Boys' Life magazine

How to Buy a Safe and Comfortable Helmet

Helmets can reduce head injuries in an accident by 85 percent. Always wear one when climbing, skateboarding, biking, horseback riding and participating in other activities in which you need to protect your brain. No matter what, pick one that fits well and is comfortable. Here’s how to pick a safe and comfortable helmet.

CERTIFICATION

Buy only a helmet that is certified for the activity you’ll be using it for.

All bicycle helmets are required by law to meet the certification standards of the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC). Skateboarding helmets aren’t required to be certified, but you should still insist on buying one that meets ASTM standard F1492. Some helmets are dual-certified, meaning they are designed to protect you from a fall from a bicycle as well as multiple impacts dished out while skateboarding or inline skating.

Just check for the sticker inside the helmet with the certification on it, and get one that looks cool and works for what you’re going to use it for.

The Pro-Tec Classic skateboard helmet ($60; protecbrand.com) maximizes protection for skaters with a strong shell and inner foam liner. Plus, it has 11 vents. You won’t pinch your neck in the magnetic buckle, and the dual-direction ratcheting adjustment system ensures a customized fit without having to change helmet liners. Available in four sizes.

WHAT TO LOOK FOR

Take a look at the helmet’s design. The safest helmets are those that are rounded without any snag points sticking out that could hurt you during a fall.

Vents are good for keeping your head cool, but more vents equal less foam and, possibly, less protection. So pick a helmet with no more vents than you think you’ll need.

Finally, if you’ll be cycling or skating around traffic, choose a brightly colored helmet so you’ll be easier for drivers to see.

The Bell Sidetrack bicycling helmet ($40; bellhelmets.com) extends down the back of the head, lower than many bike helmets, while remaining lightweight (10.5 oz.) and cool with a polycarbonate shell and 15 vents. Getting a proper fit is quick and easy with Bell’s Ergo Fit dial. Available in youth and child sizes.

THE PROPER FIT

You should have a snug fit, but not so tight that it’s too uncomfortable.

Some helmets come with removable foam inserts to customize a snug fit. With the helmet level on your head, use your fingers to measure the space between your eyebrows and the helmet.

You shouldn’t have any more than two fingers of space above your eyebrows. You don’t want it flopping down over your eyes either.

STRAP IS KEY

Always buckle your helmet. It only takes a second to strap it on. And if you fall and it’s not strapped, the helmet isn’t going to stay on and won’t do any good. Plus, you’re not looking any cooler wearing it without the strap.

For climbing, the Black Diamond Vector ($100; blackdiamondequipment.com) is a versatile brain bucket. It’s comfortable all day, thanks to a ratcheting adjustment system that tucks inside for storing in a pack. You get full protection for climbing in the mountains, where rockfall poses a hazard, but the helmet remains light enough (8.5 oz.) for cragging on sunny days. Wide vents allow excellent airflow, and clips hold a headlamp.

HOW MUCH IT’LL COST

These days, some high-end helmets can cost up to several hundred dollars, but don’t worry: you can get a safe cool-looking one for much less.

The Bell Local skateboarding/BMX helmet ($60; bellhelmets.com) sports a sturdy APS hard plastic shell that ventilates well, thanks to 10 internal vents. Bell’s Fit System uses an adjustable dial to ensure the helmet stays in place whether you’re hitting ramps at a skate park or practicing ollies in your driveway. Another perk: The Local comes in 12 colors and designs, so you can match it to your board and other safety gear.

TRY BEFORE YOU BUY

Whether you go to a bike or skate shop or a big superstore, it’s important that you try on a bunch of different helmets to find the one that fits your head best. Salespeople in small specialty shops can help you find the optimum fit; in big stores you’re usually on your own.

Either way, don’t just pick one that looks cool. If you’re going to wear a helmet, you might as well have the safest one.

For snowboarding and skiing, slip on the sub-1-pound K2 Diversion ($160; k2skis.com), a classic in snow-sports head gear. It’s now improved with a convertible liner and removable ear pads for use in a wide range of temperatures. The 360-degree fit system lets you dial in a perfect fit, even while wearing mittens. Nearly two dozen vent channels keep it comfortable from the coldest winter days to late spring. Bonus: It pairs well with just about any goggles.

LEARN MORE

Visit the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute’s Web site at Helmets.org to find out everything there is to know about helmet safety.