If you are in a rush the best kayak helmet is the NRS WRSI Current Pro Helmet.
The Kayak Helmet: A Recent History
Since the sport took off in the early eighties, more than ten million individuals worldwide have tried their hand at whitewater kayaking and rafting. Huge swells of powerful, brisk rapids continually call water sport enthusiasts of all levels to try their hand at the sport.
Of course, just because the sport is popular, doesn’t mean it’s always safe.
One average,fifty per year since the later seventies have died worldwide due to unfortunate whitewater kayaking incidents.
Meanwhile, serious and life changing head injuries happen with an even higher incidence. According to some measures, nearly 200 out of every 100,000 participants faced serious injury after a kayaking trip went south.
Frothy, constantly moving waves easily hide jagged rocks, trees, roots, and other debris that can send even the most experienced kayaker flying.
Though the sport is generally safe, one unfortunate death caused a grieving father to take a closer look into the safety helmet industry. In 2006, the talented paddler Lucas Turner, aged twenty-two, flipped his kayak and was instantly killed by a fatal hit to the forehead.
Turner’s father, Gil, looked into the incident and caused some of the most pivotal changes in helmet regulation in the twenty-first century.
Nowadays, most kayak and water sport helmets are designed specifically for the unique challenges of rushing rapids. Lightweight, multi-impact resistant EVA foams, hardy plastic shells, and ear protection have virtually become the bread and butter of the protective gear industry.
Before you head out on your next trip, it’s pivotal that you invest in a comfortable, fitted, and industry standard kayaking helmet. A kayak helmet could just mean the difference between life and death.
The Best kayak helmets go as follows:
- NRS WRSI Current Pro Helmet
- Tontron Adult Whitewater Kayaking Helmet
- Pro-Tec Ace Water Helmet
- Shred Ready Standard Fullface Whitewater Helmet
- BERN Watts Kayak Helmet
Reviews of the Best Kayak Helmets
We’ve compiled a list of the most effective, durable, and comfortable kayaking helmets currently on the market. Each helmet has been outlined for its unique blend of key features.
Depending on your needs, the right helmet for you may different from anyone else’s perfect product. Whether it is the use of carbon materials of supreme ventilation system, each helmets performs very well in its particular category.
1. NRS WRSI Current Pro Helmet
- Best kayaking helmet
- Constructed from lightweight yet dense interior and shell materials
- Comes with adjustable head retention system, removable ear pads, and adjustable visor
Available in shades ranging from Ghost White to Shamrock Green, the NRS kayak helmet is a lightweight yet highly protective product. At just over one pound, the interior of the helmet is constructed from durable and dense EVA form.
With ABS plastic and polyurethane plastics as the shell, the helmet is built to provide improved protection and comfort on whitewater trips. Developed by the Whitewater Research and Safety Institute (WRSI), this NRS helmet features more safety features than its predecessor versions.
The multi-impact shell utilizes a dense blend of different plastics and liners to dissipate the force of impact from trees, rocks, or other heavy debris.
Moreover, the helmet is built with patented interconnect retention – and adjustable EVA pads with different thicknesses – to provide a customized fit for most adult head sizes.
In particular, customers appreciate the inclusion of removable ear pads that provide extra protection from waves, rainfall, and unfortunate sunburns. This pro NRS helmet comes with a slightly extended, bulkier visor that keeps rainfall and sunlight out of your eyes.
- Extended visor provides extra protection against rainfall and sunlight
- Includes removable ear pads for wave and rock protection, as well as additional warmth
- Customizable to fit most adult head sizes due to patented EVA interconnect retention design
- May be too bulky for calm lake expeditions
2. Tontron Adult Whitewater Kayaking Helmet
- Best all-in-one water sport helmet
- Available in wide range of fun shades and glossy patterns
- Buoyant material keeps helmet floating on any body of water
For nearly ten years, the Tontron brand has provided helmets for all forms of caving, climbing, water, and skiing activities. Now, the brand has released an all-in-one water sport helmet.
Constructed from ABS outer shell and quick-dry EVA absorption layer, the versatile Tontron helmet is suitable for virtually every water sport. Available in a huge range of colors and patterns, the lightweight helmet features eleven adjustable air vents for breathability and removable protective elements.
