Kayak Helmets 101 – Full Buyers Guide

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When you’re looking for the right kayak helmet, there are several things to consider, such as they type of kayaking you plan to do and the level of protection you want.

A helmet can be a necessary piece of safety equipment in a range of sports and kayaking is no different.

Top Picks: Kayak Helmets

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But we know how important it can be to find the right one, which is why we’ve put together a guide to help you choose the right style with the right features for you.

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Why Helmets Are Important When Kayaking

Finding the right helmet can be as important as finding the right PFD (Personal Flotation Device). While both can help to save your life, a helmet can help to prevent serious head injuries.

No matter what type of water you’re paddling in, a helmet can be a life-saving piece of equipment if it’s worn properly, particularly if you capsize or fall overboard. And it’s generally recommended that you should always wear a helmet when you’re on the water, in order to prevent injury.

If you’re paddling in whitewater a helmet can be essential and some kayak tour companies and rafting companies might suggest that a helmet is a necessary requirement for certain routes or trips.

Some head injuries can cause brain damage and can even be fatal. By wearing a helmet you are helping to reduce these risks. This is because helmets are designed to absorb impacts, unlike your brain.

Accidents can happen. You can capsize, have to perform a roll, fall out of your kayak, get pushed onto rocks or get caught in the surf. But if you’re wearing a helmet, you can reduce the risk of serious head injury.

How to get back into your kayak

Types Of Helmets

The type of helmet you’ll need will usually depend on the type of kayaking you plan to do. The more extreme or potentially dangerous the paddling, the more safety gear you’re likely to need, which could mean a more protective helmet.

There are generally three types of helmets used for kayaking:

Half-cut Helmets

When you think of kayaking helmets, the half-cut helmets are probably what you’ll be picturing. These are the most minimal of the designs and offer head protection that covers your head but not your ears.

These can often be suitable for a range of watersports, including whitewater and recreational kayaking, as well as other water activities.

Full-Cut Helmets

A full-cut helmet is designed to offer more protection than a half-cut helmet by covering your whole head as well as your ears. This can give you more of a secure fit and added protection in an impact.

These types can be suitable for whitewater paddling as well as paddling in colder conditions where you might benefit from more insulation. Having your ears covered may reduce your ability to hear others around you, so this type of helmet may not be as ideal if you’re in a group of other paddlers.

Full Face Helmets

Full face helmets are designed to offer maximum protection for whitewater kayakers and extreme watersports. They provide protection for your entire face, including jaw and ear protection.

These types of helmets can be useful if you’re kayaking in more dangerous conditions where there’s a risk of injuring your face or head on rocks.

However, because they cover your ears, it can be important to check if you can still safely hear what’s going on around you, especially if you’re paddling with a group.

Useful Features You Need To Know About

Colors

You might think that the color of your helmet doesn’t matter but it can be just as important as the helmet itself in a rescue situation.

Certain colors are more likely to stand out than others. Brightly colored helmets, such as red, yellow, neon green, pink or orange can be more visible on the water than dark or muted colors.

Think about where you’ll be paddling when considering the color of your helmet. If you’ll be in whitewater, white or gray colored helmets won’t tend to stand out as much in the conditions as, yellow, for example.

If an accident does happen, a brightly colored helmet could mean that rescuers are able to see you more quickly.

What to wear when kayaking

Reflective Stickers

Just like you might want reflective stickers on your bike or bike helmet for added visibility, it can be useful to have a couple on your kayak helmet. A reflective sticker on your helmet can help you to be more noticeable in low light conditions, particularly if a search team, for example, is trying to locate you with flashlights.

Stickers or decals with high visibility colors can also be beneficial on helmets that are not brightly colored in the first place. For example, if you opt for a black or white helmet, you could add some neon colored stickers to it, which could help to keep you noticeable on the water.

Drainage

Many helmets that are designed for kayaking will usually have ventilation holes. This is to allow water to drain out faster if you happen to take a dive. But these holes are also designed to let air in so that sweat doesn’t build up and make you uncomfortable.

Some helmets, particularly those that have not been designed for the water, may lack this feature or may offer limited ventilation. This may not be as convenient if you happen to find yourself in the water, as your helmet might not be as quick to drain or dry.

Fit

When you’re looking for a good kayak helmet, finding the perfect fit can be important. While many of the helmets out there come in a range of different sizes you’ll also find that a lot of them offer additional adjustments.

Video: Kayak Helmet Education

Some kayak helmets will have an adjuster system at the back. This can allow you to secure the fit of the helmet around your head, which can help to prevent the helmet from moving while you’re wearing it.

This style of adjustment can also be useful in keeping the helmet securely on your head if you do end up in the water, as the force of the water will often try to push your helmet off.

