Can You Use A Bike Helmet For Rock Climbing?
A man with an orange helmet rock climbing.

If you’ve recently taken up rock climbing, gathering all the climbing equipment can quickly turn out to be a bit pricey. This is especially true once you wish to move from a climbing hall to climbing outdoors. Rock climbing outdoors entails an important piece of equipment – a climbing helmet. You don’t have a climbing helmet, but you do have a bike helmet. Can you use a bicycle helmet for rock climbing?

Sorry to break it to you, but your bike helmet that’s been gathering dust for a while won’t work well as your climbing helmet. Bike and climbing helmets are not interchangeable. Both of these helmets are designed for their designated activity and type of impact. That being said, when rock climbing, a bike helmet is still better than no helmet.

We will shortly go into more detail about climbing and bike helmets’ specifications and purpose. Before we do that, you may want to check out our blog and find out how rock climbers secure themselves.

Table of Contents

Do rock climbers wear helmets?

Let’s start with an obvious question. Do rock climbers wear helmets? Most mountaineers, ice climbers, and traditional rock climbers wear helmets. However, rock climbers sometimes decide to leave their helmets behind, especially for short climbs and sports routes.

Head injuries are relatively rear in climbing, but they can potentially be catastrophic. Try not to make day-by-day decisions about wearing your helmet when climbing. Make a habit of always wearing your helmet, no matter the type of climb. That way you will avoid concussions, skull fractures, and severe lacerations. If you are into skateboarding, find out if you can use a climbing helmet for skateboarding.

Do you need a helmet for indoor climbing?

Climbing outdoors requires a helmet, simply because of the many risks involved. On the other hand, indoor climbing walls are artificial and there is no real danger of rocks falling on your head. Find out what to wear for indoor rock climbing in our blog.

Head injury is unlikely to occur indoors, provided that nobody kicks you in the head, or falls on you. That being said, always pay attention to your surroundings to avoid any type of injury when it comes to climbing.

Is a climbing helmet different from a bicycle helmet?

We’ve reached one of the main points in today’s article. By now, you already probably know the answer to this question, but it’s worth emphasizing that climbing and bike helmets are different. Let’s first take a closer look at bike helmets.

What are the features of a bike helmet?

First and foremost, a bike or cycling helmet is aerodynamic. A bike helmet is designed with high-speed impacts in mind. After such an impact has taken place, your bike helmet is ready to retire. Bike helmets, similar to cars, collapse in a collision. They absorb the energy from an impact by crumpling and deforming.

Bike helmets are typically made from expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam. It offers more protection against a single big impact. However, it doesn’t regain its shape and it collapses under pressure.

Bike helmets are designed to withstand a single ground impact. These are some of the common features of bike helmets:

  • Very good ventilation
  • Good rear head coverage
  • Aerodynamic
  • Secure so it doesn’t move around
  • A fit adjustor is located in the back of a helmet

What are bicycle helmet safety standards?

There are two main standards of safety when it comes to bike helmets. The first one is the American CPSC standard. The second one is the European EN 1078.

The American CPSC standard stands for Consumer Product Safety Commission. This standard tests bike helmets by dropping a 5kg in the form of a head. This weight falls from 2 meters onto a flat-shaped anvil. Another test is used on a hemispheric anvil and a curbstone-shaped anvil from 1.2 meters.

These tests are performed on helmets in ambient, hot, and freezing temperatures. The tests are also performed after the helmet has spent 4 hours in the water. To pass these tests, the helmet must withstand 5 impacts. Two hits should be on flat anvils, two on hemispheric anvils, and one on a curbstone-shaped anvil.

The European EN 1078 standard is not as strict as the American CPSC standard. The impacts are tested from 1.5 meters. One is tested on a flat anvil and the other on a curbstone-shaped anvil. In these tests, helmets are also conditioned to factors such as UV light, temperature, and aging.

