The Best Climbing Helmet

Click to enlarge
Luke Lydiard climbing Polygrip in Indian Creek while wearing the Black Diamond Vapor.
Credit: Mark Allen
Do you wear a climbing helmet every time you rope up? Like most climbers, you probably don't but know that you should. We've evaluated eight of the best and most popular climbing and mountaineering helmets on the market and found some that you will be stoked to strap on every time you climb. We tested four hardshell ABS helmets, three modern lightweight foam helmets and one totally unique helmet with no shell at all. Not sure of the difference? Keep reading or check out our Buying Advice article to learn about the advantages and disadvantages of the different types of helmets.

See our Dream Rock Climbing Gear List or Dream Ice Climbing and Mountaineering Gear List for all of our favorite gear.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Climbing Helmets - Men's Displaying 1 - 5 of 8 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #5 #7 #6 #2
Product Name
Petzl Meteor III +
Petzl Meteor III +
Read the Review
Video video review
Petzl Sirocco
Petzl Sirocco
Read the Review
CAMP Armour
CAMP Armour
Read the Review
Black Diamond Vapor
Black Diamond Vapor
Read the Review
Black Diamond Vector
Black Diamond Vector
Read the Review
Video video review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Top Pick Award       
Street Price $75
Compare at 1 sellers
Varies $90 - $130
Compare at 7 sellers
Varies $57 - $60
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$140
Compare at 6 sellers
$100
Compare at 6 sellers
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100% recommend it (5/5)
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1 rating
Pros Lightweight, secure headlamp clips, low profile harness, well placed vents, comfortableLightest helmet available, comfortable, magnetic buckle, comes in bright orangesleek, tough, comfyLightweight, Great VentilationFully adjustable harness, rigid plastic rear adjustment band, lightweight, excellent headlamp clips
Cons Less durable than hard plastic helmets, only comes in one sizeExpensive, fragile, textile rear adjustment band is difficult to use, comes only in bright orangedoes not take headlamp well, bulky chin strapFragile, Chin Strap doesn't adjust forward, Removable headlamp clips are easy to loose or forgetHeaviest light foam helmet, not as well ventilated as other lightweight helmets
Best Uses All types of climbing from sport to mountaineeringSport climbing, competition climbing, fast and light alpinismbig wall, ice, alpine, moderate free climbingSport climbing, Competition climbing, light and fast mountaineering, Hard trad, High end craggingTrad climbing, multi-pitch adventures, fast and light mountaineering, sport climbing
Date Reviewed Jan 01, 2014Feb 25, 2014Dec 04, 2009Jan 01, 2014Mar 17, 2014
Weighted Scores Petzl Meteor III + Petzl Sirocco CAMP Armour Black Diamond Vapor Black Diamond Vector
Comfort - 20%  
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10
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10
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9
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9
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9
Ease Of Adjusting - 20%
10
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8
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7
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8
Weight Profile - 20%
10
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8
Ventilation - 10%
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Headlamp Attachment - 10%
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2
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9
Durability - 20%
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7
Product Specs Petzl Meteor III + Petzl Sirocco CAMP Armour Black Diamond Vapor Black Diamond Vector
Number of Sizes 1 2 1 2 2
Weight (size medium or size 2) 7.9 oz 5.8 oz 12.9 oz 7.2 oz 8.4 oz
Number of colors 3 1 5 3 3
Shell Style Light Foam EPP Foam Hard plastic Light Foam Light Foam
Warranty 3 years 3 years 1 year 1 year 1 year

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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Selecting the Right Product
Wearing a helmet is never a bad idea. Regardless of which helmet you decide to buy, if you don't wear it, it won't do you any good. This is why we feel it's important to get a helmet that suits your needs. Common excuses for not wearing a helmet are: it's too heavy, uncomfortable, moves around too much, and is too hot. We've found helmets that solve all of these problems, so you will have no excuse not to wear a helmet.

