Whether you’re headed to the sport crag or a distant alpine big wall, every climber’s kit should include a helmet.
Outdoor climbing comes with inherent hazards, and wearing a helmet is essential for decreasing risk and protecting yourself. Modern helmets are designed to defend against rockfall from above and side impacts that can occur during lead falls. Thanks to innovations in materials and design, climbing helmets are always improving.
On our list of recommendations, we’ve selected quality models that offer comfort, durability, value, and low weight — all without compromising safety and effectiveness.
Our list is the result of many months spent climbing in helmets made by various leaders in the market. We’ve enjoyed the benefits of well-ventilated helmets while climbing in the full sun, and we’ve even taken a few small pieces of choss to our well-protected noggins.
Along the way, certain styles stood out from the rest, and this list of recommendations is the result of our field testing. Be sure to check out our included comprehensive buyer’s guide to determine which climbing helmet is right for you.
Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for:
The Best Climbing Helmets of 2021
Best Overall: Petzl Sirocco
All climbing helmets aim to provide protection, comfort, and durability in a relatively lightweight package. Of all the models we tested, the Petzl Sirocco ($110) provided the best combination of these desired characteristics.
Weighing in at 6.1 ounces, the Sirocco is one of the lightest climbing helmets on the market. Minimal weight translates to maximum comfort in the Sirocco, thanks to a soft and simple webbing harness system.
On long and sweaty multi-pitch adventures, the Sirocco was almost never irritating. Most of the time we completely forgot we were wearing it. Though the Sirocco is mostly made from EPP foam, an inserted EPS plate sits just above the crown of the head to provide extra protection against falling objects.
Like other helmets on this list including the Black Diamond Vision and the Edelrid Salathe, the Sirocco cleverly combines the two most common foam types in a way that utilizes the benefits of each. The only part of the Sirocco that features a hard plastic shell is the top of the crown — another rockfall and top impact protection measure.
The Sirocco is a top-of-the-line helmet, and we especially appreciate the versatility it offers. In addition to climbing, the Sirocco is also CE certified for ski mountaineering. It’s compatible with goggles, and its magnetic buckle is easy to use while wearing gloves.
For the climber interested in both warm- and cold-season climbing, the Sirocco makes a handy quiver of one. At the time of writing, it is only available in one size.
- High-quality construction and materials
- Buckles can be operated with gloves on
- Some users report a slightly narrow fit
Runner-Up: Edelrid Salathe
The Edelrid Salathe ($130) offers all of the hallmarks of a top-of-the-line modern climbing helmet. Weighing in at just 7 ounces, every component of the Salathe has been carefully designed to minimize weight without jeopardizing protection.
Like the Petzl Sirroco, the Salathe is mostly made from durable EPP foam. Thanks to the resilient properties of this material, the Salathe can potentially handle multiple impacts before it will need to be retired.
A disc of EPS foam sits beneath a top shell of ABS plastic, a clever combination of components designed to disperse and absorb impact from falling objects. We liked that the shape of the Salathe thoroughly protects the back and sides of the head without hindering peripheral vision.
Though we didn’t climb any multi-pitch routes in the Salathe, we did wear it all day at the sport crag on a summer day in the mid-90s. Sure, we could have removed it in between routes, but our goal was to assess the helmet’s long-term ventilation and wearability.
Of all the helmets we tested, the Salathe is among the very best in terms of all-day comfort. The low total weight and soft harness system certainly help with this, but we think the key ingredients are the two large ventilation holes located near the forehead. Even in the sweltering heat, wearing the Salathe was bearable — which is saying a lot considering climbing helmets are inherently insulating and warm.
Other features of the Salathe include a ski goggle-compatible headlamp attachment system and a simple single-strap adjustment harness. We recommend that you accurately measure your head or try on the Salathe before purchasing.
The harness system helps to secure the helmet in place, but ultimately this is a fixed-size dome-shaped helmet. The minimal adjustment system won’t help you unless the helmet is sized properly.
- Comfortable harness and suspension system
- High-quality construction and materials
- Small adjustment range; sizing can be tricky
Best Budget: Petzl Boreo
The Petzl Boreo ($60) is the most affordable adult climbing helmet on this list. Though the Boreo is slightly bulkier than higher-end options, it’s a high-quality and durable helmet perfect for entry-level climbers or anyone on a budget.
