Which is climbing helmet is best? We have opinions forged by testing over 30 models in the last 10 years. For our 2020 update, we picked 13 top models for extensive side-by-side testing. The helmet's design and its use of various plastic shells and foam liners make all the difference. We looked closely at weight to comfort level, ventilation, durability and price. From our extensive research, it's much easier to determine the right brain bucket for you. There was a day when all climbers headed up the wall with nothing on their head but hair, and sometimes not even that. Those days are pretty much gone. The dangers of falling rocks and ice, and hitting your head on a fall have made helmets universally popular.
The Best Climbing Helmets
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 fatigued 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 take multiple impacts, combined with the EPS foam and polycarbonate piece on the crown of the head that provides more bomber protection against falling projectiles hitting us from above. This winning combination remains super light and 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. It is pricey, so may not be the ideal choice for someone on a budget. Its minimal adjustment system is adequate but doesn't cover the wide head ranges of a more adjustable model. 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 easily one of the most popular climbing helmets out at the crag. Since it serves one well on a tight budget, we are happy to call it out Best Bang for the Buck award winner. 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 offering a vast range of adjustments. 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, which is well over double the weight of the Sirocco, a very noticeable difference. It also has relatively poor ventilation and isn't the most comfortable helmet either, when comparing options side-by-side. For most, these complaints are minor, and for new climbers or those on a budget, the downsides will be far outweighed by the Half Dome's attractive price.
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 those 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 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 the BD Half Dome — but at only 8.5 ounces, the amount of weight savings for the 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, so it is a good choice for 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
Specifically 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
Best 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. Luckily, 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 technology, it is potentially less likely they would have experienced a brain injury from this fall. While this technology has now become utterly commonplace in bike and downhill ski helmets, the Mammut Wall Rider MIPS is the first-ever climbing helmet to incorporate the MIPS BPS system. Therefore, it 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.
Helmet testing takes place in real-world situations. That is, on the rock! We wear these helmets day in and day out while climbing routes large and small, often bringing multiple helmets to the crag so that we can compare them one after the other. We also lend them out to friends and climbing partners to get opinions from as many different people as possible. In the end, we combine these experiences with specifically collected data that comes through direct comparison, assessing for qualities such as weight and ventilation, to formulate our overall ratings. Due to our intensive analysis, as well as hands-on testing, you can be sure we are recommending the best climbing helmets to you.
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 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 score products based upon price, we do discuss whether we feel a product offers solid performance based on the price that you have to pay. If the choice is between a lower-priced helmet or no helmet at all, we urge you to get the low-priced helmet.
Comfort is the most important consideration when choosing which helmet is right for you. After all, if you find the helmet to be uncomfortable, chances are you won't wear it. That said, comfort is a subjective criterion that will not feel the same for everyone. We have found that the most important aspect of comfort for each individual is the fit and the shape of the mold. Believe it or not, we all have different shaped heads, with some climbers' craniums trending towards perfectly round, while others have a more oblong dome. While many helmets are highly adjustable (see below), these features often cannot change the overall shape or mold of a helmet, which might still rest uncomfortably on the head even after proper adjustment. Most helmets come in two or more different sizes, so be sure to measure your head before purchasing to ensure the helmet will end up fitting as well as it can. Trying on many helmets before purchase, or being sure you can send the helmet back if it simply doesn't work for you, is sound advice to ensure that the helmet you buy is shaped similarly enough to your head to end up comfortable.
The harness system inside of the helmet is also a critical component of comfort. The harness system provides the method of adjustability so that the helmet can be catered to each individual, while also attaching to the chin strap to hold the helmet on the head and hopefully minimizing movement. We assess for how adjustable and how easy each helmet is to adjust below, but this doesn't necessarily indicate how comfortable the harness system is. In general, the minimalist harnesses comprised of just a few straps are the most comfortable (they also tend to be the least adjustable), while plastic bands that encircle the head and allow for the most adjustability tend to be the least comfortable when worn all day. These tensioning bands can also lead to stuck hairs, something to consider if you have long hair.
Beyond the fit and harness system, most helmets are lined with removable (typically Velcro) cushions or pads that provide a buffer between your head and the foam of the helmet. These pads typically absorb sweat and can be removed so that they can be washed. The shape and location of these pads plays a small role in how comfortable the helmet rests on top of your head. Other factors are also critical to comfort, such as adjustability, ventilation, and weight, but we rate for and discuss each of those elements as separate metrics below.
