Helmets Anatomy & Fit 101

How do I  determine if my helmet needs replacing?  kayak-helmets-hedy-2

How do I pick a GOOD SAFE helmet?

How do I get a GOOD fit on my existing helmet?

If you have these questions or others regarding your helmet then you are at the right spot.  The River Store is working on a comprehensive guide for you to get these answers and more specifics to help you select or improve helmet fit & style.

Basic Helmet Anatomy….

We have seen reviews on line and most mention Outer Shell, Inner Lining, & Strapping System… BUT Good safe helmets really should have 3 Layers of protection and a secure strapping system here is how we break it down.

Outer Shell, Role: To displace/share impact along entire shell reducing shock of impact to head in one single location.  Can be Plastic or a Composite Shell, either works.

Inner Shell, Role: To further displace/share impact along entire shell reducing shock of impact to head in one single location. Can be a hard foam (similar in look but not entirely in structure to bike helmet foam) or it can be another plastic shell which is foamed out within.   Mini-cell foam is not a prefered inner shell liner, in that it doesn’t displace/share the impact through out the shell it tends to pinpoint impact.

Inner Fitting/Lining Role: to get the best possible fit on the head, this is the part that you need to customize so that it is tailored to YOU. The better fitting the helmet the better protection you will have.

Strapping System, Role: To keep the helmet in place securly forward enough so that your frontal lobe is never exposed.  Just far enough back so you can see paddling & swimming.  Securely around the neck so that it doesn’t come off under the chin.
Design features to consider:

  • Temple coverage  (+ covering vulnerable areas, no -)
  • Ear coverage  (+ covering vulnerable areas, – some find it can reduce hearing range)
  • Face coverage either a chin guard or cage design (+ protects chin/face/ears from impact on rocks,  – reduces periferal vision, can limit tucking range to cockpit in some individuals, some fear additional hooking/entrapment hazard, minor bother when trying to hydrate with need to remove helmet to get water bottle to mouth)
  • Incorporated, Brim or Visor (+ increases vision in bright conditions, protective from sun rays, & can increase air pocket if in aerated entrapment situation. – some concern over increased violence to head motion if in big hydrolic, I personally have not found this to be the case with the helmets I have had.)

Are Whitewater Helmets Good for Multiple Impacts?

Whitewater helmets are designed differently then rock climbing helmets & bike helmets . Impact is different in each of these sports and requirements are different. A bike helmet is designed to take a Big impact but the helmet cracks and is useless immediately after the hit.  Rock climbing helmets are designed to take impact from rocks or debri falling from above your head, they offer little impact protection on the sides of the head.

Whitewater Helmets are designed to take multiple impacts from many angles BUT..  here is the catch… MULTIPLE IMPACTS in different places.  If you take a Huge impact in a bike helmet the helmet breaks forcing you to replace it immediatly.  Whitewater helmets can’t do that, you need to still have a helmet to get down a run even if you take a BIG impact just down stream of put in.  So they are designed to with stand multiple impacts in multiple places.   None of the manufacturers will say that your helmet can take heavy impact over and over again in the same place.   SO… to you this means you need to think about the impacts you have taken and if you feel like the hit to your head was substantial enough replace the helmet.

When Should I Replace My Helmet??

Each of us is different in the type of paddling we do, skill set we have and we all have a different level of klutzyness.  My experience is that I need to replace my helmet every couple years, due to my high klutzyness factor, the amount of sun damage my helmet gets  and yes the impacts my helmet has taken. You may have a different frequency of replacement… But here are the factors to consider:

  • IMPACTS Taken… particularly the ones where you hit hard enough to rattle you, and especially the ones that had side effects.. headaches, fussyness, dizzyness, & if you saw stars.  Every impact you take compresses the layers of Foam within the helmet.  This may not be obvious to the naked eye, but the integredy of the tiny pockets of air within the foam is crucial to keeping you safe.
  • Sun Damage.. both to the shell, & to the strapping system. Webbing, plastic & composite all are susceptible to sun damage.  Identifying this you can look at the Color &  flex of the helmet.   Faded Color and lots of flex are not good qualities.
  • Metal parts & Rust… if you use your helmet in saltwater check the rivets are holding up.
  • Fitting material… you can replace this if it is lost… or if the inner softer foam has compressed over time.  You want a secure fit to keep the helmet in place so it can do its job.

Tips for…  Picking a Good Helmet

  • Try on the helmets you are interested in.  FIT is the most important part of helmet selection.
  • Get a shop employee to help you fit the helmet correctly… this can take 10 min or more so go in with some time on your hands & when your local shop isn’t to busy.   Note: one size fits all outfitting may not work for you, someone experienced with fitting helmets will be able to offer suggestions or alternatives to get the fit right for you.
  • Write down the features you want, if you don’t know yet, it helps to sit down and list the type of paddling you intend to do, your skill set & the time of year you paddle.   This way even if your not sure what you need to get, a knowledgeable shop assistant can help you pick the right helmet.  Did you know? Paddling on the South Fork Gorge October-February… the angle of light on the water can be directly in your eyes.  Consider a visor or bill on your helmet if you paddle this time of year.

Need Help Fitting your Helmet? Click Here