As a hobby climber with a passion for teaching, I love bringing people to the rock for their first climbing experience.
While I always carry an extra climbing helmet for beginners, I’ve noticed a trend for these beginner climbers to show up with their own headgear—usually any type of helmet they can find, and often one they’ve bought for the bike they’ve been sitting on for years in her garage. In case you didn’t know, all helmets are made differently, often specifically for specific risks faced in a particular sport. Wearing the helmet designed for the sport at hand is crucial to protecting your noggin.
A closer look at the differences between a bike helmet and a climbing helmet can easily see why helmet choice matters. While both helmets are designed to offer protection to the wearer, they offer different types of protection.
First of all, a bicycle helmet is usually designed to collapse and absorb the energy of an impact. They literally crumple or snap on impact and are designed to be replaced immediately after a single hard fall. Climbing helmets can usually withstand multiple collisions, as a rockfall scenario can mean multiple consecutive hits. If a climbing helmet were to collapse and lose its integrity, it would leave someone on the rock face with no protection.
Considering the rock fall scenario, this is also an important difference between the two helmets. Climbing helmets often seem to focus on top-to-bottom impact and reduce some of the bulk on the sides and back of the helmet. Meanwhile, a bike helmet has more volume and sometimes covers more of the head, although this doesn’t necessarily offer more protection in a climbing scenario, as that volume is destined to collapse.
The safety standards between the two are also very different. In safety standards tests, bicycle helmets are typically dropped onto a surface from a distance to simulate an impact. In comparison, climbing helmets drop items from all sides to mimic falling rocks hitting the wearer.
In short, cycling helmets are designed to protect someone from a single blunt force impact and are most effective against a flat surface like the ground, while a climbing helmet is designed to withstand multiple objects falling onto the helmet.
Another helmet commonly found in Colorado is used for alpine snow sports. These helmets are similar to a bike helmet in that they are designed to take a single, hard hit, although they offer protection at much higher speeds than a bike helmet. Also, most alpine sports helmets come with insulation to keep your head warm in a cold environment. Water sports helmets also have their own specifications and should also be chosen with care.
Use the right helmet for the right job. Your head will thank you.