The 9 Best Climbing Helmets (2023 Buying Guide)
Published on: 10/24/2022
Last update on: 02/17/2023
As a rock climber, protecting your noggin is critical. Of course, your harness, shoes, rope, and hardware are all crucial pieces of climbing gear. But it’s a huge mistake not to include protection for your head! Some climbers only wear helmets for trad & alpine climbing, but even when sport climbing, you can easily be flipped upside down by having your leg behind the rope, not to mention falling rocks, dropped gear, and other hazards from above.
Helmets Save Lives
Heck, sometimes you don’t even have to be on the wall to receive a head injury. I wrote an article for Climbing (1) just last year about an incident where a bystander was hit by falling rock while standing at the base of a climb (it was knocked down by a party high on the wall). This guy wasn’t even climbing, and even though he was actually wearing a helmet, he was placed into a medically-induced coma. Without the helmet, he would’ve been killed on the spot.
This is just one example. I’ve written dozens of obituaries and accident reports in my career as a climbing journalist, and it’s tragic to see how many accidents (some fatal) could have been prevented simply by wearing a climbing helmet.
But not all helmets are created equal, and the protection of a good climbing helmet can come with drawbacks. So the best climbing helmet doesn’t just need to keep your dome safe, it also needs to be lightweight, breathable, durable, and comfortable, to name a few factors.
The key takeaway is that helmets are a necessary piece of equipment for any rock climber, whether you’re just running laps at the local sport crag or firing up a ten-pitch trad route. But you’ve probably already realized that… since you’re reading this article. So let’s dive in and learn a bit more about the 9 Best Climbing Helmets on the market in 2023.
As a lifelong climber, climbing journalist, and gear reviewer, I’ve tested helmets for over a decade and climbed in many (but not all) of the climbing helmets on this list. For those that I haven’t climbed in or had my hands on, I’ll be using reviews, product specifications, and the overall knowledge I’ve gleaned in 15+ years of rock climbing around the world to determine each helmet’s suitability.
It’s important to remember that all the positive reviews in the world won’t guarantee a perfect climbing helmet. The only way to know for sure if a given helmet is the best climbing helmet for YOU is to strap it on yourself. So either: a) order from a reputable retailer, like REI or Backcountry, that will let you return your helmet or B) go to your local brick & mortar retailer to try a helmet (before ordering online for the best deals).
We’ll give awards to each helmet based on its standout attributes. So whether comfort, weight, protection, or price is your biggest concern, you can find the best helmet for you right here. So let’s tie in and get started!
Our Selection of the Best Climbing Helmets of 2023
|Model||Type||Weight||Best for||Best Offer|
|Black Diamond Vision MIPS||Hardshell||8.8 oz/250 g||Overall||Check Price|
|Petzl Sirocco||Shelled foam||6 oz/170 g||Lightweight||Check Price|
|Mammut Wall Rider MIPS||Hybrid||8.8 oz/250 g||Comfort||Check Price|
|Black Diamond Half Dome||Hardshell||12.3 oz/350 g||Budget||Check Price|
|Petzl Picchu||Hardshell||11.6 oz/330 g||Kids||Check Price|
|Black Diamond Vapor||Hardshell||7 oz/200 g||Breathability||Check Price|
|Petzl Meteor||Shelled foam||8.5 oz/240 g||Budget & Lightweight||Check Price|
|CAMP USA Storm||Shelled foam||8.8 oz/250 g||All-rounder||Check Price|
|Black Diamond Vector||Shelled foam||8.5 oz/240 g||Adjustability||Check Price|
1. Black Diamond Vision MIPS: Editor’s Pick Best All-Around Climbing Helmet
The cream of the crop: when it comes to climbing helmets Black Diamond’s Vision MIPS takes the cake. At $150, this helmet doesn’t come cheap… but then again, neither does brain surgery. So we reckon it’s worth the price.
A blend of lightweight EPP foam, impact-resistant EPS, and a rugged ABS shell make the Vision MIPS offer a perfect blend of minimal weight and maximum protection. All told, the Vision MIPS wears like a foam helmet but protects like an ABS one, and it’s certainly the most durable Black Diamond helmet on the market.
The MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection) system means the helmet can rotate up to 15mm under angled impacts, minimizing rotational forces that can occur during lead falls. The Vision MIPS is one of the most protective helmets on the market. While it’s not the lightest helmet around, it maintains a fairly lightweight build (250g/8.8 oz for the Medium/Large model).
It’s also quite comfortable and features the same adjustment system on the Black Diamond Vapor and Vector, though the v-yoke strap here is sewn into place and can’t be slid backward or forward to get the chinstrap to rest directly under your chin. The MIPS isn’t taking high marks for breathability, but 15 ventilation holes are enough to get the job done. At the end of the day, helmets are about protection, and the Black Diamond Vision MIPS is the best of the best.
2. Petzl Sirocco: Best Lightweight Helmet
The Petzl Sirocco is one of the lightest helmets on the market in 2023. But it also receives high marks for comfort. That’s not just because of its low weight, but because it sits deep and secure on the head, with 24 ventilation holes for expansive breathability. This composite foam helmet is constructed mainly with lightweight EPP inner foam, augmented with impact-resistant molded EPS foam injected into the plating on the crown (where rockfall, icefall, or dropped gear would hit).
All told, the Sirocco is highly versatile. The EPP construction means it won’t hold up long-term as well as some other helmets on this list, and some climbers find that the relatively narrow helmet shape doesn’t fit them, and others are finicky about the magnetic buckle on the chin strap.
But if weight and comfort are your biggest concerns, you have to give the Sirocco a try. This ultralight helmet is an excellent all-arounder, one that will serve you from the sport crag to your next backcountry alpine mission. If you’re looking for the lightest climbing helmet, you’ve found it!
3. Mammut Wall Rider MIPS: Most Comfortable Helmet
The Mammut Wall Rider MIPS was the first ever rock climbing helmet to use MIPS technology. At that point, it was a game changer, but it’s been joined by similar offerings from other brands, like the Black Diamond Vision MIPS above, which comes in at a lower price point ($150) than the Wall Rider ($180). However, the Mammut Wall Rider retains top marks for protection and is also an extremely comfortable helmet, relative to many others on this list.
At 250 grams, the Medium/Large size weighs about the same as the Vision MIPS, but many find this a more comfortable climbing helmet, with a plush-padded ergonomic interior and highly adjustable chin straps.
The helmet is adjusted by a minimalist webbing harness eschewing the plastic slider bar on BD helmets (which some climbers find difficult or uncomfortable). This serves to keep it a lighter helmet than it perhaps would be otherwise. It sports 16 vents on the front, rear, and sides that do a great job of keeping you cool on hot days, and is easily one of the most breathable climbing helmets on this listing. An intuitive headlamp attachment makes for another boon.
The Wall Rider sits relatively shalloon the head compared to Petzl and Black Diamond helmets, which some may prefer, and the helmet comes with replacements for the interior’s soft padding so you can swap them out over time. Ultimately, the Mammut Wall Rider is recommended because it’s one of the most protective helmets out there and because some climbers may find it a more comfortable alternative to the BD Vision MIPS.
4. Black Diamond Half Dome: Best Budget Helmet
If you’re looking for the most inexpensive helmet on the market, the Black Diamond Half Dome helmet is your pick, plain and simple. This budget climbing helmet costs less than half the price ($59) of most other helmets on our list.
However, the HD offers more than adequate protection. A hard outer ABS shell means that it remains an extremely durable helmet, while inner EPP foam provides a bit of offset in terms of weight and comfort.
The Half Dome’s adjustment wheel is easy to use and offers versatile sizing. So this helmet can fit a range of head shapes and sizes and accommodate a beanie underneath on cold days or a bandana on hot ones. Headlamp clips round out the offerings.
Sure, the Black Diamond Half Dome won’t ever be seen on lists of the world’s most comfortable and lightweight helmets, but its unbeatable value and solid durability make it the best budget climbing helmet on the market, particularly for beginners.
5. Petzl Picchu: Best Climbing Helmet for Kids
When looking for a climbing helmet for kids, factors like weight, ventilation, and comfort are less of a concern. That’s not to say you don’t want your kids wearing a comfortable helmet, but chances are they aren’t going to be spending days doing multi-pitch climbing on a Yosemite big wall or firing up an alpine route in the Alaska Range. They don’t need an uber-lightweight helmet. They just need surefire protection for single-pitch efforts, typically at a sport crag or indoor gym, and usually on top rope.
