Best Kayak Helmet – Top 10 Picks To Protect Your Noggin In 2022

The thing everyone loves about kayaking is that you can make it as relaxing or as strenuous as you want. But that’s the catch – the more you’re willing to push yourself and the higher the rush of adrenaline you’re hoping to get out of it, the more you need to think about safety. 

Sure, there’s no way to eliminate the risks associated with watersports entirely – but that’s not to say that you can’t minimize the risk of serious injuries. 

That’s why I continue to stress the importance of taking the time to choose proper safety equipment – and by that, I mean more than just a PFD. Helmets are – or should be – a part of that equation, too. 

So, let’s help you pick the best kayak helmet, shall we? 

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In A Rush? The Winner After 42 Hours Of Research:

Winner

NRS Chaos Side-Cut Kayak Helmet

Why is it better?

  • Full-cut helmet design for an additional level of protection 
  • Durable ABS plastic outer shell designed to dissipate impacts
  • A dual-density EVA foam liner improves comfort and shock absorption 
  • It has a total of eight ventilation/drainage ports 
  • Features the BOA DialFit retention system for a customized and secure fit
  • Comes with CE EN 1385 certification
  • The earpads can be removed as needed 
  • Available in six different sizes and five color options 
  • The helmet weighs under two pounds 

Should You Wear A Helmet Kayaking?

Playboating. A man sitting in a kayak wear a helmet

I’d like to start by saying that, as paddlers, we can never be too cautious when we hit the waters – even though I realize that there are scenarios where a helmet would seem like overkill. 

The thing is, head injury is never something you want to play around with or take lightly. You can never be too careful if you ask me. 

Research suggests that, even though major head trauma isn’t as common among kayakers, if it does occur, the outcome can be much more catastrophic due to the risk of drowning involved in the activity.

So, even if you’re enjoying a calm paddle on a small lake – or whatever your definition of a safe kayaking location is – I still feel that a helmet is necessary. Think of it like this: 

It’s better to have a helmet and not need it, than to need a helmet and not have it. 

Choosing The Best Helmet For Kayaking: Everything You Need To Know

Red water sports helmet sitting on a kayak

Now that we’ve settled the whole “do I need a helmet” thing, it’s time to see how to choose the right kayak helmet for you. So, let’s get to it! 

What Kind Of Helmet Do I Need For Kayaking?

“Can a bike helmet be used for kayaking?” 

Oh, if I had a dime every time a beginner paddler asked this question… Anyway, the point is, that’s a common question among newcomers – and one that always ends up with me giving a newbie paddler an impromptu lecture about water sports and safety.

Now, let’s get one thing straight: 

A general-purpose helmet is still a lot better than no helmet at all. 

However, there’s a good reason why different helmets are designed for specific sports, such as biking, rock climbing, or whitewater paddling. They’re suitable for different conditions and boast features that work for that particular activity and the risks you’re most likely to encounter.

So, while any helmet would, technically speaking, protect your head against the hazards found in the water, one with a proper drainage system and retention straps is better suited for sports like kayaking. 

Types Of Helmets For Kayaking 

As you begin browsing the helmets market, you’ll notice that helmets for kayaking come in many different designs – half-cut, full-cut, and full-face helmets. The concept behind these different helmet types is a pretty simple one: 

The more risk management you’ll need – depending on the type of kayaking you plan to do – the more protection your helmet should provide. 

So, let’s talk about that first, shall we? 

Half-Cut Helmets

WRSI Current Kayak Helmet-Fjord

Half-cut helmets are pretty minimal in their design, covering only the top of your head, but not your ears – and definitely not your face. 

Since they offer basic levels of protection, they’re generally suitable for easy whitewater rapids and recreational paddling, nothing too extreme. 

One thing to remember is that half-cut helmets – while lightweight – tend to have the worst fit because they merely sit on top of your head with nothing but the harness system to keep them in place.

They are, nonetheless, what most people think of when they hear the words “kayaking helmet.”