Start by considering what you don't like about your current helmet or by recounting excuses for not wearing a helmet you've used in the past. Look at helmets that score highly in those trouble areas. Never owned or wore a helmet before? Think about what qualities you look for in other parts of your kit. Are you more concerned about weight or durability? Do you want the most bang for your buck or the best product regardless of cost?

The first thing you should decide is whether you want a lightweight foam helmet or a ABS hardshell helmet.

Types of Climbing Helmets
The helmets we tested can be broken into two categories: Lightweight Foam and ABS Hardshell.

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Hardshell helmets like the Petzl Elios (left) are constructed primarily of ABS plastic while lightweight foam helmets like the Black Diamond Vapor (right) are mostly polystyrene foam.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

Lightweight Foam
Lightweight foam helmets are constructed mostly of polystyrene foam covered by a thin shell of polycarbonate plastic which protects the foam. These helmets are lighter, more comfortable, and have better ventilation, but are less durable. We also put the Petzl Sirocco in this category though it is constructed of polypropylene foam and has no outer shell. Other tested helmets in this category are the Petzl Meteor, Black Diamond Vapor, and Black Diamond Vector.

ABS Hardshell
Hardshell helmets consist of an thick outer shell of ABS plastic covering a small chunk of polystyrene foam. The shell is the primary structural component of this type of helmet rather than the foam. These helmets are much heavier than lightweight foam helmets but are more durable due to the thick outer shell. Tested helmets in this category include the Camp Armour, Petzl Elios, Black Diamond Half Dome, and Mammut Skywalker.

For a full breakdown of the two types of helmet construction see our Buying Advice article.

Criteria for Evaluation

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The seven helmets we recently tested. Clockwise from upper left: Petzl Sirocco, Black Diamond Vapor, Black Diamond Vector, Petzl Meteor III +, Black Diamond Half Dome, Mammut Skywalker II and Petzl Elios.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

Comfort
No matter what helmet you own, it only does you any good if you wear it. Our testers and other climbers we polled agreed that a major factor in not wearing a helmet is comfort. Head shapes vary quite a bit, though maybe not as much as feet. So just like climbing shoes, what fits our testers might not fit you. We tried our test helmets on as many heads as possible, and comfort was usually the first thing that our test subjects commented on. We found that the weight of a helmet is closely linked to overall comfort, just as much as the shape and design of the helmet.

Not surprisingly, our lightest helmet, the Petzl Sirocco, was also the most comfortable. This helmet is hardly perceptible on your head. It's so light and comfortable that we found ourselves looking for it on the ground twice while we were wearing it. We think that this is a clear sign that it's a comfortable helmet. This was definitely not the case with the least comfortable helmet, the Mammut Skywalker, which we always knew we had on due to it's top heaviness and clunky rear adjustment band.

We recommend that you try on as many helmets as possible to make sure you get one that fits your head. When trying on a helmet, be sure to make the appropriate adjustments, such as positioning the chins strap front to back and moving the rear adjustment band up and down if possible.We expect that most people will find lighter helmets most comfortable, but there are most likely some odd heads out there that will be more comfortable in a heavier helmet with the right shape. If you are one of those climbers who claims they can't stand wearing a helmet, we think you should get your hands on one of the super light helmets and start there.

Ease of Adjustment
Most of the helmets we tested have a standard set of adjustments to tailor them to your head. These adjustments are chin strap length as well as fore/aft positioning of the strap. All of the helmets we've tested have a chin strap that fully releases and is adjustable in length at the release buckle. Fore/aft adjustment is very important because it allows you to get the chin strap tight without feeling like you are being choked. Just like a bike helmet, if the strap is positioned too posteriorly, wearers have the tendency to leave the chins strap much too loose to be effective. All of the helmets we tested have this adjustment with the exception of the Black Diamond Vapor, which has a fixed chin strap yoke. Front to back positioning of the chins strap is something that is generally done by the user once and then not adjusted again.