So the biggest things to think about with a kid’s helmet are protection, durability, and adjustability. Snagging them an affordable helmet won’t hurt, either, since they’ll probably outgrow it soon enough! The Petzl Picchu hits all those marks, all at a budget price ($60). The hard ABS shell is impact and scratch-resistant, and the deep design provides front, rear, and lateral impact protection.
The Picchu also features a headlamp attachment system, is rated as a cycling helmet, and incorporates a highly adjustable harness, so your little one can continue using this helmet as their noggin grows. Poor ventilation is one drawback, but this is a helmet designed for kids 3 to 8 years old, so we doubt they’ll be spending 10-hour days at a hot crag.
6. Black Diamond Vapor: Most Breathable Helmet
Although the Black Diamond Vapor is technically a hardshell model, the lightweight polycarbonate shell and dozen expansive ventilation holes make this helmet one of the most lightweight climbing helmets of 2023. This is one of the most popular climbing helmets around right now, thanks to a combination of breathability, protection, comfort, and astoundingly low weight.
The Vapor is able to offer this insane combination because of unique Kevlar and carbon rod components that are molded into the foam, resulting in a stronger, but thinner foam. Another benefit of this unique construction is that the Black Diamond Vapor, while not as comfortable as the Mammut Wall Rider, is among the most comfortable climbing helmets we’ve tested. The Vapor also includes removable headlamp clips. Some climbers might appreciate this versatility, while others may bemoan how easy they are to lose.
Unfortunately, as a result of the unique Kevlar & carbon rob design, the Vapor isn’t very durable and is prone to dents and dings. Many have found that minor drops or bumps have damaged this helmet beyond salvaging. So it’s not a great choice for trad climbing, mountaineering, or any other burly missions. This, in combination with its relatively high price ($139) are the Vapor’s main drawbacks.
That said, if you’re looking for a lightweight sport climbing helmet, a helmet for minimalist alpine climbing missions, or just a helmet for hot summer cragging, the Black Diamond Vapor is an amazing choice.
7. Petzl Meteor: Best Lightweight Budget Helmet
At $90, the Petzl Meteor is a bit more expensive than the Black Diamond Half Dome ($60), but it’s still an excellent budget helmet. This is particularly true for climbers with enough experience to appreciate the Meteor’s significantly lighter weight (the Meteor is 110g/3.9oz lighter). It’s also a much more comfortable climbing helmet. The Petzl Meteor sports EPS foam covered on all sides with a light polycarbonate shell that resists minor dings and dents.
This blend results in a significant weight reduction in comparison to ABS helmets like the Half Dome, and a significant price reduction in comparison to lightweight EPP foam climbing helmets like the Petzl Sirocco and Black Diamond Vapor. Many find the Petzl Meteor a more comfortable climbing helmet than the Half Dome, thanks to ample ventilation holes and supple padding. Like the Sirocco, it features a magnetic buckle that can be easier to use than traditional buckles but is also prone to attracting dirt and grime.
All told, this is an excellent budget helmet capable of use from sport climbing to trad, and even ski mountaineering. The only thing that really holds the Petzl Meteor back from being one of the top climbing helmets for beginners is its higher price in comparison to the Black Diamond Half Dome helmet. For beginners with a bit of experience, it might be a better choice because of its lower weight, but in general, the Half Dome is the best budget pick.
8. CAMP USA Storm: Best Do-It-All Climbing Helmet
The CAMP USA Storm is one of the best all-rounders out there. This helmet sports a lightweight polycarbonate shell layer over EPS dome. The Storm is extremely easy to adjust, with a click wheel on the back (twist one way to tighten & one to loosen), though, as with most click wheels, it’s pretty easy to overtighten it if you aren’t careful.
The chinstrap is covered with a fleece liner, which gives it a slightly bulky feel that can be off-putting, but in general, this helmet is comfortable and easy to adjust. 21 vents provide plenty of ventilation, and this is among the most breathable hardshell helmets we’ve worn.
It’s a stellar do-it-all and one of the most enjoyable climbing helmets to use simply because it hits all the marks without overdoing it in any one area.
9. Black Diamond Vector: Most Adjustable Helmet
The Black Diamond Vector is another solid do-it-all helmet like the Storm. It has a similar thin polycarbonate shell covering an EPS main dome, with ample padding to wick sweat and keep you from feeling the helmet resting on your head. But the Vector stands out for its adjustability.
