When people get into rock climbing, they often ask me what kind of shoes, harness, or rope they should buy. I always tell them the same thing: “the first thing you should buy is a helmet.” But not just any helmet—a good, comfortable, well-fitting helmet that they will actually wear. A helmet does no good if it’s sitting in the dirt or in your gear closet back home. If it’s on your head, though, it can mean the difference between life and death. This article will take you through the top climbing helmets on the market in 2017 and help you make a selection that’s right for you. Below our picks we’ve included a comparison table and detailed buying advice that breaks down the technical information and factors that differentiate one climbing helmet from another.
 

1. Petzl Sirocco ($130)

Petzl Sirocco helmetWeight: [size 1] 5.1 oz., [size 2] 5.8 oz.
Construction: EPP foam
Best use: Regular rock/ice fall or head impact
What we like: We think it's the best climbing helmet ever made.
What we don’t: It’s funny looking (but that’s about to change in the summer of 2017).

I’ve worn a variety of different climbing helmets for 15 years and counting, and can say without hesitation that the Sirocco is my favorite hands-down. I know it’s funny looking—bright orange to be specific—and I know it’s expensive. But I also know that it’s the lightest helmet out there and reasonably durable for its weight. It’s pretty rare in climbing gear technology that you get a product that does so well in both categories, but the Sirocco is exceptional.

By using Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) foam instead of Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam found in other helmets on this list, the Sirocco is super light and able to take multiple impacts without shattering. Other lightweight models composed of EPS fracture with surprisingly little impact (tossing it roughly on the ground can be enough). Once they do fracture, they should be replaced.

Another great thing about the Sirocco is that you barely feel it when it’s on. This should be the goal of all climbing helmets—the less noticeable a helmet is, the more often you’ll wear it and the more it will be doing its job. The one small complaint I have about the Sirocco is that the magnetic buckle on the chinstrap picks up rock-dust and can jam up on occasion. However, it’s super easy to clean with a swipe of the finger, and then it’s back to being the perfect helmet. Take note: Petzl is releasing version two of the Sirocco in fall of 2017, and it’s got a brand new (read: much improved) look.
See the Petzl Sirocco

 

2. Black Diamond Vapor ($140)

Black Diamond Vapor climbing helmetWeight: [s/m] 6.6 oz., [m/l] 7 oz.
Construction: EPS w/polycarbonate shell
Best use: Occasional rock/ice fall or head impact
What we like: Lightweight, comfortable, and fits big heads.
What we don’t: Pretty fragile.

If you’re dead set against the Sirocco, and looking for an EPS helmet, the Vapor is your next best bet. It’s almost as light and virtually unnoticeable when it’s on your head. The venting is a little bit better than the Sirocco, which is nice if you’re prone to hot-headedness. Meanwhile, the plastic strap system makes adjustability a breeze, the helmet is very comfortable, and as far as appearances go, the Vapor is less aggressive looking than the Sirocco.

EPS foam is not as durable as EPP, but if you treat it nicely, that shouldn’t be a big problem. Don’t throw this helmet (or any lightweight EPS model) on the ground and don’t pack it in the bottom of your bag underneath heavy ropes and racks. We always recommend keeping an eye out for cracks in the foam. Finally, if you have a really big head, the bigger Black Diamond models tends to fit better than the bigger Petzl models, so keep that in mind.
See the Black Diamond Vapor

 

3. Mammut Wall Rider ($100)

Mammut Wall Rider climbing helmetWeight: 6.9 oz.
Construction: EPP w/polycarbonate shell
Best use: Regular rock/ice fall or head impact
What we like: Lightweight, comfortable, yet still fashionable…and easy on your wallet.
What we don’t: We got a crack in ours.

The Wall Rider appeared on the scene last year, and is the perfect marriage of the Petzl Sirocco and BD Vapor (#1 and #2, respectively). It combines the lightweight and durable EPP foam from the Sirocco and the fashionable and more traditional hard shell of the Vapor, making a magical hybrid that is certainly turning heads. Why add a hard shell to the already durable EPP foam, you might ask? Well, we’re not sure. There’s no science that says that naked EPP, as on the Sirocco, lacks durability. Consumers are dubious, however, and Mammut is giving them what they want. To save weight, the hard shell only covers the top and front of the helmet—where impact is most likely to occur—and the shell is slightly thicker than that of the competition.

