Buying Guide for Helmets and Elbow/Knee Pads

A helmet is a total non-negotiable. If you don’t want to wear a helmet then don’t go for a ride. Even professionals wear helmets, so don’t think you can get away without one.

The good news is that if you buy the right helmet you don’t have to worry about looking lame or being uncomfortable. The right helmet at the right price is out there. In this article I’m going to go through some of the most important factors that you have to take into consideration when looking for a new lid for your head.

Helmet Type

Different activities have different helmets associated with them. The best all-round solution is known as a multi-sport helmet, which can be used for skating, inline skating, and even riding bikes. Make sure it has CPSC certification. If you want to ride a bicycle you may be better off getting a bicycle helmet specifically, as they tend to be more aerodynamic and have visors.

Don’t be tempted to get a motorcycle helmet unless your vehicle does speeds that warrant it. Although it seems like a good idea to get a helmet that is designed to take harder impacts, the tradeoff is that these helmets are heavier, restrict your vision, and may actually injure your neck in a low speed crash, where a multi-sport helmet would not have these limitations.

Helmet Label

Hard Shell or Soft?

Some helmets such as the Triple Eight Brainsaver have a soft rubber and foam shell. This is plenty good for falling on the road or other smooth surfaces, but if you are riding in a place where you are likely to hit something that could puncture a soft shell helmet, like a sharp rock or stick, you may be better off dealing with the greater weight of a hard shell helmet.

Some hard shell helmets are multi-impact; this makes them appropriate for trick riding, when you expect to fall a lot. If you think you’ll be banging your head on the pavement often, definitely go for one of these.

Ventilation

Striking a balance between ventilation and protection can be hard – the more holes in the helmet the more places a sharp object can directly hit your skull. Look for a helmet that has adequate ventilation but vents that are not easily penetrated.

Lining

Not only is it annoying to have sweat run into your eyes, it’s genuinely dangerous too. You really want to go for a lining that is anti-odor and sweat-absorbing. You want it to wick the sweat away from your head and expel it via ventilation.

Fit and Sizing

The best helmet in the world is worth nothing if it doesn’t fit right. The helmet should not hurt or squeeze your head, but should fit snugly enough to move your eyebrows around if you pull it upwards gently.

To measure your head, run a measuring tape around the widest part of the skull – above your ears, eyebrows, and the base of the skull itself. Make sure that the helmet you are looking to buy falls within this size range. Some helmets give you the ability to adjust their fit more precisely with interchangeable pads or a dial that operates a hard band on the inside of the helmet. This might be for you if your head is in a questionable area of a size range or you really want the fit to be perfect. This feature does add a few dollars to the price of a helmet, though.

Helmet Sizing

Looks

Hey, don’t underestimate the importance of good looks when it comes to an accessory. It’s important that you feel confident while wearing your helmet, so the look of it needs to appeal to you. Personally, I’ll only buy a helmet with a matte finish since I think glossy finishes look cheap. You may feel the opposite, but only your opinion matters.

Price

Price is not the only deciding factor when it comes to how protective a helmet is. Pay attention to the certification, testing, and impact ratings of the helmet. Do your homework and find out the recommended use for the particular helmet you have in mind. More expensive does not mean better, and often the price is hiked up thanks to extra features that may be of no use to you. It’s rare for a multi-sport helmet to cost more than $100, but bicycle helmets, especially for racing, can easily cost a few hundreds bucks.

Elbow and Knee Pads

Let’s talk about your other limbs for a second. A serious elbow or knee injury might not kill you, but it can cripple you for life. Just ask any high school football player with a blown-out knee.

Your main choice will be between a hard shell pad or a soft pad. Hard pads offer the most protection, but they aren’t comfortable for long commutes, can’t be worn under clothes, and are tricky to store. For day-to-day street riding where you aren’t trying to impress anybody, soft pads should keep you in one piece. If, however, you want to do some more risky stuff or are riding off-road, then hard pads are the way to go.

A recent innovation that I’ve seen are soft pads that are made of a material that hardens on impact. They aren’t quite as protective as traditional hard pads, but they provide a good compromise between the two. They aren’t even that much more expensive, so I say it’s worth looking into.

Die Hard

That’s the basic consideration – make sure you get a helmet and pads that you’ll actually wear. Many manufacturers will let you send a helmet back for refund or size change if you aren’t happy with the fit, so buying online is actually pretty practical. Be sure to check out my reviews and make sure to keep that face pretty and that head in one piece.