The harness is easy to adjust, and the classic BD plastic tensioning band works extremely well here, so the fit is a cinch to dial in. The overall helmet is also reasonably lightweight, at 240g/8.5oz for the M/L model.
This isn’t the lightest climbing helmet on the market for sure, but when you add in the adjustability and reasonable price point ($89), you have a surprisingly enticing buy, particularly for intermediate climbers looking for improved performance over the BD Half Dome and other budget helmets.
If you’ve noticed, the vast majority of helmets on this list are extremely well-ventilated, and the Black Diamond Vector falls behind there. This and the fact that, like many BD shelled foam helmets, it’s prone to dents and dings, make it sit lower on the list than it’d otherwise be.
How to Find the Perfect Climbing Helmet
The Importance of Wearing a Climbing Helmet
A helmet protects you against some of the biggest hazards you’ll encounter while rock climbing. These include falling rocks and ice, dropped gear, and head injury during a fall, either while on lead or top rope.
Although head injuries aren’t the most common type of climbing injury (most injuries are minor and occur on the hands and feet), head injuries are arguably the most dangerous type of climbing injury, and climbing helmets go a long way towards preventing them.
A 2020 study (2) found that concussions make up nearly 45% of all head injuries suffered while climbing, and a comfortable and lightweight helmet can largely prevent concussions, for example.
Most climbing helmets are pretty affordable, coming in somewhere between $60 and $150, and they can last quite a long time (up to 10 years if you’re lucky). With advancements in technology making the best climbing helmets more breathable, lightweight, and comfortable than ever before, there’s no reason not to #HelmetUp at the crag.
Anatomy of a Climbing Helmet
Most climbing helmets are made up of a dome-shaped piece of foam covered by a hard plastic outer shell. Not all modern helmets have this hard plastic shell, and on other helmets it’s only present on high-impact areas, like the crown of the head, to reduce weight.
Inside, you’ll find a harness system to attach the helmet to your head, with y-straps on either side that come down around your ears, securing under your chin via a chin strap. In addition to the foam helmets have on the interior, you’ll find removable, washable padding for increased comfort. Many of the best climbing helmets also feature headlamp clips on the exterior, in case you’re on the wall when the sun is down.
Different Types of Helmets
Hardshell helmets are the original type of climbing helmet. The name is pretty self-explanatory: these helmets have a hard shell, usually made either from ABS or a lightweight polycarbonate. In days past, this hard “shell” would be the helmet’s only protective offering, paired with a harness inside.
However, most hardshell helmets today also incorporate some sort of EPP or EPS foam liner on the inside of the helmet, and these can be referred to as “hybrid” helmets. The hard ABS shell makes for more durable helmets than shelled foam helmets, able to stand up to much more abuse (think banging around in your gear bag, stemming through gnarly chimneys, and so on). Most hardshells (like the Black Diamond Half Dome) are also much cheaper than their full-foam counterparts.
Shelled Foam Helmets
A shelled foam helmet is primarily made from a thick layer of EPP or EPS foam, protected by a thin ABS or polycarbonate outer shell. Sometimes, the helmet is made from a blend of both EPP foam and EPS foam (these are dubbed “composite helmets”). This blend gives the best of both worlds because EPS is great for shock absorption but cracks on impact, so it doesn’t hold up well long term. A single knock can put an EPS foam helmet out of business. EPP foam, meanwhile, doesn’t fracture and can retain its original shape after minor impacts.
Overall, a shelled foam helmet offers extremely low weight and (usually) improved ventilation. These two factors often combine to mean that shelled foam helmet isn’t just a light helmet but often a more comfortable climbing helmet all around than a hardshell. But that’s no hard-and-fast rule. However, the exposed EPS or EPP foam shell means these helmets are much more susceptible to dings, dents, and scrapes and will often need replacing sooner than a burly hardshell.
Weight, comfort, breathability, protection, and price are the five main factors to consider when buying a climbing helmet. How you rank these factors in relation to one another depends on the type of climbing you do & where you climb. Lighter helmets can work better if you’re spending long days at the crag, but heavier helmets will generally be more durable and hold up better over time (or on rugged, multi-day alpine missions).
