When friends 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 2018 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 helmet (2018)Weight: 5.6 oz. (size 1)
Construction: EPP foam w/EPS foam & polycarbonate crown
What we like: Great update to an already excellent helmet.
What we don’t: Pricey and magnetic chin buckle can get clogged up with dirt.

The first version of Petzl’s Sirocco shook up the climbing world with its lightweight yet durable construction, and despite the somewhat odd appearance, soon earned the endorsement of many serious, weight-conscious alpinists. Last year, Petzl released the second version, which addresses the styling complaints with a more traditional shape and palatable colors. What stays the same is the Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) construction. EPP foam is lighter and more durable than the more common EPS foam, and unlike EPS, the Sirocco can take multiple impacts without shattering.

The original Sirocco held our top spot, and the new version keeps the title with its best-in-class weight and performance. The helmet weighs a feathery 5.6 ounces, vents very well, and now extends further down the back of the head for greater protection. More, Petzl added a small patch of EPS foam with a polycarbonate shell overtop to reduce the helmet’s volume, allowing the newest Sirocco to fit better under hoods and sport less of the cone-headed shape of the original. The one small complaint we have is that the magnetic buckle on the chinstrap tends to pick up rock dust and can clog on occasion. However, the buckle is super easy to clean with a swipe of the finger, and then the Sirocco is back to being the ideal climbing helmet.
See the Petzl Sirocco Helmet


2. Mammut Wall Rider ($100)

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

The Mammut Wall Rider takes elements from the Petzl Sirocco above and Black Diamond Vapor below: it combines EPP foam with a polycarbonate shell. Why add a hard shell to the already durable EPP foam? We’re not entirely convinced it’s necessary, but the extra layer gives you added security when hauling the helmet in a bag or throwing it on the ground. To save weight, the hard shell only covers the top and front of the helmet—where impact is most likely to occur— and gives the Wall Rider a sleek look too.

Despite being slightly heavier than both the Sirocco and Vapor, we wound up ranking the Wall Rider second on this list for a couple of reasons. To start, it’s a significant $30 and $40 cheaper than the Petzl and BD designs, respectively. Second, its EPP construction makes the Wall Rider a more durable and longer-lasting choice than the Vapor. You do compromise with the adjustment system, which isn’t as easy to use. But this shouldn’t be a deal breaker for most people that set the fit when they buy it, then leave it as is.
See the Mammut Wall Rider


3. Black Diamond Vapor ($140)

Black Diamond Vapor climbing helmetWeight: 6.6 oz. (s/m)
Construction: EPS w/polycarbonate shell
What we like: Lightweight, comfortable, and fits big heads.
What we don’t: Pretty fragile.

If you’re dead set against EPP foam, need a sleek adjustment system, or have a loyalty to Black Diamond, the Vapor is your best bet. It’s almost as light as the Sirocco, adjusts better than the Wall Rider, and is virtually unnoticeable when it’s on your head. The venting is a little bit better than the Sirocco too, which is nice if you’re prone to hot-headedness. Unfortunately, at $140 the Vapor is the most expensive of the trio.

The Vapor’s EPS foam construction 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 design) on the ground and don’t pack it at the bottom of your bag underneath heavy racks and ropes. We always recommend keeping an eye out for cracks in the foam as well. Finally, if you have a really big head, we’ve found the bigger Black Diamond models tend to fit better than the bigger Petzl models.
See the Black Diamond Vapor


4. Black Diamond Half Dome ($60)

Black Diamond Half Dome climbing helmetWeight: 11 oz. (s/m)
Construction: EPS w/ABS shell
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. The helmet isn’t ground breaking in any particular way, but it’s inexpensive, reliable, and gets the job done. For $60, you can get a lot of use and durability out of this helmet. It’s certainly not the lightest model on the market at 11 ounces, nor is it the most comfortable, but it will protect your head from falling rocks, and that’s what matters. And unlike many of its ultralight competitors, the Half Dome should live to tell about it.