A thick ABS shell helps disperse impacts from rockfall and protects the inner foam from minor bumps and dings. Unlike some more fragile helmets with lots of exposed foam, the Boreo can be tossed into a pack full of cams and hold its own without fracturing or falling apart.
We climbed in the Boreo regularly for over a year, and though the shell received many superficial scratches, the combination of EPS and EPP foam remained in excellent condition.
While the Boreo is a bit heavier than various other options on this list, the protection it offers is on par with the very best. The harness and adjustment system is simple and effective, though it does seem to cause entanglement issues for climbers with long hair.
Headlamps with thicker straps don’t easily fit into the four attachment points, and they aren’t compatible with most ski goggles.
For maximum protection at an approachable price, the Petzl Boreo is a great buy.
- Headlamp attachment system is not the most secure and cannot support ski goggles
Best Kid’s Climbing Helmet: Petzl Picchu
The Petzl Picchu ($60) is a highly durable and adjustable youth climbing helmet. Quality protective equipment for kid climbers can be hard to find, but the Picchu is well-made and effective. As an added bonus, the Picchu is also certified for use as a cycling helmet.
Built to hold up to years of regular use, the Picchu is encased in a hard plastic shell that resists impacts and scratches. The deep dome design offers plentiful coverage and enhanced protection against frontal, lateral, and rear impacts.
Though the Picchu does have a few small vents, it does not breathe very well and may become uncomfortable in warm conditions. We like that Petzl has incorporated the headlamp attachment system and adjustable harness featured on some of their adult helmets. The Picchu is designed for kids between the ages of 3 and 8.
- Protects against frontal, lateral, and rear impacts
- Also certified as a cycling helmet
Best of the Rest
The Black Diamond Vision helmet ($100) is rightfully one of the most popular climbing helmets on the market. Complete with top-end technology and quality materials, the Vision is yet another excellent helmet option.
Made from EPP foam with an impact-absorbing EPS foam puck insert, the Vision protects against top, side, and rear impacts. A thin ABS shell adds extra durability in the crown area. Overall, the construction and design of the Vision is similar to the Edelrid Salathe and Petzl Sirocco.
The Vision’s unique headlamp attachment system is low-profile and totally secure. It’s a minor feature, but the resulting benefits were noticeable and appreciated when climbing and rappelling at night.
Compared to the other ultralight helmets on this list, the Vision features a somewhat bulkier harness and adjustment system. While some may view this as a positive trait, those looking for a fully minimalist helmet might want to look elsewhere.
Still, the Vision remains on the lighter end of the helmet spectrum at 7.8 ounces in the smaller of two sizes. It’s also available with MIPS technology, which costs $40 more and adds a single ounce to the total weight.
- High-quality construction and materials
- Low weight
- Low-profile headlamp attachment
- Minimal ventilation in the front end
The Hex ($70) is an eye-catching new helmet from Singing Rock. Though it’s a bit heavier than some other styles on this list, the Hex impressed us with its unique honeycomb ventilation system and outstanding durability.
Made from EPP foam and a full-coverage ABS shell, the Hex guarantees a high degree of protection against top and side impacts. We wore the Hex over multiple sport and trad climbing sessions.
During transport to and from the crag, the helmet rode in a pack full of quickdraws and cams. After all this, it shows zero signs of wear. For climbers looking to prioritize durability over weight savings, the Hex has you covered.
Another standout feature of the Hex is its exceptional adjustability. A large dial that sits just behind the head offers easy customization of fit when wearing the Hex.
When not in use, the dial and harness slide into the interior of the helmet for practical carrying. The Y-shaped side straps are also simple to adjust. Though these bonus adjustment features add a few ounces, we found the Hex works with a much wider variety of head shapes than most climbing helmets on the market.
With an approachable price tag, premium protection, and a sleek modern design, we recommend the Hex helmet to entry-level and experienced climbers alike.
- Great protection and coverage
The Crag Sender ($100) is Mammut’s “do-it-all” climbing helmet. At just 7 ounces in the smaller of two sizes, this dome protector combines practical features with quality materials. From the alpine to the sport crag, the Crag Sender is an all-around excellent helmet.