If you’re someone who switches from canoeing, to whitewater rafting, to kayaking every other day, the Tontron might be the right option for you. The compact helmet is highly protective but remains totally unnoticed during any water activity – you won’t be bothered by bulky visors, excessive straps, or too much heat.
The helmet comes with removable ear protection pads that help to provide protection against waves, sunlight, debris, and the cold. Moreover, the adjustable back of head dial provides the perfect fit on most adult male and female head sizes.
Ultimately, it’s the small details of the Tontron helmet that make it worthwhile for kayaking. The helmet is buoyant and, once water conditioned, will float to the surface of any body of water.
Moreover, the retention strap system and adjustor provides nearly every bit of customizable fit you’ll need. Aside from the chin strap, the back of the helmet features an adjustment dial that allows the helmet to sit exactly how it should on your skull.
This helmet has been tested using superior impact energy attenuation tests, showing that it can protect the skull against extreme damage.
- Easily customizable for any form of water activity
- Designed to float to the surface of the water
- Features breathable air vents that keep head temperature regulated all session long
- Some complain the plastic strap around the ears is somewhat painful
3. Pro-Tec Ace Water Helmet
- Best all purpose helmet in and out of the water
- Constructed from dual density materials for higher protection guarantees
- Features frustration and scratch-free chin strap
Aside from its sleek style, customers love the Pro-Tec ace helmet for its extreme durability and versatility. Made from high-impact ABS plastics, the Pro-Tec is lightweight and unobtrusive enough to be used for most activities, including bicycling, skating, and other water sports.
The interior of the helmet is lined with dual density, waterproof EVA foam, while the helmet features eighteen roomy vents for interior drainage. It’s not uncommon for satisfied reviewers to mention that they forgot they were even wearing a helmet.
Of course, consumers should keep in mind that the Pro-Tec does not come with a fully-fledged rear fit system, unlike most other kayak helmets.
Before you opt for the Pro-Tec, you’ll need to be absolutely certain the size will fit your head circumference. While a tight fit causes headaches, a loose fit may be insufficient to protect you against injury.
We recommend that you first go in store to try on different Pro-Tec styles and shapes. When you’ve found the right fit, look up the product code online to get the best deal.
Aside from this slight drawback, the Pro-Tec is considered by most to be comfortable to wear all day long. The chin strap is less obtrusive and scratchy than most other kayak helmets on the market, since it is lightly reupholstered with a thin layer of foam.
- EVA foam interior is dual-density for more comfortable protection
- Ideal for both water sports and cycling, skating, and other activities
- Boasts high number of open vents for ventilation and proper drainage
- Doesn’t include rear fit system, meaning consumer must be careful to get right size
4. Shred Ready Standard Fullface Whitewater Helmet
- Best for dangerous and complex water conditions
- Comes with both jaw and head protection
- Constructed with multi-impact resistant injection-molded ABS plastics and compression molded EVA foam
Are you a serious kayaker? Do you approach truly dangerous and life-defying whitewater stunts with ease?
If so, the Shred Ready helmet provides some of the most robust protection guarantees while you’re out on the water. While the shell material is constructed from pure injection-molded ABS plastics, the interior is built with compression molded and closed-cell EVA foam.
For those who are unaware, compression molded EVA foam is some of the densest and most protective material out there. The helmet can withstand severe, consistent, and continuous impact against the hardest of rocks and trees.
As you can likely guess, this bulky helmet is highly protective yet takes some getting used to. Many kayakers believe that full face helmets are both annoying and not needed.
That said, if you are a serious kayaker conquering the most dangerous rapids, you may be well-served by the Shred Ready whitewater helmet.
Moreover, the helmet is highly adjustable so that you can achieve the most comfortable fit. The interchangeable fitting pads ensure comfort while the the patented Hog 3.0 retention system adjusts how the product lays on your head.
According to customers, Shred Ready provides one of the most affordable, lightweight, and safe kayaking helmets currently on the market. The multi-impact foam can take a few hits and withstand even more serious ones.
The full-face jaw protector prepares you for rocky, tumultuous rolling waves that impact your mouth.
The most common complaint buyers have is that this helmet is uncomfortable to wear, especially at first. However, most of these issues can be avoided if you purchase the right size. It’s recommended that you first try a Shred Ready on in stores before shelling out for one online.
