those that frequently look upwards, a light helmet protects the cervical spine and neck. + better cushioning with lateral (lateral) and dorsal (= posterior) loading
Advantages: + weight between hardshell and foam-shell helmets + combination of robustness and minimum weight.
Disadvantages: - relatively heavy (depending on make 300-400 grams). - regular use without safety glasses can lead to tension in the cervical spine and neck
Disadvantages: - exposure to head and cervical spine during frontal loading (= force from above) greater than with hardshell helmets - more sensitive during transport
Disadvantages: - heavier as an in-mold helmet - more an allrounder as spesialist for more playful climbing
A 2014 (!) study from the United States (Performance of Certified Climbing Helmets during simulated Climbing Falls) suggests that the standard for climber helmets is not designed for impact injuries. According to an analysis of accidents in the US and Switzerland, head injuries are 12 times more likely to result from "collision injuries" than from falling objects. In general, neither hardshell, hybrid nor inmold helmets are suitable as crash helmets (unless they have additional certification). Among the three types, however, the inmold helmets offer the best damping values against collision injuries (Panorama 2/2017). It will be interesting to see if the standard for climbing helmets will be adapted accordingly.
Longevity of a climbing helmet
Two types of scenarios can be distinguished:
1. the climbing helmet becomes damaged or
2. the helmet is old.
1. The climbing helmet becomes damaged: Helmets are there to protect the head from falling rocks or other falling objects while climbing. For larger impacts, it is even desirable for the helmet to break in order to better distribute energy. If this is the case and even if from the outside the helmet looks intact, it should be replaced.
2. The helmet is old: The life span of a helmet is limited to its material. Climbing helmets, of whatever type, are made of plastics. And these plastics become brittle over the years. This means that they can no longer distribute the forces faster in the case of a break. In general, the manufacturers specify a date by which the climbing helmet should be in use. In general, this duration is also noted in the 'included instructions'. If this is not the case, a new helmet should be purchased approx after four to five years, depending on how often you have worn the helmet. UV light also contributes to the fact that plastics age.
One for all and all for one: multiple-certified climbing helmets
The requirements for a helmet when cycling, skiing and climbing are quite different. They are all designed for sports-specific load directions and intensities. Anyone who wants to buy a helmet for several alpine varieties needs to look at models that meet the relevant EN standards. The Mammut Alpine Rider, for example, is certified as a climbing helmet as well as a ski helmet. The Salewa Xenon is also suitable as a multifunction helmet for cycling, skiing and climbing / climbing. The catch on the multi-certified helmets is usually their price. This is usually much higher than pure climbing helmets. The advantage of course, is that at home you will only have one helmet to store.
Anyone who has ever seen a rope team on a large rock face knows why helmets often have bold colours: they are easy to spot. In some situations, this is a real plus. Also important are the ventilation slots. Keeping the head cool in sun is in the wall the head stays cool. However, the stability must still be respected, and rock fall must not let the slots of course. The range extends from very few openings (especially for multifunctional helmets) to very light and airy models like the Black Diamond Vapor.
Trying on a climbing helmet
For good protection, the helmet must sit firmly and comfortably on the head. It should be measured before selecting his head circumference. Because climbing helmets are only suitable for a specific area. The manufacturers usually specify this head circumference. That the climbing helmet fits well, it needs a well adjustable and firmly seated locking system. Otherwise, the helmet is simply torn off the head in an emergency.
In general, climbing helmets have two adjustment systems: a ring or strap, which encloses at the lower part of the head and the chin strap with a closure, helping to keep the helmet sitting where it should. When fitting the inner adjustment, the ring is first placed far, then put on and adjusted by adjusting mechanism so that the helmet sits firmly but still pleasant on the head. As a test, you can move the head quickly to the left and right as well as back and forth. If the helmet does not slip much, the optimal fit is achieved. Then the two chin straps are closed, so that the helmet does not slip off the head. Again, the straps should be firm, but not too tight.
What else is there to consider when choosing a climbing helmet?
Important is sufficient padding on the inside. This is especially important if you spend a whole day in the wall.
For use in the dark, a headlamp attachment is helpful in keeping the lamp in place, even when falling or running.
Some manufacturers offer special women's models, such as Petzl with his climbing helmet Elia. This helmet has a recess at the back for the tied hair (and that should always be long hair when climbing!). This ensures a better wearing comfort even under the helmet.
Especially with in-mold and hybrid climbing helmets you should be careful during transport. Even though helmets are designed to endure an extreme event, if you pack them at the bottom of your backpack or hang them on the outside and throw the backpack on top of them, they have often experienced this extreme event before they've had any rock contact.
Lightness trumps in this case. As with alpine climbing, especially in-mold helmets like the Black Diamond Vapor are in demand here.
#3 … for via-ferrata climbers:
Robust hardshell helmet such as the classic Edelrid Ultralight are still ideal companions. Yet even hybrid helmets such as the Black Diamond Half Dome are also ideal for this.
#4 … for high-altitude mountaineering/ice-climbing:
In this category, you will find less airier types of climbing helmets such as the Mammut Alpine Rider. In addition, there should be enough space underneath, such as the hybrid helmet Grivel Salamander .
#5 … for multi-sports:
If you want a helmet for everything, you can rely on multi-certified helmets such as the Mammut Alpine Rider or the Salewa Xenon.