How to Choose a Rock Climbing Helmet

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A rock climber’s helmet is one of the many key pieces of equipment to possess, alongside a harness, rock climbing shoes, ropes, etc. The helmet is designed to be used to prevent serious head injuries while out climbing. Similar to a bike helmet, the rock climber’s helmet has several features built-in to add more protection for a rock climber in particular.

There are several things to consider when choosing a rock climbing helmet, like what type of climbing do you prefer, how heavy/safe should it be, how much ventilation you need and many more. After reading this post, you will know how to choose the right rock climbing helmet!

At the end of this article you will find 3 recommendations for climbing helmets:

Why do I need a rock climbing helmet?

The rock climber’s helmet is meant to prevent a variety of head injuries. The type of climbing performed may impact the type of rock climbing helmet needed. For example, a mountaineering climb may require use of a helmet for extended periods of time. If you were ice climbing or belaying, a common potential hazard is falling debris.

For climbing indoors, helmet use may actually be required by the facility as dictated by their rules or liability waivers. Regardless of the type of climbing intended, a helmet will protect your head from many types of head injuries time and time again.

What happens if you don’t choose to wear a helmet?

This is a question that some rock climbers don’t ask themselves before starting and it can be devastating. Most climbers tend focus on the most likely cause of injury while rock climbing: falling. However, falling can pose the threat of head injury.

According to “Rock Climbing Injuries Treated in Emergency Departments in the U.S., 1990-2007,” over ten percent of falls during rock climbing result in some sort of head injury, typically lacerations. Other head injuries from rock climbing also include skull fractures and closed head injuries.

Even expert climbers are not immune to the hazards of rock climbing.

Will the type of climbing affect which helmet to purchase?

Yes! If you are mountaineering of climbing for extended periods of time, you will want a helmet that isn’t too bulky and provides a decent amount of air ventilation. This also applies to indoor climbing facilities that require helmets. In general, if you’ll be wearing the helmet for long periods of time, you should be comfortable with wearing the helmet for that amount of time and make sure that your head won’t overheat beneath the protective layers. In colder climbing instances, such as cool-weather climbing and ice climbing, overheating in the helmet is not as much of a concern. Ice climbing, along with belaying, pose a higher threat of falling debris and the helmet should be more durable and have a greater number of features that will protect the head. The more durable helmets should also be chosen for climbs that have a greater risk of falling.

What are rock climbing helmets made of?

There are a variety of materials used in rock climbing helmets. The type of helmet will determine which materials are used. Some of these materials may include:

  • Foam
  • Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS)
  • Polyethylene
  • Polycarbonate
  • Fiberglass
  • Expanded Polystyrene (EPS)
  • Expanded Propylene (EPP)
  • Polyester
  • Polyoxymethylene (POM)

What types of helmets are on the market today?

There are three main types of rock climbing helmets out there and picking a type of helmet is just as important as wearing the helmet on every climb. Choosing a good climbing helmet will help you stay as safe from head injuries as possible. The more appropriate the helmet is for the situation, the better the performance will be.

  • Hardshell: Hardshell helmets are made with an acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) outer shell with a smaller bit of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam. The adjustment band and harness will typically be attached to this outer, plastic shell due to its durability, thickness, and rigidity.
  • Foam: Foam helmets are mostly made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam and a polycarbonate layer above the foam. Occasionally, these types of helmets can also be made with expanded polypropylene (EPP) foam.
  • Hybrid: Hybrid helmets are a newer type of helmet but combine the ideas of a harder exterior shell with a foam layer. Each hybrid helmet is different but will have some combination of the acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS) outer shell and either the expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam or the expanded polypropylene (EPP) foam.

What are some advantages and disadvantages for each type of helmet?

Hardshell Helmets


  • Typically, hardshell helmets are less expensive than the foam helmets. A large majority of these helmets won’t cost more than $100.
  • These helmets are also incredibly durable. They can easily handle multiple minor impacts.


  • The hardshell helmets are heavy! This weight may affect the overall balance of a rock climber who isn’t used to the added weight.
  • These helmets may also detract a bit of comfort for the wearer.

Foam Helmets


  • Foam helmets are incredibly lightweight. Many of these helmets will weigh less than half of a standard hardshell helmet.
  • The comfort level is also much higher when wearing this type of helmet.


  • This type of helmet is much more expensive, easily exceeding $100 per helmet. Another important downfall of a foam helmet is the limited durability. After a handful of minor impacts or one major impact, the foam helmets will need to be replaced.

Hybrid Helmets


  • Hybrid helmets are great due to their ability for having the best of both worlds of a foam and hardshell helmet.
  • They are lighter than hardshell helmets and more durable than foam helmets!
  • There is also a greater range in price to browse from (anywhere from $50 all the way to $150).


  • The type of helmet is heavier than a foam helmet and less durable than a true hardshell helmet.
  • Many of these types of helmets will have less side protection than most of the foam helmets too.

