Whitewater helmets come in all shapes and sizes. They’re an essential part of your river safety kit, and the range of choices can be difficult to navigate.
To start, helmets are all about preference and fit. A whitewater helmet should fit snugly on your head with no forward or backward movement. When the chinstrap is secured properly, it should not lift off your head.
When buying your first helmet, consider the sport you are choosing it for – as all helmets have their advantages and disadvantages. The protection offered by a super-burly helmet for kayaking will be a bit overkill for most other river sports, and probably won’t be the most comfortable thing to wear on a raft all day.
I’ve found that folks who have narrower head profiles tend to fit into the Sweet Protection helmets very well. The Sweet Protection Wanderer is a great helmet for intermediate kayakers, as well as Ducky Paddlers and SUP Boarders.
The Sweet Protection Strutter is very popular as well, especially among rafting enthusiasts because of its long brim. Advanced Kayakers enjoy the additional protection offered from the Sweet Protection Rocker Half Cut and Rocker Full Face Helmets. Aggressive style and industry-leading design sets Sweet apart from the competition.
For paddlers with rounder domes, go for Shred Ready. If you liked the Sweet Wanderer but it didn’t fit your head, the Shred Ready Standard Halfcut is a great choice instead. Rafters like the Shred Ready Zeta, as it is fairly minimal and wears like a baseball cap. Shred Ready’s range of included foam inserts, as well as the HOG (“Hand of God”) Retention System allows for fine-tuning of fit.
Another brand worth checking out is WRSI. I find them to be the most comfortable whitewater helmets we offer, and they fit a wide range of head shapes. WRSI stands for “Whitewater Research and Safety Institute," and their proprietary retention system forces the chin strap to tighten if the helmet brim gets pushed upwards, keeping your forehead protected.
Conversely, helmets that have no brim at all will offer no sun protection. While this seems like a non-issue since sun protection isn’t your first concern when thinking about protecting your skull, a helmet is often something that’s awkward to take off and store somewhere if you are a small crafter and want to throw a hat on when you’re not in the rapids. Therefore, you’ll see a lot of choices out there that are a low-profile brim design to strike a balance between sun protection and immersion safety. These are the best helmets to consider if you find yourself on a variety of different crafts.