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Old 08-06-2013   #21
KSC's Avatar
Boulder, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2003
Join Date: Oct 2003
Posts: 2,032
I once spent way too much time trying to research information on WW helmets so I have a few additional comments.

First, there doesn't seem to be nearly as much independent research put into WW helmet testing as one might hope, so I think a lot about WW helmet performance is an educated guess.

That said, Shred Ready, Sweet, and WRSI all seem to have valid designs, as far as I can tell. I'm very suspicious of FNA helmets because their impact protection comes almost entirely from the outer shell. Predator seems to be making some ok helmets too (again, as far as I can tell). Consider a few factors for your helmet:

Everybody's head is shaped differently. I decided I wanted to get a Sweet Rocker, but I wore it around the house for 20 minutes and my head started aching. I had a couple hot spots that I couldn't get to fit right. For some people, the Rocker fits like a glove. You simply need to try it on yourself to find the right fit. No matter how good the design is, a helmet that's sliding around on your head or is giving you a headache just isn't gonna cut it. The occipital lock is a big part of the fit equation which should not be overlooked. Sweet has the best one I've seen.


INNER LINER: Most protection comes from the inner liner, not the outer shell. Shred Ready and Sweet take roughly the same approach in their creeking oriented helmets. They use a thick layer of EPP foam that provides the majority of the impact protection and then some softer padding on top of it for comfort. If you're creekboating, you generally want something that will protect you well against the knock out punch, not so much the little hits, so the foam should feel firm when you press on it.

One of the unique characteristics of whitewater helmets is you want them to be rated for MULTIPLE IMPACTS. Your standard bike helmet and many ski/snowboard helmets are designed for one big hit and then they blow up. EPP foam is rated for multiple impacts.

WRSI uses EVA foam, which from what I gather is not as great at absorbing a big hit, but they also have a double layer shell design that presumably accounts for much the impact protection. They seem to have put a fair amount of research into their helmets and the company was inspired by parents who lost their son kayaking and wanted to see a safer helmet on the market, so there's some reason to believe the design has been properly tested.

OUTER SHELL: There are usually two options here, ABS plastic shell, or composite shell. The plastic shell is soft, but much cheaper. The composite shells are usually some propietary blend that varies from manufacturer to manufacturer. In general, it's believed that a well made composite shell provides more protection, especially if the impact is with something sharp (i.e. a pointy rock), as it will be better at dispersing the impact over a wider area on the helmet. The price difference is significant though. For instance, compare price tags for the Shred Ready Standard with the Shred Ready Carbon models.

You need to be able to wear this thing for a while. The poor souls that sported those old SR Lektor Protector helmets know that it's not enough to have a bomber helmet. You need to be able to wear the thing for hours on end. Some people have talked about full face or more full coverage helmets impeding hearing and speaking. Those things can be mitigated however by having proper ventilation near the mouth and ears. Also the position of the face guard (in the case of full face helmets) is important, with a wide enough space to access the mouth, but small enough to provide quality protection. I really like that the Sweet helmets provide ear pads that can keep the helmet from moving side to side around the ears. I told Shred Ready they ought to make those things for their helmets but they blew me off even though I clearly I know more about helmet making than anyone else in the world.

A couple more comments from the responses above:

Hearing/Speaking: I completely agree with deepsouth that usually you're either able to speak to/hear someone or not and the full face is not a breaking point there. I do think there's some validity, that if you're a river guide and constantly having to relay lots of information, then the full face can become overwhelming burdensome. However, I've done lots of new runs with people requiring scouting and group communication the entire way down and have never felt that a full face helmet significantly impeded our ability to communicate. Though I guess I can think of some instances where I or somebody else pulled down or off their helmet briefly, when they were within shouting distance to more easily relay a piece of information.

Snowboarding helmet: I actually once contacted Sweet about the Rocker Full Face helmet when they weren't available in the US and the rep told me the WW version was almost identical to the snow version, except for a goggle strap holder. However, I'd be cautious about swapping in any old snow sport helmet because (I think) a lot of those are single impact. Some WW helmets also take draining water into the design consideration.

