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The 12 Best Climbing Helmets

By Cam McKenzie Ring
Monday November 13, 2017
Whether you are new to climbing or a seasoned pro, we all need a climbing helmet to protect ourselves. After researching over 30 models, we chose 12 of the best to put to the test. We selected a variety of lids, from tried and true hardshell models to the latest, and lightest, foam creations. After wearing them for months on a variety of routes and conditions, we scored them on select criteria, such as how easy they were to adjust and how comfortable they were to wear all day. We picked the best from the bunch, including the lightest one, the best value, a great choice for women with long hair, and our all-around favorite.

Best Overall


Mammut Wall Rider


Editors' Choice Award

$100.00
at Amazon
See It

Lightweight
Comfortable
Well-ventilated
Sturdy
Takes awhile to adjust sizing
Headlamp clips were not our favorite
If you've been looking at the Petzl Sirocco for the last couple of years and wanted something like it but that looked like a "normal" climbing helmet, Mammut just made it. One could easily call the Mammut Wall Rider a Sirocco knock-off, but we see it as an improvement! There's a hard plastic shell cover on the front, for extra protection, but the back remains open and highly ventilated. The EPP foam has a little give to it, so it feels comfortable against your head even after a long day on the wall. It's adjusted via a webbing harness system (eerily similar to the Sirocco's), which is a little finicky to adjust. This isn't the easiest one to pass from person to person, but once you dial the fit in for your head, it's quick and easy to make the final adjustments. It also has a standard plastic clip buckle, which we preferred over Petzl's magnetic buckle (see the Sirocco review below). It's hard not to compare this to the Sirocco since they are so similar, but the difference between them mostly comes down to one of fit, so if this one doesn't work for your head, try the other! While the lightweight EPS foam/polycarbonate models were a game changer when they first started coming on to the market about 20 years ago, we predict that EPP will be taking over soon. It has great rebounding properties, meaning it can take multiple hits without cracking. Now we just need to convince all climbers to wear them, all the time!

Read review: Mammut Wall Rider

Best Bang for the Buck


Black Diamond Half Dome


Best Buy Award

$57.85
at Backcountry
See It

Affordable
Durable
Easy to adjust
Great headlamp clips
Heavy
Poor ventilation
This is at least the third iteration of the Black Diamond Half Dome, and it is undoubtedly the best version yet. It has a click-wheel for one-handed adjustment of the rear band, and it offered some of the biggest range of adjustability size wise. It had our favorite headlamp clips as well; they were easy to slide a strap under but held it securely. It was one of the most durable models that we tested, and also the most affordable. It retails for $60, making it a natural choice for our Best Buy award when compared to the $100 and up foam models out there. This is an excellent choice for new climbers who have to buy a ton of gear at once, those on a budget, and anyone who is looking for something that will last a long time.

Read review: Black Diamond Half Dome

Top Pick for Women


Petzl Elia - Women's


Top Pick Award


Ponytail fits in rear cut-out
Easy to adjust
Durable
Well-ventilated
Have to adjust it every time you put it on
A little heavier than foam models
Only one size available
Climbing helmets are one of the few unisex categories out there for wearable gear and apparel. Men's and women's feet are different, their hips are configured differently, and we do separate reviews for men and women for most of the categories that we review here at OutdoorGearLab. When it comes to your skull though, the only difference between men and women's skull is that women's are slightly smaller, and more women wear their hair long compared to men. We researched and tested every "women's" specific model that we could find for this review, and it turns out the Petzl Elia is the only one that is different from the men's/unisex version, minus the color on the shell. The Elia has a unique shape to its tensioning band — it makes a U-shaped turn at the back, leaving ample room for a ponytail. Anyone who wears a helmet while climbing and has a lot of hair knows that this is a real problem, and we like the solution that Petzl came up with. While the band could probably be improved upon a bit (it tends to loosen up over the course of the day), and we wished there were adjusters on the V-yoke to help keep it in place a little better, it's still a great option for ladies looking for a hardshell climbing helmet. Guys can wear it too, though it comes in more "feminine" color schemes and detailing, and we've yet to see a dude sporting it at the crag.

