I bought my first helmet nearly 10 years ago and never gave much thought to it. I was at a symposium and was signed up for an intro to surf class and the class required a helmet. I went to the outfitter nearby and pulled a blue one off the shelf (my kayak was blue and I wanted to match). I pulled it over my head. It fit and I bought it. Fortunately, I got lucky. Unbeknownst to me, I bought a whitewater helmet that was well padded, comfortable, had ear covers, and provided complete head protection – a feature I really like.
So now that I know more about kayaking and paddling in surf and other rough water conditions, how would I go about selecting a helmet? In other words, what features are essential when selecting a helmet?
Basically, there are two types of helmets to choose from and three primary features you should consider.
The two main helmet types are – a full cut helmet (my preference) where the head is fully covered-ears and temples, or the half cut helmet which sits on top of the head and doesn’t cover the ears or temples. The latter tends to be more comfortable and looser fitting and from my point of view is much prettier. The former provides greater coverage and for us risk-averse Babes seems safer. Having said this however, I see half cut helmets being worn by white water paddlers and sea kayak surfers alike.
The three critical helmet features to consider regardless of helmet type are: the material of the outer shell; the interior lining or padding, and the strap system to keep it on your head. Let’s start with the outer shell.
At the time of my helmet purchase nearly 10 years ago, most of the helmets were made of a hard plastic. Today, you can get them in plastic, carbon, kevlar, carbon kevlar. You name it. And the styles and shapes are countless.
When selecting your helmet’s shell, think about where you will be paddling and from what you need to protect your head. Helmets made from carbon and Kevlar are the strongest and hardest material while plastic is less so.
While my uneducated purchase of a whitewater helmet years ago was a good choice in terms of head coverage, the outer shell is made of plastic, so it probably doesn’t afford me the best protection in severe conditions. Even though, it has served me well and I have had no problems (cracks, chips, etc.) and most importantly head injuries. However, as I have evolved as a paddler and find myself in more extreme conditions, I find myself in the market for a helmet with a stronger shell.
The second element of the helmet is the padding or liner. The lining is really important because if you have the unfortunate experience of actually banging your head (unpleasant to say the least) you want to make sure that the liner will absorb the shock and direct it away from your head to the shell. According to experts, there are two types of lining in a helmet – the foam that rests against the shell which is responsible for redirecting shock from any impact and the softer inner layer that touches your head.
When it comes to fit you want a helmet with a snug fit but not a tight fit. If it feels like it’s squeezing you, it’s too tight. If it feels like you can spin it, it’s too loose. A good fit is when the liner is slightly compressed with no space between your head and the foam.
The third element of the helmet is the strap system. In my experience this is just as important as the shell and lining. Make sure your straps fit nice and flat against the side of your face and that the buckle and adjustment system are easy to manipulate so it gives you a nice snug fit. Although, most buckles are made of plastic, make sure it is not the cheaper brittle kind of plastic that could easily break or over time become affected by use and not hold a clasp. I can tell you there is nothing more nerve wracking than to feel your helmet slip backwards off your head as you are about to take a wave or just as scary, feel that the buckle is not securely fastened.
Finally, there is another element that is frequently a consideration for us Babes. That is the fashion element, specifically – color and style. There are a multitude of companies out there now that offer all sorts of styles and colors. Some helmets even come with glitter. My latest favorite helmet company is Shred Ready: shredready.com. I like them not only because they offer a multitude of helmets types for kayakers – style and materials, including the very sexy Vixen – their version of a women’s helmet, but also because their products are of exceptional quality, they have a helpful fit guide and they have a range of prices which gives us Babes lots of options. And we all like options!
So do some exploring. See what’s out there. These tips should help you pick the right helmet for you!
— Kerry Pflugh