Are you looking for the best climbing helmet to protect your brain during your mountain adventures? We can help! We researched over 30 of the most popular choices on the market today from all of the leading manufacturers, eventually choosing 11 of the best for inclusion in this comparative review. We then put them to the test in some of the top climbing destinations in the US, including Red Rocks, Yosemite, and Smith Rock. Our expert reviewers have generations of climbing experience that they put to good use determining which helmet is the best overall, as well as what are the best value choices for those on a budget, the best helmet specifically designed for women, and detailing a concussion preventing technology new to the climbing helmet world.
The Best Climbing Helmets of 2019
|Price||$105.00 at Backcountry|
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|$139.95 at REI|
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|$74.95 at Amazon|
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|$120.00 at Amazon|
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|$74.96 at Backcountry|
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|Pros||Super light, very comfortable, great ventilation, versatile for use while ski mountaineering, protects all sides of head||Lightweight, great ventilation.||Lightweight, easily adjustable with slider bar, not as expensive as Sirocco, well ventilated||MIPS BPS technology, lightweight, well-ventilated, comfortable||Adjustable, good headlamp clips, ventilates well.|
|Cons||Not as durable as ABS options, expensive, less easily adjustable, magnetic buckle not for everyone||Fragile, chin strap doesn't adjust forward, removable headlamp clips are easy to lose or forget.||Magnetic buckle collects dirt, not as cheap as BD Half Dome||Expensive, not super adjustable||Easy to over-tighten, chin strap buckles under chin and not to the side.|
|Bottom Line||The lightest, most comfortable, and most enjoyable climbing helmet to wear.||A comfortable and lightweight model for sending days but not heavy use.||A great value helmet that strikes a balance between low weight and affordability||A beefed up version of our one of our favorite helmets -- the Mammut Wall Rider – with MIPS technology added in.||A lightweight EPS foam helmet that's good for a variety of uses.|
|Rating Categories||Petzl Sirocco||Black Diamond Vapor||Petzl Meteor||Mammut Wall Rider MIPS||CAMP USA Storm|
|Headlamp Attachment (10%)|
|Specs||Petzl Sirocco||Black Diamond Vapor||Petzl Meteor||Mammut Wall Rider...||CAMP USA Storm|
|Weight in ounces (size 2)||6.1||7||8.5||8.5||8.7|
|Shell Style||EPP and EPS foam, polycabonate top piece||EPS foam with Polycarbonate||EPS, Polycarbonate||EPP foam, hard plastic top piece||EPS foam with Polycarbonate|
|Number of Sizes||2||2||2||2||2|
|Number of colors||1||4||3||2||4|
|Warranty||3 year||1 year||3 year||Lifetime||3 year limited|
Best Overall Climbing Helmet
A great climbing helmet is so lightweight and comfortable that you can easily forget that you have it on. It should also protect your head from potential impacts from above (rocks or ice), as well as on the sides (hitting your head while falling). The Petzl Sirocco does all of these things and more, and our testers unanimously declared it their favorite after heaps of days spent wearing it at the crag. Weighing a mere 6.1 oz., we never felt fatigue in our necks on long days out, a significant consideration if you love all day missions on the rocks or mountains. We also appreciate the carefully molded combination of EPP foam on the sides that is softer and lighter but can also take multiple impacts, combined with the EPS foam and polycarbonate to piece on the crown of the head that provides more bomber protection against falling projectiles hitting us from above. This winning combination not only remains super light but nails the protection factor everywhere it's needed. Add in a comfortable fit, excellent ventilation, and easy to use headlamp clips that are also usable with ski goggles for ski mountaineering missions, and the Sirocco is truly a helmet designed for all purposes.
All good things still have their downsides, and the Sirocco is no exception. At its price, it forces you to pay for what you are getting and therefore isn't a top choice for a budget-minded climber. Its minimal adjustment system is adequate but doesn't cover the wide head ranges of a more adjustable model like the Black Diamond Half Dome, or even the similarly light Black Diamond Vapor. And because ABS or Polycarbonate plastic doesn't completely cover it, you have to be a bit more careful how you attach it to your pack to not accidentally damage it. These concerns are minor, however, and if you want the best helmet for sending hard, climbing huge walls, or on alpine missions, the Sirocco is the first one we would recommend for you.