A woman with a helmet rock climbing.

What are the features of a climbing helmet?

A climbing helmet is designed to protect you against multiple impacts to the helmet. The climbing helmet protects your head more effectively against the falling rocks. As opposed to a bike helmet, a climbing helmet doesn’t have wide ventilation slits. The lack of these slits prevents falling rocks from penetrating the head.

Climbing helmets are made from materials that can withstand several smaller collisions without collapsing. They are made from expanded polypropylene (EPP) foam that recovers its form after impact. This feature of climbing helmets is vitally important because as opposed to cycling, you can’t stop climbing just because you’ve had a minor accident. You’ve either got to complete your ascent or return to the ground.

If you manage to bang your head while climbing and you wear a bike helmet, it won’t offer you any further protection after it’s crumpled. In the worst-case scenario, if suddenly some rocks start falling from above, your bike will be useless. That is why we always recommend wearing a climbing helmet for climbing purposes. If you are worried about safety while climbing, make sure you also know how often climbing ropes break.

What are climbing helmet safety standards?

Similar to bike helmet standards of safety, there are two types of safety standards for climbing helmets. One is the European standard EN 12492 and the other one is the international UIAA 106. It’s worth mentioning that none of these standards test a helmet’s ability to reduce a traumatic brain injury. What these standards test is the protection against direct physical impact.

The European standard EN 12492 uses a helmet that is shaped like a head and strikes it with an impact mass of 5 kg. Side, front and back impacts are tested at an angle of 60 degrees. After this test, another strike mass in the shape of a hemisphere falls on the helmet from 2 meters.

The next test involves a flat striker hitting the helmet from 50 cm on the front, back, and sides. As opposed to bike helmets, climbing helmets are tested for penetration too. This is done with a standard strike mass of 3kg that drops from 1 meter. Finally, there is a retention system test. To pass this test, no impact is allowed to transmit more than 10kN of force to the dummy head form.

The international UIAA 106 safety standards use all the same tests as EN 12492. The only difference is that with UIAA 106 transmitted forces are lower. Keep in mind that the lower the transferred force to the head, the fewer chances of injury you have in reality.

How to choose a climbing helmet – a simple guide

We have a good piece of news for you. Not all climbing helmets will cost you a small fortune. There are many inexpensive climbing helmets that can be delivered quickly by Amazon. Make sure to check them out.

When you want to choose the right climbing helmet for you, be sure to consider these three important factors:

  1. The type of helmet
  2. The type of climbing
  3. Getting the right fit for you

The type of climbing helmet

Although you may come across different terms, there are basically two main types of climbing helmets:

  1. Hardshell helmets – these helmets are often referred to as suspension helmets and hybrid helmets. They are inexpensive and durable and feature an extra hard outer shell. Their disadvantages are that they are heavy and not that well ventilated. Since they are primarily designed for top impacts, less emphasis is put on side impacts from falling.
  2. Shelled foam helmets – their primary advantages are minimal weight and good ventilation. These helmets feature impact-absorbing polystyrene or polypropylene foam and a thin polycarbonate shell. They can sustain multiple blows and are typically more expensive.

The type of climbing

Shelled foam helmets are a better choice when it comes to most types of climbing. Shelled foam models are low weight and offer ample ventilation. That is why they are a perfect choice for the following types of climbing:

  • Mountaineering
  • Multi-pitch trad climbing
  • Warm-weather sports climbing

Final thoughts

We hope that this article has managed to emphasize the importance of using the right type of helmet for a designated activity. Bike helmets are meant for biking and climbing helmets are made with climbing in mind.

The final reason why a bike helmet is less than an ideal choice for climbing is that it is not compatible with a headlamp. If you plan a long climb starting in the early hours and finishing after sunset, a headlamp will be essential for your safety and comfort. Check out our blog for more info about climbing equipment and you can find out how many pairs of climbing shoes you need or how long a GriGri last.

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