Sean Villanueva-O'Driscall on Shepton Spire, Greenland ©B Ditto

Although you are free to make your own decision about wearing a helmet when rock climbing, there is no question that they offer a great deal of protection. As technology improves with increases in comfort and decreases in weight, many of the traditional excuses for not wearing a helmet are becoming less relevant.

Confidence in being able to climb a route should not necessarily be seen as a reason to not wear a helmet. Let's face it; you're just as likely to be injured by falling objects landing on your head as you are from taking a fall.

Broadly speaking there are three helmet designs on the market, having decided which of these fits your needs best then fit and features will narrow down your choice further.

The Designs

ABS Shell with EPS Liner
This design features a tough rigid shell with a small layer of Expanded Polystyrene foam which rests almost directly on the head of the wearer. It deals with both the weight issues of polycarbonate and the durability issues of EPS, making them very versatile and a great choice for most climbing activities. They also tend to be better value than EPS models. The hybrid design does however make it difficult to achieve much in the way of ventilation, which may be worth considering for those who mainly climb in warm weather.



Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Foam
This design features a thick foam shell which rests almost directly on the head of the wearer and is the lightest of the three. They often look similar to the cycling helmets which first used the technology, but with a shape that allows them to deal with the potential dangers encountered in climbing. The expanded polystyrene absorbs impact by being gradually resisting compression, meaning that a single small stone could mean your helmet has a large dent and needs to be retired. Even shoving one into a pack full of climbing gear could compromise its protection. The low weight and close fitting shape make them popular with climbers who are pushing their limits on terrain which is free from much objective danger and with those who do not like the idea of wearing a helmet.


Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) Foam
The most recent innovation in climbing helmet materials, EPP is incredibly light, yet also so tough and resilient that it doesn't really need a hard shell over the top of it. This incredible new material results in a helmet that is approximately half the weight of a traditional hard-shell helmet. It feels flimsy when you pick it up, but they're actually quite durable. In our opinion, this is THE style of helmet to go for, so long as the fit is good for you and you're not too budget constrained.Just be careful if you put them down on a windy day as they're so light they have been known to blow away!



Most modern helmets will safely fit the vast majority of adults, however small variations can make a big difference if you have to wear a helmet all day. Models which come in more than one size may provide a more accurate fit and some manufacturers now make models specifically for women and children.

Most adjustment systems now use a small wheel which can be operated with one hand which is quick and easy. This is especially important if the same helmet is being used by multiple people or if you have to adjust layering systems as the weather changes.


This depends very much on personal preference and additional comfort often means less practicality so it is worth trying a couple of helmets on before buying. In general the more padding on the chin strap, and around the headband the better. However often the more comfortable the helmet/head interface the larger the distance between your head and the top of the helmet. When climbing in corners, roofs and wide cracks the extra comfort may not be worth the frequent bashing of your helmet. Ventilation can also make a massive difference to comfort, wearing a close-fitting plastic hat for 8 hours will make concentrating on climbing difficult.

The BMC have launched a Helmet Campaign to promote their use in rock climbing. Find out why below.


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