A climbing helmet is an essential piece of gear for outdoor climbing, whether you’re headed to the mountains or top roping at the crag. Climbing helmets protect your head from both rock fall and side impacts (such as hitting your head during a lead fall), and prioritize comfort alongside a streamlined design. The best climbing helmet is the one on your head, but your decision will come down to appearance, materials, and weight. Below we break down the best climbing helmets of 2023, from ultralight models to leading budget options. For more information, see our helmet comparison table and detailed buying advice below the picks.
Our Team's Climbing Helmet Picks
- Best Overall Climbing Helmet: Black Diamond Vision
- Best Budget Climbing Helmet: Petzl Boreo / Borea
- Best Ultralight Climbing Helmet: Petzl Sirocco
Best Overall Climbing Helmet
1. Black Diamond Vision ($100)
Weight: 7.5 oz. (size S/M)
Construction: EPP & EPS w/ ABS shell
What we like: Lightweight, durable, and good looking, all at a reasonable price point.
What we don’t: Not a standout in any metric.
If you were to tour all the climbing areas in the US, it’s unlikely that the Vision is the helmet you’d see most. That prize might go to the Black Diamond Vapor or Half Dome, which are both brilliant lids in their own right. But while the sleek Vapor is pricey at $150 and the budget Half Dome lacks style (and is heavy to boot), the Vision does it all, with a low 7.5-ounce weight, attractive partial-ABS shell, and mostly EPP foam construction (quick primer: EPP is pricer than EPS but absorbs impacts rather than shattering—more on this in our buying advice below). All told, for $50 less than the high-end Vapor, it’s a more durable design with an easier-to-use rear adjustment, and gives up very little in terms of appearance.
But while the Vision is the best all-rounder, it’s not a standout in any metric. The Vapor and Petzl Sirocco are 2 ounces lighter and significantly more streamlined, which make them better options for long routes, redpoint attempts, or fast-and-light missions. And if durability is your main priority, there’s no match for a helmet like the Petzl Boreo or BD Capitan, both of which feature a full-coverage ABS shell along with similar EPP/EPS foam construction. But for those in the market for an all-rounder that’s at once lightweight, durable, good-looking, and relatively affordable, the Vision is the Goldilocks helmet that puts it all together. Black Diamond also offers a MIPS version ($150), which increases protection against angled impacts.
See the Black Diamond Vision
Best Budget Climbing Helmet
2. Petzl Boreo ($60)
Weight: 10.1 oz. (size S/M)
Construction: EPP & EPS w/ ABS shell
What we like: A very durable entry-level helmet available in both men's and women's sizes.
What we don’t: Inferior adjustments compared to the Half Dome.
Because protection is a given (every helmet here meets the same certification for safety), beginner climbers should have one main priority when it comes to shopping for a helmet: price. And here’s the good news: Not only is the Boreo the most affordable helmet here at $60, it’s also one of the most durable. Constructed with an ABS shell and including both EPS and EPP foam, you get maximum impact protection at both the top and sides. In other words, the Boreo is constructed with the most robust shell material and some of the most durable foam, making it among the most reliable helmets here. You can throw this thing around, stuff it at the bottom of your pack, and use it and abuse it for years, and it’ll just keep trucking.
Not only is the Boreo one of the most hardwearing and affordable climbing helmets, but it’s also relatively light for an entry-level model (1.5 oz. lighter than the Half Dome below). Further, you get generous venting for hot weather and a suspension system that nests nicely in the crown of the helmet. We do think that Petzl could improve the suspension, as the two-handed adjustment and fixed straps under the ears aren’t as user-friendly as the click wheel and adjustable straps on the Half Dome. But the benefits far outweigh these minor downsides, and the Boreo (and women’s Borea) is our top pick for budget-oriented shoppers. Coming in at a close second is the new Black Diamond Capitan below, which matches the Petzl in durability and tacks on a bit more style for just $10 more.
See the Men's Petzl Boreo See the Women's Petzl Borea
Best Ultralight Climbing Helmet
3. Petzl Sirocco ($115)
Weight: 5.6 oz. (size S/M)
Construction: EPP & EPS w/ polycarbonate shell
What we like: Ultralight, comfortable, and vents well.
What we don’t: Barebones suspension; magnetic chin buckle can clog with dirt.