For improved side and rear protection, the Crag Sender uses thickened foam in areas where impacts are most likely to occur. In the crown area, an additional piece of EPS foam helps to absorb top impacts from falling objects.
The version of the Crag Sender we tested includes a Multidirectional Impact Protection System (MIPS). MIPS aims to reduce rotational forces caused by angled crashes that can occur during lead falls.
Though the MIPS version adds $50 to the price tag and a few ounces to the total weight, it’s worth considering for climbers seeking the most technologically advanced protection on the market.
Overall, the Crag Sender is a top-notch helmet that has clearly been designed with a deep understanding of the risks and dynamics of climbing outside.
- Easy-to-use adjustment dial
- Y-straps are difficult to adjust around the ears
Climbing Helmets: A Comprehensive Buyer’s Guide
When climbing outdoors, certain risk factors remain beyond our control. Wearing a climbing helmet at the crag is one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect yourself and be prepared.
In 2021, high-quality climbing helmets are more effective, comfortable, and lightweight than ever before. All outdoor climbers should have a helmet in their kit.
When selecting the perfect helmet, there are a variety of important factors to consider. In this handy buyer’s guide, we’ll break down important considerations including materials, comfort, ventilation, sizing, weight, durability, and much more. We’ll also thoroughly explain some key terminology you’ll need to know when making an informed purchase.
Parts of a Helmet
Modern climbing helmets consist of a dome-shaped piece of foam, a hard plastic shell (usually), a harness system for comfort and precise fitting, and a chin strap. The materials used for each component will determine the best uses and ultimate cost of the helmet.
The shock-absorbing qualities of modern helmets come from lightweight shock-absorbing foam. There are two different types of foam on the market, and each has its own pros and cons.
All of the helmets we’ve included on this list have foam that covers the top, rear, and sides of the head, which is essential for protecting against various types of potential impacts.
Expanded Polystyrene (EPS)
Because expanded polystyrene foam is both effective and affordable, it’s been used in climbing helmets for many decades. Though EPS feels hard to the touch, it’s made to crush and crack upon impact in order to absorb the brunt of collision forces.
While EPS is still found in many quality helmets, it does have some downsides. Some climbers find EPS to be fragile, especially when used in lightweight and low-profile helmets.
It’s important to be careful with EPS helmets. Simply dropping one on the ground by accident could result in small cracks. And once cracks have formed, the helmet must be replaced.
Expanded Polypropylene (EPP)
The other foam option on the climbing helmet market is called expanded polypropylene, or EPP. Unlike EPS, EPP does not absorb impacts by fracturing. Instead, EPP helmets have a little give to them and can actually regain their original shape after minor impacts.
EPP helmets are also less likely to be accidentally damaged, and they often last longer as a result. As the gold standard for durability, EPP is quickly becoming the foam of choice in the climbing helmet market. As a tradeoff for the maximum durability and minimum weight, EPP helmets do tend to be more expensive.
Composite Foam Helmets
Some modern helmets incorporate both EPS and EPP foam in their construction in order to maximize the protective benefits of each. On our list, the Black Diamond Vision and the Petzl Sirocco are examples of composite foam helmets.
Because EPS foam is great for absorbing the brunt of top impacts from falling objects, composite helmets usually include an inserted disc of EPS in the crown area. Aside from this EPS disc, composite helmets like the Vision and the Sirocco are made from the more flexible and durable EPP foam.
Some climbing helmets come with a hard plastic outer layer or shell. Most shells are made from either ABS or polycarbonate.
Because EPP foam is durable and resistant to fractures on its own, some EPP helmets do not come with a full outer shell. Helmets without full shells are lighter, but they also tend to be less durable.
Some styles, like the Edelrid Salathe, come with partial shells that only cover the crown area of the helmet in order to disperse potential impacts from falling objects.
Adjustable Harness System
The harness system inside a climbing helmet allows the wearer to adjust the fit for comfort and security. Though the various helmets on our list come with different harness systems, each is well-made and easy enough to adjust on the fly.
Some helmets, like the Singing Rock Hex, include a harness system that adjusts via a large dial and can fit a broad range of head sizes and shapes. While this is a handy feature, it adds significant weight.
Minimalist helmets like the Edelrid Salathe include a much more streamlined harness system in order to minimize total weight. The downside to this is that minimalist helmets are less adjustable overall.
