Helmet Buying Guide

Helmets

“Should I buy a helmet?” “Do many people wear helmets these days?” “Is a helmet worth it?” These are important considerations we at Snowcentral hear on a daily basis.

Helmet technology is constantly improving. With features like Boa® adjusters, drop-in headphone pockets, adjustable venting and MIPS, snow helmets have moved past simply being a necessity in snow sports protection; they are also a pleasure to wear.  

With an endless combination of features and styles to choose from, purchasing the right helmet can become a bit of a daunting process. In the following guide, we will break down all the different aspects of purchasing a helmet so you can pick one that will keep you happy and healthy while you’re on the slopes.

 

    Sizing

    Sizing for Helmet
    Head Size for Helmet

    The first step to figuring out which helmet to choose, is of course selecting a size. For those of you at home there are a couple different techniques for this. The first is by taking a dressmaker’s measuring tape (i.e. soft and flexible) to measure the circumference of your head. Run the measure from just above your eyebrows, over the temples, around the back of your head and finish back where the measure starts. The resulting measurement taken in centimetres will be what you use to select a size.

    If you don’t have any fabric measuring tapes handy, the second way to measure is by taking a piece of string or ribbon and running it around your head in the same fashion. Place your makeshift head measuring device flat on a table and use a ruler or metal tape measure to record the space between where the string overlapped on your head.

    Now, using the measurement you’ve just taken, look at a size chart corresponding to the specific brand of helmet you are looking at to determine your size. Many helmet brands will have a similar sizing structure but it always pays to use the most relevant to get a good idea.

    One final way to get the best size for any helmet that uses a Boa® adjuster is to use an actual Boa® sizing device. These can be found in most stores that sell Boa® helmets and is specifically available in our store at Keperra. Just ask any of our friendly staff to give you a hand.

    Correct Fit

    Once you have a good idea of the particular size you are looking for, it’s time to start trying some helmets on. Getting the right fit is very important in order to provide correct protection and proper comfort. A helmet that is too loose will move upon impact and not properly absorb the crash it was supposed to protect you from. On the other hand, a helmet that is too small can produce an area of empty space around the top of the helmet, thereby preventing an all-encompassing protective layer for your head.

    To test the fitment of a helmet, put it on your head and check how it feels. Make sure to adjust any sizing devices to get a snug fit; the chin strap does not have to be buckled for this step. You want to look out for any gaps or empty areas around your head, especially towards the top. Another issue is pressure on the temples or forehead. If the helmet fits comfortably, give your head a bit of a shake. A proper fitting helmet shouldn’t move around too much, even with the chin strap unbuckled.

    Once you’ve given the helmet an initial fit test, put it through a stricter trial. Grasping the sides of the helmet, try to move it back and forth on your head. The skin on your head should ideally move with the helmet, as opposed to the helmet just sliding around like a useless head bucket. This will indicate that the helmet is going to stay in place even during the worst impacts. It would be a shame if the helmet slipped out of place when you needed it most!

    Hopefully these tips will help you to select an excellently comfortable helmet that will protect your noggin’ when you take a tumble and throw the rest of your gear all over the slope.

    Fitment Options

    Boa(r) System
    Boa(r) System on Helmet

    Now you’ve got a couple helmets that fit well it’s time to look at the different options to get the helmet fitting even better. Different brands will have a selection of similar systems to choose from depending on the model of each helmet. Each system will achieve a similar goal in getting the helmet to fit better, but they will require a different action to adjust and each will have a unique feel.

    Boa® System

    The first fitment system is one you may have already heard about. The Boa® System uses a round dial supplied by the Boa® company to enable a plastic band that runs around the head to be narrowed or widened while still wearing the helmet. The benefit of this system is that is can be adjusted throughout the day to get the most comfortable fit without having to constantly remove your helmet. It also allows for a wide range of different sized heads to fit into the same helmet size. Just make sure to check that the helmet foam still sits flush with the rest of your head! Brands you might find The Boa® System include Smith Optics and K2, among others.