The vents on the Half Dome are minimal (7 as opposed to the Vapor’s 21) and therefore don’t offer as much breathability as pricier models (the adjustment system is a breeze though). Additionally, the Half Dome’s ABS shell can absorb a pretty good-sized impact on its own without damaging the softer EPS foam on the interior, meaning this helmet is far more durable than lighter weight polycarbonate shell options. All in all, if you’re looking for a reliable climbing helmet at a low price point, this is our top choice. Plus, Black Diamond now offers their most popular helmet in a women’s version, with a slightly different female-specific shape, more venting, and a ponytail-friendly rear design.
See the Black Diamond Half Dome  See the Women's Black Diamond Half Dome


5. Petzl Meteor ($100)

Petzl Meteor climbing helmetWeight: 7.8 oz.
Construction: EPS w/polycarbonate shell
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 very close call between the Petzl Meteor and Black Diamond Vapor above. 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 more than 15% cheaper than the Vapor, which makes it less noticeable on your wallet. Either way, both of these EPS climbing helmets are nice choices from two of the most respected brands in the industry.

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 use out of it.
See the Petzl Meteor Helmet


6. Edelrid Shield II ($90)

Edelrid Shield II climbing helmetWeight: 8.7 oz. (size 1)
Construction: EPS w/polycarbonate shell
What we like: The best looking helmet of the bunch.
What we don’t: Heavier than most of its lightweight competition.

If you ascribe to the three most important rules of climbing—look good, climb hard, be safe (in that order)—then the Shield II is a worthy option. The helmet makes a bold statement with colorful designs and a visually pleasing shape. But more importantly, you get excellent coverage and a highly customizable fit system. If you struggle to find a helmet that fits your odd-sized noggin, the Shield II is a great option to try.

The Shield II is made of EPS foam with a polycarbonate shell, but at 8.7 ounces, it’s the heaviest of our lightweight options. Additionally, we noticed that the adjustment dial doesn’t fold neatly into the dome of the helmet as it does on most others, making the Shield II a bulky addition to a backpack. But with 10 large vents, a slightly less expensive price tag than most, and a sleek design, this is one of our favorite new climbing helmets.
See the Edelrid Shield II


7. Singing Rock Penta ($70)

Singing Rock Penta climbing helmetWeight: 7.2 oz.
Construction: EPS w/polycarbonate shell
What we like: Great price for what you get.
What we don’t: Adjustment system is not ideal; only comes in one size.

Singing Rock isn’t the most popular brand in climbing gear, but the Czech company is known for producing some quality products. The Penta is no exception, and with a price tag $30 to $70 less than other helmets in its weight category, is one of the best values on this list. We don’t like that it only comes in one size, but the Penta is light, provides good all-around coverage, and is comfortable enough to wear all day.

The Singing Rock Penta is made of the same budget-friendly combination of EPS and polycarbonate as many helmets on the market. Like the Mammut Wall Rider and Petzl Sirocco, it shaves weight by using webbing for its suspension system, which does make adjusting the fit a bit of a bear. But what’s most impressive is that the Penta is just $10 more than the nearly 4-ounce heavier Black Diamond Half Dome above, and $30 less than the popular BD Vector below. If you don’t have a brand allegiance and want a lightweight helmet at a good price, give this bucket a serious look.
See the Singing Rock Penta


8. CAMP USA Storm ($100)

CAMP USA Storm climbing helmetWeight: 8.1 oz. (size 1)
Construction: EPS w/polycarbonate shell
What we like: Nice fitting and adjustable helmet.
What we don’t: Heavier than other models in its price range.

CAMP USA has made plenty of functional and durable helmets, but until recently, hasn’t necessarily made them look good. Taking hints from their popular ski mountaineering helmet, the Speed 2.0 below, CAMP created the climbing-specific Storm to be comfortable, lightweight, and well-ventilated. And importantly for some, it now can keep up with the Jonses in terms of appearance.

