Mountaineering & Expeditions

Mountaineering Clothing: How To Choose Best Mountaineering Helmet?

How do I go about choosing a mountaineering helmet?

When it comes to mountaineering clothing and equipment, helmets are a crucial part. Photo: iStock

Mountaineering helmets are a key part of any mountaineering clothing kit list. Why do you need to wear a helmet when mountaineering?

What Is Mountaineering And What Equipment Do I Need?

Mountaineering involves facing a number of dangers including falling rock and ice, whether it has been triggered naturally or dislodged by a climber above you. You could even simply hit your head while scaling an overhang. Just like any form of climbing, you should always wear a helmet when you are mountaineering.


Mountaineering helmets and climbing helmets are essentially the same, however some mountaineering ones are suited specifically to snow and ice.

There are three types of climbing helmets: foam, shell and hybrid.


Foam helmets are not good mountaineering helmets. Photo: Spoton

Foam helmets are made from expanded polystyrene (EPS) covered with a thin polycarbonate shell. They are much lighter than hardshell helmets and are well-ventilated. Foam helmets are good for protecting your head if you banged it in a fall, but not good if a stone or rock fell on top of your head. Impact causes the foam cells to collapse, so they aren’t safe for large impacts and therefore aren’t suited for mountaineering.


Petzl Ecrin Roc helmet is an example of a hardshell helmet, one of the key pieces of mountaineering clothing and equipment. Photo: Petzl

Hardshell helmets are relatively self-explanatory – they are made with a hardshell and a cradle of webbing inside. This style of helmet is much more robust than a foam helmet – it manages small and large impacts by allowing the webbing inside to stretch. On the downside, there is less protection offered towards the rim but it does offer excellent protection on the top.


A hybrid helmet is a foam inner layer under a rigid plastic shell. Photo: Petzl

Hybrid helmets are a mix of the two. They have a rigid plastic shell with a foam inner layer which provides the main protection. The foam inner means the helmet is lightweight and more comfortable, while the hardshell makes the helmet more durable and resistant to impact. This is probably the best helmet for all-round mountaineering.

When you are carrying lots of gear and sweating lots, a lightweight, ventilated helmet will be preferable. Make sure you choose a bright colour so you can be spotted in a whiteout.


As with all mountaineering clothing and equipment, you’ve got to make sure your helmet fits correctly. Photo: iStock

The number one most important thing when choosing a mountaineering helmet is making sure it fits correctly.

Place the helmet on your head. Before you do up the chin strap, shake your head from side to side. The helmet should remain snug. Adjust the chin strap and once it is buckled, the strap should have no slack.

You want to play around with the adjusting system to check it is easy to adjust. Remember you might be doing this in sub-zero temperatures with cold fingers, so you need to be able to alter it swiftly.

Remember all helmets have a lifespan. You can’t just dig out your dad’s old climbing helmet from the 70s and expect it to protect your noggin today. Generally, you should retire a helmet within ten years. Even if it has never been impacted, UV rays from the sun will degrade the outer layer of the helmet.

If your helmet has any dents or cracks, it’s time to give it up. Minor scuffs are acceptable depending on the age of the helmet, but major dings are not. The foam inner should be secure in the shell, not wobbling about.



Photo: Petzl

Many climbers rave about the Sirocco helmet from Petzl. It is one of the lightest helmets around because it is made from expanded polypropylene instead of polystyrene foam. It is built to withstand several impacts and you’ll barely feel yourself wearing it – it is that light. On the downside it is expensive, but many claim it is their favourite mountaineering helmet.


Photo: Black Diamond

Black Diamond’s Half Dome helmet is the most popular mountaineering helmet in their range. It is a lightweight hybrid helmet with plenty of ventilation and a custom wheel adjuster to make sure it fits properly. You could wear this helmet on trad crags all the way up to Himalayan peaks.


Photo: Petzl

Petzl Meteor helmet is one of the best lightweight, ventilated mountaineering helmets on the market. It is a hybrid helmet made with a polycarbonate shell and shock-absorbing foam liner. The soft headband fits comfortably to the head and the magnetic buckle allows you to fasten the strap one-handed. You can also easily attach a headlamp.


Photo: Mammut

Mammut Sky Walker 2 is one of their best mountaineering helmet. If you are looking for an extremely durable hardshell, then this is the one for you. The Sky Walker 2 is made using a polypropylene inner covered with a robust shell. The adjustment system is a thumb wheel which is really quick and easy to use with one hand.


Photo: Grivel

The Grivel Salamander is designed specifically for ice climbing and winter mountaineering. What makes this helmet different to other climbing helmets? It is specifically designed to regularly take heavy impact. It would probably be too weighty for regular climbing, but great if you are tackling ice waterfalls in winter.

For an in-depth guide to choosing the right mountaineering helmet for you, take a look at the BMC’s Helmet Guidebook.

Make sure you also take a look at our guide to choosing your first ice axe, mountaineering jacket, mountaineering boots and mountaineering gloves.

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