We recommend that all climbers try helmets on in advance — or at least measure your head’s dimensions — before making a purchase, especially with minimalist styles.
For winter climbing, it’s nice to have the option to wear a hat underneath your helmet, so plenty of adjustability is key.
In addition to a harness system, most climbing helmets are lined with removable, washable padding. In the case of most modern helmets, only a few small strategically placed pads are required to create a secure and comfortable fit.
Helmet Chin Straps and Buckles
All climbing helmets are secured onto the head using straps that fit around the ears and under the chin. A lightweight and adjustable buckle connects the straps and offers custom fitting.
While classic side-release plastic buckles are tried and true, they can be difficult to release while wearing gloves. Ice climbers and mountaineers may want a harness with a magnetic buckle, such as the Petzl Sirocco.
Climbing helmets are often worn for multiple hours on end, and comfort is paramount. Because no two climbers will have an identical head shape, the most comfortable style for you might not work for your partner. For this reason, we always recommend trying on multiple styles as you search for the right model.
Aside from the overall shape, a helmet’s harness system will have the greatest impact on its comfort. While testing many different climbing helmets, we found minimalist helmets with simple harnesses tend to be the most comfortable — especially for climbers with long hair.
Helmets like the Petzl Sirocco and Edelrid Salathe utilize simple adjustable straps instead of bulky adjustment dials or plastic bands. Unfortunately, minimalist helmets are also the least adjustable.
Well-placed interior liner pads can also add significant comfort. Pads combine with the harness system to hug the shape of your head, and most are removable and washable. On this list, we particularly like the padding system found on the Mammut Crag Sender and the Edelrid Salathe.
Climbing helmets with robust plastic shells — such as the Petzl Boreo — tend to be more durable than helmets with lots of exposed foam like the Petzl Sirocco. Many climbers simply toss their helmets into their packs with their rack and rope, and the resulting turbulence can cause damage over time.
However, if you treat a climbing helmet with care, it should last for many years — unless it endures a significant impact, of course.
As far as foam durability goes, expanded polypropylene (EPP) is superior to expanded polystyrene (EPS). EPP has a little give to it, and it can flex and survive minor impacts without breaking or deforming. EPS, on the other hand, fractures easily and must be replaced as soon as any cracks form.
On our list, the Singing Rock Hex and the Petzl Boreo are among the most durable helmets.
On long approaches or alpine missions, an ultralight helmet can improve comfort and lighten your load. On this list, we have included helmets weighing around 6 and 12 ounces.
While the difference of just a few ounces may seem insignificant, we’ve found that ultralight helmets are much appreciated when you’re 10 pitches up an all-day adventure route.
Generally, ultralight helmets sacrifice some adjustability in order to keep their total weight low.
At some point, you’re going to get hot and sweaty while out at the crag. For humans, a well-ventilated head is crucial for thermoregulation.
While lots of vents are great for staying cool, too many vents can decrease the effectiveness of the helmet overall. The best climbing helmets have strategically placed vents that breathe well without compromising protection.
Every helmet manufacturer has its own sizing system. Generally, adult helmets come in two or three sizes. Each size will cover a range of head diameters.
For example, a small Edelrid Salathe is designed to work with heads measuring 50-58 cm in diameter. Helmets that include harnesses with plastic bands or dials tend to be more adjustable and work for a wider ranger of head diameters. We recommend measuring your head — and ideally trying on multiple helmets — before purchasing.
Headlamp and Goggle Compatibility
Most climbing helmets come with slots or straps that allow you to securely wear a headlamp or a pair of ski goggles. On our list, helmets including the Mammut Crag Sender, Petzl Sirroco, and Edelrid Salathe offer excellent modular compatibility with headlamps and goggles of all shapes and sizes.
Multidirectional Impact Protection Systems, or MIPS, are integrated features designed to mitigate rotational forces on the head and brain. Basically, helmets outfitted with MIPS include a low-friction layer between the helmet’s liner and the wearer’s head.
Upon impacts that occur at an angle, this MIPS layer should allow the helmet to absorb the kind of rotational forces often associated with traumatic brain injuries.
MIPS has been available in cycling and ski helmets for many years, but only recently have some climbing companies adopted the technology. Though some studies have shown MIPS does decrease rational forces from impacts sustained during a fall, not all climbing helmet experts agree MIPS provides an advantage in climbing-specific scenarios.
