How to Choose a Climbing Helmet

While climbing, a helmet can be necessary to prevent your noggin from getting hit by falling rocks, ice, or the occasional dropped equipment. While less common, a CLIMBING HELMET can also help protect you from a ground fall, a big swing, or when you stand up too quickly in a tight space. In this expert advice installment, we’ll describe how a climbing helmet should fit, the types of helmets on the market, and some great features to look for when choosing a helmet.

Helmet Styles

There are three types of climbing helmets: hard shell, foam, and hybrid. As with most things, each type has its advantages and disadvantages:

Hard Shell Helmets are reminiscent of a hard hat construction workers would use. These helmets use a hard shell with a webbing suspension system to dissipate the force of an impact to your head. Hard shell helmets are very durable and usually offer the highest range of sizing in a single helmet, which is great when one helmet is being used by multiple people. On the downside, these helmets are also usually heavy, clunky, and not very well ventilated.

Foam Helmets are similar to bicycle helmets. They’re composed mostly of foam, usually EPS (expanded polystyrene), to bear the brunt of an impact, and then have a thin layer of polycarbonate to protect against minor bumps and bruises. A foam helmet tends to be the lightest helmet option, but with light weight comes fragility and higher costs.

Hybrid Helmets are exactly what they sound like: a hybrid of hard shell and foam designs. They incorporate a thicker ABS (a type of thermoplastic) shell with some EPS foam. This blend of technologies delivers a well-rounded helmet that’s lightweight, has good durability, and offers some of the best pricing.

Helmet Fit

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.

Most climbing helmets offer either a wide range of adjustability or multiple sizes to accommodate different heads. Most climbing helmets have straps that come with rotating dials that let you fine-tune your helmet to the exact size of your head. This is especially useful if you ever wear an insulating hat underneath your helmet for ice or cold-weather climbing.


Above all else, think about your safety when buying a helmet. Never buy a used helmet, as even one hard hit in its previous life can disrupt the product's ability to distribute energy. In other words, the next time around, the rock will win, not your head.

Helmets always come with safety ratings that tell you exactly when you should replace it, the limit of impact forces it can take, and other important data, so be sure to read up on these before you buy. While some helmets are still effective after lighter impacts, it’s highly recommended that you replace any helmet after a major impact.

Other Features

There are some other options to consider when making a helmet purchase. Headlamp clips are great if you like to burn the midnight oil or are considering going into the depths of a cave. Venting is another option to consider if you’re doing any high-output activities or if you’re climbing in hotter temperatures. Some helmets also allow for the attachment of a visor, which is great for ice climbing or cleaning dirty routes.

Need Help?

If you can’t find what you’re looking for on our website or in one of our stores, or if you have any other questions, please contact Customer Service at [email protected] or 1-203-379-2233.