Full-Cut Helmets

WRSI Current Pro Kayak Helmet

Sometimes referred to as open face helmets, these are a step-up from half-cut helmets, covering your head and your ears. The slight change in design not only means an overall better safety record but ensures a more secure fit, as well. 

Do keep in mind that having your ears covered might affect your ability to hear what’s going on around you – which may be an issue if you often paddle in a group. The effect is minimal – and I believe that the added bit of protection is worth it in moderate whitewater conditions. 

Full-Face Helmets

WRSI Moment Full-Face Kayak Helmet

This type of helmet is specifically designed to offer the highest degree of protection. Everything above your shoulders will be covered by it – the entire head, face, and even your lower jaw. 

If you’re into extreme watersports or the type of kayaking where direct impacts to the head are a possibility – think Class III and above whitewater rapids – this is the helmet you want. 

Style-wise, they resemble motorcycle helmets, so I’d say there’s a coolness factor to them, too.

I do have to mention that full-face helmets can affect your ability to hear and be heard, on top of being the bulkiest of the bunch.

One last thing worth mentioning is that full-face helmets are comparatively expensive than other types of kayaking helmets. It’s understandable when you consider the amount of materials and design involved in making them – so it’s not untypical to hear them referred to as ‘high-end helmets’ or ‘whitewater helmets’. 

Take Note Of The Helmet’s Construction

Helmet and paddle for kayaking

One thing all kayaking helmets have in common is their ability to take some abuse and serve as your primary line of defense between your thinking gear – as in, your brain – and the rocks, logs, or other obstacles you might get in close contact with while paddling. 

But as I’m sure you’ve realized by now, not all helmets are made the same. 

So, when it comes to construction materials, what options do you have? 

When it comes to the helmet’s outer shell, the go-to materials seem to be injection-molded ABS plastic, carbon fiber, and composite materials. But as you may – or may not – realize, higher-end helmets usually feature several layers, with each one adding another level of protection. 

Besides the outer shell, you should also look at the helmet’s lining – the layer of protection that’ll sit closest to your head. You want that material to be softer, comfortable, and mold to the shape of your head – but still tough enough to absorb any impacts. 

That said, closed-cell EVA (Ethylene-Vinyl Acetate) foam and expanded polypropylene, or EPP for short, are the most common materials used for the helmet’s inner lining. 

Proper Fit: How Should A Kayak Helmet Fit? 

The effectiveness of the helmet almost entirely depends on the fit. If it doesn’t fit you that well, it won’t do a pretty good job of protecting your head. 

So, yes, ensuring a correct fit will be crucial both in terms of safety and comfort. 

But how should a kayak helmet fit, though? 

There are two things you should be aiming for when it comes to the fit: 

  • A snug fit – You don’t want the helmet to squeeze your head too tight, but it shouldn’t be loose and move around on your head, either. Ideally, the lining should make contact with your head at every point.
  • Complete coverage – The helmet should cover the entirety of your head, including your forehead, extending over the ears and down to the base of your skull, with an additional brim that extends beyond the nose. 

The good news is that helmets come in a range of sizes. Plus, many models will offer additional adjustments to ensure a secure fit. It’s best to measure the circumference of your forehead and choose accordingly. 

Other Useful Features & Considerations

With the basics taken care of, I’d like to mention a few more things you want to have in a helmet:

  • Drainage – One of the main reasons why a “regular” helmet wouldn’t work for paddling is the lack of a drainage system. If you end up in the water – and you probably will at some point – these holes will allow the excess water to drain out rather than get trapped inside the helmet. Plus, they double as ventilation holes, preventing you from overheating.
  • Retention System – Given that the retention straps are in charge of keeping the helmet on your head, I’d say they’re a pretty critical thing to consider. Multiple adjustment points on both sides, webbing straps, four (or more) points of contact, and padding for comfort are necessary.
  • Visor – A small, built-in visor isn’t a must. Still, it’s a more than welcome addition to any helmet, simply because it keeps the sun out of your eyes and might, depending on the model, provide an extra layer of protection to your forehead and nose.
  • Accessory Options – Some paddlers don’t care about additional accessories; they want protection and nothing more. Others will appreciate the ability to mount goodies, such as a GoPro camera or a headlamp, to the top of their helmet. 
  • Certificates – Protective headwear may come with industry-standard certification issued by a third party as proof of testing the helmet’s construction, indicating how much abuse it can endure. Helmets without safety certification still work – but if possible, opt for ones that have been tested. 

