Helmets updatedby BASEwiki
Of all protective gear you can possibly put on yourself, a good helmet should be your first choice. Most bones in your body heal over time, but few people recover from skull damage.
Some BASE jumpers take their skydiving helmet into the BASE world, thinking that if it worked for one parachuting sport, it must work for the other. However, skydiving helmets are mostly for bumping your head in the plane and mid-air collisions. BASE helmets are for banging your head against the objects, the boulders on the ground or the tree branches you land amidst.
That said, some people decide to wear their skydiving helmet, some other lightweight helmet, or no helmet at all. It is important that the jumper is aware of the protection offered by different helmet styles, and comfortable with the associated risks.
Protection: Helmet science
Obviously the first thing you consider when buying a helmet is the protection it offers. To know what to look for, one has to understand how helmets work. There is a lot of useful information on the Snell Memorial Foundation website, which is a non-profit organization that independently tests available helmets. Especially their section of technical articles has some useful information.
The purpose of a good helmet is to absorb as much impact energy as possible before it gets to you, and to spread the remainder over as much surface as possible. There are three basic mechanisms by which a helmet does thisÖ
1. Breaking strength. The shell of the helmet is designed to break when hit sufficiently hard.
Breaking the shell takes energy ó energy that can no longer be used to break more important things.
The shell on a good helmet will consume a lot of energy before it breaks, meaning it is neither
brittle nor particularly soft.
2. Distribution of energy. The shell and liner of the helmet act to distribute the force and
energy of the impact. They take an impact that would have hit just one spot on your head and
distribute that energy over as much of your skull as possible. A BASE helmet must fit snugly,
or the energy wonít be distributed at all.
- 3. Liner crush. The liner of a good helmet should be designed to absorb a great deal of energy
through crushing on impact. This is a delicate balance ó too soft, and it wonít absorb any energy;
too hard, and it wonít crush before you do. An excellent BASE helmet will have the same sort
of hard foam liner that you would find in a motorcycle helmet.
Peripheral Vision and ManueverabilityMake sure your helmet does not limit your peripheral vision. You want to be able to see from the corner of your eyes. This also ties into manueverability. When you look over your shoulder, can you see far behind you? When you look up, can you see your canopy? If you wear a fullface helmet, does the jaw protector touch your chest? If you land in the water, is it going to be awkward to swim with it?
FitA good fit for your helmet is very important. People will tell you it should fit snug and comfortable. This doesnít really tell you much though. How about this; when you shift the helmet forward and backward, the skin on your forehead should shift along with it. You should be unable to rotate it from side to side. Consider that in BASE jumping you will rarely wear the helmet for long periods of time. This means that you might decide to error on the side of too snug, because it is unlikely to give you a headache.
WeightWeight is an important issue in BASE because of the harder openings compared to skydiving. The opening shock of a deep slider down jump can exert a significant force on your spine and neck that is exaggerated by all extra weight a helmet puts on your head. It is not uncommon for BASE jumpers to develop a chronic neckpain after doing many slider down jumps on a heavy helmet with top mount camera setup. Also consider the weight in relation to how much gear you have to carry when climbing an object or hiking to an exit point. Some cliffs can involve long strenuous hikes and every pound you add to your gear is going to cost a lot of extra energy.
SizeSize affects your maneuverability (as explained above), but it also affects the size of your gear when carrying it to an object. Some gear bags barely fit a rig and when you put a helmet in as well, it can stick out at the top. This presents a disadvantage on sites where you donít want to be recognized as a BASE jumper and prefer to look like some random person with a backpack.
AerodynamicsWhen you start doing terminal jumps involving tracking or wingsuit flying, you might consider the aerodynamics of your helmet. Intermediate to expert trackers will find that certain types of helmets add a significant amount of drag.
Camera MountabilityWhile the first concern for a helmet should be the protection it offers, many BASE jumpers like to mount a camera to their helmet at some point in their BASE career. Think whether you want to side-mount or top-mount, and take the extra weight of the camera in account. More information on cameras, mounting and potential issues, can be found on the camera page.
SoundIf the helmet covers your ears, you might not be able to hear as well. On low profile jumps where you are whispering, this might be a problem. Conversely, your helmet might block the wind noise on terminal jumps, which can be an advantage.
OptionsGiven all the above constraints and trade-offs, finding a good helmet is hard. There are four major options with different benefits and drawbacks.
- 1.Skydiving helmets; fashionable, you probably already have one,
expensive, offer little to no protection. Nearly all skydiving helmets are only
fashionable, and provide no protection against hard impacts.
- 2.Mountainbike helmets; fullface, great protection, can be lightweight,
some models donít sacrifice peripheral vision. Large, hard to mount a camera,
not very aerodynamic.
- 3.Skateboarding or snowboarding helmets; good trade-off between skydiving and mountainbike helmets.
Lighter, not fullface, better protection than skydiving helmets, but not as good as
- 4.Paragliding helmets; similar to skydiving helmets in terms of protection,
but offers superior aerodynamics and great peripheral vision.