Despite combining the best features of the top 2 picks, we wound up ranking the Wall Rider 3rd on our list for one big reason: we got a crack in ours after only a month of use. Granted, this is a very limited sample size, but our Sirocco is still going strong after 2 years and the Wall Rider wound up being unusable after only a short test. Time will tell if this was a fluke occurrence (we actually don’t know exactly when or how it happened), and we still find the Wall Rider to be a very promising helmet. But it can’t dethrone the Sirocco just yet.
See the Mammut Wall Rider

 

4. Petzl Meteor ($100)

Petzl Meteor climbing helmet

Weight: 7.8 oz.
Construction: EPS w/polycarbonate shell
Best use: Occasional rock/ice fall or head impact
What we like: About the same feeling as the Vapor, but less expensive.
What we don’t: Again, the EPS is more fragile than the Sirocco’s EPP.

It was a really close race for the podium between the Petzl Meteor and the aforementioned Black Diamond Vapor. On one hand, the Vapor is almost 15% lighter than the Meteor, which theoretically makes it 15% less noticeable on your head. On the other hand, the Meteor is way more than 15% cheaper than the Vapor, which makes it much less noticeable in your wallet. Either way, both of these helmets are excellent choices from two of the more respected brands in climbing.

Like the Vapor, the Meteor has excellent venting and easy adjustability. If you’re into helmet style, the Meteor’s shell has always featured a plethora of nice, colorful designs to choose from, making it one of the best looking helmets on this list. And again, the EPS foam can be fragile, so be sure to treat the helmet gently to get the most possible use out of it.
See the Petzl Meteor

 

5. Singing Rock Penta ($70)

Singing Rock Penta climbing helmetWeight: 7.2 oz.
Construction: EPS w/polycarbonate shell
Best use: Occasional rock/ice fall or head impact
What we like: You can’t beat the price.
What we don’t: Adjustment system is not ideal.

Singing Rock might not be the most popular brand in climbing gear, but the Czech company is known for producing some high quality products. The Penta is no exception, and for the extremely low price of $70, we can’t help but put it in the top five on our list.

The Penta is made of the same EPS materials as the Meteor and Vapor above and is comparable in weight. However, it does not sport a plastic suspension system like the other models, providing for slightly more comfort yet slightly less ease in adjusting the straps. Overall, if you don’t have a brand allegiance and are looking for a lightweight helmet at a budget price, give the Singing Rock Penta a serious look.
See the Singing Rock Penta

 

6. Black Diamond Vector ($100)

 Black Diamond Vector climbing helmetWeight: [s/m] 8.1 oz., [m/l] 8.5 oz.
Construction: EPS w/polycarbonate shell
Best use: Occasional rock/ice fall or head impact
What we like: A nice balance of low weight and lower price than the high-end models above. 
What we don’t: Heavier than the Petzl Meteor. 
Women's: Black Diamond Vector

Petzl and BD seem to go tit for tat with their climbing helmet models. The BD Vapor is meant to compete with the Sirocco, and the BD Vector is meant to compete with the Meteor (and later you’ll notice the similarities between the BD Half Dome and the Petzl Elios). Between the Meteor and the Vector, it’s a close call. They both come in at around $100, and both feature the same construction, materials, and features. The most notable difference is that the Meteor weighs slightly less than the Vector.

In comparing the Vector to the $40 more expensive Vapor above, the Vector shares the same basic design but with a less advanced construction and fewer vents, which adds 1.5 ounces to the total weight. The benefit is the Vector is far more affordable and a little more durable, which makes it easier to trust when tossing it into your bag or strapping it to your pack.
See the Black Diamond Vector

 

7. Camp USA Speed 2.0 ($120)

Camp USA Speed 2.0 climbing helmetWeight: 9.5 oz.
Construction: In-mold Styrofoam w/polycarbonate shell
Best use: Occasional rock/ice fall or head impact
What we like: This helmet is your alpine all-arounder go-to.
What we don’t: Slightly heavy if you’re just looking for a high performance climbing-specific helmet.