Read Review: Petzl Sirocco
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond Half Dome
The Black Diamond Half Dome is an affordably priced and very protective helmet that is a perfect fit for our Best Bang for the Buck Award. Our users love the click-wheel adjustment system on the back of the head that is super easy to use with only one hand, while also offering perhaps the broadest range of adjustments available in this review. We also love how secure and easy it is to attach our headlamp to the top of this Dome, a simple feature that not all helmets have mastered. This helmet costs half of what the super light foam ones run.
Worth pointing out, however, is the flaw that plagues all of the hard shell helmets that we test — weight. The Half Dome weighs in at 12.7 ounces, the second heaviest in the review. It also has relatively poor ventilation and isn't the most comfortable helmet either. For most, these complaints are minor, and for new climbers or those on a budget, or ones who want excellent value, we recommend checking out the Half Dome.
Read review: Black Diamond Half Dome
Best Value for a Lightweight Helmet
Considering that every piece of gear you wear or use must be hauled up the climb with you, weight is a critical consideration when climbing. For helmets, this is doubly true, because the load rides on top of the head, somewhere that is not used to carrying the extra ounces. In our experience, heavier helmets lead to noticeably more strain and fatigue in our necks and even on the parts of our head where the helmet rests when worn for more than a few hours, or a long day. While our comparative testing reveals that the very best helmet you can buy — the Petzl Sirocco — is also the lightest, it comes at a price that many may be unwilling, or able, to shell out. Luckily there are a handful of still very light helmets at slightly more reasonable prices, the best of which is the Petzl Meteor, which we recognize as our Best Buy for Lightweight Helmets. It isn't as affordable as our other Best Buy award winner — the Black Diamond Half Dome — but at only 8.5 ounces, the amount of weight savings for an extra cost is significant.
The Meteor is comfortable, and very easily adjustable. It has tons of ventilation holes for climbing when the weather is hot or when you are sweating, and suits mountaineering and ski mountaineering. Except for the fact that it isn't as cheap as the very most inexpensive helmets, or as light as the very lightest helmets, we find very little about which to complain. It seems to ideally strike a balance between high performance and lower price and performs better than the similarly constructed EPS/polycarbonate helmets against which we tested it. If you are on a budget but are still worried about minimizing weight to maximize enjoyment on objectives a long way from the car, we highly recommend checking out the Petzl Meteor.
Read Review: Petzl Meteor
Top Pick for Women
Petzl Elia - Women's
When it comes to unisex outdoor equipment, climbing helmets are one of the few pieces of gear that do an adequate job of meeting the needs of both men and women at the same time. That's because men's and women's skulls are essentially shaped the same, unlike most other parts of their bodies, although women's skulls do tend to be a bit smaller. It's no surprise then that virtually all of the women's specific helmets that we researched ended up being the same product made with different colors. There was one exception though — the Petzl Elia — which has a unique U-shaped turn at the back of the tensioning band, leaving plenty of room for a ponytail. As anyone who has a lot of hair and climbs knows, finding a comfortable fit with a ponytail is not an easy task, and one the Elia makes much easier.
The adaptability to accommodate different hairstyles is what makes the Elia our Top Pick for women. That said, it is roughly in the middle of the pack in terms of performance and has a few flaws. The adjustment band tends to loosen up a bit over time, and we wish there were adjusters for the v-yoke chin strap to help it stay in place, but these small complaints didn't stop our testers from enjoying this ladies hardshell.
Read review: Petzl Elia
Top Pick for Integrated MIPS Technology
Mammut Wall Rider MIPS
Imagine your feet are positioned just above the highest bolt at the crux of your sport climbing project. As you begin to mantle, lifting your right foot to place it on a sloping shelf, your left foot suddenly slips off the hold it was on. The angle of the force and the sudden slip blasts the left foot between the wall and the rope, and in a split second you are falling with the rope wrapped around your leg, flipping you upside down as it becomes taut. A moment later the rope catches your upside down fall, but your head smacks hard against the rock. Thank God you were wearing a climbing helmet! This exact scenario happened to one of our testers while we were helmet testing, and while it was lucky they were wearing a helmet, they unfortunately still ended up with a concussion, experiencing dizziness and headaches for a couple of days after the fall. If they had been wearing a helmet with MIPS Brain Protection System technology, it is much less likely they would have experienced a brain injury from this fall. While this technology has now become completely commonplace in bike and downhill ski helmets, the Mammut Wall Rider MIPS is the first ever climbing helmet to incorporate the MIPS BPS system, and therefore receives our endorsement as the best concussion protection you can get in a climbing helmet.