The Storm is similar in design to many of the other EPS with polycarbonate shell helmets on our list. It’s about the same weight as the Black Diamond Vector and Petzl Meteor, and matches them both in price. Additionally, the Storm fits a broad range of head sizes and shapes with two available sizes and an adjustment system that cradles the head low. It can be difficult to choose between all of these options, but if you’ve struggled to find a helmet that fits well, the CAMP USA Storm is another quality helmet.
See the CAMP USA Storm


9. Grivel Stealth ($100)

Grivel Stealth climbing helmetWeight: 6.7 oz.
Construction: EPS w/polycarbonate shell
What we like: Great combination of weight, price, and coverage.
What we don’t: The nonadjustable chin strap can dig into the neck.

Offering an impressive price-to-weight ratio, superior coverage, and strong design overall, the Grivel Stealth is a nice do-everything option. It’s not the lightest helmet, nor the cheapest, and it’s not even the most protective, but the Stealth is competitive in all respects. Additionally, this helmet sits lower on the head with its flat paneled construction, meaning it’s less likely to move around in the event of a rock fall or whipper. According to Grivel, this design also provides more strength protection than a traditional dome helmet.

The adjustment system on the Stealth is a simple webbing strap, but unlike that of the Wall Rider or the Sirocco, is surprisingly easy to adjust (even with gloves on). This system optimizes fit for any shape of head, and is so low profile that it allows the actual helmet to sit against the back of the noggin. However, the system is so streamlined that the chin strap is fixed in position and can dig into your neck. Additionally, the headlamp clips, attached to the webbing and not the helmet, are extremely difficult to use. The one-size-fits-all Stealth fits most heads, but if you’re on either end of the spectrum, we recommend going with a helmet that is sold in two sizes.
See the Grivel Stealth Helmet


10. Camp USA Armor ($60)

Camp USA Armor helmetWeight: 12.5 oz.
Construction: EPS w/ABS shell
What we like: Durability + comfort.
What we don’t: This helmet is the heaviest on our list.

Similar to the Black Diamond Half Dome, the CAMP USA Armor goes old school with its ABS plastic shell. Again, this means durability, longevity, and affordability, but at the cost of added weight. At 12.5 ounces, it’s one of the heaviest helmets on this list and the Armor isn’t our favorite to wear for extended stretches.  

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 of the bunch, and some consider it more comfortable. We’re not quite ready to dethrone the Half Dome as our favorite budget hard shell helmet but the Armor is right on its heels. If you’re a beginner climber without the need for a super lightweight model, either of these helmets are excellent value choices.  
See the Camp USA Armor  See the Women's Camp USA Armor


11. Black Diamond Vector ($100)

 Black Diamond Vector climbing helmetWeight: 8.1 oz. (s/m)
Construction: EPS w/polycarbonate shell
What we like: Great adjustment system.
What we don’t: Pretty unremarkable.

Petzl and Black Diamond seem to go tit for tat with their climbing helmet models. The BD Vapor above competes with the Sirocco, and the BD Vector competes with the Meteor. Between the latter two, it’s a close call. Both come in around $100, and both feature similar construction, material types, and features. The most notable difference is that the Meteor weighs slightly less than the Vector.

So why is the Vector all the way down at number 11 on our list, when the Meteor clocks in at number 5? The simple answer is that there are just that many good options on the market. The Vector is less breathable than the similarly priced Storm, heavier than the $70 Penta, and looks more mushroom-like than the $90 Shield II. It is a tried-and-true option for sure, and if you’re a devotee, we get it. However, if you’re in the market for a new lightweight helmet, we’d recommend checking out the options above.
See the Black Diamond Vector  See the Women's Black Diamond Vector


12. CAMP USA Speed 2.0 ($120)

Camp USA Speed 2.0 climbing helmetWeight: 9.5 oz.
Construction: Styrofoam w/polycarbonate shell
What we like: This helmet is a go-to alpine all-rounder.
What we don’t: Heavy if you’re looking for a high performance, climbing-specific helmet.