The original Petzl Sirocco shook up the climbing world with its lightweight yet durable construction and soon earned the endorsement of many serious alpinists. The second version builds off the first, with similar fundamentals but a more traditional shape and palatable look. Like the Black Diamond Vision above, the Sirocco uses a combination of expanded polypropylene (EPP) and expanded polystyrene (EPS), but with less polycarbonate covering and a lower-profile design, it weighs almost 2 ounces less. In fact, this helmet is so feathery light that you’ll forget it’s on your head.
The Sirocco is the ideal helmet for ounce-counting climbers, and its fairly streamlined shape fits well at the top of a small pack, too. It’s also certified for ski touring, which places it in an exclusive category along with the Petzl Meteor below. We will note that we’ve been less than impressed with the Petzl’s magnetic chin buckle and rear cinch, which have a tendency to loosen or come undone while climbing. But the lightweight build and small packed size nevertheless make the Sirocco our go-to choice for everything from mountain traverses to involved Patagonian climbs. Within this category, it’s also worth checking out Black Diamond’s newly revamped Vapor, which uses similar materials and weighs just 5.5 ounces for the S/M size.
See the Petzl Sirocco Helmet
Best of the Rest
4. Black Diamond Vapor ($150)
Weight: 5.5 oz. (S/M)
Construction: EPP & EPS w/ polycarbonate shell
What we like: Gives the Sirocco a run for its money as our favorite ultralight pick.
What we don’t: Pricier than the Sirocco and no ski-touring certification.
Black Diamond’s Vapor has been their high-end helmet for years running, lauded for its low weight, great ventilation, and even better looks. That said, it hasn’t historically been the most durable lid—we’ve cracked (and retired) two Vapors throughout the past decade—which has made its steep price tag hard to swallow. Until now. This year, the classic helmet received a modern makeover, complete with EPP foam and an ultralight composite that goes by the name of ALUULA. The result? The new Vapor is now incredibly lightweight at 5.5 ounces, very durable, and just about as good looking as before.
The Vapor and Sirocco both use a combination of EPP and EPS foam with a polycarbonate shell; the only way they could be more durable with today’s tech would be to use a more hardwearing (and heavier) ABS shell, like the Boreo above or Capitan below. What’s more, the two helmets are virtually the same weight: On our scale, the Black Diamond is a scant 1 gram lighter (that’s 0.04 oz.). In terms of ventilation, you get different-shaped vents but roughly the same coverage, and the helmets’ fit systems are both very streamlined (the Vapor’s adjustment takes some getting used to, but we definitely appreciate the more secure chin buckle compared to the Sirocco’s magnetic closure). It’s hard to find much fault with either design (and we’re big fans of the Vapor update), but the Petzl will save you $35 and its ski-touring certification is ideal for multi-sporters.
See the Black Diamond Vapor
5. Petzl Meteor ($90)
Weight: 7.9 oz. (size S/M)
Construction: EPS w/ polycarbonate shell
What we like: A four-season climbing helmet at a great price.
What we don’t: EPS foam is more fragile than the Sirocco’s EPP.
Petzl's Meteor is a head-turner and one of our favorite helmets of 2023. Most notably, it was the first-ever CE-certified ski touring helmet (the Sirocco joined this category soon after), with a shape that accommodates ski goggles, including a rear attachment, and high-quality adjustment system that expands to fit a beanie underneath. The Meteor also features generous coverage down the neck and great ventilation throughout. All in all, this high-quality lid is the full package for four-season mountain-goers, and it’s very reasonably priced at just $90.
With ski-touring versatility, great coverage, and a competitive price point, the Meteor is our favorite EPS dome with a polycarbonate shell. But there are some inherent downsides to this construction: Namely, EPS foam is less durable and protective than the more modern EPP found in helmets like the Petzl Sirocco and Black Diamond Vision above. As a result, you’ll want to be sure to treat the Meteor gently to maximize its lifespan. But the Petzl is still an incredible value, and its suspension system is more fully featured than that of the Sirocco or Vision (including a rear ratchet and under-the-ear adjusters).
See the Petzl Meteor Helmet
6. Black Diamond Capitan ($70)
Weight: 10.4 oz. (S/M)
Construction: EPP & EPS w/ ABS shell
What we like: Affordable and durable with the looks of a premium helmet.