The Wall Rider MIPS is essentially the same as the standard Mammut Wall Rider helmet, with the shallow profile MIPS harness system included inside. This technology helps deflect and reduce angular forces from blows to the head, whether from falling rocks or taking falls, and is scientifically proven to lower the chances of brain injury in these instances. While the helmet comes with a whopping price tag, it only weighs 0.5 oz. More than the standard Wall Rider, and is still quite light, comfortable, stylish, and has plenty of ventilation. For those climbers who genuinely want the most protection from their helmet they can get and aren't worried about spending some extra cash to do so, we highly recommend this helmet. It is also an excellent choice for those who have had multiple concussions or brain injuries in the past and can hardly afford any more.
Read Review: Mammut Wall Rider MIPS
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert panel provides voices from Andy Wellman and Cam McKenzie Ring. Andy is a well-seasoned climber with decades under his belt. A former guidebook publisher and author, he has spent most of his life climbing rocks, tall and small, around the world. He is currently based in Terrebonne, OR, and conducted much of the testing for this review at the nearby Smith Rock State Park. Cam is a well-traveled rock warrior that has been climbing for over 20 years. Currently based in Las Vegas, she frequents the big colorful walls of never-ending multi-pitch heaven in Red Rocks. Before this, she spent many years climbing the granite walls of Yosemite, working on the YOSAR in Camp Four. In addition to testing by our lead reviewers, helmets were given to friends in the area, testing them on all sorts of climbs from long multi-pitch to overhung bolted routes.
Each helmet was meticulously tested on a variety of climbs and in different conditions, by multiple different people. We crimped, pinched, and hucked to jugs, all while wearing these helmets. We then scored according to various criteria critical to the performance of a helmet, including how comfortable they are and how adjustable they are. Through years of testing climbing helmets, we've developed the experience and mileage to accurately tell you (unbiasedly) which ones are the best.
Related: How We Tested Climbing Helmets
Analysis and Test Results
Wearing a climbing helmet is never a bad idea. Regardless of which one you decide to buy, if you don't wear it, it won't do you any good. This reason is why we feel it's important to get one that suits your needs. Common excuses for not wearing one are: it's too heavy, uncomfortable, moves around too much, and is too hot. We've found models that solve all of these problems, so you will have no excuse not to wear one. To determine which models are best, we assessed for six characteristics: comfort, adjustability, weight, ventilation, headlamp attachment, and durability. How we did so, why these attributes are critically important, and which helmets are the best for each, are described in further detail below.Related: Buying Advice for Climbing Helmets
Most of the time when making a buying decision, you end up having to accept some trade-offs. We analyze how each helmet in our review stacks up in the quest to hit the sweet spot between features and price. While we don't grade specifically based upon value, we do discuss whether we feel a product offers solid performance based on the price that you have to pay.
No matter what climbing helmet you own, it won't do you any good if you don't wear it. Our testers and other climbers we polled agreed that a major factor in not wearing one is comfort. While certain segments of the climbing populace seem to always wear one, like big-wallers and ice climbers, the percentage of sport climbers who regularly don one is probably in the single digits. Manufacturers are making an effort to ensure their products are as comfortable as possible, to encourage all climbers to wear a helmet, regardless of discipline. Though, that is a challenge due to a variety of head shapes and sizes. We tried these helmets on men and women of all head sizes to try and come to a consensus on how to score for comfort. Our testers were split on many models because they each fit so differently, so the scores you see below are merely the opinions of several people and not absolute fact. We also took into account where the buckles sit and the comfort of the tensioning system. We tried not to consider the weight of each one too much in this category because we score them on their weight separately, but it is almost impossible not to do so, as the lighter the helmet, the more comfortable it is in pretty much all instances. Here's how we scored each model for comfort:
The most comfortable models are some of our highest overall scorers as well; the Petzl Sirroco, Black Diamond Vapor, and Mammut Wall Rider all impressed us in this category. Both the Wall Rider and the Sirocco use a webbing harness system for your head instead of a plastic band that cinches down, and we like this method for its comfort. While click-wheels and slider bars might be easy to tighten, they are also easy to over-tighten, giving you a headache by midday, and we often found that it is easy to catch our hair in them as well.