    Twist Dial

    Boa® may be one of the more well-known systems for helmet adjustment, but many brands use similar mechanisms to get their helmets fitting the best they can. The In-Form™ Fit System by Giro and RCS Fit System by Pret are two such helmet features that work in a very similar fashion. Each option will help provide better protection by preventing excess movement while you are using your helmet.

    Snap Toggle

    Snap toggle systems function in a similar fashion to a snap-back cap. These are cost-effective solutions that will provide you with a helmet that can be adjusted within a small size range, offering a snug fit. The Lifestyle Fit System in particular, by Smith Optics, offers three separate toggles on the inside of their helmet to adjust the fit, as well as an elastic tension band at the back to provide a more yielding, comfortable fit.

    Air Fit

    Auto Air Fit System by Salomon
    Air Fit System

    Fairly new technologies such as the Air Fit System and Auto Air Fit System by Salomon have begun to be incorporated into a select range of helmets. This mechanism uses an air bladder at the back of the helmet which, when inflated, creates an all-encompassing feel around the back of the head. The bladder can be inflated using a pump at the base of the helmet liner and deflated using a nozzle next to it. The Auto version of this mechanism inflates automatically using air flow through the helmet’s vents, deflating as needed when the helmet is put on. These mechanisms together provide a premium helmet fit that is unique to the Salomon range.

    Adjustable Foam

    Adjustable foam options allow for a small variance with thicker foams and adjustable Velcro placement. This option is common in Sandbox helmets and Scott youth helmets. It is especially useful as an affordable option for children as it provides a bit of growth room, as well as those who wish to remove the foam liner and wear a beanie underneath.

    Different fitment mechanisms such as these can make or break a helmet choice and it’s important to consider each of them when making a selection. Hopefully this information can help when making up your mind.

    Construction

    The way a helmet’s shell is constructed will drastically affect its price and the way it is intended to function. All helmets are required to pass a certain level of impact testing before they are approved for sale to the public. There are two man certifications to look out for; ASTM being the most common American-based standard and CE EN providing additional recommendation in European countries. These standards will be indicated either by way of sticker inside the helmet, or along with any supporting documentation inside the packaging. The major exception to this would perhaps be multi-impact helmets, which are only rated for multiple minor impacts and may therefore not hold these certifications.

    ABS Plastic (Hard-Shell)

    The less expensive option, hard shell helmets are made to withstand strong impacts and can therefore be quite bulky. They will usually stick to the more rounded shapes and may be aesthetically preferred by snowboards; however, they can be used by anyone. They are produced through a process which uses a hard ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic shell with EPS (expanded polystyrene) bonded to the inside. Examples include Smith Holt and Sandbox Classic helmets.

    In-Mould

    A lightweight and more premium option, in-mould helmets are still able to withstand heavy impacts without the added bulk that a hard-shell helmet may add. Production incorporates a thin polycarbonate shell with EPS injected on the inside to provide a closer, moulded fit. Added bonuses include additional vents that can be opened or closed and a wider range of shapes possible through the moulding process. Examples include Giro Nine and Scott Jewel helmets.

    Multiple Impact

    The least durable option in regards to strong impacts, the multiple impact helmet, or soft shell, is designed to withstand multiple minor impacts. Most helmets are designed to be replaced after a significant impact, as this will cause the plastic and foam to split; thereby protecting the wearers head by absorbing the impact. A soft-shell helmet uses a combination of foam densities below the outer plastic layer to allow the helmet to flex somewhat, avoiding the destruction of the helmet from every knock it endures. Ideal for park rats who may receive many small impacts throughout the day. Remember to watch for safety certification, as these helmets may not pass specific impact standards and may not be recommended for travelling at faster speeds. An example of such a helmet is the Giro Discord; specifically designed for freestyle snow sports.

    Liners

    Most helmets will come with a soft foam liner attached via Velcro or other removable option. These liners are for warmth and comfort, but should really be kept in the helmet unless another suitable option for padding is added. If you really must wear a beanie under your helmet, it is advisable to remove the original foam padding before doing so, as doubling up could negatively impact the helmet’s fit. Liners will also often include pockets in the ear covers, to allow drop in audio solutions to be added. Some may even incorporate specific technologies to prevent microbial build-up and static charge. The X-Static liner from Giro specifically, uses silver filaments to prevent bacteria from growing and to dissipate static electricity; they come with audio pockets as standard.  

