When To Wear a Kayak Helmet

A kayak helmet, while not the normal piece of gear most recreational kayakers think of, is essential for a few specific types of kayaking. Anytime kayakers, canoeists or packrafters are in intense paddling situations a helmet is a wise idea, and could even save your life.

man whitewater kayaking

What Paddle Situations Require a Helmet

At its most basic, a kayak helmet is necessary any time there’s a chance of your head meeting a solid object, especially rock. The most common situations that require one are whitewater kayaking, kayak surfing, and kayaking in and around caves and other rocky shoreline features while in waves.

Whitewater kayakers, canoeists and packrafters are on fast-moving water with plenty of immoveable obstructions in their path. There’s a continual possibility for flipping. Waterfalls, boulders, fallen trees, waves in the rapids—all combine to form potential hazards.

Kayak surfers paddle in a more open environment for the most part, but kayaking in strong surf always presents the possibility of getting bowled over by a wave. If your head is going to strike the bottom, reef or rock you’ll want a helmet protecting you.

Kayaking in and around sea caves and other rocky formations along the sea coast is amazing, but also quite unpredictable. Even in calm conditions a rogue wave can come in unexpectedly and toss you into the roof of the cave or against the shore. So a helmet is a good idea in this type of situation, too.

 man kayak surfing

(photo courtesy of @adam_constantine)

What Kind of Helmet is Best

Kayak helmets certified for whitewater are made from various materials, including ABS plastic, carbon or a hybrid of the two. Carbon will be much lighter, but also more expensive. ABS plastic tends to be more durable and able to take scratches and dents better.

Helmets come with various degrees of coverage from just the head and forehead to over the ears to full-face covering for protection of your jaw and mouth, too. Which you choose will depend on the conditions you’ll paddle in, your experience level and what your personal level of caution is.

Where to Buy a Kayak Helmet

It’s best to try a helmet on before you purchase it so you know it fits your head well and is comfortable for you. Ideally, you’ll visit an outdoor retailer that specializes in paddle sports, including gear for whitewater paddling, so you can try on different brands and types.

You can expect to pay from around $50 for the most affordable plastic helmets to over $300 for carbon full-face models. Your budget, the conditions where you’ll kayak most, and how often you kayak all will help you determine your purchase.

If you don’t have a local retailer near you, plenty of reputable paddle sports retailers sell kayak helmets online. Since you won’t be able to try it on before your purchase, we recommend you research the sizing and the store’s return policy before you buy.

woman packrafting in rapids

The Bottom Line

In his video “Paddling in Current: Are Helmets Necessary?”, kayaking expert and Aqua Bound ProStaffer, Ken Whiting, has a few words on when a kayak helmet is needed.

He suggests “If in doubt, wear a helmet. In moving water there’s not a lot of room for error. Things have the potential for going very wrong. So having a conservative approach to all of your safety gear and decisions is just a prudent thing to do.”

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Connect: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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