Summary: A paragliding helmet is a rather important piece of paragliding gear. There are a number of aspects to consider when selecting the right helmet for you. These relate to the choice of full or open face design, field of view, special requirements such as built-in mic, whether it meets the appropriate standards and of course how it fits.
Choosing your paragliding helmet is worth spending some time over. After all, it's pretty important to protect your head! There's a bit more to it than choosing a color, popping it on for a couple of seconds and then plunking down your cash.
Just like other flying accessories these days, a paragliding helmet is likely to be designed specifically as an air sports helmet. There is quite some variety, mainly from European companies since the sport has been going strong there for a couple of decades.
A few words about the construction of paragliding helmets. They have some interesting features actually, when compared to other types of helmets. First the basics. An aviation helmet, like most other types, has a twin shell construction.
A hard outer shell resists penetration if your head bangs against something sharp. And a crushable inner shell absorbs energy which helps to prevent or reduce injuries in a collision.
The outer shell is usually made from thermoplastic or a composite fibre material. Kevlar is often used, and in the pricier models carbon fibre helps to keep weight down. The inner shell is usually expanded polystyrene. It has great energy absorbing properties, but this also means it is easily damaged by quite minor bumps. If you find the inner shell looks deformed or dented, the helmet is not nearly as safe as it used to be, and should not be used.
It's really a personal choice as to how well you protect your lower face. For the best protection, a full face helmet is the way to go. Since they use more material in manufacturing, they cost quite a bit more. The other type is called an open face helmet, since it has nothing covering your mouth and chin.
A good paragliding helmet should not restrict your vision too much. Hence, some manufacturers advertise that their helmet has wide vision or some similar term. They have taken the trouble to design-in a generous field of view, without affecting the helmet's safety.
Something quite new is ear-cutouts which don't disturb the airflow around the helmet. Some designs achieve this with mesh material that sits flush with the surface of the helmet. This gets rid of 'wind whistle', making it easier for the pilot to judge airspeed by the sound of the airflow.
Anybody who wants to make high-quality helmets these days can't ignore the latest standards set down for sports aviation helmets.
A European standard, CEN EN966, is often quoted. This standard has tests for absorbing shock, resisting penetration, and also specifies levels of visibility and head mobility.
The Right Helmet?
A paragliding helmet should fit snugly. It should not slip around your head easily. But at the same time, you should not be able to feel continuous pressure. Here's a tip. Leaning your head forward, grab the rear edge of the helmet and try to pull it off. If you manage to slip the helmet off, it is not suitable for the shape of your head. Keep looking!
Helmets come in quite a range of colors, across all the manufacturers. Many are just shades of gray or silver, and some of the more spectacular colors actually cost a bit more. Incidentally, the cheapest helmets from any particular manufacturer are often offered in just the White color.
A visor is a see-through plate of thermoplastic material attached to the helmet that can be pulled down to protect your eyes. If your visor eventually gets a lot of small surface scratches, it should be replaced.
An issue for some people is whether they can add a headset inside the helmet. Some helmets are designed for it, some aren't.
In common with many other pieces of safety equipment, it is not recommended to get a used paragliding helmet. You just don't know what it has been subjected to. Also, it's a good idea to replace your paragliding helmet after 5 years of normal use.
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First Published: 19 Jul 2007
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