The Camp Speed 2.0 is unique to our list: not only is it a climbing helmet, it doubles as a ski mountaineering helmet as well. And while it makes for an incredibly lightweight helmet on the slopes, it’s a bit on the heavy side for our in-mold climbing helmets. We recommend the Speed 2.0 only if spend time crossing over between alpine climbing and skiing, and you’re looking for one helmet for the job.

That said, the Speed 2.0 is a favorite of some climbers out there. It sports a relatively thick external shell and is slightly more durable than most of the EPS versions listed above. Some climbers report that the size of the helmet is slightly rounder than they’re used to, so if Black Diamond or Petzl helmets don’t fit your head well, this might be your solution. All in all, the Camp Speed used to be one of the top helmets in the game, but we think they’re going to need to keep up with the latest innovations to stay competitive. 
See the Camp USA Speed 2.0

 

8. Mammut Rock Rider ($80)

Mammut Rock Rider climbing helmetWeight: [52-57cm] 8.8 oz., [56-61cm] 9.2 oz.
Construction: In-mold EPS w/ABS shell
Best use: Regular to frequent rock/ice fall or head impact
What we like: The in-mold ABS shell makes this helmet more durable than some other models.
What we don’t: Comfort is more in line with a budget helmet like the Half Dome.

Mammut’s Rock Rider is one of the best values on this list. It’s comparable in weight to the Vapor and the Meteor above, but at only $80 is considerably less expensive. You will see a lot of similarities: the Rock Rider has the same EPS foam, the same kind of buckles and venting, and all the same features. The biggest difference is the ABS shell instead of polycarbonate, which is a little heavier but a lot more durable.

If weight is not your top priority (we are talking a couple of ounces here), the Mammut Rock Rider is a great choice. By now, you should be noticing a pattern. In climbing helmets, as weight goes up, price goes down. The Mammut Rock Rider is right in the middle on both, striking a great balance between total ounces and dollars.
See the Mammut Rock Rider

 

9. Camp USA Armor ($60)

Camp USA Armor helmetWeight: 12.5 oz.
Construction: EPS w/ABS shell
Best use: Regular to frequent rock/ice fall or head impact
What we like: Durability + comfort.
What we don’t: This helmet is the heaviest on our list.
Women’s: Camp USA Armor

Breaking from the advanced, lightweight construction types above, the Camp USA Armor goes old school with its ABS plastic shell and EPS foam core. The result is an extremely durable helmet that maintains the comfort and fit of the more expensive helmets, but with the weight and price point of the more entry-level models below.

We’ve started seeing more and more of the Armor at the crag and on the cliffs, and it’s not a secret as to why. For $60, this helmet ties with the Black Diamond Half Dome for the cheapest on our list, but has a much more comfortable fit. If you’re just getting into climbing and not looking for something top of the line—and you’re willing to wear a heavier helmet—the Armor is our top entry-level pick.
See the Camp USA Armor

 

10. Mammut El Cap ($70)

Mammut El Cap climbing helmetWeight: 12.3 oz.
Construction: EPS w/ABS shell
Best use: Regular to frequent rock/ice fall or head impact
What we like: Function meets fashion.
What we don’t: We bet you’d be more likely to wear some of the lighter weight options.

As with the Camp USA Armor above, the Mammut El Cap sports a traditional hardshell (ABS) construction for maximum protection. But it comes with one major difference: its appearance that might actually convince you that a helmet can be fashionable. With the streamlined fit, you won’t look like a mushroom head, and believe it or not, the visor actually is functional, designed to block out the sun during long, multi-pitch days.

