Whitewater Helmet Guide

16-07-2016 (159)

This guide aims to give you all the tools and tips for buying a whitewater helmet. With so many Helmets on the market this should help you rule out any that are not suitable for you.

The bend test (Multi directional impact protection)

When buying a whitewater helmet I use the bend test to show how much protection it’s going to give by simply placing my hand on the sides and pushing. If it easily bends, this is bad news for your skull. The more rigid it is the more impact it’s going to take.

Helemt bend test


Simply put the more padding the helmet has the more protection you have. Some helmets on the market offer a shell and nothing more. I like to think of my head as an egg; if I were to send it down a rapid I’d pad the shit out of that egg.

Don’t go cheap:

A helmet is one of the most important pieces personal protective equipment in moving water. An impact to the head in moving water comes with a very real possibility of serious injury or death. Even with a helmet on serious injury might not be avoidable; with this in mind give yourself the best possible chance and pay a little extra to be a lot safer. Higher end helmets come with the high price tag often due to newer technology used, such as carbon fiber.

Ear protection:

Whitewater creates a lot of noise, making hearing difficult at the best of times. Covering your earls will only make this hard, so much so that it can cause you to missing vital communications (such as “there’s a log across the river!”) or whistle signals. I would only a buy a helmet with removable ear protection or none at all.



  • Provides protection from the sun. This is vital for anyone working on a river or at sea. Blocking the sun doesn’t just help protect your skin and eyes, but it also allows you to have a better field of vision.
  • Air pockets- Visors help create air pockets for submerged victims i.e. foot entrapment. I have been part of rescues where visors have given victims much needed extra time.


  • Forehead damage – I have heard a theory before that when a big enough impact the visor on the helmet could break and go straight into your forehead. Personally I have never seen or heard of this, but more to the point what would that impact have done to your face without that visor?
  • Acting as a scoop – When swimming in whitewater visors can act as scoops and when the water catches it can throw your head back causing a neck injury. The scoop can rip the helmet off your head; I have seen this many times.


I believe it is important to get w helmet with an adjustable visor and drainage holes to help avoid this.


Make it’s snug. There should be no movement once the helmet is correctly fitted. Try some head banging once it’s on, if it come loose you stand no chance in a rapid.


These buggers have a habit of coming loose on the river. Make sure there is a back up lock for the strap. When adjusted correctly it shouldn’t be able to slide above your chin.

Back up for buckle


Some helmet offers full-face protection. While this isn’t something I have ever opted for I would recommend this for anyone that has trouble tucking in when the roll or anyone looking to head down some major slides. Rivers a often remote and ones your face is bust up that’s game over and invariably a long hike out.

The down side being that it will restrict verbal communication often covering your ears and mouth.



Don’t cut corners. Spend a little extra getting a good fit and strong helmet that fits for your purpose.


Ben Baber

Ben Baber


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