The Best Climbing Helmets of 2020
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 (falling 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., this featherweight product never left us feeling fatigued in the neck, and more often than not we forgot we had it on! We also appreciate the carefully molded combination of EPP foam on the sides — a softer, light, and more malleable foam that protects from side impacts and is impressively resilient — combined with an 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 strap adjustments keep the weight down but aren't nearly as easy to dial in as a slider bar or click wheel. Finally, since it's not completely covered in polycarbonate, care is needed to ensure it doesn't get damaged inside or outside of your pack. Qualms aside, this is the helmet you will see on the vast majority of professionals, and for good reason. No matter what kind of climbing you engage in, the Sirocco is the optimal choice.
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 appreciate the greatly enhanced durability, and likely life span, that comes from a complete hard polycarbonate shell. 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. Annoyance in the form of weight, heat, or discomfort, may actually translate into you wearing a helmet less, thereby not even giving it a chance to do its job. That said, for new climbers or those on a budget, the downsides will likely 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 via a plastic slider bar on the back of the head, which can be manipulated while wearing the helmet just as easily as when it's off. 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 most inexpensive helmets, or as light as the lightest helmets, we find 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
Best for Integrated MIPS Technology
Mammut Wall Rider MIPS
Imagine taking an upside down lead fall because the rope somehow became wrapped around your leg. As you flip upside down, the rope comes taut, and your head smacks against the rock. Luckily, you're wearing a climbing helmet! This exact scenario happened to one of our testers while 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 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 lives in the heart of the San Juan Mountains of Colorado, where there are plenty of quality crags and ice climbs to choose from, but where loose rock and falling ice is a fact of life — a good place for helmet testing! 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 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 multiple qualities 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
Climbing helmets come at a fairly wide range of price points, with any given model's location on the spectrum typically dependent on the types of materials it is made out of. While it isn't always true, in the case of climbing helmets, our testing reveals that the higher priced models tend to also be the highest performers, while the budget options don't stack up as well for overall performance. The best helmet for you is the one that you will wear, so it may be worth ignoring price tags to get one so light and comfortable that you won't ever find a reason not to wear it.
Another aspect of value worth considering is durability, something we assess for and describe in more detail below. Simply put, a more durable a helmet like the BD Half Dome is likely to last longer, and therefore the better value as a purchase. In general, hard shell helmets are the most durable by a long shot and are also among the most affordable, so there is a significant upshot to choosing a budget-minded helmet of this type.
Comfort is very likely the most important consideration when choosing your new helmet. Most helmets, especially those made of foam, are molded into a specific shape, and even with adjustable harnesses that help you adapt the fit, you will never be able to change the shape of the helmet. Some helmets are deep and oblong, while others are shallower, or rounder. Since we all have different shaped heads, what fits one person perfectly may not work for someone else at all. This fact also makes grading for this criteria rather subjective, so we were sure to talk to as many people as we could that had used each helmet to nail down what they liked and didn't like.
The harness system inside of the helmet is 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. While harnesses are designed to be adjustable, simply moving things around a bit doesn't guarantee comfort. 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 are designed to absorb sweat and can be removed so that they can be washed; many helmets come with two sets of pads. The shape and location of these pads plays a small role in how comfortable the helmet rests on top of your head.
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, is very well ventilated, and features a very minimalist harness system inside the helmet. It is also the lightest helmet we've ever tested, which has an outsized bearing on how comfortable it is to wear all day. 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 popular choices for most comfortable among testers. As the most important metric when considering a purchase, we weighted comfort as 30% of a product's overall score.
Being able to adjust a 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. Adjustments are made with one or two buckles and pull tabs on the back of the head, and while some of them can be adjusted while wearing the helmet, it's also fairly common to need to take the helmet off to fine-tune the adjusting. 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 more adjustable than simple webbing, and are 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 adjusted
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 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, absorbing impacts without cracking. A small polycarbonate plate protects the EPS foam "puck" that ensures adequate protection from falling objects that would hit on the top of the head. Helmets with a similar design, such as the Edelrid Salathe and the Mammut Wall Rider MIPS, have larger, more substantial plastic coverings, which may contribute to greater durability, but also make them a tad heavier.
No discussion of weight would be complete without mention of the Black Diamond Vapor, which at seven ounces is the second lightest model in this review. While it appears to be more air than any solid material, it's in fact made of a combination of EPS foam, a polycarbonate shell, and carbon rods to add strength to the structure. It does pass the required CE safety standards, though our experience is that this helmet acquires cosmetic dents simply by looking at it for too long, so long-term durability is not one of its primary advantages.
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.
Many times our testers, and friends who offered opinions, complained that a helmet was too hot, but we never encountered a single complaint that a helmet kept someone's head too cold. Even in perfect, cool temps, it's easy to work up a sweat in no time while climbing, and especially so on the top of your head when it's encased in a large, insulating foam helmet. In fact, the EPS foam used to make these helmets is no different than the polystyrene that is most commonly used as an insulator of cheap coolers and take out containers. To combat this insulating effect, ventilation holes are needed, which allow hot air to escape, as well as cooler air to flow through the helmet to enhance evaporative cooling.
In general, helmets that ventilated well had more holes than those that ventilate poorly. The holes are also bigger, and we really noticed that holes on the front of the helmet, and not only the sides and back, helps promote air flow. Lastly, there needs to be space within the helmet for air to move around. Hard shell helmets typically have more space within the helmet for air flow, but less holes to allow air in and out. On the other hand, foam helmets with tons of ventilation openings often rest right on top of the head and hair, with little room for air to move around the head.
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.
Overall, all of the EPS foam models have a lot more openings in the shell, and therefore much better ventilation, than hardshell ones. As a smaller consideration for purchasing, ventilation only accounts for 10% in our overall scoring.
Whether you are benighted out on a climb, or simply want to get a pre-dawn start to beat the crowds (or avoid getting benighted!), you need to be able to attach a headlamp to your helmet. There are two common methods. The first is four plastic clips spaced evenly around the helmet, with slots that the band of your headlamp slides up into, holding it securely in place. These clips are sometimes removable, and often recessed into the design so they don't stick out or catch on gear, clothing, or branches. The tension of these clips varies from model to model, where the clips with more tension may grip the headlamp band better, but can also be a lot harder to get the band into in the first place.
The second method uses two clips in the front, and a single elastic strap with a pull tab that loops around a hook in the back. This method is becoming more common, especially on the higher end EPP helmets, and is easier to implement with the helmet on the head. It's also more versatile, as the strap is large enough to accommodate ski goggle straps, which are usually much thicker than headlamp bands.
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 find the elastic strap method found on the Petzl Sirocco, Meteor, and Edelrid Salathe to be quite easy and effective.
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. 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, though the surface of its shell seems more prone to cosmetic scrapes than the Half Dome.
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 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