What we don’t: $10 more than the Petzl Boreo above.
New last year, the Capitan slides into Black Diamond’s lineup right in between the Vision above and Half Dome below. This helmet prides itself on being tough, with a long-lasting ABS hardshell and springy EPP foam, along with extended coverage along the sides and back of the head. But it’s not just a knock-around lid; the Capitan also features an attractive dual shell construction that adds the appearance of a premium helmet to the bones of a more budget design. All told, it’s a great option for the climber who prioritizes maximum protection and a good dose of coverage, but is willing to spend up $10 from the Boreo for the sake of style.
Like the Petzl Boreo above, the Capitan isn’t uber-lightweight, so we don’t necessarily recommend it for weight-conscious mountain missions or nail-biting redpoint burns. But for big wall climbing (such as on the Capitan's namesake in Yosemite) or winter ascents where you anticipate taking a lot of ice to the head, it’s a durable workhorse that doesn’t look out of place among the more premium designs here. We’re also big fans of Black Diamond’s newly redesigned headlamp clips, which are nicely streamlined and easy to use. Finally, the Capitan also comes in a MIPS version for $120—one of the cheapest MIPS-equipped climbing helmets on the market.
See the Black Diamond Capitan
7. Edelrid Salathe ($120)
Weight: 7.4 oz.
Construction: EPP w/ ABS shell
What we like: A lightweight and well-made helmet.
What we don’t: Heavier and more expensive than the Vision above.
The Edelrid Salathe is not the lightest or most durable helmet on this list, but it might offer the best combination of the two. For just 7.4 ounces, you get the same EPP foam that we see in many of our top picks (known for its ability to bounce back—rather than crack—upon impact), along with a robust ABS hardshell on top. In other words, the Salathe takes the design of the chart-topping Petzl Sirocco and swaps out the polycarbonate crown for a hardshell, which tacks on a few ounces but offers a boost in durability.
Adding a shell to an EPP helmet is more cosmetic than anything, allowing the helmet to be shaped more like a dome and less like a cone (for proof, just look up images of the first-generation Sirocco). In other words, the Salathe's ABS shell doesn't add significantly more protection than the Sirocco's polycarbonate top, although it will do a better job fending off cracks and dents—you'll just have to decide if it's worth it for the 1.8-ounce weight penalty. In terms of weight, the Edelrid is right on par with the 7.5-ounce Vision, which is more affordable at $100 and features an easier to use adjustment system. But there's a lot to like about the Salathe, and although it doesn't have an official CE rating for ski touring, it is shaped to accommodate goggles.
See the Edelrid Salathe
8. Black Diamond Half Dome ($60)
Weight: 11.6 oz. (size S/M)
Construction: EPS w/ ABS shell
What we like: Affordable, dependable, and well fitting.
What we don’t: Heavier and less durable than the Petzl Boreo above.
With new climbers flocking to the sport, we’d be remiss not to give a nod to Black Diamond’s tried-and-true Half Dome. This helmet isn’t groundbreaking in any particular way, nor is it the lightest or most comfortable model on the market. But it’s affordable, reliable, and will protect your head from falling rocks—and that’s what matters most. Additionally, the updated rear dial offers incredibly easy adjustment—better than the Boreo above—and Black Diamond also makes a women’s version with more venting and a ponytail-friendly design.
It’s all about protection and toughness here: The Half Dome’s heavy ABS plastic shell can absorb a sizable impact on its own without damaging the softer EPS foam inside, unlike helmets with lighter and less durable polycarbonate shells (the Petzl Meteor above, for example). But for the same price, the Petzl Boreo adds EPP foam for even greater durability, and BD's own Capitan ($70) features a similar design with a more premium aesthetic. But as a quality helmet at a low price point, the Half Dome still is a top choice for climbers looking to venture outdoors without breaking the bank.
See the Black Diamond Half Dome See the Women's Black Diamond Half Dome
9. Mammut Wall Rider ($120)
Weight: 6.9 oz. (size S/M)
Construction: EPP w/ polycarbonate shell
What we like: Lightweight, durable, and sleek design.
What we don’t: Pricier than the BD Vision above; webbing adjustment isn’t very intuitive.