What features should you look out for on a good rock climbing helmet?

The type of climbing will ultimately determine what climbing helmet you choose. However, there are several features that you will want to look for in a good helmet. This is a short list of the more important features to keep a lookout for:

  • Good ventilation– A good climbing helmet will have a way to keep your head cool in the toughest heats.
  • Easily adjustable straps- Without a simple way to adjust the straps, the harder it will be for you to get the helmet on your head before each climb. Also, the convenience is important for any subtle adjustments during the climb.
  • Style– Style is a big part of choosing a good climbing helmet. Studies have shown a climber is more likely to wear a helmet if it he or she feels confident in the helmet and that the helmet makes him or her look good.

How should a rock climbing helmet fit on your head?

If a climbing helmet isn’t worn properly, then you might as well not wear a helmet at all. A helmet does its job the best and is the most effective when it is worn the way it was intended to be worn.

More often than not, you’ll see children wearing helmets with the front at their hairline and giggling none the wiser. The front of a rock climbing helmet should not rest at the hairline of your head but rather just above your eyebrows. This is to prevent your forehead from any potential damage. A helmet should cover your forehead (almost to your brow line), fit snugly around the circumference of your head, and buckle tightly but comfortably underneath your chin.

You can perform a simple test to determine if a helmet is snug or not by simply shaking your head as if to say ‘No’ and then nod ‘Yes.’ If the helmet stays put, even before fastening the chin strap, it’s a good fit. Also, make sure the helmet doesn’t dig into your neck when you look up.

Also, although it is important to adjust the headband in the climbing helmet and the chin strap, you should make sure the helmet is comfortable and is centered securely on your head. When buckled, the chin straps should not have any slack and should look like the letter “Y” around each of your ears.

The way to adjust the straps should be relatively easy when wearing and not wearing the helmet. This is important in the event that you need to adjust the straps while in mid-climb.

What should you do when purchasing a new rock climbing helmet?

The first thing to do when getting a new rock climbing helmet is to hold on to the Instructions for Use and read it beginning to end. This is good advice for any product, rock climbing related or otherwise.

In relation to rock climbing, this means that it is possible that if you aren’t using the helmet the way it should be used, you may not be able to return it for a refund or whatnot. Not only will educating yourself on the rock climbing helmet help you know how to use it, it will also give you a better understanding of what the helmet is capable of, its limitations, any risks using it may have, and how to prevent any dangers from its misuse.

The second thing to consider when getting a new climbing helmet is to not use it for non-climbing activities. This may either sound like a silly thing to you or a logical point that should be considered. The basis of this point is simply that rock climbing helmets are designed for rock climbing. These helmets were not designed to go horse riding or bike riding or skateboarding.

A rock climbing helmet is designed to protect your head against the dangers and potential hazards of rock climbing. For instance, certain bike helmets are designed to protect a head mostly from frontal impact. While rock climbing could have a threat of frontal impact to the head, it is more likely to have impact to the top of the head. Rock climbing helmet manufacturers take these hazards into consideration when designing the helmet and you should as well.

The third thing you should do is to properly inspect the helmet. Before and after every rock climb, the helmet should be thoroughly inspected. This is mainly to ensure that the helmet will function to its greatest ability and to prevent as major damage to your head as possible. If the rock climbing helmet is in tip-top shape, then it is okay to use the helmet for your climb.

How will you know if a rock climbing helmet is okay to use?

Hopefully, you will never have a major or minor climbing incident and pray that your helmet will hold up. These accidents do happen and, thankfully, you will have a helmet to protect you. After these types of accidents happen, be sure to do a thorough check of the state of your climbing helmet. This is a small list of things to check for:

  • Damage to the outer shell or layer of the helmet. Minor dents and dings are okay, as that is normal through the use of the helmet. Any major dents in the climbing helmet is unsafe and will not properly protect your head.
  • Buckle and any other fastenings in working order. If something doesn’t close or fasten properly, you can’t wear it properly and won’t provide any protection against the natural hazards when climbing.
  • Webbing and other helmet interiors free from tears and fraying. If the webbing and other parts of the helmet’s interior is beginning to tear or fray, then the helmet may not have the same support or integrity and may be rendered ineffective.
  • No sliding parts. Be sure to double and triple check that the outer shell (if there is one on your helmet) is properly secure to the foam. The helmet should be one strong and secure unit. If any of the pieces begin to slide or are clearly broken, then the climbing helmet won’t be able to do its job properly.

What is the lifespan of a helmet?

This question is a bit tricky because there really isn’t a clear answer. The rock climbing helmet is designed to protect your head and it is effective in serving that purpose. When a helmet sustains a lot of damage, it is best to replace the whole helmet and that would be its full life expectancy. However, some rock climbers never experience a situation where the helmet is really needed to protect them and at that point, when should that helmet be put out of use? Surprisingly, a good rock climbing helmet that doesn’t experience major or minor incidents can last up to ten years. If the helmet is still being used after ten whole years of climbing, it is considered unsafe and you should invest in a new helmet.

