Whether you are just completing your first forays into outdoor climbing or need protection from falling rock and ice on huge alpine objectives, wearing a helmet for protection is a good idea. We researched 30 of the best and most popular models of climbing helmets, purchasing the best 12 for our analyses. The selection of helmets ranges from old school hardshell models to the newest and lightest foam technologies available today. We wore each one for countless days of climbing on rock and ice throughout the west; these tests gave us a clear idea about which ones were the best overall, and also helped us make recommendations for specific needs, such as the best helmet for women, as well as the most protective. Helmets are one of the most vital pieces of climbing gear, so we hope that this review helps in your search for the perfect one.
The 12 Best Climbing Helmets
While this entire helmet review was updated in November of 2017, during the winter of 2018 Petzl released their new Petzl Boreo helmet, which replaces the inexpensive Petzl Elios. We immediately purchased it and put it to the test, updating this review to include it in March 2018. Combining both EPS and EPP foam with a hard shell, the Boreo offers awesome protection for both the top and sides of the head, worthy of being recognized as our Top Pick for Rugged Protection. Read on below!
Mammut Wall Rider
If you've been thinking about buying the super lightweight Petzl Sirocco but wanted something that looked a bit more "climbing" and a bit less "padded room", here is the helmet for you. One could easily call the Mammut Wall Rider a Sirocco knock-off, but we see it as an improvement! To add a bit of protection, Mammut included a hard plastic shell on the front of this helmet, while the back remains open and full of airy ventilation. Made out of EPP foam, this helmet is one of the most comfortable in our test, and we loved wearing it on long adventures. Lightweight EPS foam/polycarbonate models were a game changer when they first started coming on to the market about 20 years ago, but we predict that EPP, such as was used in the Wall Rider, will be taking over soon. Featuring better rebounding properties, this helmet can take multiple hits without cracking.Although the downsides to our best overall winner are few, we can't help but point them out. The fit is adjusted via a webbing harness system (eerily similar to the Sirocco's), which is a little finicky. While this system means that it isn't the easiest helmet to pass back and forth from person to person, it remains quick and easy to make the final adjustments once you have it on your head. On the plus side, it retains the use of a standard plastic clip buckle around the neck, which we preferred over Petzl's magnetic buckle (see the Sirocco review below). Truth be told, we had a very hard time choosing between the Wall Rider and the Sirocco, which we awarded our Top Pick for Lightweight. For most testers, the difference simply came down to fit.
Read review: Mammut Wall Rider
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 loved 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 widest range of adjustment available in this review. We also loved how secure and easy it was to attach our headlamp to the top of this Dome, a simple feature that not all helmets have mastered. Retailing for only $60, this helmet costs literally half the cost of the super light foam ones.
Worth pointing out, however, is the flaw that plagues all of the ABS shell helmets that we tested — weight. The Half Dome weighs in at 12.1 ounces, the second heaviest in the review. It also has fairly poor ventilation, and wasn't the most comfortable helmet either. For most, these complaints were minor, and for new climbers or those on a budget, or ones who want exemplary value, we recommend checking out the Half Dome.
Read review: Black Diamond Half Dome
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 was roughly middle of the pack in terms of performance, and had 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 full review: Petzl Elia
Top Pick for Lightweight
The Petzl Sirocco wins our Top Pick for its ultra light weight. Not only is it the lightest model in this test, weighing in at a measly 6.1 ounces, it's also very comfortable. Honestly, we found this helmet to be so comfortable that we often forgot we were wearing it. Redesigned in 2017, it has ditched the orange foam cone-head look and now features black EPP foam throughout, with a patch of EPS foam and orange polycarbonate shell on the top of the head. It also fits a bit different, extending coverage further down the back of the skull for added protection when taking crazy falls.
If you were curious about this model in the past but didn't want to look like an orange-cone head (fashion before function, after all) check out this new version, which looks a lot more like a "normal" helmet. And if you're completely resistant to wearing a helmet for sport climbing but think it actually might be a good idea, this is the one for you. It's so light that you won't notice it is there, even over long days or on hard climbs where every ounce counts.
Read full review: Petzl Sirocco
Top Pick as the Most Rugged and Protective
The most important function of a climbing helmet is to protect your head as you climb. Featuring two different kinds of protective foam (EPP and EPS), as well as a hard ABS plastic shell, the Petzl Boreo does that better than any other helmet in this review. The hard EPP foam resides on the top of the head to protect against impacts from falling rocks or other objects, while the slightly softer EPS foam surrounds the rest of the head, keeping it safe from side impacts that may happen when a climber falls. Both of these foams are encased in a hard ABS shell that is not only super durable and does an awesome job of protecting the soft foams beneath from incidental contact with items in a pack or on the ground but also helps disperse the force of any impact for even more rugged protection. Simply put, this is the most protective helmet that we have reviewed, which is why we gave it our Top Pick Award.
That said, the Boreo also comes with a few downsides. The v-yoke part of the chin strap that wraps around the ears is sewn in place and doesn't adjust like most other helmets, a potential fit issue for some. Similarly, we found the size of the M/L to be a hair small, which again may only effect some users. Lastly, while 11 ounces doesn't sound heavy, there were eight other helmets in this review that were lighter, and on very long days, this weight does become noticeable. All in all, the Boreo is a great choice for the beginner or experienced climber, for any discipline, and comes at a great price!
Read full review: Petzl Boreo
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 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.
We wore each one on a variety of climbs and in different conditions and then scored them according to various criteria, including how comfortable they were and their durability. In this review, we'll discuss all of our testing metrics, including why they are essential to consider and which were the best (and worst) performers in each category. You can also head on over to our Buying Advice article, where we discuss more of the nitty gritty about climbing helmet construction, testing standards, and other considerations to keep in mind before you make your next purchase.
