Best Women's Climbing Helmet

"See, it protects my very important brain," says Dr. Bruce Banner in the 2003 Hulk movie when told he looks like a "massive nerd" in his helmet. Even the Incredible Hulk wears a helmet, and we think you should too. Luckily, some of the women's helmet options out there will keep you safe but not looking like a massive nerd.

To help with the decision of what helmet to wear, we closely evaluated the three women's helmets on the market to determine if buying a women's specific helmet is worth it, what makes them different from unisex models, and which one is the best. To learn more about if you should buy a women's helmet, check out our Buying Advice Article

We wore these helmets on countless multi-pitch routes in the High Sierra, shielded our heads from falling ice in California, Colorado, and Patagonia, and even wore them cragging and big-walling to see which is the most comfortable and easy to wear.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Senior Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Climbing Helmets - Women's Displaying 1 - 3 of 3 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3
Product Name
Black Diamond Vector - Women's
Black Diamond Vector - Women's
Read the Review
Video video review
Petzl Elia
Petzl Elia
Read the Review
Video video review
CAMP Armour Lady
CAMP Armour Lady
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award  Best Buy Award   
Street Price Varies $75 - $100
Compare at 4 sellers
Varies $52 - $65
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Varies $50 - $60
Compare at 5 sellers
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Editors' Rating
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros very lightweight, easy to adjust, well-fitting, full coverage and protectionAccommodates a ponytail, durable, easy to adjust chin strap, removable and washable foam paddingLighter than the equivalent unisex version, durable, fun colors, removable and washable foam padding
Cons more fragile than a hard plastic helmetHave to adjust every time you put it on, the ponytail feature slips over timeSits too high on the forehead, doesn't fit well, hard to attach headlamp
Best Uses ice climbing, rock climbingMulti-pitch climbing, big walls, ice climbing, climbing anywhere there is loose rockMulti-pitch climbing, big walls, climbing anywhere there is loose rock
Date Reviewed Sep 15, 2013Sep 13, 2013Sep 15, 2013
Weighted Scores Black Diamond Vector - Women's Petzl Elia CAMP Armour Lady
Comfort - 35%
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9
10
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7
10
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6
Ease Of Adjustment - 20%
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8
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7
Weight Profile - 20%
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7
Ventilation - 20%
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6
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7
Ease Of Putting On Headlamp - 5%
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5
Product Specs Black Diamond Vector - Women's Petzl Elia CAMP Armour Lady
Weight 8.1 oz 9.8 oz 10.9 oz
Number of colors 2 2 2
Shell Style Light Foam Hard plastic Hard plastic
Size Range 53-59 cm 52-58 cm 53 - 61 cm

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


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Selecting the Right Helmet
Do you really need a helmet just for climbing? Don't you already have one helmet for skiing and one for biking? Do you really need another for this sport too? The answer is yes. While a ski helmet is designed for warmth and for protecting against high speed crashes, a climbing helmet is designed for protection from falling objects. A helmet designed for climbing will also be better ventilated, more comfortable, and more convenient for roped endeavors. So even though you only have one head, we are proponents of wearing a sport-specific helmet for each specific sport. It will make you more comfortable and keep you better protected overall.

Types of Climbing Helmets
There are 2 primary styles of helmets for climbing:

Lightweight Foam
Click to enlarge
The Black Diamond Vector - Women's is a lightweight helmet made from co-molded EPS foam and a polycarbonate shell. It only weighs 8 ounces and still offers full coverage protection.
Credit: Black Diamond
Lightweight foam helmets are constructed from polystyrene foam and covered with a thin polycarbonate shell. These models look and feel like bicycle helmets, are very light, and usually cost in the $90-100 range. They are not as durable as hard plastic helmets, so they can't just be strapped on your pack and forgotten about. The light weight makes them comfortable, and we find we are more likely to wear a helmet of this type.

Hard Plastic
Hard plastic helmets are constructed from smaller bits of polystyrene foam and covered with a thick ABS plastic shell. They cost between $60-$65, almost half the price of a light foam helmet.
Click to enlarge
The CAMP Armour Lady is a hard plastic helmet that is durable and long-lasting.
Credit: CAMP
They are durable, so you don't have to baby them or carefully pack them as you do with light foam helmets. They are less likely to dent and will last for years. These are best for entry level climbers or climbers who want a long-lasting helmet at a good price.

Performance Comparison

Comfort
We found the most comfortable helmet to be the Black Diamond Vector, with its lightweight shell and secure feel. This helmet is the least likely to slide around on your head, staying in place better than the other contenders. The light feel of the foam really pushed it over the edge: the less weight placed on your head and neck, the more comfortable you stay during a long day of climbing. Second in line for comfort is the Petzl Elia. This helmet has a unique adjustment system in the rear called the OMEGA headband system. It curves upwards leaving room for a ponytail, which all other helmets lack. Smashing a helmet on top of a ponytail can be awkward and uncomfortable, so having a built in gap for your hairstyle can be a huge comfort bonus.

