Kayak Helmets - White Water Safety

Getting a good fit and design

Helmet Fitting

Safety should be your first concern when it comes to kayak helmets. The whole idea is to protect your head from hidden nasties below your favourite playhole. A cracked helmet can result in compressed vertebrae, head wounds or worse.

The type of kayak helmet you should buy depends on the type of kayaking you’re going to be doing. If you’re planning lots of long-distance, flat water touring your safety needs will be quite different from someone planning some wild whitewater river running, so it stands to reason that you’ll need different helmets for each sport.

Choosing a helmet

First and foremost your helmet needs to protect your head. Your helmet is worthless if it doesn’t protect you from rocks, logs and other unseen obstacles. Helmets work by distributing the force of an impact over a larger area and by providing cushioning from impact with hard objects. The hard shell distributes the force and the lining takes the brunt of the impact.

The majority of kayak helmets are made from fibergalss, a cheap, lightweight fiber with a good strength to weight ratio. However, the newer, high-tech carbon fiber and Kevlar shells give much better impact protection. Carbon fiber is a lightweight, high-strength material that can equal the strength of metal. Kevlar, is similar and one of the strongest commercially available materials - stronger than most steels. It’s used in the aircraft industry and in bulletproof vests. Kevlar, however, doesn’t have good compressive strength so for the very best protection look for the newest range of helmets made from 50 percent carbon fiber and 50 percent Kevlar.

The toughest liners are made from EPS with a thick crush zone and are good for high speed impact protection, such as waterfalling. Minicell foam liners or EPP foam are good for multi impact protection. Ideally look for a helmet with full coverage foam as this gives you good impact protection as well as good insulation - helpful in cold climates when low temperatures can cause headaches.

If you’re whitewater kayaking you’ll need the best possible protection available. Although there’s no American standard for watersports helmets, the European CE EN-1385 standard is a good indication of helmet quality. Norwegian company Sweet make a variety of top-quality whitewater helmets which exceed European standards.

Helmet design

There are a huge number of helmet designs to choose from: basic skull caps, full head over-the-ear coverage, baseball cap styles with neck coverage and sleek radical designs with limited protection. You also get a full choice of colours and patterns from conservative solid color helmets to flash, beanies in vivid patterns. Some companies even make custom helmets. However, don’t lose sight of your safety needs when faced with a choice of stylish helmets. Make sure you choose your helmet on safety features first and looks later.

Good helmet fit

Good helmet fit is essential if your head protection is to be of any use to you at all. A good fit means that the helmet doesn’t move when you shake your head or knock the helmet – even when unbuckled. But it shouldn’t be tight enough to give you a headache. Ideally you want a helmet that is comfortable enough that you can forget about it being there.


Kayak helmets can cost anywhere from about $55 to $150. In every case buy the best helmet you can possibly afford – it could save your life. And if any part of your helmet becomes cracked or worn just buy a new one immediately; it’s not worth the risk.

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