The Mammut Wall Rider is one of the most premium helmets in the game, combining a minimal weight, great coverage, and durable construction and materials. Like the Sirocco and Vision above, it uses EPP foam covered with a lightweight polycarbonate shell, resulting in a helmet that offers full coverage and nice all-around impact protection. To top it off, the Mammut is a great-looking lid—we especially love the bill—and comes with a long track record of success both in the alpine and at the crag.
The Wall Rider occupied our number one spot for a number of years, but it can no longer compete with the more affordable competition. The Mammut is $20 more than the Vision, and we've found its simple webbing adjustment to be more difficult to use (the Vision sports a more intuitive plastic slider). On the other hand, we do love the Wall Rider's overall look and shape, and it's a half-ounce lighter than the comparable BD. If you're willing to part with a bit more cash, it's certainly a great all-around option. And like the Vision, the Wall Rider is also available in a MIPS version, which retails for $180.
See the Mammut Wall Rider
10. CAMP Storm ($90)
Weight: 8.1 oz. (size 1)
Construction: EPS w/ polycarbonate shell
What we like: Fits well and highly adjustable.
What we don’t: Heavier and less versatile than other models in its price range.
CAMP has made plenty of functional and durable helmets over the years, but until recently, they haven’t earned many style points. The Storm is a good start: It’s available in four color combinations and includes an internal adjustment system that keeps it snug and close to the head. It also takes a few pointers from CAMP’s Speed Comp below, resulting in a comfortable, lightweight, and well-ventilated climbing helmet that is made for just about any type of mountain adventure.
The CAMP Storm’s makeup is similar to many helmets on our list that combine EPS foam with a polycarbonate shell. It’s about the same weight as Petzl and Black Diamond’s comparable offerings above. But without the Meteor’s ski-touring functionality or the Vision's EPP foam, it falls short of the competition. That said, the Storm does fit a broad range of head sizes and shapes and comes with a well-designed adjustment system. We know it’s hard to choose among all of these options, but if you’ve struggled to find a helmet that fits well, the Storm is a good choice.
See the CAMP Storm
11. Mammut Skywalker 3 ($60)
Weight: 11.6 oz.
Construction: EPP & EPS w/ ABS shell
What we like: Affordable and well made, including durable EPP foam.
What we don’t: Doesn’t measure up in terms of fit, ventilation, and weight.
The Skywalker is Mammut’s entry-level offering, featuring a modern combination of EPP and EPS foam with an ABS hardshell. Like the Petzl Boreo above, this is a long-lasting and durable helmet for new and casual climbers or those who like to get a lot of life out of their gear. It’s not particularly lightweight or flashy, but the Skywalker 3 gets the job done, and offers nice additions like easy-to-adjust suspension, plush foam padding, and large vents.
That said, the Skywalker 3 isn’t our first (or even third) recommendation among budget designs. The primary reason is that it only comes in one size, which for us is a dealbreaker in its own right. In fact, we'd be quicker to recommend the less durable Half Dome above (which uses EPS foam) for its better fit and finishes for both male and female climbers. What's more, at 11.6 ounces the Skywalker is heavier than competing helmets, which can add up throughout a day at the crag. But for those who like the idea of durable EPP foam and aren't keen on the Boreo or $10-pricier BD Capitan above, the Mammut is nevertheless a serviceable alternative.
See the Mammut Skywalker 3
12. Edelrid Shield II ($100)
Weight: 8.7 oz. (size 1)
Construction: EPS w/ polycarbonate shell
What we like: A good-looking helmet for just $100.
What we don’t: Heavier than most of the 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.
Despite its EPS construction and polycarbonate shell, at 8.7 ounces, the Shield II is the heaviest of our lightweight options. We also noticed that the adjustment dial doesn’t fold as neatly into the dome of the helmet as it does on most other models, making the Shield II a bulky addition to a pack. But with 10 large vents, a slightly lower price tag than most, and a sleek design, the Shield II still is worth considering.
See the Edelrid Shield II
13. Grivel Stealth ($120)
Weight: 6.7 oz.
Construction: EPS w/ polycarbonate shell
What we like: Great combination of weight, price, and coverage.
What we don’t: Comes in only one size; looks like it’s from the Space Age.