WRSI Current w/ face guard attachment: They redesigned it so I'm not sure about the new ones. I had the old one with the flexible plastic guard and felt like it was pretty good, but not as bomber as a regular full face. I pitoned once and had my paddle shaft impact my face as I was violently thrown forward. The WRSI plastic guard flexed and hit my chin. It definitely helped but I had a small bruise from the impact. It makes me think a stiffer FG is better.

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Old 08-06-2013   #22
Littleton, Colorado
Paddling Since: 2010
Join Date: Jul 2010
Posts: 350
Allow me to throw in some of my bias. I have not read the entire thread, but I did read Kevin's post above. I think it's a very objective perspective on the subject.

I told Shred Ready they ought to make those things for their helmets but they blew me off even though I clearly I know more about helmet making than anyone else in the world.
Haha, that sounds like something I would do. They might listen when they sponser you and you risk your sponsership blogging about it or something. Maybe do that after you've given them a couple more emails/voicemails/phone-rants, given them a chance to respond, then boom, "I'm going public with this!" Okay, not saying anyone should actually go to those lengths. There are good options out there as it is.

I like my WRSI. I have the plastic full-face attachment (the old one) but found that I basically don't need it, although it would protect against abrasions I've yet to encounter.

Although I didn't come away from my first classes with much kayaking ability, Alex (of Confluence) did touch on the subject of helmets. One point he argued, was that he has to tuck in when he flips to protect his pretty face, because he's paid to be pretty. Obviously, kind of joking there and it did illicit some chuckling, but he made a good point. If you develop the proper reflexes for a flip, there's not much need for the full-face. I've known people to come away from a swim or being flipped in general, with a bruised face, or a missing tooth. Whether reflexes and proper tuck could have prevented it, I don't really know, but I do know that up to this point, my face, glasses and all, has always come away unscathed; still want to eventually get LASIK, but I digress.

With that said, I fully endorse people wearing full-face helmets on the river. There's a slight increased risk of entanglement, in theory, but I'm yet to hear of that occurring. Never had a problem hearing people speak through them. We know we have to talk loud amongst rapids anyway (if we talk at all). Mostly, I only run into trouble with the ones who wear the ear-plugs; just gotta remember to yell louder or stop to reconsider if what I have to say is even worthwhile.

I use my kayaking helmet for the slopes too, but up until recently, I never wore a helmet anyway, so I can hardly complain. Would've loved my WRSI when I got that snowboarding concussion at the age of 11. All I learned from that at the time, was not to let myself get distracted. The idea of wearing a helmet never entered my mind. If you really lost control and were pushing the limit in the wrong spot and landed on your head, you'd want a motorcycle helmet, or equivalent; maybe a motocross neck-brace as well (still very out of fashion, at the time of this writing; but they do make them).

My perfect helmet right now, would be the standard WRSI with the latest Shred Ready retention system. I might have to frankstein that helmet together, at some point. Although I might want to change out the possibly-questionable mono-filament lines with some strong bow-string or stainless steel cord. I do have a friend whose helmet rode up his forehead too much in the wrong spot; causing a big swollen bump on his forehead, after greeting a rock with it. I think the Shred Ready retention system really helps mitigate that risk. Maybe it's just me, but after that story, I've been constantly tightening and retightening my WRSI when I have the time. It still bobbles up and down a bit if I force it.

As for my motorcyclist-side (strictly-speaking, currently I'm a scooterist), I value light weight in a helmet a lot. Hasn't really been a consideration with kayaking so much, but laws of physics don't change. Having less mass helping your head meet up with the asphalt rendezvous point is always a plus. I value my brains at about $500, so that's how much money I'm willing to spend on a motorcycle helmet, give or take; to make it lighter and hopefully, safer.

Again though, I haven't spared such consideration for the multi-impact world, but the theory should carry over the same, even if it doesn't actually make a big a enough difference to generally matter. I suppose it might, if you're going down those super-steep slides though; like the one where Paul broke his ankle. Yes, Pizzle, word gets around.

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Old 08-07-2013   #23
boogercookie's Avatar
Wheeler, Oregon
Paddling Since: 2008
Join Date: Feb 2011
Posts: 59
I have a shred ready full face brain bucket. Comfy and all but the glue on the padding in it failed after 5 trips. Other than that no complaints

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