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.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Best Overall Women's Climbing Helmet
Black Diamond Vector - Women's
The runaway winner for Editors' Choice was the Black Diamond Vector - Women's because it is lightweight, comfortable, stays in place, and offers full coverage protection. It competes with the unisex Editors' Choice winner, the Petzl Meteor, weighing the same, costing less, and being debatably better looking. The smaller size of the Meteor also comes in more feminine colors, so be sure to consider that helmet as well as the women's Vector. 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.
Lightweight and protective
Fits well, offering full coverage and comfort
More delicate than hard plastic helmets
Read full review: Black Diamond Vector - Women's
Best Bang for the Buck
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. We like that it is not as delicate as the Vector, so you aren't required to be as careful with it when you throw it on the back of your pack. This is also the only women's helmet that offers features unique to females, and the ponytail accommodating rear band may be a big selling point for some women and in fact may make the case for buying a women's specific helmet at all.
Ease of chin strap adjustment
Foam padding is removable for washing
Must adjust every time you wear
Ponytail feature slips/loosens after a while
Read full review: Petzl Elia
Analysis and Test Results
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.
We wore these women's 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. We discuss why you may want a women's specific version in our buying advice article, but don't forget to consider a unisex model, which we reviewed as well.
Types of Climbing Helmets
There are 2 primary styles of helmets for climbing:
Criteria for Evaluation
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
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.
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
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.
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) 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.
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.
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.
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 2. The Women's Vector is an expensive light foam helmet in the $100 range. Comparable unisex models are the Petzl Meteor, Black Diamond Vector, and Black Diamond Vapor.
The helmets in this review are made specific to female climbers. To learn more about if you should buy a women's helmet, check out our Buying Advice article. We hope that our side-by-side comparisons have helped you to choose the right type of helmet for your climbing needs.
— McKenzie Long
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