Offering an impressive price-to-weight ratio, superior coverage, and an aggressive love-it-or-hate-it design, the Grivel Stealth is a solid do-everything option. One notable feature in particular is the unique, flat-paneled construction that sits lower on the head and is less likely to move around in the event of a rockfall or whipper. According to Grivel, this design actually provides a stronger and more protective barrier against impact than a traditional dome helmet. And rounding out the build is a simple webbing strap for adjustment, which—unlike the Sirocco or Wall Rider—is surprisingly easy to loosen and tighten, even with gloves on.
In terms of shortcomings, we’ll start by saying that we aren’t huge fans of the Stealth’s celestial vibe, but we know that style mostly is subjective. And in terms of fit, the Grivel only comes in one size, and the chin strap is fixed in position and might dig into your neck. That said, some climbers will really appreciate the low-riding design, and it doesn’t hurt that the Stealth is impressively light at just 6.7 ounces. And Grivel now also makes the Duetto, an EPP design that joins the CAMP Speed Comp below as one of just a few climbing helmets to also earn an alpine ski certification.
See the Grivel Stealth Helmet
14. CAMP Speed Comp ($130)
Weight: 12.7 oz.
Construction: EPS w/ polycarbonate shell
What we like: 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 Comp is unique: Not only is it a climbing helmet, but it also doubles as an alpine skiing and skimo-racing helmet. But don’t get this confused with the Petzl Meteor and Sirocco’s ski-touring certification—the Speed Comp takes it to the next level with a beefy build that offers even more protection and earns it an EN 1077 rating standard to most ski helmets. Further, 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 of the Speed Comp 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.
However, while it may be lightweight on the slopes, the Speed Comp is a bit on the heavy side for an in-mold climbing helmet. Overall, we recommend the Speed Comp only if you spend significant time crossing over between climbing and skimo and are looking for one helmet to do the job of two. If you’re not randonnee racing and just looking for a helmet for ski touring missions, the Petzl Meteor above is much lighter, $40 cheaper, and also accommodates goggles.
See the CAMP Speed Comp
Climbing Helmet Comparison Table
|Black Diamond Vision||$100||7.5 oz.||EPP & EPS||ABS||Multi-pitch, alpine, cragging|
|Petzl Boreo||$60||10.1 oz.||EPS & EPP||ABS||Cragging, multi-pitch|
|Petzl Sirocco||$115||5.6 oz.||EPP & EPS||Polycarbonate||Alpine, multi-pitch, ski touring|
|Black Diamond Vapor||$150||5.5 oz.||EPP & EPS||Polycarbonate||Alpine, multi-pitch|
|Petzl Meteor||$90||7.9 oz.||EPS||Polycarbonate||Multi-pitch, alpine, ski touring|
|Black Diamond Capitan||$70||10.4 oz.||EPP & EPS||ABS||Cragging, multi-pitch|
|Edelrid Salathe||$120||7.4 oz.||EPP||ABS||Alpine, multi-pitch, cragging|
|Black Diamond Half Dome||$60||11.6 oz.||EPS||ABS||Cragging, multi-pitch|
|Mammut Wall Rider||$120||6.9 oz.||EPP||Polycarbonate||Alpine, multi-pitch|
|CAMP Storm||$90||8.1 oz.||EPS||Polycarbonate||Multi-pitch, alpine|
|Mammut Skywalker 3||$60||11.6 oz.||EPP & EPS||ABS||Cragging, multi-pitch|
|Edelrid Shield II||$100||8.7 oz.||EPS||Polycarbonate||Multi-pitch, alpine|
|Grivel Stealth||$120||6.7 oz.||EPS||Polycarbonate||Multi-pitch, alpine|
|CAMP Speed Comp||$130||12.7 oz.||EPS||Polycarbonate||Skimo, alpine|
Climbing Helmet Buying Advice
- Foam Types: EPP vs. EPS
- Shell Types: ABS vs. Polycarbonate
- When to Wear a Climbing Helmet
- Protection: Foam Types, Coverage, and MIPS
- Sizing and Adjustability
- Women's-Specific Climbing Helmets
- Headlamp Compatibility
- Using a Climbing Helmet for Skiing
Foam Types: EPP vs. EPS
We touched on EPS and EPP foams briefly in the product descriptions above, but it’s worth going into extra detail about the differences between these two materials. After all, this barrier will be protecting the most important part of your body.