Best Kayak Helmets In 2022: Top 10 Picks Reviewed & Rated 

Best Full-Cut Helmet For Kayaking

Sweet Protection Rocker Helmet

If you’d prefer a more simplified version of full-head coverage, Sweet Protection’s Rocker is the helmet for you. It simply is one of the best helmets around, boasting everything a kayaker might need in protective headwear: 

The Rocker’s advanced construction is the perfect blend of elasticity, rigidity, and strength, with a combination of injection-molded thermoplastic and carbon fiber in the TLC upper shell. Then, there’s a durable EPP foam liner that provides high-level shock absorption. 

To top it off, you also get a removable shatter-resistant visor. 

Sounds pretty impressive so far, right? 

The helmet can be secured using the chin strap, and, as a bonus, it features Sweet Protection’s Occigrip turn-dial adjustment system at the back, allowing for a firm-but-comfortable fit, although I wish more sizes were available. 

And yes, it even has multiple vents – at the top and on the sides, where it covers the ears.

Technical Specs 

  • Full-cut helmet design 
  • Thermoplastic Laminated Carbon Fiber (TLC) shell 
  • EPP foam liner 
  • Weighs 1.22 pounds 
  • Medium-Large size 

Pros

  • Heavy-duty plastic and carbon fiber shell design 
  • EPP liner provides superior shock absorption
  • Features multiple vents at the top and the sides 
  • The Occigrip turn-dial ensures a secure fit 
  • Includes a removable shatter-resistant visor 

Cons

  • Not the most budget-friendly option 
  • Only has two adjustment points 
  • Pretty limited sizing options 

Sweet Protection’s Rocker genuinely is the definition of a high-quality, reliable full-cut helmet – and a perfect choice for most kayaking conditions, including rougher waters.

Best Full-Face Helmet for Whitewater Kayaking

WRSI Moment Full-Face Kayak Helmet

If you paid attention so far, you shouldn’t be surprised to see a full-face kayak helmet on this list. I mean, when it comes to offering maximum protection, it doesn’t get any better than this. 

The multi-impact shell – a combination of ABS plastic with a polyurethane sub-shell and an EVA foam liner – ensures maximum protection and effectively dissipates impacts. 

Along with the full-face design that wraps around the whole head, protecting your entire face, chin, and ears, that makes this a perfect choice for anyone paddling Class IV and V rapids. 

The secure fit is further enhanced with the Interconnect Retention System designed to keep the helmet in place – even as fast-moving water tries to push it off your head. And to add to it, WRSI Moment features the Adjustable O-Brace Harness for a customized fit.

The downside? 

Given that it only features two vents, it’s safe to assume that the helmet gets pretty hot in warm weather. 

Technical Specs 

  • Full-face helmet design 
  • ABS and polyurethane shell 
  • EVA foam liner 
  • Weighs 4 pounds 
  • Two available sizes 

Pros

  • Offers full-face protection 
  • Multi-layer shell for superior shock absorption 
  • A solid amount of adjustability 
  • Features a visor for additional protection 

Cons

  • A limited number of air vents 
  • Not the best choice for warmer climates 
  • Some may find it too bulky

If extreme conditions and whitewater rapids are your ideas of fun, the WRSI Moment is the protective headwear you need.

Best One-Size-Fits-All Kayak Helmet

NRS Havoc Livery Helmet

One thing you’ll notice is that higher-quality kayaking helmets don’t come cheap. That shouldn’t discourage you from getting one – especially not when there are reasonably priced options, like the NRS Havoc Livery, out there. 