We also like the comfort of some of the other EPS foam models that we tested, including the Petzl Meteor and the Petzl Boreo. On the other end of the spectrum is the heavier Black Diamond Half Dome. The newest update of this helmet continues to get more and more comfortable, but compared to the ultra-light competition, it still feels clunky and very noticeable on our heads.
We recommend that you try on as many models as possible before making your purchase to get one that fits your head just right. Most of the lightweight models feel more comfortable, but are also molded to a particular head shape, and often aren't super adjustable if your head isn't the same shape as the mold. The Sirocco and the Wall Rider are certainly shaped different, with the Sirocco being more oblong and deeper, while the Wall Rider is shallower and a bit more circular. As the most important consideration when choosing a helmet, we weighted this metric as 30% of a product's overall score.
Most of the models that we tested have a standard set of adjustments to tailor them to your head; the circumference of the headband and the chin strap length, and usually the fore/aft positioning of the chin strap. We scored each model on the ease of adjusting it as well as the degree to which we could adjust each one. A model might have a huge adjustability range, but if it takes more than 30 seconds to adjust it each time you put it on, that's not a good system. Adjustability accounts for 20% of a product's overall score.
There are three ways to tension the circumference inside a helmet: a click-wheel, a plastic slider bar, or adjustable webbing. As we mentioned above, the webbing system is very comfortable and super light, but not as easy to adjust overall as the click-wheel or slider bar. The models with a click wheel, like the Edelrid Shield II and Black Diamond Half Dome, have the most significant range of head sizes that they can accommodate, and it is quick and easy to dial in the fit. The downside to a click-wheel is that it is not always comfortable to have a big knob on the back of your head all day, and they are heavier. We also like the slider bar on the Petzl Boreo, and it was easy to close and open that system. If you pass your helmet around during the day, say swapping out between belaying and climbing at the crag, then one that is easy and quick to adjust with a big range is a key consideration. Whether you prefer to do that with a knob or a slider bar is up to you.
All of the climbing helmets have a chin strap that fully releases and is adjustable. Except for the CAMP USA Armour, everyone has only one-strand that comes under your chin. We've all used bike helmets that take hours to adjust with the double-strand of webbing coming under your chin and into a buckle, and we're happy that most climbing manufacturers eliminated this problem. What a lot of them have also removed though, is the adjustability of the V-yoke around the ears. Fore/aft adjustment is critical because it allows you to get the chin strap tight without feeling like you are choking. Just like a bike helmet, if the strap is too far back, wearers tend to leave the chin strap much too loose to be effective.
A sound v-yoke system also helps lock the helmet down laterally — if you get to the top of a pitch only to have your helmet tilted to the side, you probably need to cinch up the V-yoke, if you can. The Black Diamond Vapor, Petzl Elia, and Petzl Boreo have no option to adjust the sides of the chin strap. You can make this adjustment in the Mammut Wall Rider, Petzl Meteor, and Sirocco, but it requires a lot of time and patience to work the webbing through until it is situated just right. Much easier is to have a sliding buckle, like on the CAMP USA Storm, or Black Diamond Vector and Half Dome, that quickly cinches up and to the right place.
Finally, we have to mention the magnetic buckles used on the Petzl Sirocco and Meteor. It seems neat at first; the magnets at each end of the chin strap buckle attract each other, bringing the two ends together and making them snap into place. That is until they get full of dirt. Some of the minerals found in granite or basalt have magnetic properties and will gum up the mechanism. The buckle still secures closed via plastic notches and not the force of magnetism, but when too much dirt gets in there, you might think it closed when it is only half-latched. If you strictly rock climb, this added magnetic feature might have more downsides than possible upsides. However, it does have its uses. When ice climbing (or rock climbing in cold weather), the magnetic clip makes it much easier to clip the buckle with gloves on, something that other non-magnetic buckles struggle with.
