The old adage is true: you only get one brain. And as much love as you may give to the mountains, they still toss rocks at you sometimes. As a mountaineer, your brain is your number one tool, and protecting it should be a priority on every adventure.
When you head into the alpine, make sure you come prepared with a solid mountaineering helmet. I’m not talking about a construction hard hat here. Mountaineering helmets have to be both durable and lightweight, among lots of other things.
In this gear review, I’ll compare some of the top mountaineering helmets on the market. I’ll also answer the questions you have about how to shop for the right climbing helmet for you.
What Is A Mountaineering Helmet?
Why do you need a special helmet for mountaineering? Why won’t an old bike helmet do? For starters, mountaineering helmets are burly enough to go head to head with falling rocks, ice, and big falls. Their design allows them to protect you from all sides and redirect falling rocks away after they hit you.
Mountaineering helmets also need to be comfortable enough to wear all day long. Most have low profiles, so they can fit under your jacket hood. They also need ventilation to keep you from overheating while you climb. Lastly, they need to be compatible with your headlamp for climbing in the dark.
My Review Process
As a skier and climber, I’ve “rung my bell” a few times while adventuring. Every time I’ve taken a fall or had minor rock hits, I’ve been grateful I had the foresight to bring a helmet. Over the years I’ve been through a lot of protective gear and learned what works, and what doesn’t.
And now, I’m pleased to pass along what I’ve learned to you. This thoroughly-researched review compares mountaineering helmets based on practical features—the most important of which is their ability to keep your most valuable asset safe.
You only get one brain. These are the best mountaineering helmets to protect it.
A good climbing helmet needs to balance all-around protection with comfort and minimal weight. The Mammut Wall Rider MIPS checks all these boxes.
The Wall Rider uses a hybrid hardshell and foam design to cut weight without sacrificing safety. It’s not the lightest, but it’s also a lot more protective than the lightest helmet on this list. It’s easy to adjust, very comfortable, and well-ventilated.
It also incorporates MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) into the design. This relatively new safety technology offers more protection against concussions and brain injuries than standard helmet designs.
Of course, for top-notch quality, you have to pay top dollar. The Wall Rider is the most expensive helmet on this list. It also loses a few points for its headlamp attachment system, which is a little finicky.
The Black Diamond Half Dome is probably the favorite mountaineering helmet for beginners. For the cost, it’s an awesome jumping-off point to get you up the mountain safely. The Half Dome is a durable hardshell helmet that will survive more than a few bonks. It also has easy to adjust chin straps. The headlamp clips are good enough, but not great.
The price you pay for cheap protection is comfort. The Half Dome isn’t padded very well and the ventilation is lacking compared to other models. Hard shell helmets are also much heavier than a foam or hybrid helmet.
All told, these are small drawbacks if you just need something that will get you to the summit safely.
The Black Diamond Vision MIPS is a close second place for the title of best overall mountaineering helmet. It rates best for protection, featuring MIPS tech and a hybrid hardshell/foam design. The hard outer shell covers more of the helmet than the Mammut Wall Rider and offers more protection for the back of your head.
The Vision ranks well for comfort, adjustability, and ventilation, though the black color traps more heat than other colors. The headlamp clips are also good.
The reason the Vision is not the best overall is its weight. At 240 grams, it’s significantly heavier than similar hybrid helmets, which can be an issue for those counting grams.
Still, for top-notch protection at a considerably more affordable price than the Mammut Wall Rider MIPS, this helmet is a fantastic option.
If your main concern is going light so that you can go further, the Petzl Sirocco is for you. It’s the lightest climbing helmet on the market, with a small, hard plate over the crown of the skull for extra protection. It’s soft headband is amazingly comfortable, and the shell is very breezy. So much so that you might not even notice it while climbing.
These features come at the cost of durability. If you take a heavy impact to the head in the Sirocco, you will likely have to replace it. So despite its reasonable price tag, you may end up spending more in the long run. The shell doesn’t feature MIPS technology, either.
In low-risk settings where going light is key, the Sirocco is my clear winner.
The Edelrid Shield II does a great job of providing safety, ventilation, and easily adjustable fit without breaking the bank. It’s a hybrid helmet that incorporates an easy-to-use dial for adjusting the fit around your temples. The headlamp clip and ventilation system are also great.