Expanded polystyrene (EPS)
Expanded polystyrene (EPS) has been the shock-absorbing foam of choice in climbing helmets for as long as we can recall. It’s very hard and functions incredibly well for absorbing a serious impact—once. EPS is known for crushing and fracturing when impacted. In fact, on some of the lighter-weight EPS models like the Petzl Meteor and Edelrid Shield II, the EPS foam is so delicate that it can fracture from simply being tossed down on the ground or stuffed under heavy gear in a pack. Once EPS foam starts to show those fractures and fissures, its integrity is compromised. If you can see cracks on the inside of your helmet, it’s already time to replace it.
EPP (Expanded polypropylene)
Expanded polypropylene (EPP), on the other hand, is designed to absorb impacts without shattering. It’s the same material found in car bumpers and is more durable than EPS. In 2023 we’re seeing more and more helmets with EPP in their construction—the Black Diamond Vision, Capitan, and Vapor, Petzl’s Boreo and Sirocco, the Mammut Wall Rider and Skywalker 3, and Edelrid Salathe in particular—and we’ve seen this number grow each year. EPP is so effective and durable that it technically does not need a polycarbonate or ABS shell, but many manufacturers incorporate a partial covering or crown for extra protection against falling objects and to improve both shape and appearance. The downside is that EPP helmets are more expensive, but they are more protective, durable, and lighter. If EPP doesn’t become the de facto material of choice for climbing helmets in the future, we will be very surprised.
Shell Types: ABS vs. Polycarbonate
Now that we’ve covered the stuff on the inside, we’ll break down what protects it. We’ve mentioned some “hardshell helmets” with ABS plastic shells, such as the Black Diamond Half Dome and Black Diamond Capitan. ABS shells can absorb sizable impacts and protect well against any debris falling from above, and they’re also generally cheaper than other options. That said, they typically are thicker and more durable than polycarbonate shells, and that comes with added weight (which is why we mainly recommend them for cragging as opposed to multi-pitching).
For long days on the wall, however, opting for a helmet with a polycarbonate shell—or crown, like the Petzl Sirocco or Black Diamond Vapor—to shave weight definitely helps. That said, lighter-weight helmets always need to be treated with more care as they will damage more easily. For budget-conscious or new climbers who want more durability for their buck, a hardshell helmet will do the trick.
When to Wear a Climbing Helmet
It’s widely accepted that a helmet is a mandatory piece of equipment for every alpine climber. The mountains are volatile and objective hazards loom large. However, it’s our opinion that no matter where you’re climbing—in the mountains, at the crag, or even on lead at the gym—gravity (literally) is a force to be reckoned with. Rocks can fall even in popular, established areas, people can drop things, and whippers can result in head trauma. A helmet always is essential for your safety. Now that we’ve cleared that up, here are our recommendations for each type of climbing.
This one is a no-brainer—virtually no one goes to the mountains without a helmet. Rock is loose, falls often aren’t clean, and snow and ice succumb to gravity too. Because approaches to the mountains can be long and you’ll likely spend all day wearing or carrying your helmet, you’ll want a lightweight bucket with suspension that packs down into it. Durability also is a crucial consideration here—there’s nothing quite as disappointing as having gear malfunction when you’re days from the car. Our top picks for the alpine are lightweight and durable helmets made with EPP foam, like the Petzl Sirocco and Black Diamond Vapor. If you get out frequently, the extra cost is worth it.
For long days on the wall—think the Chief in Squamish or Black Velvet Canyon in Red Rock—you’ll want a lightweight helmet with good adjustability, ventilation, and comfort. Helmets made with EPP foam like those mentioned above are our top recommendation for multi-pitch climbing as well, but those on a budget can definitely get away with a slightly heavier, less durable build. Look for a helmet with EPP or EPS foam with a polycarbonate overtop, a sub-10-ounce weight, a one-handed adjustment system, and a headlamp attachment. For long multi-pitch climbs, helmets like the Black Diamond Vision, Petzl Meteor, and Edelrid Shield II are our top picks. You can get away with a helmet with a heavier ABS shell, but your neck might be feeling it at the end of the day.