The CAMP Speed 2.0 is unique: not only is it a climbing helmet, it doubles as a ski mountaineering helmet as well. However, while it may lightweight on the slopes, it’s a bit on the heavy side for an in-mold climbing helmet. Overall, we recommend the Speed 2.0 only if you spend time crossing over between alpine climbing and skiing and are looking for one helmet to do the job of two.

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 feel that the shape 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, unless you’re looking for a two-in-one climbing and ski mountaineering helmet, we’d suggest checking out the lighter weight CAMP Storm above.
See the Camp USA Speed 2.0


13. Mammut Rock Rider ($80)

Mammut Rock Rider climbing helmetWeight: 8.8 oz. (52-57cm)
Construction: EPS w/ABS shell
What we like: The in-mold ABS shell makes this helmet more durable than polycarbonate options.
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 the market. It’s comparable in weight to the BD Vector above, but at only $80, is less expensive. And you don’t have to compromise on quality: you get similar EPS foam, buckles and venting, and a good amount of head coverage. The biggest differences are that the interior isn’t as comfortable and the Mammut uses an ABS shell instead of polycarbonate, which is slightly heavier but more durable. As a result, this helmet likely will still be around when others with polycarbonate shells are long gone.

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


14. Mammut El Cap ($70)

Mammut El Cap climbing helmetWeight: 12.3 oz.
Construction: EPS w/ABS shell
What we like: Function meets fashion.
What we don’t: About $10 more than its competition.

As with the Armor and Half Dome above, the Mammut El Cap sports a traditional hard shell (ABS) construction for maximum protection. But it comes with one difference: it’s downright fashionable. With the helmet’s streamlined fit, you won’t look like a mushroom head, and the visor actually is functional and designed to block out the sun during long, multi-pitch days (hence the name).

In comparison with the other helmets with ABS shells on our list, the Mammut El Cap certainly is one to consider. It has more air vents than its counterparts and the inner foam has some small channels built in to facilitate airflow. More, the helmet’s unique adjustment system is extremely functional and easy to use. However, the El Cap is a bit heavier than the Half Dome and $10 more, which is why we have it ranked here.
See the Mammut El Cap


15. Petzl Boreo ($65)

Petzl Boreo climbing helmetWeight: 10.1 oz. (size S/M)
Construction: EPS & EPP w/ABS shell
What we like: Another solid entry-level helmet.
What we don’t: A bit more expensive than the Half Dome.

Helmet technology is in a big period of growth, with even the standard entry-level helmets receiving upgrades. The Boreo replaces the Elios as Petzl’s all-around workhorse, adding EPP foam to the Elios’ EPS and ABS construction. This saves on weight and increases durability and protection, especially on the sides of the head where the EPP is found. Like the Elios, the Boreo is still comparable to Black Diamond’s popular Half Dome, but now almost an ounce lighter and slightly more durable. Plus, it is designed with a few more vents—making it a great hot weather helmet.

The Boreo doesn’t include all the improvements we were hoping for though. We think the two-handed adjustment and fixed straps under the ears simply aren’t as user-friendly as the click wheel and adjustable chin strap on the Half Dome. The vent flaps of the Elios are gone, leaving you with airflow whether you want it or not. Plus, the Boreo is still $5 more. Decisions can be hard, but just know this: whether you stick with the tried and true Half Dome or join the EPP movement with the Boreo, your noggin will be staying safe. And Petzl still makes the Elia for climbers looking for a helmet that will accommodate a ponytail.
See the Petzl Boreo


16. Edelrid Madillo ($100)

Edelrid Madillo climbing helmetWeight: 13.8 oz.
Construction: EPP, EPS, EVA foams w/ABS shell
What we like: Packs down to half its size.
What we don’t: Weighs more than any helmet on our list.

