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 helmet which catches your eye is likely to be designed specifically as an air sports helmet. Perhaps even specifically for paragliding.
There is quite some variety, mainly from European companies since the sport has been going strong there for several decades.
A few words about the construction of a paragliding helmet...
They have some interesting features actually, when compared to other types of helmets. First the basics. Air sports or paragliding helmets, like most other types, have 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 fiber material. Kevlar is often used, and in the pricier models carbon fiber helps to keep weight down. Manufacturers like to style these nicely so they look good as well as offer great protection. Even with a safety item like a helmet, you can certainly end up paying a little more for the brand name!
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. A slit might have been good enough for a knight on a horse in medieval times, but we need to keep an eye out for other aircraft. That could be other paragliders, hang-gliders or even big radio-controlled models at some sites! 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. The faster you go, the stronger the hisss of the airflow past your ears. Your ears are a great flight instrument, as any glider pilot will tell you.
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.
Tests for trendiness are yet to be devised ;-)
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. There is a standard sizing scheme widely used now, here it is with measurements in centimeters and inches:
XS - 54cm or 21.3"
S - 56cm or 22.0"
M - 58cm or 22.8"
L - 60cm or 23.6"
XL - 62cm or 24.4"
XXL - 64cm or 25.2"
To obtain your own measurement with a tape, start between your eyebrows and then wrap around, just touching the tops of your ears.
One final 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. Some examples currently on the market, in rough order from light to dark are
OK, so they were all shades of grey. There are a few more colorful ones around, but sometimes you have to pay a little extra, say $20. For example
Incidentally, the cheapest helmets from any particular manufacturer are often offered in just the White color.
Ah, now something more important - prices! How much does a paragliding helmet cost? To give you some idea, you can get an acceptably safe open face helmet for just under $100. Good full face helmets are around $150 to $250. The priciest, super-styled full-face helmets for PPG can go to around $450, with an extra $20 or so if you want a visor. And maybe another $20 if you want it in Livid Shimmering Garish Purple ;-)
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. No point in struggling to see out of your helmet when flying into that beautiful sunset after a long flight!
I don't know how many people are fussy about a helmet's weight, but the lighter the better, obviously. As long as the safety level is the same! Around 500g (1.1lbs) is very light for an open face helmet. Around 750g (1.7lbs) is pretty good for a full face helmet.
An issue for some people is whether they can add a headset inside the helmet. Some helmets are designed for it, some aren't.
Photo courtesy of Dan Taylor.
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.
Amazingly, you need to tell some people to fasten the strap! Without being secured, a paragliding helmet is pretty useless. Bumping into something would knock it off, leaving you completely unprotected for further bumps. You could even lose your helmet while in flight, wouldn't that be embarrassing! And expensive.
Don't do any drilling or re-shaping with your paragliding helmet, this will certainly weaken the structure. Most modern helmets are already very well-designed.
If you find Velcro on the strap, it is not how you do up the strap! It's just there so you can stop the loose bit from flapping around in the airflow. Always do the strap up properly, using the buckle.
Because of the materials typically used in constructing your paragliding helmet, you must keep it away from
Finally, it's a good idea to replace your paragliding helmet after 5 years of normal use. Whew! Did you think there would be so much to know about helmets!