Most of the time when making a buying decision, you end up having to accept some trade-offs. We put together the interactive chart below in order to demonstrate
how each helmet in our review stacks up in the quest to hit the sweet spot between features and price. Blue dots represent award winners, and if you move your mouse over a dot in the chart, you can see which product it denotes. The Best Buy award winning Black Diamond Half Dome and Top Pick for Women Petzl Elia land deeper into the lower right quadrant, thus representing a comparatively good value.
No matter what climbing helmet you own, it won't do you any good if don't wear it. Our testers and other climbers we polled agreed that a major factor in not wearing one is comfort. And 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. To encourage all climbers to wear one, regardless of discipline, manufacturers are making an effort to ensure their products are as comfortable as possible, 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 did also took into account where the buckles sat 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 was almost impossible not to do, as the lighter the helmet, the more comfortable it was in all instances. Here's how we scored each model for comfort:
The most comfortable models were some of our highest overall scorers as well; the Mammut Wall Rider, Petzl Sirroco, and Black Diamond Vapor 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 all liked 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. While these two models use the same harness system, they fit a little differently, so if you can't get a good fit in one try the other one on instead. While the Black Diamond Vapor does use a plastic band to tighten it, it's so light that you'll barely notice it's there either.
We also liked 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 was the CAMP USA Armour, which had a few features that made it less comfortable. One of these was the chin strap, which is four strands of webbing. It makes it harder to adjust, and more importantly results in a bulky mess under your chin, which is never comfortable.
We recommend that you try on as many models as possible before making your purchase to get one that fits your head just right. When trying on a climbing 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 ones more comfortable, but there are most likely some odd heads out there that will be more comfortable in a heavier helmet with the right shape.
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 sometimes 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 10 minutes to adjust it each time you put it on, that's not a good system.
The models that we tested use one of three ways to tension the circumference: a click-wheel, a plastic slider bar, or webbing. As we mentioned above, the webbing system is very comfortable, but not as easy to adjust overall as the click-wheel or slider bar. Some of the models with a click wheel, like the Edelrid Shield II and Black Diamond Half Dome, had the most significant range of head sizes that it could accommodate, and it was 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. We also liked 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 eliminated 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 being choked. Just like a bike helmet, if the strap is positioned too far back, wearers tend to leave the chins strap much too loose to be effective.
A good v-yoke system also helps lock the helmet down laterally — if you ever got to the top of a pitch only to have it 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 and Petzl Meteor and Sirocco models, 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 models, that quickly cinches up and to the right place.
Finally, we have to mention the magnetic buckles used on the Petzl Sirocco and Meteor models. It seems neat at first; the magnets in each end of the chin strap buckle attract each other, bringing the two ends together and making them snap into place. That is until it gets full of dirt. Some of the minerals found in granite 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 is closed when it is only half-latched.
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 at, and all helmets weigh something. Even more importantly, we found that weight is a major factor in the 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 12.8 ounce CAMP USA Armour. 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. (See our Buying Advice article for more information on testing standards.)
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 is a cross between the Sirocco and the Mammut El Cap. There's lightweight EPP foam in the back, but a hardshell up front. It weighs 2 ounces more than the Sirocco but might assuage the nay-sayers who thought the Sirocco didn't offer enough protection. There's also the Black Diamond Vapor, which at 7 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.
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 ski helmet. All of the models 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. Here's how we scored the different models for their ventilation.
The standout for this category was 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 were right there with it too. While most of the other EPS models felt 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 hardshells, 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 other hardshells.
Whether it be for pre-dawn starts or for getting benighted on an epic, the ability to attach a headlamp to a climbing helmet is important. Except for a couple of models, 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.
We evaluated a few different things for this category, including the ease of putting a headlamp on and how securely the clips held. Overall, there was minimal variation between the different clips, and they all worked reasonably well to a certain degree. We particularly liked the clips on the Back Diamond Half Dome, the CAMP USA Storm, the Petzl Boreo, and the Black Diamond Vector. All of these were easy to use, held the strap securely, and didn't move around on us.
Less than favorable were the Black Diamond Vapor, Petzl Sirocco, and Edelrid Shield II. The clips on the Vapor are on the loose side, and even worse, removable! While they are secure when they are attached, it just seems like a bad idea all around. The new Sirocco has two recessed clips in the front and a bungee cord that secures down in the back (which is better than the upward clipping bungee in the old model). The recessed clips are a little hard to access, and the helmet is so light that when we put a headlamp on it dragged the whole thing down over our eyes.
Finally, the clips on the back of the Shield II kept popping out of the back when we tried to put the headlamp on (they are connected to the textile harness on the other side — they 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).
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 to be replaced 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 varied quite a bit.
For the most part, the heavier ABS hardshell models proved more durable for everyday climbing better than the lightweight foam ones, which protect their foam with much thinner polycarbonate shells. The one that held up the best to climbing and cramming into a pack was the Black Diamond Half Dome. This thing can take a beating for years without showing much sign of wear. We also liked 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 was the Black Diamond Vector, whose shell punctured the first time we put it down. 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. We didn't have any years-old models of this one to compare it to long-term since it is a new model, but our experience with the old Petzl Sirocco tells us that we need to be careful when packing it in a pack lest the EPP shell crack. Speaking of the Sirocco, the new improvements this year should make it a little more durable than before, as the polycarbonate top piece will protect the foam from small impacts, and the foam itself seems slightly harder and hopefully less prone to gouges. Keep the more open and vented ones 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 actually wear them! We hope that this review has helped you to choose the right type for your climbing needs.
— Cam McKenzie Ring & Andy Wellman