At the most basic level, climbing can be considered a battle against gravity. The weight of your gear affects your send no matter what level you climb at, and all helmets weigh something. Even more importantly, we find that weight is a major factor in overall comfort. Simply put, lighter climbing helmets are usually more comfortable, less noticeable, and are more likely to be worn. Unfortunately, weight usually has an inverse relationship with durability when it comes to most things, climbing helmets included. The heavier hardshell models are also considerably cheaper, as the foams used in the lighter models are expensive. Below you'll see the weight of each model in ounces, weighed on our digital scale. We tested the largest size of each model available, except for the Petzl Elia, which is only available in one (smaller) size.
The models that we tested ranged in weight from the 6.1 ounce Petzl Sirocco to the 12.7 ounce Black Diamond Half Dome. The difference between the two is almost a #3 Black Diamond Camalot. Ever left one of those behind because you didn't want the weight? We have. Now picture wearing two of them on top of your head for ten pitches — we're sure you'd notice it!
The Sirocco uses expanded polypropylene (EPP) foam that doesn't require a polycarbonate shell over the entire helmet to distribute the impact. That helps keep the weight down compared to EPS foam models. The EPP foam has rebounding properties, and absorbs impacts without cracking, but requires more material than a single layer of hardshell plastic, which is why the old Sirocco made you look like a cone head. The new Sirocco shaved that down a bit by adding an EPS layer at the crown and a polycarbonate top plate. It's still ultra-lightweight, not-quite as "cone-heady," and passes the CE and UIAA tests.
If you still don't quite like the look of the Petzl Sirocco or feel like you'd like a little more protection in the front, the Mammut Wall Rider uses similarly light EPP foam but with a far more solid hard plastic shell covering most of the top. It weighs two ounces more than the Sirocco. Even more protective, while still reasonably light, is the Mammut Wall Rider MIPS, which adds proven concussion protection that only costs an extra 0.5 oz. in weight. Then there's the the Black Diamond Vapor, which at seven ounces is the second lightest model in this review. Made of EPS foam, polycarbonate, carbon rods, and Kevlar, though appearing to be more air than anything, the Vapor is impressively light. It does pass the required CE safety standards, though the info from BD on this is a little confusing. They don't recommend wearing it in areas that are prone to rockfall, you're not supposed to carry it in your pack, and it gets a dent if you put it down the wrong way. We're all about light helmets, but if we have to treat them with kid gloves, it's not the best option for most climbs or climbers. Weight accounts for 20% of a product's overall score.
Lack of ventilation is another big reason why many people don't wear a climbing helmet. We think the more ventilation a helmet has, the better. The consensus among our testers and climbers we polled was that they could only be too hot, but never too cold, unlike a downhill ski helmet. All of the models we tested 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. Here's how we scored the different models for their ventilation:
The standout for this category is the Black Diamond Vapor. It has the most open construction of any of the EPS foam models that we tested, with the most significant vents and best ventilation. The Petzl Sirocco and Mammut Wall Rider also have a lot of vents. While most of the other EPS models feel similar in their venting ability, the ones with more or more massive holes in the front felt a hair "breezier," so look for that if you regularly climb in hot conditions or have a sweaty head.
Overall, all of the EPS foam models have a lot more openings in the shell, and therefore much better ventilation, than hardshell ones. Of the hard shells, we liked the ventilation best on the Petzl Elia. It has a few more vents and sits a little higher on the head than the others. Something nice to have, but slightly less important in the grand scheme of helmet performance, is ventilation, which accounts for only 10% of a product's overall score.