In our opinion, and those of the majority of people who helped us test or provided feedback, the Petzl Sirocco is the most comfortable helmet you can buy. It is deep and ever-so-slightly oblong-shaped, and notably has lots of ventilation, a very minimalist harness system inside the helmet, and is far and away the lightest in this review, a not insignificant reason why it feels so comfortable. We also like it because it provides protection from side impacts (such as when hitting your head in a fall) in the form of EPP foam, which has the ability to take multiple impacts without deforming and forcing the retirement of the helmet. Other comfortable choices are the Mammut Wall Rider MIPS and the standard version of the Wall Rider, which have similar amounts of ventilation and a lightweight harness, compared to the Sirocco, but fit a bit more shallowly on the head and are rounder. People whose heads aren't shaped ideally for the Sirocco may have better luck with one of these helmets. The lightweight and very well ventilated Black Diamond Vapor, as well as the slightly beefier Vector, were also among the most comfortable. As the most important metric when considering a purchase, we weighted comfort as 30% of a product's overall score.
Adjustability is another critical component of a helmet's design and performance that you should consider before making a purchase. Being able to adjust the helmet so that it fits properly on your head ensures that it is as comfortable as possible, keeps it from moving around and distracting you while climbing, and is also potentially critical from a safety standpoint. When considering adjustability, we looked at how widely adjustable a helmet is, thereby allowing it to be used by the greatest percentage of people. We also judged the efficacy of the adjustment system — how easy it is to adjust properly and quickly with the helmet on the head.
There are three methods employed by manufacturers for adjusting the circumference of each helmet; the click-wheel, a plastic slider bar, or lightweight straps and buckles. Using only straps and buckles provides the lightest solution, but usually the least adjustable. Typically, the only adjustment can be made by way of one or two buckles on the back of the head that one pulls tabs of webbing through to cinch up the fit around the head. Plastic slider bars, on the other hand, have notches or grooves cut out of them where another piece of plastic latches, keeping the helmet tight. These are typically far more adjustable than simple webbing, and are very simple to adjust with the helmet on the head, but can be less comfortable and slightly heavier. The most adjustable system uses the click wheel. This design has a small wheel on the back of the head that you turn (it clicks as you do so) to tighten or loosen the tensioning band of the helmet. The click wheel is the easiest to adjust quickly but comes with the downsides of being heavier and bulkier, and proves surprisingly easy to over-tighten, which you may not realize until you have a headache an hour later.
The tension of the harness inside the helmet is not the only way that helmets are adjustable. The v-yoke is the v-shaped straps that come down on either side of your ears to join to the chin strap. Most helmets have slider buckles that allow for quick adjustment of the v-yoke, so that it sits comfortably around, and not over your ears, although the helmet must typically be taken off for this adjustment to be made. The chin strap itself must also be adjustable, and most are simple and easily.
The Black Diamond Half Dome is the most adjustable helmet in this review, and is also the easiest to adjust. It uses a click wheel at the back that is simple to turn for tightening and loosening the fit and also has easily adjustable straps on the v-yoke and chin. It takes top honors in this department because even the tensioning band that the click wheel is attached to can be adjusted up or down along two pieces of webbing to accommodate hair better, something the Mammut Skywalker 2 is unable to do. In every other way, however, the Skywalker 2 proves to be highly adjustable, also featuring a click wheel tensioning system. The Petzl Meteor was the most adjustable, and easiest to adjust, among the lighter helmets that use a plastic slider bar to adjust the fit. While we typically find them to be the most comfortable and lightest, all of the helmets that use a webbing and buckle tensioning system scored low for adjustability, so if you buy one of these helmets, be sure it fits your head reasonably well without needing too much adjustment. Adjustability accounts for 20% of a product's final score.
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, Singing Rock Penta, and Mammut Skywalker 2, which are only available in one size.
The models that we tested ranged in weight from the 6.1-ounce Petzl Sirocco to the 13.5-ounce Mammut Skywalker 2. 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 hard shell 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.
Among the most affordable models, the Singing Rock Penta stands out for its incredibly low weight of just 7.2 ounces. The polycarbonate shell with EPS foam combines to be several ounces lighter than any model even close to its price range. That said, it only comes in a single size, which most of our male testers found to be too small. If it fits, as it did for one of our female testers, this low-priced option has a huge upside in the weight department. Its less-accommodating fit, though, kept it from being very useful to many of our testers. 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 thin 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.
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 bigger 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 every day 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, if you dig them.
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 at 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