If you’re the type that hates hanging your helmet off of your pack during the approach, is always tight on space, or needs a durable helmet to abuse in the packing process, the Eldelrid Madillo is worth a look. This helmet folds down into a rather streamlined shape half its original size, allowing it to be easily packed with the rest of your gear. Packability might be the only major selling point of the Madillo though: at 13.8 ounces, it’s the heaviest helmet on our list.

Made with three different foam types and an ABS shell, the Madillo, like other hard shell helmets, is a very durable choice. With more moving parts however, it’s also more likely to break than a helmet like the Half Dome or the Armor. And at a price point about $40 above its competition, we find ourselves struggling to find the upsides. Unless you have a specific need for a collapsible helmet, we recommend the options above.
See the Edelrid Madillo Helmet


Climbing Helmet Comparison Table

Helmet Price Weight Construction Best Uses
Petzl Sirocco $130 5.1 oz. EPP w/polycarbonate Regular rock/ice fall or impact
Mammut Wall Rider $100 6.9 oz. EPP w/polycarbonate Regular rock/ice fall or impact
Black Diamond Vapor $140 6.6 oz. EPS w/polycarbonate Occasional rock/ice fall or impact
Black Diamond Half Dome $60 11 oz. EPS w/ABS Regular to frequent rock/ice fall or impact
Petzl Meteor $100 7.8 oz. EPS w/polycarbonate Occasional rock/ice fall or impact
Edelrid Shield II $90 8.7 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
Camp USA Storm $100 8.1 oz. EPS w/polycarbonate Occasional rock/ice fall or impact
Grivel Stealth $100 6.7 oz. EPS w/polycarbonate Occasional rock/ice fall or impact
Camp USA Armor $60 12.5 oz. EPS w/ABS Regular to frequent 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
Mammut El Cap $70 12.3 oz. EPS w/ABS Regular to frequent rock/ice fall or impact
Petzl Boreo $65 10.1 oz. EPS & EPP w/ABS Regular to frequent rock/ice fall or impact
Edelrid Madillo $100 13.8 oz. EPP, EPS, EVA w/ ABS Regular to frequent rock/ice fall or impact


Climbing Helmet Buying Advice

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

We covered this some in 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 we 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 Petzl Meteor, the EPS foam is so delicate that it can fracture from simply being tossed down roughly 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 should replace it.

Climbing Helmets (Petzl Vector)
Climbing in the Black Diamond Vector. Photo: Austin Siadak


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 is more durable than EPS. We still don’t see many helmets being made with EPP—the Petzl Sirocco and Mammut Wall Rider are a few of the exceptions—although we expect this to change in upcoming years. EPP is so effective and durable that it does not even need a polycarbonate or ABS shell. That said, the Sirocco and Wall Rider both are designed with a small covering of polycarbonate to improve both shape and appearance. EPP foam helmets might be more expensive, but they are protective, durable, and lightweight. If EPP does not become the de facto material of choice for climbing helmets in the future, we will be very surprised.

Petzl Sirocco (top)
Testing Petzl's newest Sirocco



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.

Climbing Helmets (Petzl)
Cheaper helmets do not excel in ventilation



The helmets on this list weigh in anywhere from 5.6 ounces at the low end to 13.8 ounces at the high end, 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 available. The truth is, 13 ounces adds up over time. In any kind of multi-pitch climbing scenario, or even on long 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 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 will be. In the world of climbing helmets, however, this pattern doesn’t always hold true. Helmets made with EPP foam, such as the Sirocco and the Mammut Wall Rider, are the lightest weight and among the most durable on the market. If you’re buying any of the EPS models, expect them to be more fragile and heavier than EPP designs.

Mammut's Wall Rider
Mammut's Wall Rider is extremely lightweight



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.


Climbing Helmets (Black Diamond)
Take the time to make sure you get the sizing right. Photo: Bryan Miller

A 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.


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 helmet 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.

