Do You Need a Helmet When You Zip Line?


You know through this blog that zip lining can be a safe activity, but you believe you can never be too safe. That’s why you plan to wear a helmet for your upcoming ziplining adventure. Your kids though are trying to get out of it. Will the ziplining company require riders to wear a helmet or is foregoing a helmet an option? 

Helmets are usually worn by zip line riders of all ages as a safety precaution. The zip line company should mandate that riders wear a helmet and should provide a helmet for you to put on.

In today’s post, we’ll talk in-depth about wearing a helmet when ziplining, including when it’s required, if you need to bring your own, and how to fit your helmet so you can go ziplining with confidence! 

Should You Wear a Helmet When Ziplining?

Do you need a helmet when ziplining? The short answer is yes, of course, you do. 

Ziplining is a safe activity, don’t get us wrong. It’s been a while since we’ve discussed ziplining safety, so here’s a recap. 

Of a million people who will get clipped to a zip line and ride, the rate of injury is 11.64 out of that million. Between 1997 and 2012, only 3,600 people hurt themselves ziplining. 

That makes activities such as skydiving, lighting fireworks, mountain climbing, using a vending machine, and even driving your car inherently more dangerous than ziplining.

Although the zip line attendants will check the line before your ride to ensure its condition, you like to prepare for worst-case scenarios all the same. After all, when ziplining, you’re suspended hundreds of feet in the air. 

If you fell, you could break bones, lacerate your skin, and even possibly sustain fatal injuries. Having a helmet strapped to your noggin could protect you from traumatic brain injuries. 

It doesn’t matter what age you are; kids and adults alike should wear a helmet when zip lining. Adults can serve as a good example to the kids, who will want to wear their helmets because mom or dad is doing it.

Do Zip Line Companies Require You to Wear a Helmet?

Perhaps someone in your party doesn’t like helmets, so they’d prefer not to wear one. Will the zip line company require it? 

Yes, they will, or at least, they should. Some zip line companies might prioritize helmets more for the kids, but the truly safe ziplining experiences will require that all riders wear a helmet, young, old, or in between. 

If the zip line company you scheduled a ride with tells you that helmets are optional, you might want to reconsider your ziplining adventure. The risk is just too great.  

Do You Need to Provide Your Own Helmet or Will the Zip Line Company Give You One?

When you arrive at the zip line course and get geared up, is a helmet going to be among the equipment you receive? 

It should be! 

We’ve written a lot about ziplining adventures lately, so you might recall how the process goes when you arrive (well, at least generally, as every ziplining company is different). 

After being transported to your ziplining location, you’re then given your equipment. This equipment should include a helmet as well as a harness. 

You wear the harness on your body so the staff can easily clip you into a carabiner that’s attached to the zip line. If you’re expected to stop on your own using gloves, then you should receive a pair of gloves as well. Many zip line brakes don’t require manual stops anymore though.

The last piece of gear you’ll get is a helmet, which you should put on before you zip down the rope. 

If you have a trusty helmet you use for biking, skateboarding, and other outdoor activities where protecting your head is paramount, you can leave it at home. It’s too much of a liability for the ziplining company to let you use a random helmet, so wear theirs instead. 

The only exception to that rule would be when riding on a homemade ziplining course. Since this isn’t a commercial operation, there are no standard protocols for zipline riders, nor are there any set rules. 

You’re probably not paying to ride a manmade zipline course, so there’s no reason to assume you’d be provided equipment, including a helmet. You’ll want to bring your own.  

How to Choose the Right Helmet Size

Whether it’s your own helmet for a manmade zipline course or the helmet provided to you at the zipline company, it must fit or it’s not going to provide you with the full range of protection that a helmet should. 

How do you select a helmet size and adjust it? Here are the steps to follow.

Measure the Circumference of Your Head 

Helmets come in sizes ranging from extra-small through extra-large. Some are even one-size-fits-all, but these helmets will feature a variety of adjustments so you can customize the fit. 

To determine which helmet size matches your noggin, you’ll have to measure the circumference of your head.

This likely isn’t something you can do on your own, so have another person ready with a flexible measuring tape. They should wrap the tape completely around your head, encircling the biggest area. For a bit of help, the largest part of your head should be an inch or so over your eyebrows.

Have your friend or family member jot down the circumference of your head. 

Select a Helmet Size Based on Your Head Circumference

Once you know the circumference of your head, all you have to do is take that number and match it to an accompanying helmet size. Here’s a helpful chart to help you do that.