    Optional Features

    Ear covers

    Most helmet styles come with some sort of ear cover built into the liner. They are there for warmth and also to provide you with audio solutions. The covers are usually removable either by removing the entire liner or simply unclipping the ear cover from the rest of the helmet. They generally incorporate a pocket inside the cover that is often sealed with Velcro, allowing flat audio chips to be inserted once the foam filler is removed. Examples of audio drop in solutions include Outdoor Tech Wireless Chips and the Skull Candy Single Shot Audio Kit.

    Venting

    Although most helmets incorporate some form of venting into the shell to prevent your head from overheating, many helmets include different forms of adjustable venting. Different brands generally operate differently; however, they will achieve the same basic function. Possible options include: sliders, removable foam “plugs”, and regulators which can be adjusted anywhere between completely closed and fully open. The specific option is down to personal preference and we encourage trying out different mechanisms to choose the right one. Venting is an integral part of every helmet, as you are more likely to feel too hot in a helmet than too cold, and it will also help prevent your goggles fogging.

    Brim/Visor

    Some helmets come with a brim positioned towards the front and just above the eyes. This option is intended to function as extra sun protection, as well as adding to the visual quality of the helmet. The brim may also help in preventing goggle fog due to its “wind tunnel” effect through the incorporation of well-placed venting. Examples may include the Sandbox Classic and Smith Variant Brim Helmets.

    Visors meanwhile are a bit of a less common helmet option. They function in a similar fashion as the face visor of a motorcycle helmet. They will provide extra face protection, as well as inbuilt tinting to prevent glare. The downside is they usually don’t work very well with goggles and it may therefore be tempting to use sunglasses instead. Wearing sunglasses while engaging in snow sports is not advised due to the added risk of eye damage in the case of a fall. Prescription eyeglasses however, may be worn with suitable “Over The Glasses” goggles, as these help keep the eyewear in place during a crash. Consider these points when looking at a helmet which incorporates a visor.

    Kids and Helmets

    When selecting your kid’s helmet, the most important consideration is fit. Try to resist the urge to buy a helmet that is too large, expecting your kids to grow into it. If the helmet doesn’t fit firm and snug, it unfortunately won’t do its job. There is a bit of leeway with an adjustable helmet, but keep in mind the helmet foam still needs to sit flush with your kid’s head. Remember to carry out the same sizing tests outlined above, and ask your kid simple questions to try to discern whether it’s the right fit. It is common for kids to complain that the helmet hurts simply because they don’t like wearing it; watch out for these little tricks!

    As far as helmet quality goes, as long as the helmet passes the proper safety certification, the helmet should be suitable. It may be worth considering a helmet a bit higher than your original budget however, as a comfortable helmet that is adjustable may last more seasons than a budget helmet without any adjustability. If the helmet’s integrity has held up over the seasons, you may also be able to pass the helmet down to younger siblings or friends.

    Although helmets are not compulsory for children on all mountains, there are more and more making it a requirement for your kids to ski or board. Specifically, most resorts will now make a helmet required for any kids wishing to go to ski school. Often times it’s worth having a helmet for the little ones regardless, instead of turning up and being told they can’t start until they get their hands on one.

    Remember, damage to the head may be more pronounced in children, as their brains are still developing and their skulls aren’t as robust as an adult’s.

    Goggle Compatibility

    Most modern helmets will be designed to be used in combination with goggles. When combined correctly, these two gear options will provide the maximum protection available to your head and eyes. Remember to always test your goggles with your helmet to make sure they fit flush with your face and helmet. Many people will discuss the concept of a goggle gap as being a sign of an incompatible goggle. The term “punter’s gap” in the southern hemisphere or “gaper’s gap” in the northern hemisphere are common names for this phenomenon. When it comes down to it, this gap really isn’t a problem as long as the goggles are still sealing around the face and not interfering with helmet fit. The only real considerations are that you may get a cold forehead, or end up with sunburn due to sunscreen neglect in this area. A large gap may also provide less than optimal fog prevention if the helmet has been designed with venting above the goggle frame. In the end, it really is just a fashion consideration.