Generally, a helmet with MIPS will cost $25-40 more than a non-MIPS version.
When to Wear a Climbing Helmet
From high-elevation alpine routes to roadside sport crags, a helmet is always a good idea.
Currently, the practice of wearing a helmet for multi-pitch and trad climbing is widely practiced and nearly universal. Trad climbing and multi-pitch routes are often more likely to involve an elevated risk of rockfall. At prominent trad climbing crags such as Indian Creek and Yosemite, almost all climbers wear helmets.
In other climbing disciplines, helmet use is far less standard. In the relatively controlled environment of the climbing gym, few climbers wear helmets due to a decreased risk of falling rock or out-of-control lead falls. Similarly, many climbers choose not to wear a helmet while bouldering or sport climbing.
Though some climbing disciplines are more helmet-prone than others, climbers, in general, are certainly moving toward more frequent helmet use. As experts in climbing and climbing gear, we feel helmets provide significant protection for any discipline of climbing.
Modern helmets are light, comfortable, and minimally intrusive. We advocate for climbers to wear helmets no matter which discipline they’re participating in.
When to Retire a Climbing Hemet
It’s important to regularly check your helmet for damage and excess wear. Helmets can only provide protection if they’re in proper condition.
The time to retire your helmet and purchase a new one depends on the materials it’s made from. Expanded polystyrene (EPS) helmets fracture upon impact to absorb forces and protect the wearer.
Once an EPS helmet has sustained an impact and has cracked, it must be retired. If you own an EPS helmet (such as the Petzl Picchu), check frequently for cracks and deformations on both the interior and exterior.
Remember that major impacts are not the only events that can cause retirement-worthy cracks. Small fractures may be caused by simply dropping an EPS helmet onto a hard surface.
Expanded Polypropelyne (EPP) helmets like the Edelrid Salathe and Petzl Sirocco are semi-flexible and more resistant to cracks. EPP can endure multiple impacts, as long as the overall integrity of the helmet remains in good shape.
If you’ve damaged your EPP helmet and are unsure if it needs to be retired, it’s best to make a conservative choice and purchase a new helmet.
Climbing Helmet Safety Standards
Climbing helmets are designed and tested to meet certain international safety standards. The most common standards for climbing helmets are the UIAA 106 and the EN 12492.
Helmets designed according to these standards must fit into guidelines related to ventilation, chinstrap strength, and impacts from above.
While UIAA and EN standards account for impacts from above (such as rockfall), these standards do not consider a helmet’s ability to protect against back and side impacts. To ensure that your helmet offers around-the-head protection, look for companies that mention it in the helmet’s specifications.
Some companies, like Peztl, have their own internal standards for side of the head protection. All of the helmets on our list include foam that covers the back and sides of the wearer’s head.
Do Climbers Need to Wear Helmets?
A helmet provides significant protection against some of the hazards climbers commonly encounter at the crag. We strongly recommend the use of helmets, especially for climbing outside.
What Is the Safest Climbing Helmet?
The best helmet is the one that’s on your head. All of the helmets we’ve included on this list offer top-notch protection. Any of these models will help mitigate safety concerns. Always make sure your helmet is properly fitted and sized.
Do Climbing Helmets Work?
Yes, climbing helmets provide very real protection against hazards including rockfall and side impacts that can occur during lead falls. To get the most protection out of your helmet, be sure it’s sized and fitted correctly.
Your helmet should stay firmly on your head at all times without slippage. A damaged helmet may not be effective. Be sure to check your helmet regularly for fractures.
How Do I Know Which Size Helmet I Should Buy?
A properly sized climbing helmet will fit securely on your head without any gaps or negative spaces. The best way to determine your correct helmet size is to try on multiple options.
If trying on helmets ahead of time is not possible, you can use a tape measure to find the circumference of your head. A second set of hands is very helpful, so feel free to recruit a friend’s help.
You’ll want to measure the widest part of your head, which is usually found across the center of the forehead, above the ears, and around the prominent bump at the back of your head. Note the measurement in centimeters, as this is the unit most helmet companies use for sizing.
Once you have your measurement, check the helmet’s sizing chart to determine the best size for you.