In comparison with its competition here at the tail end of the list, the Mammut El Cap certainly is a helmet to consider. It has more air vents than its counterparts, and the inner foam actually has some small channels built in to facilitate airflow. Climbers report finding the unique adjustment system extremely functional and easy to use, but the El Cap is a bit heavier than the Half Dome below and more expensive than the Armor. 
See the Mammut El Cap

 

11. Black Diamond Half Dome ($60)

Black Diamond Half Dome climbing helmetWeight: [s/m] 11 oz., [m/l] 12 oz.
Construction: EPS w/ABS shell
Best use: Regular to frequent rock/ice fall or head impact
What we like: Durable, dependable, and affordable.
What we don’t: Heavy and not as comfortable as the top models.

We’d be remiss not to give a nod to Black Diamond’s tried-and-true Half Dome helmet in this article. The helmet is not ground breaking, it isn’t new and exciting technology, but it is reliable, inexpensive, and trustworthy. For $60 you can get a lot of use and durability out of this helmet. It may not be the lightest, it may not be the most comfortable, but it sure as heck will protect your head from falling rocks. And unlike many of its ultralight competitors, the Half Dome should live to tell about it.

The major difference between the Half Dome and most of the models above is that the shell is a solid, hard plastic instead of a lightweight sheet of plasticized stuff. The ABS shell can absorb a pretty good-sized impact on its own without damaging the softer EPS foam on interior. The vents are very minimal (7 as opposed to the Vapor’s 21) and don’t offer as much breathability as pricier models, but if you’re looking for a reliable budget climbing helmet, this is our tried and tested choice.
See the Black Diamond Half Dome

 

12. Petzl Elios ($65)

Petzl Elios climbing helmetWeight: [size 1] 10.6 oz., [size 2] 11.6 oz.
Construction: EPS w/ABS shell
Best use: Regular to frequent rock/ice fall or head impact
What we like: Just like the Half Dome, this helmet is a great entry-level helmet.
What we don’t: Still pretty heavy, and more expensive than the Half Dome.
Women’s: Petzl Elia

Say hello to Petzl’s version of the Black Diamond Half Dome. The Elios features similar design concepts, a hard plastic shell that can absorb a lot of impact, an EPS foam interior, and adjustable straps. These are all the things you’ve come (by now) to know and expect from a helmet.

The major difference between the Half Dome and the Elios is that the former is slightly heavier and less expensive. Meanwhile, the Elios has more vents and a cool feature that allows you to open or close the vents depending on your preference. That makes the Elios a bit more versatile and better suited for hot weather, but you pay for that in weight and cost. Additionally, the Elios comes in a women’s-specific version, dubbed the Elia, designed to fit smaller heads and accommodate ponytails.
See the Petzl Elios

 

Climbing Helmet Comparison Table

Helmet Price Weight Construction Best Uses
Petzl Sirocco $130 5.1 oz. EPP Regular rock/ice fall or impact
Black Diamond Vapor $140 6.6 oz. EPS w/polycarbonate Occasional rock/ice fall or impact
Mammut Wall Rider $100 6.9 oz. EPP w/polycarbonate Regular rock/ice fall or impact
Petzl Meteor $100 7.8 oz. EPS w/polycarbonate Occasional rock/ice fall or impact
Singing Rock Penta $70 7.2 oz. EPS w/polycarbonate Occasional rock/ice fall or impact
Black Diamond Vector $100 8.1 oz. EPS w/polycarbonate Occasional rock/ice fall or impact
Camp USA Speed 2.0 $120 9.5 oz. In-mold Styrofoam w/polycarbonate Occasional rock/ice fall or impact
Mammut Rock Rider $80 8.8 oz. In-mold EPS w/ABS Occasional rock/ice fall or impact
Camp USA Armor $60 12.5 oz. EPS w/ABS Regular to frequent rock/ice fall or impact
Mammut El Cap $70 12.3 oz. EPS w/ABS Regular to frequent rock/ice fall or impact
Black Diamond Half Dome $60 11 oz. EPS w/ABS Regular to frequent rock/ice fall or impact
Petzl Elios $65 10.6 oz. EPS w/ABS Regular to frequent rock/ice fall or impact

 

Climbing Helmet Buying Advice

Foam Types: Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) vs. Expanded Polystyrene (EPS)