Read full review: Petzl Elia

Top Pick for Lightweight


Petzl Sirocco


Top Pick Award

$100.00
at Amazon
See It

Lightest model on the market
Comfortable
Lots of ventilation
Takes a while to adjust
Magnetic buckle doesn't work well once dirty
Expensive
Our Top Pick award goes to the ultralight Petzl Sirocco. It's the lightest model currently on the market (6.1 ounces) and is also one of the most comfortable. So comfortable, in fact, that we sometimes forgot we were wearing it. Petzl redesigned this model in 2017, and we liked every improvement they made. It has a lower profile (read: less cone-headed) than the original, as they added a small expanded polystyrene (EPS) layer on top of the skull underneath a small polycarbonate shell. The main body is still made of expanded polypropylene (EPP), but gone is the bright orange color. It now comes in Black in the North American market, and apparently also white though we've yet to see it available. The new Sirocco also extends further down the back of the skull for more protection should you get flipped upside down and crash into the wall. 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

up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
80
Mammut Wall Rider $100
Editors' Choice Award
Comfortable and sturdy, with good ventilation and durability.
79
Petzl Sirocco $130
Top Pick Award
Lightweight and comfortable - you'll barely notice it is there!
75
Petzl Meteor $100
Lightweight and versatile helmet but don't get the buckle dirty.
75
Black Diamond Vapor $140
Lightweight and comfortable but can't even be put in your pack.
73
CAMP USA Storm $100
Not the lightest foam helmet but more adjustable than others.
72
Petzl Elia - Women's $65
Top Pick Award
The only "women's" helmet being manufactured specifically to accommodate a ponytail.
72
Black Diamond Vector $100
Lightweight, comfortable, and adjustable.
71
Edelrid Shield II $90
Heavier EPS model but holds up well.
69
Petzl Elios $65
Durable but heavy, good for cold weather.
69
Black Diamond Half Dome $60
Best Buy Award
One of the least expensive but most durable models available.
62
Mammut El Cap $70
Standard hardshell design with limited size range.
52
CAMP USA Armour $60
A durable helmet for programs.

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.

After months of the rock climbing in a variety of locations and conditions  we scored each model for its comfort  adjustability  weight  ventilation  headlamp attachment and durability. Keep reading below to see which were the best in each category.
After months of the rock climbing in a variety of locations and conditions, we scored each model for its comfort, adjustability, weight, ventilation, headlamp attachment and durability. Keep reading below to see which were the best in each category.

Comfort


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.

Given the choice between a plastic band and click-wheel against the back of our head or a few pieces of webbing  like on the Mammut Wall Rider  we'd opt for the webbing. It's functional enough to keep a light helmet in place  is comfortable against your head  and won't give you a headache.
Given the choice between a plastic band and click-wheel against the back of our head or a few pieces of webbing, like on the Mammut Wall Rider, we'd opt for the webbing. It's functional enough to keep a light helmet in place, is comfortable against your head, and won't give you a headache.

We also liked the comfort of some of the other EPS foam models that we tested, including the Petzl Meteor and Black Diamond Vector. 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.

There's so much going on under there that even the soft fleece can't make it comfortable. We much prefer the single strand chin strap over the doubled-up option here.
There's so much going on under there that even the soft fleece can't make it comfortable. We much prefer the single strand chin strap over the doubled-up option here.

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.

Adjustability


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 Elios, 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.

The Edelrid Shield II (left) uses a click-wheel to adjust the tension around the head  while the Petzl Elios (right) has a slider bar with large release buttons.
The Edelrid Shield II (left) uses a click-wheel to adjust the tension around the head, while the Petzl Elios (right) has a slider bar with large release buttons.

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.

It 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 and Petzl Elia 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.

The V-yoke is not always adjustable  like on the Black Diamond Vapor (left). Being able to cinch it up  like on the CAMP USA storm (right)  helps keep the chin strap in position and the helmet stable on your head.
The V-yoke is not always adjustable, like on the Black Diamond Vapor (left). Being able to cinch it up, like on the CAMP USA storm (right), helps keep the chin strap in position and the helmet stable on your head.