Head Circumference Helmet Size
20 inches or 51 centimeters or lessExtra small
20 inches to 21.75 inches or 51 centimeters to 55 centimetersSmall
21.75 inches to 23.25 inches or 55 to 59 centimetersMedium
23.25 inches to 24.75 inches or 59 centimeters to 63 centimetersLarge
24.75 inches or bigger or 63 centimeters or biggerExtra large 

Adjust Your Helmet to Fit

If you put a helmet on your head that’s in your size but it doesn’t fit perfectly, don’t panic. That doesn’t always mean you have to size up or down, just that you need to adjust the helmet.

Within a helmet should be an adjustment wheel. By turning the wheel, you can loosen a too-tight helmet or tighten one that’s jiggling around on your noggin. 

If your helmet doesn’t have an adjustment wheel, then an alternate adjustment method in this same vein is foam pads. Thicker foam pads will make your helmet fit tighter while thinner pads will relax the fit.

You should then move on to the chin strap. Underneath your ear to your chin, the shape of the straps should be a V. If you don’t get that shape when the chin straps are buckled, then you need to slide the buckles around.

To test if you have the chin strap buckles adjusted correctly, put the helmet on and secure the buckles as you normally would. Then open your mouth as wide as you can as if you were going to yawn. If you don’t feel the helmet pressing on your head, then it could afford to be tighter. 

What to Check for Before You Wear a Helmet

Although you can reasonably assume that the zip line company will inspect the helmets, harnesses, and other gear you wear before the start of every ride, it’s still not a bad idea to give your helmet a once-over yourself. 

Here’s what you should look for. 

Size

Not all helmets will have a size printed on them, but if yours does, you want to know. If your helmet size is a medium but the helmet you received is a small size, you can let a crew member on the zip line company team know. They’ll be able to quickly switch out your small helmet to one that fits you.

If the helmet has no label, you can usually tell the fit of the helmet just by putting it on your head. Although helmets are quite adjustable, there’s only so much you can do to toggle with the fit of the helmet before you realize that yours might just be too small.  

Cracks or Other Signs of Damage

What kind of shape is the helmet’s exterior in? Since the helmet belongs to the zip line company and has likely seen a lot of use over the years, it’s okay if the helmet looks scuffed or a bit dinged up. Most ziplining helmets are made of plastic or another hard-shelled exterior material, so a bit of minor cosmetic damage is nothing to panic over.

That said, if the helmet is cracked anywhere, you should talk to the zip line company crew member and ask that they replace your helmet immediately. The crew member should dispose of that helmet, as it’s not safe for any other zip line rider to use.

A helmet that’s cracked cannot do its job, which is to safeguard your noggin from damage. Upon impact, the already compromised helmet exterior could shatter, leaving nothing but the foam liner to protect you. If you’re taking a big fall, which could happen when ziplining, that foam liner will not be enough. 

Missing Buckles

Does the chin strap have all its buckles? What about any other buckles or clips throughout the rest of the helmet? If these are missing, that will impede your ability to adjust your helmet so it fits, which is a problem. 

Foam Liner Condition 

The foam liner, which we touched on in the paragraphs above, also deserves your attention before you put your helmet on and go zip lining. Most helmet liners are expanded polystyrene foam, which is a type of hardened, durable Styrofoam. 

The foam liner can lessen your impact if you fall, so it’s very important. If the liner is missing chunks out of it, then you need to bring that to the attention of the zip line company crew so you can get a better helmet. 

Can You Wear Glasses or a Hat with a Helmet?

Most people who don’t like wearing helmets are concerned that the headpiece will cramp their style. We can certainly understand where they’re coming from! Many zip line companies offer packages where their photographers will take upwards of 100 photos of you, so you don’t want to look like a dork.

Can you still wear accessories that express your personality (and make you look cool) with a helmet on? That depends on which accessories you’re interested in donning.

If it’s a hat, then no, you can’t wear it with a helmet. A baseball cap’s bill would interfere with the helmet, altering its fit. You would be very uncomfortable. Even if you flipped the bill towards the back of your head, the helmet fit still wouldn’t be any better.

A knit beanie could prevent the helmet from fitting correctly. The foam liner of the helmet and the knit material could slide against one another. 

Leaving your hat at home when ziplining is not a bad thing, though. A hat is not the best accessory choice when you’ll be up hundreds of feet in the air and traveling at speeds that sometimes exceed 30 miles per hour. You could lose it and have no way of getting the hat back!

What about glasses, be those prescription glasses or sunglasses? Those are fine to wear. The helmet will keep your glasses securer than they might be on their own so you don’t have to worry about them flying off your face. 

Final Thoughts

Helmets should be a requirement when zip lining, as a helmet can protect your head from serious damage in the unlikely event that you fall while riding down the zip line. Now that you know how to fit a helmet and adjust it, you can stay safe and zipline with confidence. Have fun! 

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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