We know too many people who leave their helmets at home for days at the crag (on single-pitch climbs), but there’s a lot wrong with that logic. You’re more likely to be climbing at your limit right off the ground, meaning you’re also more likely to be falling at the crag. And even when you’re hyper-aware of where the rope is running, you still can take a lead fall with a leg behind the climbing rope. When this happens, chances are high you’ll flip upside down and swing head-first into the wall. And this doesn’t just happen to newbs unfamiliar with proper rope management. A few years ago, a well-known, helmetless climber was whipped upside down during a fall at Smith Rock—a crag notorious for bad rock and no head protection—and many locals since have changed their ways.
OK, enough time on our soapbox. Ultimately, the decision is up to you, and if you do choose to wear a helmet at the crag, you’ve got some decisions to make. Are you pushing the grade? If so, you might want an ultralight helmet to go along with your lightweight harness and rope. Think EPP or EPS foam with a polycarbonate crown, like the helmets mentioned in the sections above. But because you’ll likely be taking your helmet off when you’re not climbing, most craggers can get away with a helmet that emphasizes durability and a lower price point above saving weight. Look for an ABS hardshell, a convenient adjustment system, and a sub-$70 price tag. The Black Diamond Capitan and Half Dome and Petzl Boreo/Borea are our favorite cragging options.
Protection: Foam Types, Coverage, and MIPS
We’ll start by noting that all climbing helmets are guaranteed by an international standard (if you’re curious, the UIAA 106 and EN 12492), which means they all meet certain safety requirements. However, there is some variation in the amount of impact protection each model provides. The first factor is the type of foam, which we detailed above. To summarize: EPP foam will absorb impacts, whereas EPS foam will shatter. Therefore, when it comes to EPS foam, a cracked helmet is a retired helmet. EPP lids, on the other hand, can take a licking and keep on ticking, meaning EPP is far and away the more protective choice.
The second factor—and this is a big one—is which part(s) of your head is protected by the helmet. Thanks to the UIAA and EN, all helmets are built to take impacts from above, which usually come in the form of rock fall. However, only some provide adequate protection at the front, rear, and sides. This wraparound coverage is especially important if you’re a lead climber, as it’s not uncommon to flip upside down when taking a fall. Rumor has it that there is a proposed UIAA standard for around-the-head protection, but for now we look for companies to call it out in their product specifications. For example, the Black Diamond Vision features increased fall protection, and some Petzl models are certified to their “Top and Side Protection” standard (like the Sirocco, Boreo/Borea, and Meteor).
Finally, MIPS has finally made its entrance in the climbing world, most notably with the Black Diamond Vision and Capitan and the Mammut Wall Rider. Widely used in ski and bike helmets, MIPS (which stands for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) provides extra protection by creating a low-friction layer between the helmet’s shell and soft liner. The intention is that when hit at an angle, the MIPS layer will allow the shell to move just enough to mitigate the rotational forces on the head and brain. In other words, the MIPS insert absorbs some of the impact. You’ll pay $40 to $60 more for it (the Black Diamond Vision MIPS is $150 compared to the standard version’s $100), but for some, the added assurance is well worth it.
Aside from safety, one of the most important traits 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. For example, the biggest critique we’ve heard about the Petzl Sirocco is that it doesn’t fit comfortably on larger heads. As with most climbing equipment, your best bet with helmets is to physically try them on before buying. That said, we haven’t noticed huge variability in comfort between different companies, but we’ve definitely seen it between models. And almost without exception, heavier means less comfortable, and lighter is better.
Sizing and Adjustability
A good climbing helmet should fit snugly but comfortably, and shouldn’t bob around much when you move your head. When guiding, we always ask our youngest clients if they like ice cream, provoking them to nod emphatically. If the helmet fits, it won’t move while they express their love for tasty cold treats. If it bobs up and down or comes to rest with their forehead showing, we tighten up the rear adjustment and chinstrap. And if the helmet just floats on top of the head more like a yarmulke than a baseball cap, it’s too small.
Most climbing helmet models are available in two sizes, and there is usually some overlap between one size and the other. If you are near the cutoff point for either, we suggest you try the helmet on before buying (although this is never a bad idea regardless). In terms of adjustments, all climbing helmets offer two straps: one around the head, and one around the chin. Some helmets like the Sirocco—usually those that emphasize weight—have a strap and buckles to adjust the head strap. Others, like the Black Diamond Capitan, offer a two-sided plastic ratcheting system, which is meant to be adjusted using two hands. The Black Diamond Half Dome offers a really simple one-handed adjustment system using a circular knob that tightens when turned in one direction, and loosens in the other.