The chin strap can also offer additional adjustments so you can get more of a custom fit that’s comfortable. When you’re wearing your helmet you shouldn’t be able to move it around on your head. It should remain in place.

You should find that the chin straps can be adjusted both in front of and behind your ears, which can help to secure the helmet in place on your head and prevent it from moving around.

Unlike straps that just have one point of connection to the helmet at either side, these straps under your chin connect to both the front and back of the helmet, effectively helping to ground it, or center it on your head.

A well fitting helmet should cover your whole head including your forehead, and should extend at the front past the length of your nose.

Purpose

If you’re planning to do some whitewater paddling, for example, it can be important that you choose a helmet that has been specifically designed for whitewater. These helmets should then offer you the protection that you need, as well as be durable enough for handling tough water conditions.

Sometimes you might find that certain helmets are either designed for specific sports, such as biking, or a variety of sports. These can be suitable for kayaking only if they are also built for the water.

Helmets that are designed for the water will usually have water resistant construction, such as stainless steel rivets that won’t corrode after submersion.

You may also find that whitewater helmets are more buoyant than those that are designed as multi-purpose or specifically for another sport, such as skateboarding or mountain biking.

Construction

Most kayaking helmets are usually constructed using layers of materials, with each layer adding another level of protection. The outer shell of the helmet will often be made with a hard plastic that is also sometimes reinforced with carbon fiber.

This outer shell is the part of the helmet that is designed to provide the impact protection and is usually built to spread the force of the impact across the rest of the outer shell.

Inside the shell you’ll usually find there is a type of tough, closed cell foam liner that is designed to absorb the impact through its shock absorbing core. This is designed to prevent your head from suffering damage from the initial impact.

Different helmets will often have different layers of lining under the outer shell and you’ll often find that the layer closest to your head is a softer material that can easily mold to the shape of your head when you’re wearing it.

This can also make the helmet more comfortable to wear. Sometimes you might also find that some helmets come with additional and removable layers or liners that can allow you to get a better fit from the helmet.

Video: Kayak Helmet Fitting

This can give you the option of adding additional layers during colder weather, as long as the helmet still fits properly on your head.

9 Best Helmets For Kayaking And Watersports

1: Sweet Protection Wanderer Paddle Helmet

Sweet Protection Wanderer Paddle Helmet

This Sweet Protection Wanderer Helmet is a half-cut helmet designed for whitewater kayaking, up to Class 4 rapids, and can also be ideal for general recreational paddling.

It features a carbon fiber reinforced ABS thermoplastic shell that helps to distribute impacts. Under the shell is a shock absorbing expanded polypropylene (EPP) foam liner and there is also a moisture wicking liner that provides a comfortable fit around your head.

It comes in a choice of colors but most are not particularly high visibility colors. It features an under chin strap with buckle closure and an Occigrip adjustment system at the back so you can adjust on the go.

There are also drainage holes on the top of the helmet to let water out and air in, which should help to keep you more comfortable if you’re on the water for a while.

2: Triple Eight Water Halo Helmet

Triple Eight Water Halo Helmet

The Triple Eight Water Halo Helmet is a half-cut helmet designed for a range of watersports, including kayaking and wakeboarding. It’s designed to look similar to a skateboarding helmet but with added advantage of being rated for water use.

It features an EVA foam liner and top crown inside an impact absorbing ABS shell and has an adjustable chin strap with a four point connection system. It also benefits from a moisture wicking foam liner with a soft fabric that can be easily removed for washing.

The helmet has ventilation holes on the top, back and front to allow for fast drainage if you hit the water. It also comes in a range of sizes and colors for a personalized style and fit.

3: Tontron Comfy Practical Water Sports Helmet

Tontron Comfy Practical Water Sports Helmet

The Tontron helmet is designed as more of a full-cut kayaking helmet but features removable ear protection pads for added versatility and personal preference.

The helmet comes in a range of colors, including bright colors for higher visibility on the water. It features an durable ABS outer shell to provide impact protection and benefits from a shock absorbing EVA foam liner, which is also quick drying for comfort.

There are 11 ventilation holes on the helmet to allow water to drain quickly if you happen to roll or fall overboard. It also features a convenient dial at the back where you can adjust the fit of the helmet with one hand and has a retention strap system to prevent the helmet being knocked off by the water pressure.

4: Bern Unlimited Watts EPS Summer Helmet

Bern Unlimited Watts EPS Summer Helmet

The Bern Unlimited Watts Helmet is designed as a multi-sport helmet that can be used in a range of conditions, including the snow, but is lightweight and breathable enough for summer or warm weather paddling.

