Best Climbing Helmet of 2021
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|Pros||Pros: Includes the MIPS BPS, comfortable fit, highly adjustable, more durable than most foam helmets||Super light, very comfortable, great ventilation, versatile for use while ski mountaineering, protects all sides of head||Lightweight, great ventilation||Lightweight, easily adjustable with slider bar, not as expensive as Sirocco, well ventilated||Adjustable, good headlamp clips, ventilates well|
|Cons||Not super light, pricey, black absorbs heat from sun||Not as durable as ABS options, expensive, less easily adjustable, magnetic buckle not for everyone||Fragile, chin strap doesn't adjust forward, removable headlamp clips are easy to lose or forget||Magnetic buckle collects dirt, not as cheap as BD Half Dome||Easy to over-tighten, chin strap buckles under chin and not to the side|
|Bottom Line||The best climbing helmet if you want the best protection for your head and brain||One of the lightest, most comfortable, and most enjoyable climbing helmets to wear||A comfortable and lightweight model for sending days but not heavy use||A great value helmet that strikes a balance between low weight and affordability||A lightweight EPS foam helmet that's good for a variety of uses|
|Rating Categories||Black Diamond Visio...||Petzl Sirocco||Black Diamond Vapor||Petzl Meteor||CAMP USA Storm|
|Headlamp Attachment (10%)|
|Specs||Black Diamond Visio...||Petzl Sirocco||Black Diamond Vapor||Petzl Meteor||CAMP USA Storm|
|Measured Weight in Ounces (largest size)||9.7 oz||6.1 oz||7.0 oz||8.5 oz||8.7 oz|
|Shell Style||EPP and EPS foam, ABS shell, with MIPS liner||EPP and EPS foam, polycabonate top piece||EPS foam with Polycarbonate||EPS, Polycarbonate||EPS foam with Polycarbonate|
|Number of Sizes||2||2||2||2||2|
|Number of Colors||1||1||4||3||4|
|Warranty||1 year limited to defects only||3 year||1 year||3 year||3 year limited|
Best Overall Climbing Helmet
Black Diamond Vision MIPS
We were thoroughly impressed with the Black Diamond Vision MIPS and consider it to be the best climbing helmet on the market today. The addition of the MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) harness on the inside, technology that is now standard in both bike and ski helmets, helps reduce the chances of concussion by deflecting certain impacts and reducing impact forces. We see no reason why this technology should not become standard in climbing helmets and applaud Black Diamond (and also the Mammut Wall Rider MIPS) for giving climbers an option to use this technology. The Vision is also really comfortable, highly adjustable, and features a best of both worlds combination of an EPS foam puck on the top of the head to protect from falling rock and an EPP foam shell surrounding it for repetitive side impact protection. The outer shell is ABS, a more durable type of plastic shell than the very thin and easy-to-dent polycarbonate found on BD's other helmets.
However, the combination of the MIPS harness and ABS shell make this helmet heavier than most other foam options. Despite this, numerous friend testers commented on how light it felt, and it still weighs a lot less than a BD Half Dome or other full shell helmets. It's currently offered in one color, black, which can be hot when you're climbing in the sun. The technology incorporated in this helmet brings the price up, but we don't consider the price to be outrageous compared to other high-end foam helmets. If you want the very best protection currently available from your climbing helmet in the most comfortable and adjustable package, the Vision MIPS makes that decision easy.
Read Review: Black Diamond Vision MIPS
Best Lightweight Climbing Helmet
The perfect climbing helmet would be so lightweight and comfortable that you could easily forget that you even have it on. It would also protect your head from impacts from above (falling rocks or ice), as well as on the sides (hitting your head while falling). The Petzl Sirocco does all of these things and more, and our testers love it for its "barely there" design. Weighing a mere 6.1 oz., this featherweight product has never left our necks feeling tired, and more often than not, we forgot we had it on. We also appreciate the carefully molded combination of EPP foam on the sides — a softer, light, and more malleable foam that protects from side impacts and is impressively resilient — combined with an EPS foam and polycarbonate piece on the crown of the head that provides more bomber protection from projectiles falling from above. This winning combination remains super light and provides respectable protection everywhere it's needed. Add in a comfortable fit, excellent ventilation, and easy-to-use headlamp clips that are also compatible with ski goggles for ski mountaineering missions, and the Sirocco is a helmet that's truly ideal for all purposes.
