How to Choose a Climbing and Rappelling Helmet


One of the most important pieces of rappelling gear you will buy is a rappelling helmet. I can not stress this enough, always wear a helmet! There are so many people who don’t wear a helmet, but recently technology and designs have changed and now there are so many options to choose from. Hopefully we’ll see more people wearing proper protection out on the rocks.

Use a helmet that has been specifically designed for rock climbing and rappelling. I have found a helmet that I love and that’s the Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet (Amazon link). It meets all of the criteria of a good, durable rappelling helmet that’ll keep you safe and comfortable all-day long. The Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet is a versatile helmet and can be used for all of your climbing activities. The ventilation on this helmet is incredible, so in cooler temperatures, look for ventilation plugs to keep you warm! 

How Should Your Helmet Fit

The helmet should not be too loose.  Everyone’s head is a different shape and size. Just because your friend loves their helmet, doesn’t mean you will. So how do you know if your helmet is fitting correctly?

With the helmet placed on your head unbuckled, shake your head from side-to-side. Also, move your head up and down a little bit to test it out. The helmet should still remain tight and not move around on your head if it is the right fit while unbuckled.

Make sure the chin straps are nice and snug. The straps should not be lose and they should create a Y around your ears. Be sure you know how to adjust the straps easily before you start. You don’t want to be messing with your helmet in the middle of your climb or rappel.

The Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet comes in two sizes, Small/Medium, and Medium/Large. Black Diamond provides a sizing chart on their website and I’ve found that the helmets fit as expected.

The helmet should cover most of your forehead and should cover as much of the bone on the back of your head as possible. This creates optimum protection for any falling debris or smacking your head against the wall or ground.

How to Choose the Right Material

As you are on the search for the right helmet, you’ll find helmets made from different materials and you may wonder which would be the best for you. The outer shell of helmets are usually made from polycarbonate, polyethylene, or fiberglass. The purpose of the inner shell is to distribute the force of impact and for comfort. This shell is usually a foam liner. Plastic helmets are usually lighter weight, and great choices for caving, rock climbing, and rappelling.

The fiberglass and polycarbonate helmets are designed to break as they absorb the shock. These helmets have a life span about twice as long as plastic helmets and are the best choice for ice climbing. Burr. Better bundle up for that!

Rappelling Helmet Weight

Many helmets weigh 10 or more ounces, some even up to a pound. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to carry a pound around on my head all day. Check the weight. Here’s my plus for Black Diamond again – Their helmet is only 8 ounces. You could wear that all day and forget it is still on your head. As a side note, Black Diamond recently updated their half dome helmet to be lighter with more ventilation. Their older version was 12.1 ounces, making it the second heaviest helmet on the market, before their updates. While reading older reviews of this helmet, note the updated weight and disregard complaints on this issue. The new weight of 8 ounces puts it below average.

Before Climbing and Rappelling

Whenever I am packing up my gear, I always give everything a thorough inspection. Check for any noticeable damage on the outer shell. Any major dents are a no go. Replace your helmet. Check that the buckle is in good working order and the straps are not fraying and do not have any tears. Lastly, make sure the foam on the inner shell is secure. Replace any helmet that has been subject to any hard forces. If you were in an accident and thought, “I’m really glad I had my helmet on,” replace said helmet.

How to Care for your Climbing and Rappelling Helmet

First and foremost, always store your helmet in a cool, dark place. I have a bin in my garage I store all my gear in. The suns UV rays will wear out your helmet quickly, so when you are not out on the rocks, store your helmet out of the sun.

When you’re tired and looking for a spot to sit down on in the great outdoors and there are no other options around to sit down on, refrain from sitting on your helmet. The rappelling helmet is not a multipurpose piece of equipment. Don’t put any unnecessary pressure on your helmet. This can create cracks in your helmet and compromise the integrity of your helmet. When you are done climbing, wipe the helmet inside and out with a damp clothe and hang to dry. Once dry store the helmet in a dark area.

Retire any helmet after about 10 years of use. If you climb frequently, then your helmet will have a shorter lifespan. About 5 years is the recommendation for a frequently used helmet.

As with all climbing gear be sure to check that the helmet you are purchasing complies with all safety standards.

Why Can’t I Use Any Helmet to Climb or Rappel?

The helmets are designed to protect you from the potential hazards you may face on the side of a rock. These hazards are different from the hazards you face in construction, riding a bike, or playing football for example. All of them will protect you from scrapes and rashes, but you want the right helmet for the job.  In fact, cycling helmets are tested under different safety standards all together. Cycling helmets are designed to and tested to take one hard impact. Climbing and rappelling helmets are not designed to absorb a large impact, they are instead designed for multiple, small force impacts. Unlike biking, you can’t just stop climbing or rappelling because you’ve had an impact. Most of the time, you have to keep going until you’ve reached ground. Because of their design and the differences in safety standards, it is best to stick with the appropriate helmet for the activity. If you aren’t an avid climber, but you’re going out for the day with a buddy, you can always rent a helmet from your local climbing gym.

Other things I Love About the Black Diamond Half Dome Helmet

I’ve already mentioned that I love how light weight this helmet is, but here are a few other features that I enjoy-

  1. Click Wheel – I have mentioned every head is a different shape and a different size. The click wheel makes these helmets easy to quickly adjust and you can even do it with one hand. Its easy to make an adjustment if needed in the middle of a rappel. There is a wide range of adjustability too if you have an adolescent age child who still has a little bit of growing to do.
  2. Sliding Buckle – With the sliding buckle, you can adjust the helmet’s chin straps to allow a snug fit with out feeling like the helmet is choking you. This also allows for more lateral stability. This buckle creates even further customizing and adjustability.
  3. Secure Headlamp Clips – If you are starting a climb/rappel before dawn, rappelling into the evening, or rappelling into a dark area, like cave rappelling, you will want headlamp clips. Most helmets now come with these already installed. Black Diamond brags that these are the best on the market, and really, they are. Black Diamond uses four clips around the helmet to position the headlamp. It is easy to secure the straps under and very secure. There is an extra lip on the clip to hold the headlamp in place so the straps will not slide down. Very, very handy.

Kids Specific Models

If I am always in a helmet, you can bet my kids are too. There is nothing more specific children need in a helmet than the adult versions, just a smaller version. You’ll want something that can grow with them, because those little heads grow so quickly. The Edelrid Shield II has a very large size range. This helmet can fit a 48-56 cm head. It’ll grow with them right into the adult small/medium size helmet.

Conclusion

Always look for a helmet that fits your head well and is comfortable. You’ll be spending a lot time in it. Make sure your helmet meets all safety standards by checking the tag inside the helmet, and follow all safety procedures. The Black Diamond is a great deal and its durability makes it appropriate for all types of climbing and rappelling. The Black Diamond Half Dome (Amazon link) has the most bang for your buck, its incredibly durable, and when properly cared for, will have a very long life hanging on the rocks with you.

Jacob

I love the great outdoors. I've tried to write the go-to info for all the Rappelling enthusiasts out there. Whether you finished your climb or hiked and rappelled down you will find tips, tutorials, and additional resources to help you. I live in Idaho with my wife and three kids and the great outdoors is our playground.

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