This is a bit of a reiteration from the product descriptions above, but it’s worth going into extra detail about the differences between these kinds of foam. Basically, Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) has been the shock-absorbing foam of choice in climbing helmets as long as I can recall. It’s very hard and functions incredibly well for absorbing a serious impact…once. Part of how EPS works is to crush and fracture when impacted. On some of the lighter weight EPS models like the Black Diamond Vapor and the Meteor, the EPS foam is so delicate that it can fracture from simply being tossed roughly down on the ground. Once EPS foam starts to sport those fractures and fissures, the integrity of the foam is compromised. If you can see cracks on the inside of your helmet, you probably should replace it.

Expanded Polypropylene (EPP), on the other hand, is designed to absorb impacts without shattering. It is the same material you find in car bumpers and it is more durable, hands down. The Petzl Sirocco and Mammut’s new Wall Rider are the only EPP helmets currently on the market, but we expect others to follow. EPP is so effective and so durable that it does not even need a polycarbonate or ABS shell, which all the other helmets on this list feature. I keep looking back through the research to see if there’s something I’m missing here, but I can’t find any downsides to this material (or course, it’s not foolproof as we managed to get a crack in our Wall Rider). If EPP does not become the defacto material of choice for climbing helmets in the future, I’ll be both surprised and dismayed.Climbing with Petzl Sirocco

Ventilation

One of the main complaints I’ve had about climbing helmets in the past is that they didn’t breathe well enough, making my head sweaty, hot, and uncomfortable. As technology improves, we see top helmet manufacturers adding more and more ventilation in their helmets. While I couldn’t be more excited about the trend, it is worth noting the inherent disadvantages of greater ventilation. More vents means more empty space and less material protecting your head. It’s possible, although pretty darn unlikely, for a skinny rock or ice shard to fit through some of the vents, but better ventilated helmets also are less durable over time. Obviously, if you’re primarily a winter climber, ventilation may be more of a drawback than an advantage. But with ice and rock constantly falling on your head, you should probably have a beefier helmet as is.
 

Weight

The helmets on this list weigh in anywhere from 5.1 to 12.5 ounces, and there are even heavier models out there that didn’t make the cut. While 13 ounces (less than 1 pound) seems like a paltry amount to complain about, it’s more than twice as heavy as the lightest helmet on the list. The truth is, that 13 ounces adds up over time. In any kind of multi-pitch climbing, or even on many cragging days, the helmet goes on in the morning and doesn’t come off until the end of the day. Personally, I like my helmet to be as feathery as possible. Lighter helmets always make my neck feel better, and they also don’t seem to shift around on my head as much when I look up and down.

Typically with climbing gear, weight and durability are inversely related. In other words, the lighter the gear is, the less durable it is. That holds true for all the climbing helmets on this list except for one: the Petzl Sirocco. It’s the lightest helmet on the list by a good margin, and it’s arguably the most durable as well due to the EPP foam. If you’re buying any of the other lighter EPS models, expect them to be much more fragile than heavier EPS models.
Mammut's Wall Rider

Comfort

Aside from safety, the most important trait in a climbing helmet is comfort. If it’s not comfortable, you won’t wear it. And if you don’t wear it, it won’t protect you. Comfort is subjective and depends a lot on the shape of your skull. In fact, the best critique I’ve ever heard of the Sirocco is that it doesn’t fit comfortably on very big heads. As with most climbing equipment, your best bet with helmets is to try them on in real life before making a purchase. That said, I haven’t noticed a huge variability in comfort between different companies, so much as different models. As noted earlier, to me heavier is less comfortable, and the lighter the better.
 

Sizing

Climbing Joshua TreeA good climbing helmet should fit snugly but comfortably, and shouldn’t bob around much when you move your head. When guiding, I always ask my clients (usually kids) if they like ice cream, and get them to nod emphatically. If the helmet fits, it doesn’t move while they express their love for tasty cold treats.

If the helmet is prone to excessive movement, there’s a greater chance that it will slide out of a proper protective position. You may be able to solve that problem by tightening down the head and chinstraps, but if the shell of the helmet is just sort of floating on your head, you need a smaller size. And vice versa: if the helmet itself is floating on top of your head more like a yarmulke than a baseball cap, then the helmet is too small.