All of the helmets we tested have a rear adjustment band of some sort, which tightens against the occipital area and forces the head into the front of the helmet. We found this the single most important adjustment in getting a secure fit. These rear bands range greatly in design, from the super slim, all-textile one found on the Petzl Sirocco to the rigid band adjusted with a large click wheel found on the Black Diamond Half Dome. Essentially all of the bands serve the same purpose, but we found that some were more secure and some were much quicker to adjust. Most of the bands require two hands to adjust, so it is something you aren't likely to do mid-send on a technical route. Adjustment of this band is also important when switching between a beanie, a headband, or nothing at all underneath the helmet. This is something alpine climbers might do several times a day as temps and activity levels vary.

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Half Dome(left) and Mammut Skywalker II(right) both use click wheels to adjust the tension of the rear band. We prefer the feel of the one found on the Half Dome.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

The quickest and easiest to adjust helmet is the Black Diamond Half Dome which uses a click wheel on the rear band that can be adjusted with just one hand. Just behind that helmet is the Petzl Elios which no longer has a click wheel, but has two large easy to feel buttons on the rear band, though it still requires two hands to tighten, but can be loosened slightly with one finger. The hardest to adjust helmet is the Petzl Sirocco which has an all-webbing band and harness, and requires an extra amount of fiddling to get the band in place, though it is secure and very comfortable once in place.

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The Sirocco shaves weight by using an entirely textile rear adjustment band, which packs well but is not as secure as a hard plastic adjustment band.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

Weight
At the most basic level, climbing could be considered a battle against gravity. The weight of your gear affects your send no matter what level you climb, and all helmets weigh something. Even more importantly, we found that weight is a major factor in overall comfort of a helmet. Simply, lighter helmets are usually more comfortable, less noticeable, and are more likely to be worn. Unfortunately, weight has an inverse relationship with durability when it comes to most things, climbing helmets included. Heavier helmets are also considerably cheaper.

The helmets in our test ranged in weight from a feather weight 5.8 ounces to 13.7 ounces, which is nearly two and half times heavier. The difference between the two is a little more than a #3 Black Diamond Camalot. Ever left one of those behind because you didn't want the weight? We have.

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The Petzl Sirocco(left) weighs just 5.8 ounces and is the lightest helmet for climbing on the market. The Mammut Skywalker II(right) is the heaviest helmet in our recent test at 13.7 ounces.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

Helmets like the Petzl Meteor III + at 7.9 ounces and Black Diamond Vapor at 7.2 ounces are primarily constructed of polystyrene foam covered by a thin shell of polycarbonate, and are far lighter than hardshell helmets constructed of thicker ABS plastic. The lightest ABS hardshell helmet we tested is the Petzl Elios, which weighs in at 11.6 ounces. The lightest helmet on the market is the Petzl Sirocco which forgoes any type of shell and is constructed of a single layer of expanded polypropylene foam.

Ventilation
Lack of ventilation is another big reason why many people don't wear a helmet while climbing. We think the more ventilation a helmet has, the better. The consensus among our testers and climbers we polled was that helmets can only be too hot, but never too cold, unlike a ski helmet. All of the helmets we tested easily accept a beanie underneath, which makes it easy to regulate temperature when it's cold. One of our favorite things to wear under a helmet when climbing in cooler temps is a Buff, which provides warmth without too much bulk. In full-on cold conditions, we go for a thinner beanie and a jacket with a helmet compatible hood for maximum flexibility.

We found that lightweight foam helmets have a lot more openings in the shell, and therefore much better ventilation than hardshell helmets. In fact, we gave all of the lightweight foam helmets better ventilation scores than any of the hardshell models. The two best ventilated helmets are the Black Diamond Vapor and our Editors' Choice winner, the Petzl Meteor III +. Both of these helmets have large amounts of opens space at the rear and sides of the helmet to allow for cooling airflow.

