Fearing stating the obvious, there is an element of risk in climbing. The sport is about challenging yourself to reach new heights, both figuratively and literally. You can be as careful as you like but there are variables that require you to wear safety equipment, like a climbing helmet.
For instance, from certain dizzying heights, a helmet will do little to minimize the impact of a fall. It will, however, potentially save your life from falling rocks, coming off and whipping into the wall or banging your head on an overhang. There are different types of helmets to choose from and each has to meet industry standards for safety and protection.
Climbing Helmet Types
There are two main types of helmets to choose from, each with their own pros and cons.
As it sounds, these helmets are made from a hard plastic construct. Although heavier, this is the more durable type of climbing helmet. Typically there will be a foam or webbing inside the helmet to help it fit properly. Polystyrene is fitted at the top of the helmet for it to absorb impacts. The strength comes from the ABS shell, which is much thicker than a lightweight foam helmet.
Why Choose This Type?
The primary advantage to choosing this kind of helmet is that they’re generally much cheaper than lightweight foam. You can usually pick one up from the shops at around 50% less cost. Not only are they cheaper but they’re also far more durable and boast a longer lifespan.
The construction of this sort of helmet makes it more resistant to dings as well as holding up better against falling rocks and heavy hits. You should choose a hardshell helmet if you’re planning on ice climbing or choosing a route which has rocks at risk of coming loose.
The downside to a hardshell helmet versus lightweight foam is that they’re much heavier, adding to your overall carry weight. They can also become uncomfortable when worn on hot days for an extended period of time. The weight can be between 25% and 60% more than that of a foam helmet.
These helmets are mostly made from expanded polystyrene, which is what makes them so much lighter. In order to protect the foam, they’ll be coated with a thin layer of plastic. This type of helmet is designed to dissipate any impact through deformation, which is why it is less suited to big and heavy hits.
The thin plastic shell also helps to dissipate impact as well as protecting it from the everyday wear and tear that you can expect. The foam is the same kind you would expect in a bicycle helmet and the polycarbonate plastic is the same you would expect on some fighter plane cockpits. This gives you an indication of the impressive strength to weight ratio.
Why Choose This Type?
You should pick a lightweight foam helmet if you want minimal weight with maximum ventilation. Both of these factors help to make this sort of helmet far more comfortable than a hardshell helmet, which is especially handy on a warm day. Additionally, foam helmets are adequate for some indoor climbing facilities or where you’re possibly carrying a load of other gear and need something breathable and lightweight.
Although these helmets are much lighter and more comfortable, they do sit at a much higher price tag. Where you could buy a hardshell helmet for $60, the lightweight foam equivalent could be $100+. Moreover, the thin construction means that it is more prone to picking up dents and dings, essentially shortening the product lifespan.