Can you put stickers on your helmet?

This is actually a common question in the climbing world. Some climbers love the fashion aspect of climbing and want to look cool with rockin’ climbing gear and a sticker-covered helmet.

It’s a legitimate concern for these types of climbers and whether or not you can put stickers on a rock climbing helmet is a continued debate. In reality, it comes down to the type of helmet. Some climbers say that if a helmet is purely a foam helmet, stickers won’t cause any issues.

Other climbers say it doesn’t matter at all what type of helmet you have, it won’t damage the helmet.

Some adhesives may degrade the most commonly used helmet shell materials. Some don’t. But it would suck if that “I love Boobies” sticker was what put you in a wheelchair. Aside from the adhesives, there are two other issues with putting stickers on climbing helmets.

One issue is that stickers can make it harder to check the helmet for any damage caused. If there was a major dent or ding in the helmet that couldn’t be seen due to a sticker, the possibility you would be using a faulty rock climbing helmet only rises.

The second and more important issue with the stickers on the climbing helmets is the vibrations. Rock climbing helmets are designed to protect climbers from objects by dissipating the shock waves upon impact.

A lot of this debate centers around whether or not a sticker could disrupt the helmet’s ability to dissipate the shock waves properly. Some argue that one sticker couldn’t possibly do that much harm. Others claim that cracks are more likely to occur around the edges of stickers.

If stickers on a rock climbing helmet can cause that much of an issue, how can you create differentiate your helmet from other people’s helmets?

Some climbers will use permanent markers or pens to mark up their climbing helmets. While this seems like a great solution to the sticker issue, the markers and pens can pose a very similar issue as the stickers. Not knowing what types of adhesives and other materials in your permanent marker or pen can still cause problems with your climbing helmet.

Some companies that produce rock climbing helmets take this issue as a major factor when creating their helmets and have begun to mark certain areas of the helmet where having a sticker would be okay. Some companies have begun to incorporate fashion into their helmet designs so as to provide a climber with the feeling of looking cool without the need to add stickers.

The best solution to this question is to attach a label to the rock climbing helmet in a safe area. For instance, get a cable tie or colored rubber band and secure it to the helmet without disrupting the helmet’s ability to properly function. Even an actual tag on the smaller scale could be fun to decorate and have on display. It is better to be safe than sorry when it comes down to your helmet.

Good and Inexpensive Climbing Helmets for Beginners

If you are sure that you need a climbing helmet, I have listed some very good climbing helmets that are especially suitable for beginners and can be delivered quickly by Amazon.

Inexpensive: Black Diamond Half Dome

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The Black Diamond Half Dome is great for beginners in terms of price and durability. The hard shell makes the helmet very stable, but also a little heavier than helmets with lighter constructions. If you don’t mind the relatively high weight, the Black Diamond Half Dome will last forever.

Check on Amazon*


  • Affordable
  • Robust
  • Easy to adjust
  • Comfortable to wear
  • Version for women available


  • Relatively heavy
  • Poor ventilation

Safe: Petzl Boreo

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You can hardly climb safer than with the Petzl Boreo. The three layers of different foams perfectly secure the head in a very compact shape. 

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  • Extremely safe
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Very suitable for headlamps


  • Chinstrap poorly adjustable

Pro: Mammut Wall Rider

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If you want the best quality directly, you can’t ignore the Mammut Wall Rider. This helmet brings everything you could wish for in a climbing helmet. Usually, you have to cut back on design, ventilation or comfort when the safety is in focus. But not with the Mammut Wall Rider. Who already knows that he will use his new helmet frequently, should really take a closer look at this helmet. The only disadvantage is, of course, that you can see all these advantages compared to other helmets in its price. 

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  • Secure
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable
  • Good ventilation
  • Very well adjustable


  • Relatively expensive


Overall, rock climbing is a wonderful sport and you should go on the adventure if the opportunity presents itself. But with all sports, it’s incredibly important to be educated on the necessary equipment and to use it properly.

The rock climbing helmet is a crucial part of the climbing experience and, without out one, you could be putting yourself in serious danger. Remember to make sure you become invested in the proper safety procedures and know your helmet.

Because remember, someday that rock climbing helmet can save your life!

Attention: You have to take care of your safety when climbing! The information on only helps you to learn. Before you climb, you should make sure that you have been properly instructed by an expert and that you follow all safety precautions.

Disclosure: This website is the property of Martin Lütkemeyer and is operated by Martin Lütkemeyer. Martin Lütkemeyer is a member of the Amazon Services LLC Affiliate Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to enable Web sites to earn advertising revenue through advertising and linking to Links marked with * are affiliate links.