By Lori Melton
A head injury during outdoor sports can cause catastrophic injury and even death, because a serious head injury can mean a brain injury. The brain controls all our physical and mental functions—even life-sustaining ones like breathing. Therefore, a helmet is a critical piece of safety gear for all kinds of outdoor sports, including cycling, climbing and water sports. Check out these tips for finding the right helmet for the right activity, that will also maximize protection for the most important part of your body.
It may be surprising to learn that helmets aren’t universally made for all kinds of sports. Instead, different types of helmets are designed to offer protection against common sport-specific injuries. Cycling helmets, for instance, come in three different styles: Sport, road and mountain bikes.
Sport helmets are the most inexpensive kind and are rated for multiple uses. They are suited for recreation, commuters, road biking, mountain biking, skateboarding and inline skating. Cycling helmets are designed to crumple on impact at higher crash speeds. They also have thinner shells, which help them absorb impact better while deforming and lots of ventilation for good airflow.
Road bike helmets are more lightweight, with extra ventilation and better aerodynamics. Mountain bike helmets have visors, and extra rear head coverage. They fit tighter and are used by mountain bikers and cyclocross riders. All cycling helmets should be replaced after sustaining an impact.
Climbing helmets are designed to withstand more impact, due to rocks and debris falling during climbs. Overall, they have less ventilation than cycling helmets, to help prevent rocks from getting in and hurting your head. Suspension and foam helmets are two common types of climbing helmets. Suspension helmets contain internal webbing and the outer shell can regain its original shape following an impact. These are used at lower climbing heights.
Foam helmets are used for longer mountainous climbs which carry bigger risk for falls. It contains foam and a thin outer shell that deforms without return upon impact. Therefore, though they’re lightweight and durable, they don’t have an extended life.
Water Sports Helmets
Paddleboarding, wakeboarding, kayaking and whitewater rafting are all dangerous water sports that carry risks of head injury. Therefore, using a helmet is recommended and offers critical head protection. They usually come in full-cut or half-cut styles. The first type comes down longer and offers ear protection. The second type cuts off just above your ear.
Many water sports enthusiasts prefer helmets made of plastic. They are also made of stronger materials such as Kevlar, carbon fiber and composite polymers.
Fit and Sizes
Helmets come in many different sizes. Getting the right fit is important so that the helmet can function properly and provide the maximum amount of head protection. Multipurpose helmets and kids helmets often come in one size, with adjustable straps and different-sized liners. Some helmets come in basic sizing options like small, medium, large and XL. Others are sized according to the diameter of your head above your brow.
You should try on a helmet before you buy it and if possible, have a sales professional help you make sure the helmet fits properly.
Other factors to consider are adjusting the straps so the helmet fits snugly and doesn’t move around on your head when you move your head up and down or back and forth. If the helmet has a sizing wheel, adjust it before adjusting the chin strap. Also, be sure the helmet is in the proper position by making sure it sits level on your head with the front edge resting about an inch above your eyebrows. Also, remember to leave room for a hat if you are wearing a helmet for cold weather activities.