Tuesday, June 18, 2013
A quick note about design: if you're more worried about how it looks, then maybe you should find another sport. Yes, there's fashion in kayaking. But it should always come after function, especially when the function is safety.
To a certain extent, the most important thing is that the helmet fits. If it doesn't, it won't stay on when it's needed or the owner won't want to wear it in the first place. Make sure it's comfortable. Take your time to outfit it well. Add some fit pads so it comfortably touches in many spots Adjust the chin strap so it's tight - it should make chewing a challenge. When you shake your head no the helmet should move with your head, when you push on the brim it shouldn't lift off your forehead. It should come down low enough to cover your temples and your occipital lobe (lower back of skull).
You can't tell how a helmet will fit and what it will cover without trying it on. Some small looking helmets actually cover the important areas. Some large helmets might still sit too high on the head and leave your forehead exposed. Try it on, look in the mirror, get a friend to tell you how it sits in the back. There's no other way than trying and I often take up to an hour to adjust and pad out a new helmet.
Some foams are better than others. The best is EPP (expanded polypropylene). It's got better energy absorption properties than standard minicell (often EPE - Expanded Polyethylene or EVA - Ethylene Vinyl Acetate). And all foams come in different thicknesses and densities. The dense stuff isn't as comfy but it absorbs more energy. Lots of companies either have two layers (a dense outside layer with a thinner, comfier liner) or they have fit pads that are softer to make the fit more comfortable. If you can compress the foam with your hands to touch the shell it is too soft or too thin.
And important thing to note is that even though helmets are designed to handle repeated blows, if the impact is large enough it will deform the foam and limit it's ability to handle more blows in the future. BUT YOU CAN'T SEE IT. You may not notice any difference in the foam but if you take a large hit you should think about retiring your helmet even if it looks fine. Some people talk about 'repairing' their cracked helmet - even if you do repair the glass shell you can't repair foam. It would need to be replaced.
Another thing of note is shape. Helmets with a large brim (like the Sweet Strutter) can catch current and exert a tremendous force on your neck pushing the helmet back. Not good for surfing - river or ocean. Full face helmets can protect your teeth (and good looks) but can limit your communication. Some people talk about the danger of snagging the front bar of a full face, but I've never heard of it happening. On the other hand, I personally know several paddlers who have lost teeth and so does everyone else.
So take your time and put some thought into your helmet. You don't need to spend a ton of money - the most expensive is not always the best or necessary. But start with what fits. Pay attention to what it's made of. And keep in mind what you are going to be using it for.