Best Climbing Helmet for Your Dome

We chose eight top climbing helmets, dragged them through tight chimneys and up big walls, sport climbs, and long trad routes. We took the occasional leader fall and descended big climbs in the dark with a headlamp strapped to the helmet. In the end we ranked and rated each helmet on five key points: comfort, ease of adjusting, weight/profile, ventilation and ease of putting on a headlamp. We also evaluated them on value, durability and appearance. The good news is that all modern helmets work well.

Read the full review below >

Review by: Chris McNamara and Chris Van Leuven March 5, 2010

Top Ranked Climbing Helmets - Men's Displaying 1 - 5 of 6 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Petzl Meteor III Plus
Petzl Meteor III Plus
Read the Review
Video video review
Read the Review
Petzl Elios
Petzl Elios
Read the Review
Video video review
CAMP Armour
CAMP Armour
Read the Review
Mammut Skywalker 2
Mammut Skywalker 2
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award    Best Buy Award    Top Pick Award 
Street Price Varies $80 - $100
Compare at 4 sellers
$Varies $50 - $66
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $40 - $60
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $54 - $60
Compare at 4 sellers
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Editors' Rating
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100% recommend it (3/3)
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80% recommend it (4/5)
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Pros Extremely lightweight, excellent fit, breathableSleek, tough, great value, easy to adjustsleek, tough, comfycozy fit, stylish, comfy chin strap
Cons Expensive, fragileNonedoes not take headlamp well, bulky chin strapslid around on head during hot days
Best Uses Free climbing, clean–aid wallsAll around climbing, big walls, ice, alpine, free climbingbig wall, ice, alpine, moderate free climbingalpine, big wall, trad, sport climbing
Date Reviewed Jul 09, 2011Dec 31, 1969Mar 19, 2010Dec 04, 2009Feb 25, 2010
Weighted Scores Petzl Meteor III Plus Petzl Elios CAMP Armour Mammut Skywalker 2
Comfort - 35%
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Ease Of Adjusting - 20%
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Weight Profile - 20%
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Ventilation - 20%
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Ease Of Putting On Headlamp - 5%
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Product Specs Petzl Meteor III Plus Petzl Elios CAMP Armour Mammut Skywalker 2
Weight (size medium or size 2) 7.9 oz 8.4 oz 12.3 oz 12.9 oz 13 oz
Number of colors 3 3 5 5 3
Shell Style Light Foam Light Foam Hard plastic Hard plastic Hard plastic
Warranty 3 years 1 year 3 years 1 year 1 year

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review



In all the testing we have done so far, picking winners among helmets was harder than for any other piece of gear because all the helmets were so good. And the main fact about helmets remains the same: wearing any helmet is a million times better than wearing no helmet. It doesn't matter whether you are wearing a classic Joe Brown helmet your dad gave you in '88 or the new Petzl Meteor III, you'll be glad be you had one when falling debris or falling yourself occurs unexpectedly (which it always does).

Comfort
The most comfortable helmet was the Petzl Meteor III with its lightweight shell, secure feel. and cozy lining. Next was the Petzl Altios with its innovative mesh lining that evenly distributes weight across the top of the head. The surprise in the comfort category was the value-priced CAMP Armor. We didn't expect it to rival the top-of-the-price-line models, but it came close. It has soft open cell foam that made it a runaway winner when we asked 30 people to try on all the $60-65 helmets and pick which one felt the best. All the other helmets in that group had the testers split. Some thought the Half Dome was the most comfortable value helmet while others thought it was clearly the least. Some loved the Mammut Skywalker 2 and others said it felt too insecure perched on top of the head. Many people loved the fit of the Tracer but experienced irritation from the chin straps. The message was clear: you should try on all the helmets to see what fits your own head best.

Ease of Adjusting
Most helmets had a wheel on the back that made them easy to adjust. We found all the wheels worked about equally well. The only helmet without a wheel, the Meteor III, was still easy to adjust. The Altios had the most options for adjustment. With it you could have the custom mesh liner or not, adjust the padding to cover vent holes or not, and add a face shield and special headlamp clip if desired (face shield $50 extra).

For chin straps, there was much more difference. The Petzl straps were highly rated because they are light, easy to adjust and stay out of the way. They were the only chin straps you could easily adjust with one hand while walking. The Skywalker 2 was also easy to adjust and its chin straps were the most comfortable because they were thin and had padding in the right spot. The Armour's chin strap was considered cozy by some but bulky by others. With the Armour you had to take off the helmet to adjust it, as you did with the Black Diamond helmets.