Whether for pre-dawn starts or for getting benighted on an epic, the ability to attach a headlamp to a climbing helmet is important. 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 keep it from sliding down. While this method is still common, there is more often an elastic band in the rear of the helmet that pulls down over the back of the headlamp strap and latches over a small hook. This band is versatile for a couple of reasons: it easily holds larger battery pack headlamps in place but is for ski goggles. Climbing helmets are also the de-facto choice for mountaineering and ski mountaineering, so the attachment point on the back of the helmet is beginning to look like a lighter version of the backs of downhill ski helmets. These straps are far more effective at holding goggle straps in place, they still work great for headlamps, and are often also usually quicker to implement than an additional two clips.
We evaluated a few different things for this category, including the ease of putting a headlamp on and how securely the clips hold. Overall, there was minimal variation between the various clips, and they all work reasonably well. The main differences have to do with how much tension there is in the clips; tighter ones are harder to slide a headlamp strap under quickly, and whether the clips have little keeper teeth or not on the bottoms. These teeth also help keep the strap in place better, but can once again make it slightly harder to get the strap under the clips, and often feel a bit unnecessary.
The clips found on the Petzl Boreo and the Black Diamond Half Dome are the simplest and most natural to use. A strap effectively stays in place all day, while it is super easy to slide the strap up under them in the first place. We also like the system found on the Petzl Sirocco and Petzl Meteor, with easy to use clips in the front and the elastic cord and hook in the back for greater versatility to ski with the helmet as well.
We found the clips on the Black Diamond Vapor and the Mammut Wall Rider to be a bit harder to use, although they were still reasonably effective at their jobs. The clips on the back of the Shield II kept popping out of the back when we tried to put the headlamp on (they connect to the textile harness on the other side. These are meant to come out so that you can adjust the length of the webbing, but not meant to pop out when using the headlamp). As another useful feature that is once again not the most critical aspect of helmet performance, headlamp attachment accounted for only 10% of a product's overall score.
Climbing helmets are designed to protect your head from falling objects through partial destruction of the materials. Most climbing helmets can withstand a few small sized rocks or a couple of good-sized chunks of ice but will need replacement after any big hit. What we look for is something 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. We also need something that we can pack in our backpacks without cracking, and accidentally drop from a few feet without shattering. While all of the climbing helmets in this review passed a series of standardized impact tests, their day-to-day durability varies quite a bit.
For the most part, the heavier ABS hardshell models prove more durable for everyday climbing better than the lightweight foam ones, which protect their foam with much thinner polycarbonate shells. The one that holds up the best to climbing and cramming into a pack is the Black Diamond Half Dome. This thing can take a beating for years without showing much sign of wear. We also like the durability of the Petzl Boreo and Elia, though the surfaces of those shells seemed more prone to cosmetic scrapes than the Half Dome.
Of the lightweight foam models, we were impressed by the durability of the Edelrid Shield II, which seemed to sport a thicker layer of polycarbonate that the others and didn't get any dings even with a lot of use. It also sports some fun graphics.
On the other end is the Black Diamond Vector, whose shell punctured the first time we put it down. The Black Diamond Vapor is also very light duty when it comes to dents, dings, and other cosmetic damages for simple regular use. We didn't experience any durability issues with the Mammut Wall Rider, and the plastic shell on top should help increase the durability over a polycarbonate shell only. With super light models like the Sirocco, the polycarbonate top piece will protect the foam from small impacts, but be sure to keep it in the top of your pack, if at all, and don't sit on it!
Eventually, there comes a time when your climbing helmet should be retired. Whether that's from funk build-up, age, or fending off a tremendous impact, no helmet lasts forever. Petzl recommends retiring your climbing helmet ten years after its manufacture date at the latest, and that's assuming you've stored it inside, as UV rays can degrade plastic and textiles. If it is getting stinky, you can try and wash the foam inserts and wipe the inside down with a mild cleaner, but if it gets to the point where you can't even stand to wear it anymore, then go ahead and get a new one. If you do take a big hit to your helmet, either from rock, ice, or a fall, check it thoroughly for any deformities in the plastic shell or cracking of the inner foam. If anything looks out of whack, time for a new one — better safe than sorry!
Climbing helmets have come a long way in recent years. Manufacturers are making better, lighter, and more comfortable options for the adventurers of today. Now it is up to you to wear them! We hope that this review has helped you to choose the right type for your climbing needs.
— Andy Wellman & Cam McKenzie Ring