All of these helmets offer some degree of sizing adjustability and there is some overlap between one size and another. For a reference point, my head is 57 cm and I have always worn the smallest size offered in any model of climbing helmet. Looking at the sizing chart for Mammut’s Rock Rider, 57 cm seems like it could go either way. But for Petzl or Black Diamond, you probably don’t want to consider the bigger size helmets unless your head is more like 60cm or larger. Both of their large helmets have always felt too big on my head.
 

Adjustability

A helmet with no adjustability would obviously be a very narrow-minded helmet. Typically, all climbing helmets offer two adjustment straps: one around the head, and one around the chin. Some helmets like the Sirocco have a simple strap and buckle to adjust the head-strap. Others, like the Black Diamond Vapor, offer a two-sided plastic ratcheting system, which is meant to be adjusted using two hands. The Black Diamond Half Dome offers a really nice one-handed adjustment using a circular knob that tightens when turned in one direction, and loosens in the other. Almost all the helmets use the same single strap and buckle adjustment on the chinstrap. 
 

Headlamp Compatibility

I don’t think you can find a climbing headlamp that does not claim to be headlamp compatible, so it’s a given. That said, some helmets hold a headlamp better than others. The Black Diamond Vapor, for example, has removable headlamp clips so you can “save weight” (all of a half a gram) if you want to. The result over time of popping these clips into and out of the foam, however, will be to loosen and weaken the attachment points, making the headlamp less secure. Any helmet you buy will be headlamp compatible, just consider the system used for securing the headlamp before you make a purchase.
Helmet strap

Why Every Climber Should Own a Helmet

It’s difficult to argue that every climber should own any single item, because climbers and types of climbing are all so different. But a helmet is an exception. It should be considered a fundamental part of safety equipment—as ironclad and accepted as locking carabiners on a belay device, or redundancy in anchors. Anyone climbing on ropes outdoors inarguably needs a helmet. Rocks fall, climbers drop equipment, whippers can result in head trauma. It happens all the time.

It’s a harder sell that indoor climbers or boulderers need helmets, but it really shouldn’t be. Indoor climbing is kind of the perfect storm for head trauma due to a lead fall. You have short routes (which means harder catches), less experienced climbers (which means rampant backstepping), and a plethora of holds of all sizes protruding from the wall (as opposed to recessed within the wall, as is more typical in the outdoors). As an indoor climber, you sign away your life and liberty to sue with waivers so you may as well wear a helmet. 

For bouldering, I don’t even know where to start with the argument. Let’s just say this: direct head trauma from a height of 10 feet is sufficient mechanism of injury to cause permanent brain damage or death. We may not like it, the climbing media may not glorify it, but if we want to spend our money wisely, helmets are the number one piece of equipment we should get.

People often seem to think that sport climbing carries with it an exemption from wearing helmets. “That’s for trad climbers”, so the logic goes. Anyone who thinks this way will likely rethink their logic after the first time they take a lead fall with a leg over the climbing rope. As you’re falling in this position, the rope catches your leg and flips you upside down. I took that ride on a sport climb years ago and smashed head first into a wall, concussing myself and bleeding profusely from a wound that required medical attention. I wasn’t wearing a helmet then, but I do wear one now. Sport climbing does not grant you immunity from head trauma. If anything, it encourages complacency. Don’t take chances: use a helmet.

The bottom line is that a climbing helmet costs a lot less than brain surgery. Any questions? Seriously, though, we can’t reiterate this enough. The most useful helmet is the one that you’ll actually wear. That means the best, lightest, most comfortable model you can find. Buy cheap shoes, buy a cheap chalk bag, go with a cheaper rack of quickdraws, or locking carabiners—there are lots of ways to save money by buying cheaper climbing gear. But for a helmet, get whatever you like most so you wear it. It’s just worth it, plain and simple.
Back to Our Top Climbing Helmet Picks  Back to Our Climbing Helmet Comparison Table

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