All good things still have their downsides, and the Sirocco is no exception. It is pricey, so it may not be the ideal choice for someone on a budget. The minimalist straps keep the weight down but aren't nearly as easy to dial in as a slider bar or click wheel. Finally, since it's not completely covered in polycarbonate, care is needed to ensure that it doesn't get damaged inside or outside your pack. Qualms aside, this is the helmet you will see on the vast majority of professionals, and for a good reason. No matter what kind of climbing you engage in, the Sirocco is an optimal choice.
Read Review: Petzl Sirocco
Best Bang for the Buck
Black Diamond Half Dome
The Black Diamond Half Dome is an affordably priced and very protective helmet that is also one of the most popular climbing helmets out at the crag. Since it can serve anyone on a tight budget well, we are happy to recognize it as great value. Our users love the click-wheel adjustment system on the back of the head because it's super easy to use with only one hand and offers a vast range of adjustments. We also appreciate the enhanced durability and extended life span from a hard ABS shell. This helmet costs half of what the super-light foam ones run.
It's worth noting, though, that one flaw seems to plague all hardshell helmets that we've tested — weight. At 12.7 ounces, the Half Dome weighs more than twice as much as the Petzl Sirocco. Although it might only seem like a few ounces, this difference is easy to notice after a long day. The Half Dome also doesn't ventilate well, and it isn't the most comfortable helmet when compared to others side-by-side. We worry that the annoyance of the weight, limited ventilation, and lack of comfort might translate into some climbers wearing this helmet less often, thereby negating the purpose of a helmet altogether. That said, for new climbers or those on a budget, these downsides are likely outweighed by the Half Dome's attractive price.
Read review: Black Diamond Half Dome
Great Value for a Lightweight Helmet
When you're climbing, every piece of gear you wear or use must be hauled up with you, so weight is critical. This is doubly true for helmets because the load rides on top of the head, a place that's not used to carrying extra ounces. In our experience, heavier helmets lead to noticeably more strain and fatigue in our necks and the parts of our head where the helmet rests when worn for more than a few hours or a long day. That said, super lightweight helmets often come at a price that many may be unwilling or unable to afford. Luckily there are a handful of still very light helmets at slightly more reasonable prices. We think the best of these is the Petzl Meteor. It provides perhaps the best value among the lightweight helmets. It isn't as affordable as the BD Half Dome — but at only 8.5 ounces, the amount of weight savings for the extra cost is significant.
The Meteor is comfortable and very easily adjustable via a plastic slider bar on the back of the head, which can be manipulated while wearing the helmet just as easily as when it's off. It has tons of ventilation holes for climbing when the weather is hot or when you are sweating, so it is a good choice for mountaineering and ski mountaineering. Except that it isn't as cheap as the most inexpensive helmets or as light as the lightest helmets, we find little to complain about. It seems to strike an ideal balance between high performance and lower price and did better than the similarly constructed EPS/polycarbonate helmets against which we tested it. If you are on a budget but are still worried about minimizing weight for maximum enjoyment on objectives a long way from the car, we highly recommend checking out the Petzl Meteor.
Read Review: Petzl Meteor
Why You Should Trust Us
Our expert panel provides voices from Andy Wellman and Cam McKenzie Ring. Andy is a well-seasoned climber with decades under his belt. A former guidebook publisher and author, he has spent most of his life climbing rocks, tall and small, around the world. He lives in the mountains of southern Colorado, where there are plenty of quality crags and ice climbs to choose from, but also where loose rock and falling ice is a fact of life — a good place for helmet testing. Cam is a well-traveled rock warrior that has been climbing for over 20 years. Currently based in Las Vegas, she frequents the big colorful walls of never-ending multi-pitch heaven in Red Rocks. Before this, she spent many years climbing Yosemite's granite walls and working on Yosemite Search and Rescue. In addition to testing by our lead reviewers, helmets were given to friends in the area to use on all sorts of climbs, from long multi-pitch to overhung bolted routes.
Helmet testing takes place in real-world situations. That is, on the rock. We wear these helmets day in and day out while climbing routes large and small, often bringing multiple helmets to the crag so that we can compare them one after the other. We also lend them out to friends and climbing partners to get opinions from as many different people as possible. In the end, we combined these experiences with measurable data to assess a range of performance characteristics and formulate our overall ratings. Due to our intensive analysis, as well as hands-on testing, you can be sure we are recommending the best climbing helmets to you.
Related: How We Tested Climbing Helmets
Analysis and Test Results
Wearing a climbing helmet is never a bad idea. Regardless of which model you decide to buy, it won't do you any good if you don't wear it. This reason is why we feel it's important to get one that matches your needs. Common excuses for not wearing one are: it's too heavy, uncomfortable, moves around too much, or it's too hot. We've found models that solve all of these problems, so you will have no excuse not to wear one. To determine which models are the best, we assessed six characteristics: comfort, adjustability, weight, ventilation, headlamp attachment, and durability.