Ease of Adjusting
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A look at the rear adjustment systems of the W's BD Vector (left) and the Petzl Elia. The Vector ratchet system is vey easy to adjust and remains secure. The Elia accomodates a ponytail but required more fussing to get it to fit correctly.
Credit: McKenzie Long

The three women's helmets each had their own adjustment system. The Camp Armour Lady had an easy to use wheel adjustment that can be done with one hand. The Vector was our favorite with a simple two-sided ratchet system. It requires two hands, but operates smoothly and effectively. The Elia has a complicated system due to the ponytail fit. The rear band adjusts in two ways: up and down so you can pick the appropriate height on your head, and it adjusts width- wise with sliders on the side of the helmet so you can fit the circumference of your head. When done properly, the helmet can provide a snug and comfortable fit, but it requires some tweaking every time you put it on. We also noticed that it loosens slightly over the course of a full day, and never ends up as snug as desired.

Ventilation
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The Elia does not have as large of ventilation holes as the Vector, but it does not sit as low on the forehead, which allows more airflow in the front. The ventilation holes are attractively styled.
Credit: Luke Lydiard

The Vector has the biggest ventilation holes, mostly located in the rear of the helmet with none on the top. This helmet offers the most coverage, fitting lower on the forehead and on the back of the head, so overall it keeps heat in more than the other two helmets, but vents decently well for the protection it provides. On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Camp Armour, which perches on the top of the head and offers no forehead protection. It does not have very large vent holes, but allows much more airflow all around it. The Petzl Elia sits in the middle. It offers more coverage than the Armour and less than the Vector, with small vent holes spaced around the whole helmet.

Ease of Putting on a Headlamp
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McKenzie Long wearing the Petzl Elia Helmet at dawn on a glacier approach in Patagonia.
Credit: McKenzie Long

In our experience, attaching a headlamp to a round, slippery surface is always frustrating, especially if you are wearing the helmet, you are precariously balanced on the side of a cliff, and it is dark… However, we did notice a difference in how easy this was to do in the three women's helmets. Each helmet has 4 clips to hold a headlamp on. The Vector and Camp Armour have very tight clips that are difficult to squeeze the headlamp strap into, but are very secure once the headlamp is attached. Both of these helmets are tricky to attach a headlamp to while wearing. The Elia is the easiest. The clips have slightly more room above the surface of the helmet and make it easier to guide the strap into while wearing the helmet.

Weight/Profile
The light foam Vector is the lightest helmet, you may actually forget you are wearing it. It weighs 8 ounces, (the same as the Petzl Meteor III) while the Elia weighs 9.8 ounces and the Armour weighs even more at 10.9 ounces. The Vector is also the most protective helmet, covering more skull real estate than the other two.

Durability
We have had the opportunity to abuse our Elia helmet for a couple years and a few hundred pitches. It is bomber. The hard plastic can take a beating either from airborne objects or from being strapped to a pack and tossed on the ground. This hard plastic helmet will last for a while. The Camp Armour will likely last just as long since it is also a hard plastic helmet. The EPS foam Vector, on the other hand, is more fragile. It should be packed and treated with more care than the hard plastic helmets. Like a foam bike helmet that needs to be retired after a big crash, a foam helmet for climbing should also be retired after a significant impact.

Appearance/Style
This is an important yet subjective category. It is hard to rate a helmet on style because everyone has different tastes, but 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. We found both the Elia and the Vector to be attractive for helmets, but thought the Armour looked silly because of the way it fit. All the women's models came in more fun colors than the unisex equivalents, and if we were to buy a helmet based purely on looks, we would pick a women's helmet for sure.

Value
Climbing helmets come two primary price classes: hard-plastic value helmets and expensive ultra-light foam helmets. The Elia and the Camp Armour Lady are both inexpensive hard plastic helmets in the $60-$65 range. Other models that fall in this category are the Black Diamond Half Dome, Petzl Elios, CAMP Armour and Mammut Skywalker II. The Women's Vector is an expensive light foam helmet in the $100 range. Comparable unisex models are the Petzl Meteor III Plus, Black Diamond Vector, and Black Diamond Tracer.

Editors' Choice Award: Black Diamond Vector
Click to enlarge
Rapelling in the Black Diamond Vector. This helmet is easy to adjust and stays in place on your head, not sliding around or becoming loose or crooked while climbing.
Credit: Luke Lydiard
The runaway winner for Editors' Choice was the Black Diamond Vector - Women's because it is light, comfortable, and offers full coverage protection. It competes with the unisex Editors' Choice winner, the Petzl Meteor III+, weighing the same, costing less, and being even better looking. The unisex version of this helmet, the Black Diamond Vector, is identical except that it comes in different colors and is also offered in a larger size.

Best Buy Award: Petzl Elia
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The Petzl Elia on an alpine climb. The durable hard plastic helmet weighs 9.8 ounces and can be used for any kind of climbing. The hard plastic will last for years of climbing.
Credit: Luke Lydiard
The best value women's helmet is the Petzl Elia. This hard plastic helmet is more durable than the light foam Vector, so is likely to last longer and it costs $30 less at the outset. The men's version of this helmet, the Petzl Elios, won the Best Buy Award in our unisex helmet review. It is also the only women's helmet the offers features unique to females, and the ponytail accommodating rear band may be a big selling point for some women.

McKenzie Long
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