Essential for winter and alpine climbing, where there is a great risk of stones or ice hitting you on your head, and increasingly popular for rock climbing.

Whilst helmets have always been considered essential for winter and alpine climbing where there is a great risk of stones or ice hitting you on your head, they have only become really popular for rock climbing in the last few years due to the advent of lightweight models with good air circulation.

When choosing a helmet there is really no substitute for trying it on, so it's worth borrowing a friend's one to see how it feels and whether it fits you.

There is an interesting article on impact testing of helmets on the BMC website which tends to suggest that the safest helmet for general UK use would one where the construction is all foam such as the Petzl Meteor or Black Diamond Tracer. Beware though that the information in the article was published in 2002 and many of the models have changed now.

There are two major types of helmet design:

Expanded Foam Helmets are largely constructed of expanded polystyrene foam. They are very light and comfortable to wear and it is probable that their invention has greatly increased the popularity of wearing a helmet whilst climbing. On the negative side , a sharp blow from a stone may crack the helmet so badly it can no longer be worn - bad news if you are half way up an alp.

"Plastic" Helmets with a tough outer shell of polycarbonate, polythene or other plastic. Most have some internal polystyrene foam padding. The advantage of these helmets is that they can still be used if, in the alps for instance, they receive a blow from a stone and it is not practicable to replace them immediately. Their disadvantage is that they are generally heavier than expanded foam helmets.

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