When to Replace Climbing Helmet: An Important Guide


Every piece of climbing equipment you own will wear out at some point, even though it may still look like it’s in tip-top shape. One of the most essential elements of safety is your climbing helmet, so ensuring you know when and how to replace your climbing helmet is crucial.

When to replace a climbing helmet: Always replace your climbing helmet within 10 years of the date of manufacture. However, replace your helmet sooner if it has absorbed any type of impact, has large dents, cracks, or other noticeable damage to the shell, the chin strap or buckle isn’t working properly, or the inner foam is not secure.

Your climbing helmet is the line of defense between you and the rocks surrounding you, so always ensuring your helmet is ready to protect is crucial to your safety while rock climbing. We are going to break down all of the things to consider when it comes to helmet replacement, and how you can repurpose an old helmet (if you’re into that kind of thing).

Why Should You Replace Your Climbing Helmet?

It may seem a bit obvious, but if you don’t see any physical damage to your rock-climbing helmet, then you might not think it needs to be replaced. However, even if a climbing helmet hasn’t actually absorbed any impact or been distressed in any way, it still needs to be replaced.

Rock climbers need to take into consideration that their helmets can become weak and damaged from sunlight as well as ultraviolet rays. The direct sunlight and heat, over time, will catalyze the aging process of the materials, thus affecting its overall performance. It can eventually lead to subtle cracks in the outer shell and brittleness on the inner foam.

Unfortunately, for the most part, you can’t really see this type of damage, so rock climbers won’t know that it’s there and will not think their rock climbing helmet needs to be replaced.

Damage to the plastic from the sun is just as dangerous as actual dents and cracks in the helmet because they make them less sturdy and durable for protection. Without proper protection in the event of an accident, a rock climber’s safety is impaired, and it could mean serious injury to the head.

That being said, a climbing helmet needs to be replaced to ensure it is providing safety for the rock climber. But how can you know when it’s time to replace?

When to Replace Your Rock Climbing Helmet

Now that we know why we need to decide when. There are actually a few different things that call for a replacement of your rock helmet.

Good Rule of Thumb: The 10 Year Mark

For rock climbers who climb regularly, but no more than 2 to 3 times per month, they can generally go by the simple rule that a climbing helmet should be replaced within 10 years after it was manufactured, and no later than that. This is mainly due to the fact that the helmet will succumb to sunlight and ultraviolet rays, which damages the plastic and leads to insufficient protection.

To make it easier to know when to replace your helmet, many helmets will have the manufacturing date stamped somewhere on them. Once the date is approaching, it’s time to start looking for a new one.

Keep in mind that a rock climber who climbs several times a month will need to replace their helmet more often, at least within every 5 years. Think about it: someone who rock climbs often will be in direct sunlight more often, which means the helmet will break down quicker than someone who only climbs once a month.

Knowing that a climbing helmet will eventually wear down from UV and sunlight, someone who is often climbing should know the importance of replacing sooner than the ‘recommended’ time.

What About Rock Climbing Helmets with UV Inhibitors?

Manufacturers know that sunlight has a negative impact on rock climbing helmets. That being said, companies began to make helmets with UV inhibitors to help them last longer.

Does that mean that they are immune to damage from the sun? No. Helmets with UV inhibitors will still be damaged over time, although they may last a bit longer than other rock climbing helmet models without this particular design.

Over time, UV inhibitors can fail simply because they have been excessively exposed to sunlight and heat, and they aren’t designed to last forever.

The rule of thumb is the same for UV inhibitor helmets as regular helmets: a regular rock climber that climbs once a month or less should replace their helmet within 10 years of the manufacturing date. Climbers who rock climb more often should consider replacing their helmet after 5 years due to sunlight damage.

Replace Your Helmet After Significant Impact

One of the most crucial things to remember when it comes to helmet replacement is that any helmet that absorbs any type of significant impact should be replaced immediately. This could be from an impact involving the rock climber falling during their stride, or a rockfall taking place that’s damaged the helmet.

  • What if the impact did not leave any dents or cracks? Rock climbing helmets are designed with one goal in mind: to protect the rock climber. If your helmet has done its job and protected you from a fall or rockfall and there are no visible signs of damage, then it should be okay for future use. It all depends on the amount of impact absorbed.
  • What about minor dents and cracks? Minor dents and cracks have the possibility to compromise the amount of protection the helmet can do. That being said, a helmet with minor dents and cracks should be replaced in the near future, although immediate replacement isn’t necessary.
  • What happens if a dented rock climbing helmet isn’t replaced? If your helmet has been significantly damaged from a fall or rockfall and it is not replaced, it simply won’t work as well on your next trip. In the event of another slip or rockfall, your helmet will be unable to provide you with ample protection that may lead to injury.

Don’t risk it! If your helmet is damaged from impact, don’t question it. Your safety should be a big concern while rock climbing, and you don’t want to second guess your helmet in a critical moment.

Other Signs of Distress and Damage that Call for Replacement

The two main times you will need to replace your helmet is if 1. It has reached its 10-year mark (or 5 if you’re an avid rock climber), or 2. It has succumbed to a significant impact and is damaged. However, there are some other reasons why your helmet may need to be replaced.

The Chin Strap and Buckle Aren’t Working

The chin strap and buckle work together to ensure your rock climbing helmet stays on throughout your climb. If you find that any part of this is faulty, then you will need to replace your helmet immediately.

The primary concern when it comes to the chin strap and buckle is if they are simply not connecting correctly. If it’s loose or not connecting together whatsoever, then the helmet can be deemed as faulty and should be replaced.

Another thing to consider is if the chin strap is frayed or torn. A small bit of fraying on the chin strap isn’t too much of worry until it becomes uncontrolled and decreases support. Any rips or tears in the chin strap should call for replacement of the entire climbing helmet as this can put the climber at risk of getting injured due to a faulty strap.