The Shield II has a full EPS hardshell and foam construction, so it isn’t the lightest. In addition, this helmet doesn’t feature MIPS tech and isn’t as durable as other hybrid helmets on this list.
Still, this helmet is more affordable than many competitors. For an all-rounder that you won’t have to bother fiddling with much, the Shield II is a solid buy.
The Petzl Meteor is a pretty outstanding mountaineering helmet for its price. It performs well in most categories, offering good protection and an excellent ventilation system. Its straps adjust easily and the headlamp attachment is easy to use. There isn’t much to complain about here.
However, the Meteor isn’t outstanding in any category, either. For a little more money, you can get much better protection with a MIPS helmet. It’s also not the lightest helmet on the list.
I’d consider the Meteor to be a middleman between the BD Half Dome and Vision MIPS. If you’re willing to spend a bit more for ventilation and comfort, the Petzl Meteor is a good option.
For protection while ice climbing, I recommend the Grivel Stealth. The helmet’s interesting-looking design is intended to maximize durability, which is key when ice climbing because ice is almost always raining down on you.
The Stealth provides great protection and comfort for the price. I also appreciate that Grivel makes an integrated liner that you can add for more warmth on the ice.
The biggest drawback to the Stealth is that at this price point, and with protection as the top priority, I would expect Grivel to add MIPS. This is especially important considering how often you get hit with chunks of ice while ice climbing and belaying. It’s also not very light.
How To Shop For A Mountaineering Helmet
There are a surprising number of features, designs, and brands to consider when buying a mountaineering helmet. Some of these matter more than others. Here’s what you should look for when you start shopping.
Coverage And Impact Protection
The number one priority when comparing safety gear is how much protection it offers you.
The first thing to consider is how much coverage a helmet provides around your head. Some opt for more high-profile, burly designs to protect you from more angles and over more area. Others have a sleek, low-profile shape, focusing protection over the most vital areas to save on weight.
In addition, some helmets offer more protection with MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) technology. MIPS shields your neck and brain from angular impacts, which are common in rockfall injuries. Angular force is often what causes permanent damage, like concussions and spinal injuries.
Materials And Weight
Mountaineering helmets fall into three categories according to the materials they’re built with: hardshell, hybrid, and foam. As you might expect, hardshell helmets offer the most protection, but weigh much more. Foam materials are ultralight, but you'll have to retire a foam helmet after just a few impacts.
Hybrid helmets, which cut weight without sacrificing protection, offer the ideal balance of weight and safety. They often cost more, but they are the most functional for mountaineering and have a long lifespan.
When you’re on dawn patrol, you’ll need to bring your own light. Most mountaineering helmets incorporate some kind of clip system to attach your headlamp.
The differences between headlamp attachment systems are minor. But if your headlamp comes off or won’t stay in place while you’re on a technical pitch, you’ll notice. If you find that a helmet’s headlamp attachment system is getting bad reviews from users, that’s a red flag.
Mountaineering helmets usually value ventilation over warmth. Many feature low profiles to fit under your hood or over a beanie, allowing you to make yourself warmer in the cold. But when you’re climbing in full sun and sweating like crazy, you need plenty of ventilation. Mountaineering helmets use ventilation holes (which also reduce weight) to do this.
Consider how you plan to use your helmet when you buy it. If you don’t have a single ascent in mind, something ventilated, but not too ventilated will be the best all-around option.
Adjustment And Comfort
Tailoring the fit of your helmet to your head is important, especially if you’ll be wearing it all day. Most helmets offer multiple points of adjustment, the main two being at the chin and the back of the head. The more form-fitting you can make your helmet, the more you can focus on climbing.
It’s also worth looking for a helmet with a comfortable, padded chin strap.
When it comes to safety gear, it’s a good idea to stick with reputable brands that have been making climbing helmets for a long time. These are pieces of mountaineering gear that have been repeatedly field tested to the point of failure and found worthy of the alpine.
The main brand names you’ll see while looking for mountaineering helmets are Black Diamond, Petzl, and Mammut. Others like Edelrid, Grivel, and CAMP USA are also reputable and have been making climbing gear for a long time.
- The best protection for your dollar is the Black Diamond Vision MIPS.
- The Mammut Wall Rider MIPS offers the best balance of protection and weight for mountaineering.
- For beginner mountaineers, the Black Diamond Half Dome is a tried-and-true product that will get the job done.
- Ultralight fiends will settle for nothing less than the Petzl Sirocco.
*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.