Related: Buying Advice for Climbing Helmets
Climbing helmets come at a fairly wide range of price points, with any given model's location on the spectrum typically dependent on the types of materials it is made from. While it isn't always true, in the case of climbing helmets, our testing reveals that the higher-priced models tend to be the highest performers, while the budget options don't stack up as well in overall performance. The best helmet for you is the one you will wear, so it might be worth ignoring the price so you can be sure you get one that's so light and comfortable that you won't ever find a reason not to wear it.
However, if you want a climbing helmet bargain, one important aspect of value that's worth considering is weight. All helmets should be durable enough to protect you from an impact, but some seem to hold up better to the rigors of regular use. Simply put, a hard plastic helmet like the BD Half Dome is likely to last longer than a foam model, so it thus offers a better overall value. In general, foam helmets are more prone to minor dents and dings, and users need to be careful about how they're packed to avoid damage while they're transporting the helmet to and from the crag.
Comfort is probably the most important consideration when choosing your new helmet. Most helmets, especially those made of foam, are molded into a specific shape, and even with adjustable harnesses that help you adapt the fit, you will never be able to change the shape of the helmet. Some helmets are deep and oblong, while others are shallower or rounder. Since we all have different head shapes, what fits one person perfectly may not work for someone else. This fact also makes grading for this metric rather subjective, so we were sure to talk to as many people as possible to nail down what folks liked and didn't like about each model.
The harness system inside of the helmet is a critical component of comfort. It provides the method of adjustability so that the helmet can be fitted to each individual while also attaching to the chin strap to hold the helmet on the head and hopefully minimize movement. While harnesses are designed to be adjustable, simply moving things around a bit doesn't always bring comfort. In general, the minimalist harnesses comprised of just a few straps are the most comfortable, but they also tend to be the least adjustable. In contrast, plastic bands that encircle the head allow for the most adjustability, but they tend to be less comfortable when worn all day. These tensioning bands can also lead to stuck hairs, something to consider if you have long hair.
Beyond the fit and harness system, most helmets are lined with removable (typically Velcro) cushions or pads that provide a buffer between your head and the helmet's foam. These pads are designed to absorb sweat and can be removed to be washed. Many helmets even come with two sets of pads. The shape and location of these pads play a small role in how the helmet rests on top of your head.
In our opinion, the Black Diamond Vision MIPS is the most comfortable helmet you can buy. It features a low-profile adjustment band in the back and boasts a large, deep shape that can rest comfortably on top of any head. The Petzl Sirocco is another all-star for comfort. It is deep, well-ventilated, and ever-so-slightly oblong with a very minimalist harness system inside the helmet. It is also the lightest helmet we've ever tested, which is a major determinant of how comfortable it feels to wear all day. Other comfortable choices are the Mammut Wall Rider MIPS and the standard version of the Wall Rider, which have similar amounts of ventilation and a lightweight harness compared to the Sirocco. However, they fit a bit more shallowly on the head and are rounder. If your head isn't the ideal shape for the Sirocco, you may have better luck with the Wall Riders. Also popular among testers for their comfort are the lightweight and very well ventilated Black Diamond Vapor and the slightly beefier Vector. As the most important metric when considering a purchase, we factored comfort in as 30% of a product's overall score.
Being able to adjust a helmet so that it fits properly on your head enhances comfort and keeps the helmet from moving around and distracting you while climbing, which is potentially critical from a safety standpoint. When considering adjustability, we looked at how widely adjustable a helmet is, thereby allowing it to be used by the greatest range of people. We also judged each adjustment system's efficacy — how easy it is to adjust properly and how quickly this can be done with the helmet on the head.
Manufacturers employ three methods for adjusting each helmet's circumference: a click-wheel, a plastic slider bar, or lightweight straps and buckles. Using only straps and buckles provides the lightest solution but usually the least adjustability. Adjustments are made with one or two buckles and pull tabs on the back of the head, and while some of them can be adjusted while wearing the helmet, it's also fairly common to need to take the helmet off to fine-tune the adjustments. On the other hand, plastic slider bars have notches or grooves cut out of them where another piece of plastic latches, keeping the helmet tight. These are more adjustable than simple webbing and are simple to adjust with the helmet on the head. However, these designs and generally heavier and slightly less comfortable. The most adjustable system uses the click wheel. This design has a small wheel on the back of the head that you turn (it clicks as you do so) to tighten or loosen the helmet's tensioning band. The click wheel is the easiest to adjust quickly. Still, it comes with the downsides of being heavier and bulkier with an added drawback of being surprisingly easy to over-tighten, which you may not realize until you notice a headache an hour later.