- Provides robust jaw and head protection against all impactful trees, rocks, water, and debris
- Great for serious kayakers attempting to conquer dangerous whitewater conditions
- Includes adjustable padding and head retention system
- Some complain of consistently uncomfortable fit
5. BERN Watts Kayak Helmet
- Best all season kayak helmet
- Constructed with vented and moisture-wicking materials
- Comes with different insertable liners for both warm and cool weather
The baseball, hard visor style of the classic Bern helmet keeps you protected all day long during a complex water kayaking trip.
Ranging in shades from Matte Black to Cyan Blue, the mattefied Watts helmet features a crank fit dial to adjust to virtually any adult head size. With a blended EPS and ABS plastic shell construction, this hardy helmet is ideal for kayaking yet can be used for any number of sports.
The moisture-wicking, premium interior liner pairs with both front and back ventilation for all day physical activity. The front air bents pull air to the head while the back vents allow hot air to exit, keeping your head evenly cooled during both hot and cold kayaking.
This particular helmet is recommended for snow sports, like skiing and snowboarding, in addition to kayaking. It even meets safety standards for biking and skating, providing robust protection against sun damage, weather, and hard impacts.
Customers appreciate the inclusion of the patented ZipMold warm and cold weather liner. Depending on the time of year, this helmet can either become another source of warmth or provide extra protection against the heat.
Like other helmets, the Watts helmet feature EVA foam interior padding and plastic shells that keep it highly weather and water-resistant. It’s a true all-season helmet.
- Works well in both hot and cold weather conditions
- Great for kayaking in addition to skating, bicycling, and snow sports
- Comes with crank dial fit for customizable, comfortable fit every time
- Sizing runs large and is somewhat unintuitive for first time Berns’ brand buyers
How to Select the Best Kayak Helmet
Below, we’ll outline some of the most important elements to consider before you settle on any particular choice. Though many helmets are high quality, the type of water sport you perform and personal preference may play a huge role in what the right product is for you.
Choose Your Helmet Cut
Believe it or not, not all helmets come in one type of shape. In general, there are three types of kayaking helmets appropriate for water sports: half-cut, full-cut, and full-face helmets.
Depending on the type of kayaking you perform, you may be better served by one type of helmet than another form.
Half-cut helmets are standard protective headgear that protect the skull and drain water most efficiently. These are recommended for light lake or white water rafting trips, especially since they don’t get in the way and can barely be felt.
By contrast, full-cut helmets extend past the ears and covers more of the base of the skull. If you’re kayaking in cool water, the full-cut has the additional benefit of improved insulation.
Often, full-cut helmets feature extended visors for sun protection and better weather proof design. It’s not uncommon for these helmets to feature neoprene or moisture-wicking inner linings since they don’t drain quite as quickly as half-cut helmets.
Last but not least, full-face helmets provide the most robust protection in dangerous whitewater kayaking conditions. If there’s a high chance of head impact, the full-face helmet is ideal since it provides skull, ear, and jaw protection.
However, full-face helmets require a trade off with both water drainage and all-day comfort. All in all, you’ll have to consider if this trade off is worth it for your activity.
Keep Materials in Mind
Much like most kayaks themselves, modern kayaking helmets are usually made from hardy plastic shells and high-density interior foams for the most impact-resistant fit.
In higher end helmets, you’ll find the use of injection-molded thermoplastics and composite materials. Compared to natural compounds, composites are usually much lighter, yet stiffer and can handle the damage caused by multiple successive hits to the head.
The vast majority of helmets are lined with EVA, or ethylene-vinyl acetate, foam, which is a closed-cell polymer that acts as a substitute for rubber, vinyl, neoprene, and PVC plastics. The BPA-free material is moisture wicking and highly breathable while providing excellent head padding.
Know these Key Terms
Make sure to keep these important terms in mind when you’re reviewing different helmets to buy. No matter the manufacturer, the helmet should be described in terms of its outer shell, inner lining, and extra straps.
The outer shell refers to the hard, exterior casing around the entire skull that’s meant to take the brunt force of an impact. Outer shells are usually either advertised as harder or more flexible.
