Which Type Of Helmet Do You Need?
With just a skull protecting it from damage, your brain is vulnerable to injury from blunt force or sharp objects. Your skull is sufficient protection for most daily life, but there are some activities inherently dangerous enough to require further protection in the form of a helmet.
The most common activities likely to send you in search of a helmet are motorcycle or bicycle riding, skateboarding or inline skating, horseback riding and football. For bicycle or motorcycle riders, a helmet is not only a safety requirement; it is a legal requirement in most states.
All helmets consist of a hard outer shell, with a padded lining that absorbs shockwaves in case of impact, and some sort of attachment or straps to secure the helmet on your head. Beyond that, the basic shape and style depends on the sport the helmet is intended for.
Regardless of which type of helmet you need, a properly fitted helmet is snug but not overly tight, and does not slip or slide out of place no matter how you move your head. A helmet should never block your vision, press on your ears or cut into your neck. All types of helmets come in a range of sizes, so be prepared to try on several before finding the one that fits you best.
Do You Ride a Motorcycle?
Almost every state requires a helmet to ride a motorcycle, and you should never take even a short ride without one. There are many styles of motorcycle helmet, making choosing one somewhat complicated. All helmets sold in the US must be certified by the Department of Transportation, and many helmets also meet the more stringent requirements for Snell certification.
Full-face helmets give the most protection, covering the head, neck, face, ears and chin. The face shield keeps bugs, wind, road grit and rain out of your face, adding to your safety.
Open-face, or three-quarter helmets protect your head, ears, neck and eyes, but do not cover the face. Many have detachable face shields, which provide protection from bugs and road grit, but do not offer sufficient facial protection in a crash. These helmets are more convenient and comfortable than a full-face helmet, but less protective.
Half-helmets, or shorty’s, protect the head and ears, but do not cover the face or neck. These helmets are popular with many riders who want maximum freedom while riding, but do not offer nearly as much protection as other styles of helmet.
Do You Ride a Bicycle?
Many states require a helmet for young bicycle riders, but every rider is wise to protect their life by wearing one. These helmets cover the top of the head, the side of the head over the ears, and the forehead. Bike helmets have heavy ventilation to keep them light and comfortable, and strap under the chin. Helmets sold in the US must meet the US Consumer Product Safety Commission Standards, and will have a sticker certifying this.
Most bicyclists are fine with a standard sport helmet, but if the thrill of mountain biking is more your speed, a mountain bike helmet offers maximum protection with visors and coverage over the back of the head.
Are You a Skateboarder?
Unlike bicycle or motorcycle helmets, skateboard helmets, which are also used for inline skating, scootering and similar sports – do not have required standards, though many do meet the requirements for ASTM certification. Though not as common as bicycle or motorcycle laws, some states do require a helmet for skateboarders, although the law is often unenforced. Since skateboarding frequently involves tricks and maneuvers that lead to wipeouts, a helmet is good protection whether your state requires one or not.
The typical style of a skateboard helmet is similar to a motorcycle half-helmet, with the top and side of the head covered; the face and neck left unprotected. Most have a few ventilation holes on top to keep the helmet comfortable and prevent overheating.
Do You Horseback Ride?
Equestrian helmets are a staple for English-style riders, and are required in competitive horseback events such as jumping, racing or dressage. A very few states require helmets to be worn by minors at all times while horseback. Equestrian helmets come further down the back and sides of the head than bicycle helmets do, and distribute protection evenly, rather than concentrated on the front and back. The very small visor in front is designed to bend away in case of impact. Commonly, equestrian helmets are covered with black velveteen to improve the appearance and give them a closer resemblance to old-fashioned hunt caps.
Are You a Football Player?
Football is a high-impact sport, and head injuries are common. A properly fitted helmet is crucial, and required by all teams. The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE) certifies football helmets, and proof of this certification is marked on the helmet’s shell.
Football helmets cover the entire skull, and protect the face, mouth and chin with a cage-like face guard. Thick chinstraps hold the helmet in place. Generally, the two categories are youth helmets for junior high or younger players, and varsity for high school or adult athletes. A football helmet should be snug enough to pull the skin of your forehead if you move the helmet from side to side while wearing it.
Regardless of the type of helmet, if you are involved in an accident, replace it. The high-density foam that cushions the inside of a helmet compresses and loses protective ability if involved in a significant impact. Your helmet should be inspected periodically to be sure the foam is in good condition, and there are no cracks or weak spots on the outer shell.
While it might seem inconvenient or uncomfortable to strap on a helmet when you go for a ride or play a sport, that inconvenience is nothing compared to the effect of a brain injury. Don’t take risks with your life; wear your helmet every time.