The tension of the harness inside the helmet is not the only way that helmets are adjustable. The v-yoke is the v-shaped straps that come down on either side of your ears to join the chin strap. Most helmets have slider buckles that allow for quick adjustment of the v-yoke so that it sits comfortably around rather than over your ears. Most helmets, however, must typically be taken off for this adjustment to be made. The chin strap itself should also be adjustable, and most are simple and easy to use.
The Black Diamond Half Dome is one of the most adjustable helmets in this review and is also one of the easiest to adjust. It uses a click wheel at the back that makes tightening or loosening the fit simple. It also has easily adjustable straps on the v-yoke and chin. We give it top honors in this department because even the tensioning band that the click wheel is attached to can be adjusted up or down along two pieces of webbing to accommodate hair better, something the Mammut Skywalker 2 is unable to do. In every other way, however, the Skywalker 2 is highly adjustable and features a similar click wheel tensioning system. Among the lighter helmets, the Petzl Meteor was the most adjustable and easiest to use. It incorporated a plastic slider bar to adjust the fit. While we typically find the helmets that use a webbing and buckle tensioning system to be the most comfortable and lightest, all of them scored low for adjustability, so if you buy one of these helmets, be sure it fits your head reasonably well without needing too much adjustment. Adjustability accounts for 20% of a product's final score.
At the most basic level, climbing can be thought of as a battle against gravity. Your gear's weight affects your climbing no matter your ability level, and all helmets weigh something. Even more importantly, we found that weight is a major factor in overall comfort. Simply put, lighter climbing helmets are less noticeable, more comfortable, and are more likely to be worn. On the other hand, lower weight usually corresponds with lower durability when it comes to climbing helmets. The heavier hardshell models are also considerably cheaper because the fancy foam used in the lighter models is expensive. We tested the largest size of each model available, except for the Singing Rock Penta and Mammut Skywalker 2, which are only available in one size.
The models that we tested ranged in weight from the 6.1-ounce Petzl Sirocco to the 13.5-ounce Mammut Skywalker 2. The difference between the two almost equates to a #3 Black Diamond Camalot. Ever left one of those behind because you didn't want the weight? We have. Now picture wearing two of them on top of your head for ten pitches — we're sure even the strongest folks would notice the difference.
The Sirocco uses expanded polypropylene (EPP) foam that doesn't require a polycarbonate shell over the entire helmet to distribute the impact. That helps keep the weight down compared to EPS foam models. The EPP foam also offers some rebounding properties, absorbing some impacts without cracking. A small polycarbonate plate protects the EPS foam "puck" that ensures adequate protection from falling objects that might hit on the top of the head. Helmets with a similar design, such as the Edelrid Salathe, the Mammut Wall Rider MIPS, and the Black Diamond Vision MIPS, have larger, more substantial plastic coverings, which may contribute to greater durability, but also make them a tad heavier.
No discussion of weight would be complete without mentioning the Black Diamond Vapor, which at seven ounces is the second lightest model in this review. While it appears to be more air than any solid material, it's made of a combination of EPS foam, a polycarbonate shell, and carbon rods to reinforce the structure. It does pass the required CE safety standards. However, our experience is that this helmet acquires cosmetic dents very easily, so long-term durability is not one of its primary advantages.
Among the most affordable models, the Singing Rock Penta stands out for its incredibly low weight of just 7.2 ounces. The polycarbonate shell with EPS foam combines to be several ounces lighter than any model even close to its price range. That said, it only comes in a single size, which most of our male testers found to be too small. If it fits, as it did for one of our female testers, this low-priced option has a huge upside in the weight department. Its less-accommodating fit, though, kept it from being very useful to many of our testers. Weight accounts for 20% of a product's overall score.
We often heard testers complain that a helmet was too hot, but we never heard someone say that a helmet kept their head too cold. Even in perfect, subzero temps, it's easy to work up a sweat while climbing, and especially so on the top of your head when it's encased by hair and a large, insulating foam helmet. In fact, the EPS foam used in many of these helmets is no different than the polystyrene that is commonly used as an insulator in cheap coolers and take-out containers. To combat this insulating effect, ventilation holes are needed to allow hot air to escape and cooler air to flow through the helmet and enhance evaporative cooling.