Headlamp Attachment
Wether it be for pre-dawn starts or for getting benighted on an epic, the ability to attach a headlamp to a helmet is important. With the exception of just one helmet, the basic method of headlamp attachment is four downward facing clips positioned around the helmet to hold a headlamp strap from sliding upwards while the taper of the helmet and a bit of friction hold it from sliding down. The lone exception was the Petzl Sirocco, which uses two clips in the front of the helmet and an elastic band in the back of the helmet. There were no total fails in this category, and the difference in the ease of use and security of the each headlamp's clips were subtle.

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The Petzl Meteor III + has the easiest and most secure headlamp attachments clips we've found.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

Durability
Climbing helmets are designed to protect your head from falling objects through partial destruction of the helmet materials. Most helmets can withstand a few small sized rocks or a couple of good sized chunks of ice, but will need to be replaced after any big hit. What we look for is a helmet that can hold up to the normal wear and tear of loose rocks, roofs you didn't see coming, and a normal amount of ice shelling without needing replacement. Should any helmet fend off a likely fatal impact, it should be replaced.

For the most part, the heavier ABS hardshell helmets proved more durable to everyday climbing better than the lightweight foam helmets, which protect their foam with much thinner polycarbonate shells. The helmet that held up the best to climbing and cramming into a pack was the Black Diamond Half Dome. The most durable lightweight foam helmet was the Petzl Meteor III +, which is less prone to dings from small impacts than the other thin shelled helmets we tested. The two poorest examples of durability we found were the Petzl Sirocco, which we cracked simply by stuffing in a pack, and the Mammut Skywalker II, which broke before we took it out of the box likely due to vulnerably designed foam.

Editors' Choice Award: Petzl Meteor III+
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Luke Lydiard wearing the Petzl Meteor III+ while scoping ice lines in June Lake, CA. From summer sport climbing to winter mixed the Meteor III+ is an excellent choice.
Credit: Julien Lecorps

The Editors' Choice Award goes to the Petzl Meteor III +, which scored highly in all of our test areas. It earns top scores in comfort and ventilation while being the third lightest helmet of the bunch. This helmet has all of the needed adjustments and a sweet buckle which integrates fore/aft adjustment with chin strap closure. It's headlamp clips are both quick to use and secure. We recommend the Meteor for any type of climbing, from steep sport at the Red River Gorge to steep snow in the Alaska Range.

Best Buy Award: Black Diamond Half Dome
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McKenzie Long sport climbing in our Best Buy Award winning Black Diamond Half Dome helmet. This fully featured helmet is also the least expensive in our test.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

This is at least the third iteration of the Black Diamond Half Dome helmet, and it is certainly the best version yet. This fully loaded helmet has easy to use headlamp clips and a click wheel which allows for one-handed adjustment of the rear band. It is also the most durable helmet we've found. At just $60 it is an easy choice for our the Best Buy. This is an excellent choice for new climbers and climbers on a budget looking to get a helmet that will last a long time for minimal coin.

Top Pick Award for an Ultralight Helmet: Petzl Sirocco
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Andres Marin wearing the super-light Petzl Sirocco during the 2014 Ouray Ice Festival Elite Mixed Competition.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

Our Top Pick Award goes to the super ultralight Petzl Sirocco for being the lightest helmet for climbing currently available. It is also one of the most comfortable helmets we tested, so comfortable in fact, that we sometimes forgot we were wearing it. This sometimes led to awkward moments at the crag when we questioned our partners about the location of our helmet while it was already on our head. This helmet is constructed of a single layer of expanded polypropylene rather than polystyrene, and has no outer shell. This, along with it's minimal all textile harness, shave weight but at the expense of durability. This helmet should be reserved for climbers and alpinists looking to shave every possible gram since it does not make a very long-lasting every day helmet.

Luke Lydiard
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