This summer, we hit the river for a roundup of the best whitewater helmets, seeking out the latest in lightweight design and protective power. Safe, stylish and comfortable paddling are top of mind for these modern models, so get your head on straight with our expert helmet picks for whitewater.
$240 | sweetprotection.com
The full cut, carbon fiber reinforced Rocker from Sweet Protection is ready to take on your next creek. From a safety perspective, this helmet is EN 1385 class I–IV certified and provides the best out-of-the-box fit of all the helmets on this list for the heads we tested.
The Occigrip Turn-dial—which isn’t actually a dial at all, but instead two plastic nubs you pinch together—tightens the back of the helmet until it securely hugs your head. Extra Universal Fitpads are included in the box for an even more customized fit, but we didn’t need them.
Personalize your look, comfort and protection with the included optional visor and earpads. Available in two sizes and a range of colors.
$200 | sweetprotection.com
You’ll see the Sweet Protection Strutter atop the heads of many freestyle kayakers on any professional scene, such as Benny Marr and Hugo Anthony, but this half cut helmet is also used for river running everywhere.
The Strutter is lower volume than the Rocker and comes with less outfitting too. Still, with three sizes to choose from and the Occigrip Turn-dial, same as in the Rocker, you’ll be able to dial in the fit and achieve all-day comfort.
When the Strutter was originally released in 1997 the large rigid visor—which makes the Strutter instantly recognizable on the river—was thought to catch fast moving current when you flip, potentially tweaking your neck. Does it? No. Instead it offers as much sun protection as a Salamander visor and without the headache of a ball cap crammed under your helmet.
$189.95 | wrsisafety.com
Those looking for full face coverage for class IV and V paddling will find the WRSI Moment fits the bill. The unique Interconnect Retention System consists of a single strap that weaves through the helmet in several places, feeds through the O-Brace harness at the back, and buckles under your chin. Any pressure applied upward on the helmet—like, say, the way water pushes on your head when you’re upside down in a river—will cause the strap to cinch tightly, pulling the harness tighter on the back of your head and holding the helmet securely in place.
The O-Brace harness takes a bit more time to adjust than other systems on this list, but is well worth it to get a snug fit. The Moment has minimal outfitting and doesn’t come with any extra pads; depending on your head shape, it may be necessary to crack a can of contact cement and pad out any hollow spots with thin minicell foam.
Our in-office tester reported that despite the visor and faceguard, the helmet didn’t obstruct his vision. And, yes, he heard the instructions about the rapid just fine thanks to the helmet’s ear vents—that wasn’t why he missed his line.
Chaos Full Cut
$74.95 | nrs.com
The NRS Chaos Full Cut is a great entry-level helmet, providing ample coverage and solid construction at a price that will leave gas money in your pocket. It offers the most ventilation or drainage out of all the helmets in this lineup.
The Chaos comes in five solid colors—blue, red, yellow, white and black—and the most sizes too, with four options ranging from small to extra large. We ordered the large Chaos and although according to the size chart it should fit similarly to the M/L Strutter, Rocker and Moment, our large-headed tester at the Paddling Magazine office reported it fit much tighter—we recommend you size up, especially if pulling over a ball hat.
$189 | predatorhelmets.com
Highly specialized, the Predator Uno Elite is meant for slalom and raft racing. Its carbon construction makes it the lightest helmet on this list—in fact, it’s 35 percent lighter than the second-lightest helmet and weighs a mere 327 grams.
Like the classic Wildwater Competition, the Uno Elite comes in only one size and offers no adjustment system, fitting heads with a circumference of up to 59 centimeters. It’s arts and crafts time with contact cement and the included extra foam for a perfect fit.
Competitive paddlers looking for a low profile, lightweight helmet will be pleased with the way the Uno Elite feels on their head—or doesn’t feel. Helmet? What helmet?
$92.95 | salamanderpaddlegear.com
If your goal is to be the most visible paddler on the water, the Shred Ready Super Scrappy has you covered. It offers the most color options out of the helmets on this list, pictured here in flash green but also available in poppin’ shades like pomegranate, cornflower blue, orange, carbon, LE: Idaho, LE: North Carolina, LE: save the SF, matte black, pearl white, wood and red.
The Super Scrappy comes in one size but the HOG 3.0 Retention System utilizes the BOA dial system for a snug fit for almost all heads. If you’re that guy, the Super Scrappy can be worn backwards.
4500 Helmet Combo
$119.99 | bauer.com
Nothing says, I started paddling in a Dancer or I cheer for a losing team like showing up at a river in a blue Bauer 4500 helmet and cage combo. While still offering the most protection, highest certification, most shell adjustability and most breathability, there are at least six really good reasons so few of us are still wearing a hockey helmet—see all six paddling helmets above.
About the time the Leafs won their last Stanley Cup, whitewater companies—wait, who am I kidding?—about 20 years after the Leafs’ last Stanley Cup win, multiple world slalom champion Richard Fox made popular the low profile Wildwater Competition. And the river has been a cooler place ever since.
Seven really great ways to protect your head on the river. One really great way to get punched in the head at a Canadiens game. | Feature photo: Micheal Hewis