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.

When dirt accumulates in the buckle it can interfere with the magnetic closing mechanism. It might seem closed initially  but the buckle is not properly latched.
When dirt accumulates in the buckle it can interfere with the magnetic closing mechanism. It might seem closed initially, but the buckle is not properly latched.

Weight


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.)

The new Sirocco is a highly engineered piece of equipment. It won't make you stick out quite as much as the old model  but is sure to still turn heads thanks to its unique look and construction details.
The new Sirocco is a highly engineered piece of equipment. It won't make you stick out quite as much as the old model, but is sure to still turn heads thanks to its unique look and construction details.

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.

If you're looking for a lightweight model that still offers a lot of protection  our Editors' Choice winner  the Mammut Wall Rider  gives you both.
If you're looking for a lightweight model that still offers a lot of protection, our Editors' Choice winner, the Mammut Wall Rider, gives you both.

Ventilation


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.

The vents on the Black Diamond Vapor are large  and placed all over the sides and rear for maximum ventilation.
The vents on the Black Diamond Vapor are large, and placed all over the sides and rear for maximum ventilation.

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.

The Petzl Elia is well-ventilated hardshell model.
The Petzl Elia is well-ventilated hardshell model.

The Petzl Elios offers a unique way of having less ventilation. There are shutters that can close down the vents when climbing in blustery or otherwise poor conditions. This is an excellent touch for ice or alpine climbers, though they are a little sticky sometimes. It's also easy to forget that they are closed since you can't see them, and then wonder why your head is so sweaty halfway throughout the day.

You can shut down the vents on the Petzl Elios for particularly windy or stormy days.
You can shut down the vents on the Petzl Elios for particularly windy or stormy days.

Headlamp Attachment


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, and the Black Diamond Vector. All of these were easy to use, held the strap securely, and didn't move around on us.

We like the functionality of the clips on both the CAMP USA Storm (front) and Black Diamond Vector (back).
We like the functionality of the clips on both the CAMP USA Storm (front) and Black Diamond Vector (back).

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.

The Sirocco is so light that the weight of our headlamp dragged it down over our eyes.
The Sirocco is so light that the weight of our headlamp dragged it 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).

The headlamp clips on the Edelrid Shield II are not securely attached to the helmet  and pop off a little too easily when trying to attach a headlamp strap.
The headlamp clips on the Edelrid Shield II are not securely attached to the helmet, and pop off a little too easily when trying to attach a headlamp strap.

Durability


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 Elios and Elia, though the surfaces of those shells seemed more prone to cosmetic scrapes than the Half Dome.

Whether we were bashing our heads on overhanging sport routes  or grovelling up chimneys and dirty corners  the Black Diamond Half Dome held up to whatever we subjected it to.
Whether we were bashing our heads on overhanging sport routes, or grovelling up chimneys and dirty corners, the Black Diamond Half Dome held up to whatever we subjected it to.

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.

The Edelrid Shield II is one of the heavier EPS foam models that we tested  but also appeared to be one of the more durable ones as well.
The Edelrid Shield II is one of the heavier EPS foam models that we tested, but also appeared to be one of the more durable ones as well.

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!

Black Diamond recommends not putting their lightweight foam Vector and Vapor models in your backpack  so we attached it to the outside instead and it got punctured when we put our pack down. While this divot is cosmetic  it was a little dissappointing that it dinged up so easily.
Black Diamond recommends not putting their lightweight foam Vector and Vapor models in your backpack, so we attached it to the outside instead and it got punctured when we put our pack down. While this divot is cosmetic, it was a little dissappointing that it dinged up so easily.

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!

Conclusion


Aloysius Leap hard at "work"! We squeezed  chicken-winged  jammed and crimped our way up dozens of routes to try and determine which lid was the best.
Aloysius Leap hard at "work"! We squeezed, chicken-winged, jammed and crimped our way up dozens of routes to try and determine which lid was the best.

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
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