The Webbing Straps are Frayed or Torn

The webbing straps, especially around the ears, are another critical element to rock climbing helmets. If you notice any type of fraying or torn areas in the webbing straps, then you will need to replace it immediately.

The Foam Casing Isn’t Securely Fastened

A lot of rock climbers might look past the foam casing located on the inside of the shell, thinking that it can’t be damaged and isn’t an essential element to check on. However, you should be aware that the foam casing is actually damaged by UV rays and sunlight exposure much like the shell. Excessive exposure can cause the inner foam to harden and become brittle, which is another important reason for the 5 to 10-year replacement timeframe.

Foam casing can be damaged in other ways, too. The primary issue with foam casing is it can become dislodged and won’t be securely fastened in the shell. If you notice that your foam casing isn’t firmly placed inside the shell and seems to be wiggling around, then you will need to replace your climbing helmet.

In some instances, you may be able to fix the security of your foam casing. However, if you try to fix the issue and find that it is still not completely secured and ready for action, then don’t risk it. A helmet with secure foam will keep you safer than a helmet you think is fixed and ready to go.

Check Your Helmet on a Regular Basis

To always make sure your climbing helmet is in top-notch condition, check it regularly, especially before you go on a rock climbing adventure. Here are a few things to review before using your helmet:

  • Look for any type of dents, cracks, or other damage that might be on the shell of your helmet. Significant damage calls for immediate replacement. Think about replacing the helmet in the near future is you find smaller, less intrusive marks or dents, as they can still pose a safety hazard.
  • Wear your helmet to ensure the chin strap and buckle work and fit correctly. Remember the importance of a working chin strap and buckle. If it is faulty or broken, you need a new helmet. If it is merely a matter of not fitting properly, work with the chin strap and buckle until you find a secure fit.
  • Check all webbing for frays and tears. Webbing is an integral part of the helmet. Check it thoroughly to ensure there are no signs of wear and tear. If you notice any damaged areas, you should consider replacing your rock climbing helmet to have better webbing for protection.
  • Make sure the foam casing is fastened. Don’t disregard the foam casing inside the shell! It’s just as important as any other piece of your helmet, and if it is not fastened and secured, then you need to replace the helmet immediately.
  • Make sure it fits properly. Last but not least, always make sure your helmet is a good fit for your head. You may have to do some adjusting to ensure it’s secured properly. Don’t miss this step as a secure, healthy helmet will provide the protection you may need in the event of a fall or rockfall.

How to Care For Your Rock Climbing Helmet

Here are a few essential tips and tricks for caring for your rock climbing helmet. These tips and tricks will ensure that your helmet has a longer life and should be able to withstand the elements to reach the 5 to 10-year mark for replacement:

  • It’s okay to paint or label your helmet. In fact, it may be a good idea to have your information printed somewhere on your climbing helmet in the case of an emergency. Place your name, address, emergency contact, and even blood type.
  • Do not place stickers on your helmet. Stickers can actually compromise the overall effectiveness of your helmet and should be avoided at all times.
  • Do not sit on your helmet. This may go without saying, but some people use their helmets as ‘seats’ when they don’t feel like sitting on rocks. Avoid this at all costs, as this can damage the helmet with dents.
  • Don’t put any excessive pressure on the helmet. Again, any type of extreme pressure your climbing helmet comes in contact with can damage it and dent it, rendering it useless. Keep it safe from added pressure.
  • Protect the helmet from moisture. Consider wearing a bandana while rock climbing. Moisture can begin having a negative impact on the helmet, especially when it comes to the foam casing. To avoid this potential downfall, consider wearing a bandana or other type of moisture-wicking product that can wrap tightly around the head.
  • Never use a pressure washer to clean your helmet. The excessive pressure from a pressure washer can severely impact your helmet and damage it. Avoid these at all costs.
  • Clean the outside gently with a cloth and rubbing alcohol. The best way to clean the inside of your rock climbing helmet is to use a cloth and some rubbing alcohol. This can be used to get rid of dirt and grime residue with ease.
  • For the interior, use lukewarm water and mild soap. To wash down the inside of your helmet, use lukewarm water paired with a mild soap.
  • Store your helmet in a protected, covered area. You want to make sure that your helmet is staying out of the sun when not being used, and should be in a safe area where it won’t be prone to hitting hard surfaces and suffer from dents and cracks.

Taking proper care of your helmet can increase the lifespan of the helmet. However, always keep in mind that it needs to be replaced within 5 to 10 years, regardless of the condition.

How to Dispose of Your Rock Climbing Helmet

In some instances, it may be your only option to toss an old climbing helmet in the trash. However, this poses the risk of someone finding it and using it in the case that it still ‘appears’ to be in good condition.

You don’t want to set someone up for failure or even injury should they decide to pick up your helmet and use it. That being said, a lot of cities offer helmet recycling, which provides a safe place for helmets to be disposed of and never used again. Always check with your city before tossing it in the trash.

Don’t want to dispose of your helmet? If you’re the crafty type, consider making something out of your old rock helmet. A lot of crafty individuals have found they can successfully repurpose their old helmet into an adorable flower pot. The great news is that the buckles and chin strap can be used to hang your flowers in your garden, too.

For the artistic person, there are limitless possibilities, and why waste something that can be repurposed? Get creative or take it to your local helmet recycling center to get the most out of your helmet.

Conclusion

Your helmet is an essential part of your safety while rock climbing. Knowing when to replace a helmet is crucial for your protection. The average rock climber that hasn’t undergone any impact can use their helmet for up to 10 years. The avid climber might need to switch every 5 years. All helmets should be immediately replaced after impact or any faultiness throughout the helmet.

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