Women's-Specific Climbing Helmets
A few helmets on our list offer women’s models, notably the Black Diamond Half Dome, Petzl Borea, and Petzl Meteora. These women-specific versions are set apart by one main feature: a “ponytail-friendly” shell and suspension system, which means an upward curve at the back of the head. For the most part (and this is coming from a ponytail-wearing woman), this doesn’t seem like a particularly necessary feature, though some women will appreciate the thought. But in general, climbing helmets are a unisex piece of gear and accommodate all kinds of head shapes, sizes, and hairstyles.
In the past, one of the main complaints we had about climbing helmets is that they didn’t breathe well enough, making our heads sweaty, hot, and uncomfortable. As technology continues to improve, we’ve seen helmet manufacturers add more and more ventilation. While we’re excited about the trend, it is worth mentioning 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 thin and narrow rock or ice shard to sneak through. And if you’re primarily a winter or cold-weather climber, ventilation may be more of a drawback than an advantage. All in all, we think that helmets like Petzl’s Sirocco and Meteor strike a nice middle ground of protection and breathability.
The helmets on this list weigh in anywhere from 5.6 ounces at the low end to 12.7 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 still more than twice as heavy as the lightest helmet available. The truth is, these ounces can add up quickly. 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, we like our helmets to be as feathery as possible. Lighter helmets also ride less on the neck and don’t seem to shift around the head as much when looking up and down.
Typically, weight and durability are inversely correlated with climbing gear (or any type of outdoor gear). In other words, the lighter the gear, 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, like the Petzl Sirocco and Mammut Wall Rider, are among the lightest and the most durable on the market. Remember, EPP foam is made to bend and absorb impact, whereas EPS foam fractures in order to handle blunt force. Among EPS designs, those with an ABS hard shell will withstand wear much better than those with a polycarbonate shell.
Once you’ve chosen your helmet, it’s important to know how to gauge its wear and tear. In general, one fall or impact is enough to end the life of an EPS-constructed helmet—any sort of crack in foam means that your helmet’s safety is compromised. But the tricky thing is, not all fractures are visible (some lay on the inside underneath the polycarbonate or ABS shell). To check, look for major dents on the shell as a good marker of internal damage. It’s also important to inspect the webbing and suspension system, buckle, and in the case of ABS helmets, the sturdiness of the foam’s attachment to the shell. On the other hand, because EPP does not fracture in the same way as EPS, these models are exempt from the “replace your helmet after impact” rule. Nevertheless, you will want to continue to inspect the foam. Given its partially exposed nature on helmets like the Sirocco and Wall Rider, this should be a rather straightforward process.
We would be hard-pressed to find a climbing helmet that does not claim to be headlamp-compatible, so it’s pretty much a given. That said, some helmets hold a headlamp better than others. For example, the convenient rear strap on Petzl’s Sirroco and Black Diamond's Capitan is a breeze, while the attachment points on Grivel’s Stealth are rather difficult to use. Some clips even are removable to save weight, but popping these pieces in and out of the foam may loosen and weaken the attachment points over time. The bottom line is that any helmet you buy will be headlamp-compatible, just study the system used for securing the headlamp before you make a purchase.
Using a Climbing Helmet for Skiing
Many weight-conscious skiers will opt for a climbing helmet for fast-and-light days in the mountains, but only a few are actually designed and certified for both skiing and climbing. These helmets provide more coverage than climbing helmets, protecting against impact from the side, front, and rear as well as the top, and also are compatible with ski goggles.
If you’re looking to use your climbing helmet for skiing, there are a few ratings to know about first. First off is the CE rating for ski touring (CE casque de ski de randonnée), which was debuted in the Petzl Meteor and certifies helmets for use while ski touring (read: moderate backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering). Second is the CE EN 1077 rating (seen in the CAMP Speed Comp): the European standard for snow-sport helmets and a badge given to more protective designs that can be used for alpine (resort) skiing and skimo racing. If you’re looking for a climbing helmet that can double as a lightweight ski helmet, it’s important to be aware of the distinctions between these two certifications.
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