Strength and Durability
All the helmets tested passed the UIAA and EN 12942 tests. So on paper all the helmets were just as highly rated for strength. We did not do any impact tests ourselves and don't know anyone who has done so scientifically. Durability was also hard to judge because we could not subject all the helmets to the exact same conditions for years. That said, we know from experience that lightweight helmets such as the Tracer and Meteor III must be carefully handled and are not expected to last a decade like an Ecrin Roc, which was clearly the most durable helmet. The Elios was the only other helmet that we have beat on for years and it has held up great. We expect the Skywalker 2 and Armour to also score highly for durability — they just feel bomber.

Ventilation
The helmets with the most vent holes generally ventilated the best. The Meteor III came out on top followed by the Half Dome. The Altios also stood out as venting well. All the other helmets were tougher to distinguish. The Skywalker 2 vented surprisingly well but also seemed to slide around when it got hot. One thing that surprised us about ventilation was the importance of the chin strap. When the temps rise, a thin chin strap that you can easily loosen makes a big different. All the Petzl helmets and the Skywalker 2 scored well in this category.

Ease of Putting on a Headlamp
All the helmets have four clips for attaching a headlamp. The Half Dome stood out as the easiest helmet to put a headlamp on while wearing it. The Elios came in second and all the other helmets were about as easy to put a headlamp on. The Altios came with a special attachment so that you could attach certain Petzl headlamps to the front without a strap. This is a cool feature, but we would not use it for climbing because it would be hard to rig a keeper sling or back up for the headlamp. We could not test how likely a headlamp was to stay on during a fall. Our experience is that in a really violent fall, a headlamp can come off any helmet. So the only true protection is a keeper or back up sling that attaches directly to the headlamp strap and then the helmet.

Appearance/Style
This is an important yet subjective category. It is hard to rate a helmet on style because everyone has different tastes. At the same time, how you think a helmet looks is often the biggest factor in whether you will wear it all the time or just when you think you will be in an area of falling debris. Since this was such a subjective category, we did not give helmets a score for style. But we did find that most people thought the Elios and Skywalker II looked the best. Most other helmets had some people who loved them and others who thought they looked less cool. Some loved the Tracer and Meteor III while others thought they looked like strange bike helmets. Some loved the Half Dome and some felt it looked like Storm Trooper getup. The Armour's wild colors had many converts but also a few people who felt the green model looked like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. We'll let you decide which helmet looks best.

Weight/profile
Again, the Meteor III came out ahead. It is the lightest on the scale and also just feels light — many testers forgot they had it on. The Black Diamond Tracer also scored high. Both helmets were light compared to the third and fourth place finishers: the Half Dome and the Elios. Most other helmets were about the same weight and felt the same when chimneying. The exceptions were the Altios and Ecrin Roc; they felt top heavy and bumped into the rock more in tight situations.

Value
Climbing helmets come in three basic price classes: value, expensive ultra-light, and expensive not-ultra-light. The Black Diamond Half Dome, Petzl Elios, CAMP Armour and Mammut Skywalker II are our favorites in the $60-$65 range. They are all a great value considering how high they scored compared to more expensive helmets. Both the Meteor III and Tracer are much more expensive but are intended for climbers for whom every ounce counts. The Altios and Ecrin Roc are expensive compared to the others but might be the right choice if you love the features of the Altios or need an ultra-adjustable or durable helmet like the Ecrin Roc.

The Bottom Line
The runaway winner for Editors' Choice was the Petzl Meteor III Plus because it is so light and comfortable. In fact, it is so light and comfortable that when on the Big Stone we several times forgot to take it off during dinner.

The Editor's Choice for Women's specific helmet goes to the Black Diamond Vector- Women's. It weighs the same as the Meteor, costs less, and has more fun colors for women.

Picking a winner for Best Buy was much more difficult. The competition was fierce between the Armour, Half Dome, Skywalker II, and Elios. All the testers had different favorites and we debated the pros and cons of each for more than a month. Ultimately we let the scoring dictate the winner: the Petzl Elios. That said, when each tester was asked which $60-65 helmet they would take, the verdict was split. We think all the less pricey helmets are a great value. In most cases it will come down to individual comfort preference. Each of the four had a distinct fit, so if you try them all on in a store you will probably find one you prefer.

Chris McNamara and Chris Van Leuven
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 How to Choose the Best Climbing Helmet

by Chris Van Leuven, Chris McNamara
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