Before paddling on white water is always a good time to check whether your helmet is still effective.  So go and dig it out and take a good look at it.

  • Is it showing any signs of wear of damage, such as compression or aging of the foam inside the shell or any damage to the outer shell?
  • Is the chin strap securely fixed and in good condition?

If it fails a simple visual inspection then I recommend that you cut it into two pieces so that it cannot be used and then put it in the dustbin. Now find a mirror and try on the helmet but do not fasten the chin strap.

  • Does it come low enough to protect your forehead and temples?
  • Does it provide adequate protection to the back of your head without compromising your ability to look up?

If the helmet does not cover your head properly then it is time to buy a replacement. If the helmet is in good condition and provides adequate cover then it is time to check the fit, with the chin strap still unfastened. Try sliding a finger between the helmet and your head: if you can get a finger in then the helmet does not fit and will need adjusting.  Depending on the design, it may be possible to adjust an inner cradle or add more foam padding to improve the fit.  Once you cannot get your finger between your head and helmet, try rocking the helmet backwards and forwards and twisting from side to side.  If the helmet fits properly, the skin on your forehead should move with the helmet. If it does not, then you need to spend more time adjusting the fit.

Finally adjust the chin strap so that it holds the helmet snugly in place.  If your helmet has a single strap you can only adjust its length, but if it has a two point attachment on each side you can also adjust the relative length of each strap to prevent the helmet rolling back or forward.

Look after your helmet when you are not paddling.  Clean it and dry it after use.  Store it somewhere cool, dry and away from direct sunlight.

Remember you only have one head and your helmet is the best insurance against damage.  If you are considering buying a helmet for the first time or replacing your helmets here are a few tips:

  • Look for a CE mark on the helmet which shows that it has been tested.
  • Pick up the helmet and push in the sides to see how easily it deforms: if the shell is pliable (and many are) it will provide less protection than a stiff helmet.
  • Try on the helmet and check that it covers your forehead, temples and the back of your head. Check whether it fits or has some form of adjustment or fitting kit.

If you are serious about protecting your head then there are probably only two makes of helmet to consider at the moment.

  • Following a death caused by a kayaking head injury, WRSI have developed a moderately priced helmet that offers more protection than most helmets for paddlers.
  • Sweet Protection currently make the best helmets aimed at paddlers.  They have been developed from ski helmets and have been tested to a more demanding CE specification than any other paddling helmet.  Whilst they cost over £100 they are the only helmet I would trust on grade 3 or 4 white water.  Looking around within the Club and at other paddlers it is my impression that Sweet helmets are worn by most paddlers who regularly paddle on serious white water