It’s constructed with a Thinshell ABS outer shell and an EPS foam lining to provide durability, impact distribution and shock absorption. The helmet is designed using inspiration from baseball hats, giving you a small visor that could be useful for summer paddling.

It features an adjustable chin strap as well as a dial at the back to make minor adjustments to the overall fit of the helmet. The helmet also features drainage holes which can also help keep you cool during warmer weather.

5: Shred Ready Super Scrappy Helmet

Shred Ready Super Scrappy Helmet

This Shred Ready Super Scrappy Helmet could be a good choice for a range of kayaking trips, including recreational paddling but it’s also rated for whitewater.

It comes in a bright color and comes with interchangeable fitting pads to allow you to get the correct size, as the actual helmet is billed as a one size fits most. The chin strap is adjustable and you can also modify the fit using the adjuster system at the back of the helmet.

It features a small visor at the front and benefits from a multi-impact foam liner which, as it suggests, is built to withstand several impacts and still provide protection. It’s also constructed using stainless steel rivets for added durability and protection against water corrosion.

This Super Scrappy helmet can also be worn backwards, if you prefer to have the visor away from your face.

6: NRS Chaos Side Cut Helmet 

NRS Chaos Side Cut Helmet

The NRS Chaos Helmet is a side cut helmet that’s designed for a range of watersports and comes in a choice of colors. It features a tough ABS plastic outer shell with a dual density EVA foam liner, which can help to provide added comfort as well as shock absorption and impact protection.

There are eight ventilation holes in the helmet that can allow water to drain quickly if you capsize and provide breathability during the summer months.

The chin strap can be easily adjusted and held in place with a buckle. You can also get a custom fit around your head using the dial at the back of the helmet. It could be a good choice for whitewater kayaking or paddle boarding.

7: Sweet Protection Rocker Fullface Paddle Helmet (for the Hardcore!)

Sweet Protection Rocker Fullface Paddle Helmet

The Sweet Protection Rocker Helmet is a full face helmet that can be ideal for paddling in more extreme conditions where you’re likely to capsize or could potentially hit rocks.

It features a jaw guard and a shatter resistant visor to provide extra protection for your face in the event of an impact. The outer shell is made from injection-molded thermoplastic and carbon fiber, as well as ABS plastic for added durability.

It also features a durable EPP foam liner and moisture wicking comfort foam layer, as well as having vents in the top for drainage and ventilation. Additionally, there are small vents at the ears to allow you to hear what’s going on around you.

The helmet can be secured with the chin strap and adjusted using the Occigrip adjustment system at the back.

8: WRSI Current Helmet

WRSI Current Helmet

The WRSI Current Helmet has been designed for whitewater kayaking and features an ABS plastic outer shell, a EVA foam liner and a polyurethane sub shell, designed to disperse impacts.

The helmet features an Interconnect Retention System, which is designed to automatically adjust to stay on your head despite water pressure forcing the helmet off. This means it could be a good choice if you’re planning to hit the rapids or are in a situation where you’re likely to need to perform rolls.

It benefits from an O-Brace system which can be adjusted at the back of your head to provide a more secure fit and prevent the helmet slipping. It also features drainage holes and comes in a choice of colors and sizes.

9: Predator Shiznit Kayak Helmet

Predator Shiznit Kayak Helmet

This Predator Shiznit Kayak Helmet is a half-cut helmet that might be a good choice for paddling in the sunshine, as it benefits from a visor that could help shield your face from the bright sun and allow you to see where you’re paddling. The visor can be worn either at the front or the back, depending on your preference.

It features a durable Ravlek thermoplastic shell for protection and a closed cell EVA foam liner to help minimize the effects of an impact.

The helmet can be easily adjusted at the back with the Croc-Lok adjuster system and the adjustable chin strap features a buckle closure and is securely attached to the helmet using stainless steel rivets.

It could be an ideal option for recreational paddling where you shouldn’t be spending too much time under water, as you might find it has fewer ventilation holes than some of the dedicated whitewater helmets so may not drain quite as rapidly.

Conclusion

The best kayak helmet will usually be one that both suits your paddling activity and fits securely and comfortably on your head. A good helmet can help to protect you from a serious head injury and could potentially help to save your life, which means finding the right helmet can be important.

While a helmet can help to protect your brain, head and face from damage, it could also help rescuers to locate you more quickly in an accident, if you make sure it’s highly visible in the conditions in which you intend to paddle.

So when you’re narrowing down your options, keep in mind the activity and the level of risk you might encounter when paddling, as this can help you choose the right type or style of helmet. You should also make sure that the helmet you choose is suitable or has been manufactured for your specific paddling activity.

Choosing a PFD

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