Do you wear a helmet when paddling? Usually I do, and it’s a longstanding tradition with me. I’ve been ridiculed more than once for wearing a helmet by someone who doesn’t think it’s needed.
Few people wear helmets except on ‘whitewater’ in the midwest; nor on motorcycles, but there is a high percentage of folks who wear helmets while bicycling. Let’s discuss when to wear a helmet and what kind of helmet to wear.
What kinds of helmets are available? Paddling helmets are made for paddling of course but there are lots of folks who paddle with a helmet made for another use. That implies though that it has not been designed nor tested for paddling, and a manufacturer’s user manual will often warn you to use the helmet only for its designated purpose. Some helmets come with facemasks similar to football helmets too.
Here are a few references regarding helmets:
Reusing helmets from NRS
ICF wildwater helmet rules, search for helmet.
Fit is critical, and may change with the seasons and the time between haircuts. In cold weather or water, I’ll wear a mystery hood or a balaclava underneath, and in the summer a ballcap with a bill. Some helmets fit rounder heads better, and I recommend you get that sort of information from and get fitted by a representative from the helmet manufacturer. What fits me may not fit you, and the demo helmet that fits you in the store may not fit the same as the new one in the box you take home. Fit the helmet you buy before you buy it.
Color is a personal preference. As you can see from my choices I prefer white. In my opinion white is more visible, and it’s cooler. I like the storm trooper look better than Darth Vader.
Helmet shape is a preference as well as a functional choice. To me, the shapes that provide sun visors aren’t enough sun protection. I like to be able to hear too so I’d rather my ears not be covered. A full face visor is overkill for the paddling I do, but not for some.
Clockwise from left: inside view of newer Ace, Sweet Protection Rocker, Shredready Standard.
You need a new helmet when the old one doesn’t protect you. With age and UV exposure, the foam protection and the suspension deteriorates. A crack in the outer shell is an obvious indicator as is that concussion you got instead of having your skull split open. Generally though, it's hard for you to tell a helmet needs replacing. A manufacturer’s representative will know other user's histories with the helmet and may offer an opinion. Of course your paddling friends’ opinions are worth at least what you pay them. Beware ulterior motives though as they may covet your boat or paddle ;-)
One final reason to consider wearing a helmet? If no one wears one, there’s no discussion about the situations where it’s appropriate to wear a helmet. Get one, wear one, buckle up, and start a discussion in your group of paddlers!