Should i always wear a climbing helmet?


I believe that few activities come close to giving you a sense of liberation, freedom, and excitement like climbing does. I started to climb when I was in my early thirties, and I immediately fell in love with it.

Climbing gave me an opportunity to break free from the bonds of society and travel to different places. And I got to experience new cultures and I have also made some friends along the way.

I didn’t always wear a helmet

My experience with climbing goes back 4 years when I started indoors in a very safe environment. Safety was priority number one,  and as such everything inside was configured in a way, to prevent accidents and mishaps. We had foam mats, bolted holds, well-spaced bolts, and there was always an instructor nearby. That’s why the need to wear a helmet never really came up, and the indoor facility where I learned didn’t see helmets as a necessity.

I gradually transitioned from Indoor climbing to Outdoor climbing when I was in Colorado and got hooked immediately:  I loved the outdoor experience and felt one with nature.

Even while outdoor climbing back then I never wore a helmet regularly. I thought safety was good. And I wasn’t undertaking any risky climbs, and most importantly no one around me was wearing a helmet. And compared to others, I would consider myself a pretty “safety oriented” climbers: Following all the safety checks, putting redundancy as a high priority etc.

And while i didn’t wear a helmet I was aware of the risks of not wearing it. Stories of people getting fatal head injuries were nothing new, and even professionals were not exempted. Climbing helmets have a rare distinction of not only making you look uncomfortable. They can also be pretty uncomfortable to wear. At least if you pick the wrong one.

Of course mine was wrong. I had a huge blue helmet from the 90s back then – a big, uncomfortable and suffocating plastic mountain. To be honest, the chances of sustaining a head trauma while climbing are relatively low, and I was willing to take the chances.

When rocks fly

When I met my girlfriend and now wife this all changed though, as we started picking up mountaineering and via ferrata. I finally decided to invest in a helmet and bought her a climbing helmet first to wear when doing via ferrata. But sports climbing without a helmet was still a routine. I was even kind of proud of my decision to forgo them. And somehow nothing terrible happened to me when I climbed without them.

The only rare occurrence of me using a climbing helmet was when going for mountaineering or via ferrata. Simple reason: there were higher chances of encountering falling rocks. As such the majority of my climbing hours were without helmets, and I was pretty confident undertaking any climb without wearing one.

However, my outlook towards climbing helmets changed, after I had a particular climbing session with my wife a year ago. It was one of these moments which could’ve gone incredibly wrong and I thanked god later that it didn’t.

It was just an ordinary climb, but we had some Spanish guys on the route to our left, who were pretty loud and clumsy. And I just had started what was like the 3rd climb of the afternoon, got ready to clip in and *woooosh*:

A piece of rock the size of my head flew by, loosened by the Spanish lead climber to my left. I was so surprised that I almost lost balance, but somehow managed to still clip in. My wife jumped to the side and was missed too – thank god. But I knew: Had this been 20 inches to the right it would have knocked me unconscious easily. And I would have fallen 12feet to the ground – I hadn’t made the clip.

I would have been dead or at least severely injured.
Next day I bought a helmet. It’s that easy.
I was stupid and lucky and in my ignorance, I had taken a gamble.
I decided not to take that gamble anymore.

Not the most fashionable but better then their reputation

Climbing Helmets took a step in the right direction in the early 2000s, they are now much lighter and more comfortable. They’re not as ugly as the earlier models too.
I bought a sleek grey Petzl helmet and I was taken aback by how light, comfortable and functional it was. With a new helmet and much more awareness surrounding climbing Helmets, I started to wear them and have never looked back. Climbing Helmets had now become a mainstay in my climbing gear, and they accompany me no matter what type of climbing I do.

Be it going on traditional routes or sports climbing, I have started donning them everywhere. I have now grown accustomed to having small pieces of rocks fall onto my head while climbing. And when it happens, I don’t even blink, my helmet just keeps debris away from me.

More than just skin protection

Many People tend to think that a Climbing Helmet is just to safeguard your head from falling pieces of rocks. However, the function of a good climbing helmet goes much deeper than that. It can save your head even when suffering a fall as well. Don’t listen to so-called “experienced” climbers who might have nothing positive to say about climbing helmets. Yes, helmets are not cool, but when the rock is loose I swear by them and they saved my head on quite a few occasions. I have seen people suffer head injuries that they could have easily avoided if they had just put on a simple climbing helmet.

Good thing is, I see more and more people wearing helmet nowadays. Helmets still don’t look super fancy. And they can probably never compete with a full head of long hair with a headband looking like an old climbing hippie. But at least they have come a long way from the clunky turtle shells they were in the past.

It not about looks mainly, and I know I will take a helmet over a head injury anytime. In the end, it’s up to you and your preferences. If safety is not your main priority, feel free to ditch the helmet. But if you’re a family father and try to be responsive with the rest of your life – do me a favor and wear a climbing helmet!

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Make sure to check out my article on climbing shoe selection