In general, helmets that ventilated well included more holes than those that ventilated poorly. The holes were also bigger, and we really noticed that holes on the front of the helmet and the sides and back helped promote airflow. Lastly, there needs to be space within the helmet for air to move around. Hardshell helmets typically have more space within the helmet for airflow but fewer holes to allow air in and out. On the other hand, foam helmets with tons of ventilation openings often rest right on top of the head and hair, with little room for air to move around the head.
The standout in this category is the Black Diamond Vapor. Its design is the most open of any of the EPS foam models that we tested, with a plethora of significant vents and substantial ventilation. The Petzl Sirocco and Mammut Wall Rider also feature a lot of vents.
Overall, all of the EPS foam models have a lot more openings in the shell, and therefore much better ventilation than the hard shell models. We think ventilation is a smaller consideration for purchasing, so it only accounts for 10% of our overall scoring.
Whether you get benighted on a climb or simply want to use a pre-dawn start to beat the crowds, you need to be able to attach a headlamp to your helmet. There are two common methods. The first is four plastic clips spaced evenly around the helmet, with slots that the band of your headlamp slides into to hold it securely in place. These clips are sometimes removable and often recessed into the design, so they don't stick out to catch on gear, clothing, or your environment. The tension of these clips varies from model to model--the clips with more tension seem to grip headlamp bands better but can also be a lot harder to get the band into in the first place.
The second method uses two clips in the front and a single elastic strap with a pull tab that loops around a hook in the back. This method is becoming more common, especially on the higher-end EPP helmets, and is easier to operate with the helmet on the head. It can also be more versatile because the rear strap can be large enough to accommodate ski goggle straps, which are usually much thicker than headlamp bands.
The clips found on the Petzl Boreo and the Black Diamond Half Dome are the simplest and most natural to use. A strap effectively stays in place all day, and it's super easy to slide the strap up under them in the first place. We also find the elastic strap method found on the Black Diamond Vision MIPS, Petzl Sirocco, Meteor, and Edelrid Salathe to be quite easy and effective.
We found the clips on the Black Diamond Vapor and the Mammut Wall Rider to be a bit harder to use, although they were still reasonably effective at their jobs. As a useful feature that is not the most critical aspect of helmet performance, headlamp attachment accounted for only 10% of a product's overall score.
Climbing helmets are designed to protect your head from falling objects, but their protective materials are generally designed to deform from a serious impact. Most climbing helmets can withstand a few small-sized rocks or a couple of good-sized chunks of ice but will need replacement after any big hit. What we look for is something that can hold up to the normal wear and tear of loose rocks, roofs you didn't see coming, and a modest amount of ice shelling without needing replacement. We also want something we can pack in our backpacks or accidentally drop from a few feet without worrying about it shattering. While all of the climbing helmets in this review passed a series of standardized impact tests, their day-to-day durability varies substantially.
For the most part, the heavier ABS hardshell models prove more durable for everyday climbing than the lightweight foam ones, which rely on thinner polycarbonate shells to protect their foam interiors. The model that held up the best to climbing and cramming into a pack was the Black Diamond Half Dome. This thing can take a beating for years without showing much sign of wear. We were also impressed with the durability of the Petzl Boreo. However, the surface of its shell seems more prone to cosmetic scrapes than the Half Dome.
On the other end is the Black Diamond Vector, whose shell punctured the first time we set our backpack down. The Black Diamond Vapor is also very light-duty when it comes to dents, dings, and other cosmetic damages that could occur with regular use. We didn't experience any durability issues with the Mammut Wall Rider, and the plastic shell on top should help increase the durability over a polycarbonate-only shell. With super-light models like the Sirocco, the polycarbonate top piece will protect the foam from small impacts, but be sure to keep it at the top of your pack, if at all, and don't sit on it.
Eventually, there comes a time when your climbing helmet should be retired. Whether that's from funk build-up, age, or fending off a tremendous impact, no helmet will last forever. Petzl recommends retiring your climbing helmet ten years after its manufacture date at the latest, and that's assuming you've stored it inside because UV rays can degrade plastic and textiles. If you do take a big hit to your helmet, either from rock, ice, or a fall, check it thoroughly for any deformities in the plastic shell or cracking of the inner foam. If anything looks out of place, it's time for a new one — better safe than sorry.
Climbing helmets have come a long way in recent years. Manufacturers are churning out ever lighter, more comfortable options for today's adventurers. The onus is on you to actually wear them. We hope that this review has helped you to choose the right model for your budget and climbing needs.
— Andy Wellman & Cam McKenzie Ring
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