    Many helmets these days are designed with some sort of clip at the back to hold your goggles in place. This may be in the form or a plastic hook, a push button clip with elastic, or even a magnet. These clips help hold the strap of your goggle and prevents them from flying off if you have a fall. A lot of goggles are even designed with a bit of silicone on the inside of the strap to prevent any slippage; just more evidence that goggles and helmets are a perfect match!

    Crashing

    Ski Accident, Helmet Cracked
    Cracked Helmet after Crash

    In the event of a collision or fall (skiers see: yard sale) you’ll be thankful you wore your helmet. It seems to be a rule of the universe that, even the most experienced skiers, will only manage to have an accident on days they decided not to don their dome. Helmets may not make you bullet proof, but they will help prevent terrible damage to the most important organ in your body: your brain. Helmets are really only designed to survive one moderate to major incident of collision. After that they will usually crack or buckle in order to absorb the impact and protect your head. This is a feature and the way the helmet was intended to function. Multi-impact helmets may survive multiple minor impacts; however, they will usually split eventually when you take a harder hit. Try to resist the temptation to continue wearing a helmet that has been affected by an impact.

    Yard Sale: A yard sale is the event in which a skier has a spectacular crash and all their gear goes flying off in every direction, littering the slope in a manner reminiscent of a suburban second hand market of the same name.

    MIPS

    The Multidirectional Impact Protection System, or “MIPS”, is a relatively new helmet technology that has been in development for extensive testing. The most recent iteration comes in the form of a plastic skullcap which sits just below the helmet’s foam liner. This plastic sits on composite material anchors which are able to flex in multiple directions. It is also able to slide along these anchors, therefore enabling the helmet to move independently on the head. This flexibility allows the helmet to absorb more of the hit in the event of a collision, especially with a glancing blow as opposed to a dead-on impact. This technology is made and provided by an independent company to most helmet brands and is therefore only available in select helmet offerings. However, it is a constantly improving technology and will no doubt become a staple in helmet protection.

    A Note on Action Cameras (GoPro)

    GoPro Chest Strap
    GoPro on Chest

    GoPro cameras and other video capture alternatives have become a popular addition to helmets in recent years. It is important to consider safety when deciding whether to attach one to your helmet. Michael Schumacher was left in a coma after skiing into a rock during a ski trip with his family. His helmet shattered while only travelling at moderate speed and it has been speculated that his helmet-mounted camera may have been the culprit, as it appeared completely unharmed in comparison. Regardless of whether it was at fault, it can’t be argued that the intention of a helmet is to buckle under pressure and absorb impact; something which may be interfered with when a solid object like a camera is incorporated. Further, adding an object which sticks out from the helmet may provide an area with which to snag and rotate your head dangerously. For these reasons, it is advisable to mount your camera somewhere away from the head; such as on the torso using a harness.

    Helmet Replacement

    Most helmet manufacturers will provide some sort of guarantee for their helmet undergoing general use. This is usually in the form of a warranty that will vary in duration and scope depending on the specific manufacturer. Consult the included documentation or the manufacturer’s website for more information on what is covered. A general warranty will most often cover manufacturing faults such as clips, glue or foam deteriorating without any signs of heat damage or unnecessary force. If the helmet is identified as otherwise being unable to carry out its purpose in protecting your head when new from the box, it may be covered by the manufacturer’s warranty. In such a case, bring the helmet back to the place of purchase along with the receipt, where it will then be sent back to the supplier to be assessed and possibly replaced.

    If a helmet has buckled or split from the result of an impact or damage during transit, it is unfortunately not covered by any warranty as the helmet has acted as designed. In such a case, it is probably time to seek out a replacement helmet using the tips discussed in this article.

    Afterword

    The tips and examples in this article have been provided to help you select the best helmet possible. Some aspects of helmet selection will be up to the individual buying the helmet and therefore may differ from the opinions in this article. In the end, safety on the mountain is up to you as an individual. Safety gear will help prevent severe damage in the case of an accident, but the best way to avoid getting hurt is to be safe and sensible at all times.

    So, go out there and have a great time shredding up the mountain. You’ll appreciate your new headgear when the time comes!


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