Harder shells are better at dispersing an impact across a wider surface area, which decreases the risk of serious injury. That said, more flexible shells are able to absorb impact yet could break at high-speed impact.
Inner lining refers to the materials used on the inside of the helmet that directly contact your head. Most helmets feature dual layers of EVA foam, which help to both absorb and disperse hard impacts.
Strap and Adjustors
The primary strap is meant to keep the helmet secured to your head and is fastened under the chin. Additional straps are usually included, which can be tightened under the base of the ears for a more specific fit.
Other adjustors may sit at the base of your skull, allowing you to adjust where and how the entire helmet sits on your head. They can be adjusted with a specific dial located on the back of the head.
Know Your Fit
Ultimately, if your helmet doesn’t fit, it won’t be able to protect you out on the water. Not only are poorly fit helmets uncomfortable, they may reduce your visibility or attentiveness to unsafe conditions on the water.
Well-fitting kayaking helmets should fit snugly over your whole head down to the base of the skull. Ideally, the helmet should fit past the ears and any visor brim should poke past the peak of your nose.
If the helmet feels comfortable, it likely has a good fit. If you’re purchasing online, make sure to measure the circumference of your head and compare it to standard helmet sizing guidelines provided by the product manufacturer.
Choose the Helmet with a Retention System
Since helmets were first introduced, the method by which the manufacturer has allowed for customizable fitting has shifted subtly over the years. Originally, the only way to adjust fitting was the rider to tighten the chin strap.
Nowadays, the vast majority of helmets feature a fully-fledged retention system for a vastly improved fit. To put it simply, retention systems refer to the interior webbing and points of contact inside the helmet that can be adjusted for the most unique possible fit.
Make sure to select a kayaking helmet that at least has a chin strap and a height adjustment feature. The helmet should be adjusted to sit on the base of your skull while leaving plenty of clearance above your eyes.
If you like to wear ponytails or keep hair out of your eyes, more specific retention systems may be required.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are some product red flags?
Although there are many excellent choices on the market, there are plenty of low quality products out there that court ill-advised buyers.
Whether it’s a poor fit or lack of safety features, some helmets are either consistently uncomfortable or downright unsafe to wear while kayaking.
Before buying a particular product, make sure that it’s certified for water sports and, in particular, whitewater rafting and kayaking. The manufacturer should be transparent about what safety tests and national standards the product adheres to.
Moreover, make sure the helmet clearly states that it has either a rear fit system or retention system. Chin straps are not sufficient to keep you protected against high speed impacts.
What’s the best helmet shell material?
Generally, the most expensive shell material is constructed from kevlar or carbon fiber materials. These are the most lightweight, hardest, and strongest compounds available for whitewater kayaking helmets.
Cheaper, yet just as effective, helmets are made from hardy plastics like ABS. Though they’re not as fancy as newer materials, plastic helmets have a proven track record of protecting kayakers against life-threatening head injuries.
So, is there a best helmet shell material? No. It’s the combination of materials, features, and customizable fit that help to determine the quality of the particular helmet.
Should I wear a full-face helmet?
It can be difficult to select the appropriate helmet. Many buyers struggle between picking a full-cut or full-face helmet, especially if they are gearing up for high power, dangerous rapids.
You need to select a helmet that’s fit for purpose, meaning that it’s suitable for the intended environment you’re using it in. The fastest recorded speed of whitewater rapids is eleven miles per hour; for head protection, most full-cut helmets will be totally sufficient.
Contrary to popular misconception, full-face masks aren’t always “overkill”. For instance, if your jaw or mouth has been weakened by previous injury, full-face helmets may be called for.
Final Thoughts: What’s the Best Kayak Helmet?
At just over one pound in weight, the light yet robustly protective NRS WRSI Current Pro Helmet remains the best kayaking helmet available on the market. Loved by customers worldwide, this NRS helmet is independently certified by the Whitewater Research and Safety Institute for providing maximized safety guarantees on the water.
Featuring nine different adjustable EVA pads and a rear fit retention system, the NRS WRSI is chock full of customization options for any type of fit. The multi-impact resistant, ABS shell will keep you protected while the interior foam keeps you consistently temperature regulated.
Ultimately, it’s hard to find a more comfortable, protective, and certified kayaking helmet than the NRS WRSI Current Pro Helmet.