Climbing helmet (headlamp attached)
Wearing the Sirocco with a headlamp


Ski Mountaineering Helmets vs. Climbing Helmets

Only a few helmets—and just one on our list (the Camp Speed 2.0)—are designed and certified for both ski mountaineering and climbing. However, many weight-conscious ski mountaineers opt for a climbing helmet for fast and light days in the mountains, so it’s important to understand the differences between the designs.

Ski mountaineering helmets provide more coverage than climbing helmets, protecting against impact from the sides as well as the top. When you’re actually skiing downhill, they are warmer, more comfortable, and compatible with ski goggles. However, when you’re skinning or climbing uphill, a ski helmet will be much hotter, less breathable, and more cumbersome on the head than a climbing model. For the highest levels of safety on the descent, you’ll want to opt for a ski helmet. But if you’re spending a lot of your time climbing or traveling in varied terrain, you might appreciate the lighter weight, added breathability, and lower profile of many of the climbing helmets on our list. Again, keep in mind that these helmets are only certified for use in climbing scenarios.

Why Every Climber Should Own a Helmet

It has become widely accepted that a helmet is a mandatory piece of equipment for every alpine rock climber. Rock is looser in the mountains, falls are not as clean, and there are more objective hazards than inside or at popular crags. However, whether in the gym or outside, gravity is never a force to be taken lightly. We believe that regardless of where you choose to climb or what form of climbing you choose to participate in, a helmet is essential to your safety.

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 reconsider their logic after 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. One of our climbing writers took that ride on a sport climb years ago and smashed head first into a wall, concussing himself and bleeding profusely from a wound that required medical attention. He wasn’t wearing a helmet then, but he does now. Sport climbing does not grant you immunity from head trauma. If anything, it encourages complacency, and you’re more likely to be climbing at your limit. Don’t take chances: use a helmet.

Climbing Helmets (Zion)
Climbing in Zion National Park. Photo: Henna Taylor


We may not like it and the climbing media may not glorify it, but a helmet is a super important piece of equipment. And the most useful helmet is the one that you’ll actually wear. Buy cheap shoes, buy a cheap chalk bag, go with a cheaper rack of quickdraws or cams, carpool to the crag—there are many ways to save money. But for a helmet, get whatever you like most so that you wear it. It’s worth it, plain and simple.
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Best Rock Climbing Shoes of 2018

We love rock climbing shoes, and we bet you do too. The good news for climbers is that there are more quality products and styles to choose from than ever before. Impressive new models such as the La Sportiva Otaki, time-tested classics like the Miura...

Review: La Sportiva TX3

As an alpine rock climber and climbing guide, my feet frequent a great deal of trail, rocks, and snow—especially during the summer months. I took on the La Sportiva TX3 as my faithful companion this season, from high-mileage...

Best Rock Climbing Shoes for Beginners

As a beginning climber, the last thing you want to spend your time worrying about is your shoes, or the poor feet that you’ve crammed into them on somebody’s bad advice...

Best Climbing Harnesses of 2018

Whether you’re top roping in the gym, projecting 5.14, or climbing Cerro Torre in Patagonia, you’ll want the right harness for the job. In addition to being a vital part of every climber’s safety, harness characteristics...

Review: La Sportiva Genius

La Sportiva calls the Genius, “the highest performance climbing shoe on the market.” Climbing companies love to make superlative claims like that, but when it’s La Sportiva, it definitely gets our attention....

Rock Climbing Shoes Tips and Advice

Someday at your local climbing gym or crag, you may, if you’re lucky, wander around the corner to hear a grizzled Stone Master recounting the Golden Age. “Back in my day,” he may tell you...

Best Bouldering Crash Pads of 2018

Bouldering is having its moment. Climbing’s simplest discipline is experiencing a rush of new enthusiasts, in large part due to how accessible it is. All you need is a pair of shoes and a chalk bag...

The Cochamó Journals Part I

I had the dream again last night.  The dream is always the same—some details change here and there, different faces emerge and fade, lines of travel crisscross and follow different plans or lack thereof—but the dream is always...