For example, if you’re doing a ton of ice climbing, breathability is probably lower on your list than protection. If you live in the southeastern United States, breathability should be paramount to ensure you stay dry in that heinous humidity. If you like to spend long days on the wall, a light helmet will reduce fatigue.
But above all else, remember that protection is the main focus of a helmet. Luckily, all the helmets on this list are safe helmets, but some offer added protective features, like MIPS technology found on the Black Diamond Vision and Mammut Wall Rider models.
One last thing. Don’t forget to consider the helmet’s accessories, like whether or not it has a padded chin strap or headlamp clips. A headlamp attachment system will seriously come in handy for your next alpine start or overnight mission. Although most rock climbing helmets have one, each is different, so find one that works best for you.
How Climbing Helmets Should Fit
For starters, just set the helmet square on your head, with the front rim sitting level across your forehead. Once you’ve adjusted the fit, shake your head side to side and tilt it back and forth. The suspension helmets have should keep your helmet snug and in position without being uncomfortably tight.
Now adjust and buckle the straps. There should be no slack. The front and rear straps should each make a “Y” around your ears when clipped.
Now you can fiddle with the adjustment system to see how easy it is to modify your helmet’s fit. The best climbing helmets don’t just fit well, they’re easy to adjust, too. This is important because, in cold weather, you may want to wear a beanie underneath it; in hot weather, you might want to add a bandana or ballcap.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Technically, a helmet isn’t necessary to go climbing. Many climbers go with only a pair of rock shoes and a chalk bag, some without even that. But a protective helmet is a necessary piece of climbing gear if you want to be safe when climbing. Except for bouldering and deep water soloing, all styles of climbing are best performed wearing a helmet.
Climbing helmets keep you protected from falling debris, such as rock, ice, and dropped or pulled gear. They also protect you in case of a fall, offering impact protection if your head slams into the wall.
No, ski or bike helmets cannot be used for climbing. Cycling and skiing helmets are designed to protect against impacts commonly found in their respective sports, and the same is true with climbing helmets. Sure, any helmet is better than no helmet at all, but if you want to ensure that you’re safe on the wall, you need to wear a dedicated climbing helmet when you go to the crag. Most helmets are made for climbing… and climbing only. There are exceptions, however, like the Petzl Picchu Kid’s Helmet, which is certified for both climbing and cycling.
Ultimately, the choice to wear or not wear a helmet is up to the individual climber. Some climbers wear helmets ice climbing, or on trad, multipitch, or alpine routes. Others wear them sport climbing. Others wear them every time they tie in. But indoor climbing is a bit different. There is no risk of rockfall and essentially no risk of dropped gear. So when top-roping indoors, there isn’t much reason to wear a helmet. However, there is still a serious risk of head injury if you fall while leading. Slamming your head into a plywood wall or a fiberglass hold isn’t much better than slamming it into a rock face. So when leading routes indoors, a helmet is still a good idea. Some gyms will also require it.
This is a question as old as climbing itself, and it’s impossible to answer it here. I’ve written close to a dozen articles over the years trying to debate this question (3), and every week I still see climbers ditching helmets when they should wear them. Usually, they don’t like wearing their helmet because they don’t own a high-quality one (breathable, comfortable, and lightweight). But sometimes, it’s simply because they have goofy notions about “style.” Puh.
A climbing helmet should be snug and secure and sit squarely, with the front rim level across your forehead. The helmet should remain snug if you shake your head from side to side and tilt it slightly back, even when the chin strap isn’t buckled. However, there should be no pressure, tightness, or tension.
If a helmet is cracked, dented, or damaged, it needs to be retired. But regardless of visible damage, anytime your helmet receives an impact that leaves you thinking, “Ok, I would be badly injured if not for my helmet,” then it should be replaced. The helmet’s buckles, straps, and other components should also be free of any cracks, frays, or tears, and the internal foam should be secure inside the polycarbonate shell (if one). Any damage aside, most helmets should be replaced after 10 years, and to be safe, reduce that to 5 years if you climb regularly.
Climber in Medically-Induced Coma After Being Hit by Rockfall
Climbing (retrieved on 10/24/2022)
Head and Neck Injuries from Rock Climbing: A Query of the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System
David W. Chou et al. (2021)
Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology
The Great Debate: Helmets At The Crag
Rock and Ice (retrieved on 10/24/2022)