Besides being budget-friendly, one of the leading features of this helmet would be its adjustable design and the universal sizing system. Thanks to the unique ratchet-adjust DialFit system, the helmet is essentially a one-size-fits-all model, suitable for head circumferences ranging from 20 to 24.4 inches. 

And the construction doesn’t disappoint, either. Granted, NRS kept it pretty simple, but the ABS outer shell combined with an EVA foam liner and additional foam padding in essential areas – a tried-and-true combo – does the job well. 

If there’s one thing I don’t like, it would be the lack of a built-in brim, which, in turn, implies a lack of sun protection. 

Technical Specs 

  • Half-cut helmet design
  • ABS outer shell 
  • EVA foam liner 
  • Weighs 1.5 pounds 
  • Universal fit (20.86-24.4 inches)

Pros

  • DialFit adjustment system for a custom fit 
  • Features six ventilation or drainage holes 
  • An adjustable chin strap 
  • Affordable and beginner-friendly 

Cons

  • It doesn’t have a built-in brim 
  • Not designed to provide a higher level of protection
  • Won’t fit smaller adults or youth paddlers

NRS Havoc Livery combines value and performance into one reliable package – a helmet that’ll support you at any stage of your paddling journey. 

Best Budget-Friendly Kayaking Helmet

Tontron Adult Kayaking Helmet

Tontron is among the most affordable helmets for kayaking – and, as it turns out, it can still give some much more expensive models a run for their money. 

The construction is nothing out of the ordinary – ABS plastic paired with an EVA foam liner. Even more so, it has a full-cut design with removable ear protection pads, so that it covers your ears – without affecting hearing.

As for the fit, there’s an adjustable turn-dial system on the back of the helmet, allowing paddlers to adjust the fit with one hand. It’s not a one-size-fits-all helmet, though. It comes in three sizes – but you get to make minor adjustments to how it fits your head. 

Another huge advantage of this Tontron helmet would be the ventilation system. It boasts a total of 11 ventilation holes – which double as water drainage points – meaning it won’t get sweaty or waterlogged. 

It’s not the most comfortable helmet to wear, though – the ear pads and the plastic parts on the strap can become a bit painful after a while.

Technical Specs 

  • Full-cut helmet design 
  • ABS plastic outer shell 
  • EVA foam liner 
  • Weighs 0.8 pounds
  • Two available sizes

Pros

  • Pretty lightweight for a full-cut helmet 
  • Excellent, 11-point ventilation/drainage system
  • Adjustable turn-dial system for a custom fit
  • The ear protection pads are removable
  • An affordable option 

Cons

  • The water tends to push it up easily 
  • The hard plastic on the straps is uncomfortable
  • Not the best fit for smaller heads

Yes, Tontron’s helmet is one of the cheapest I’ve tested recently – but the color options, full-cut design, and excellent ventilation system make it more than a decent option

Best Whitewater Helmet

Dagger Sweet Rocker Kayaking Helmet

Dagger’s Sweet Rocker kayaking helmet is another full-face model that gets a spot on this list – and that already tells you two things: 

One, it provides the kind of head protection that most “regular” helmets cannot. And two, it’s nowhere near budget-friendly. In fact, it’s among the most expensive helmets I’ve reviewed.

But given the Sweet Rocker’s overall comfort and performance, I’d say the price tag’s more than justified: 

Everything about it screams “high-quality,” starting with the outer shell’s construction – a blend of ABS plastic reinforced with carbon fiber. On the inside, you’ll find the CoolMax liner that features moisture-wicking and anti-allergenic properties. 

The details – the Occigrip turn dial for fit adjustments, removable, shatter-resistant visor, and the quick-release strap – and the lightweight design further prove how well put together this paddling helmet is. 

Oh, and did I mention the MIPS system and EN13895 Class I-IV certification? That ups impact protection to a whole new level!

Technical Specs 

  • Full-face helmet design 
  • ABS and carbon fiber shell 
  • CoolMax liner 
  • Weighs 2 pounds 
  • Two available sizes 

Pros

  • Complete coverage for optimal safety 
  • Has EN13895 Class I-IV certification
  • Ventilation holes and a moisture-wicking liner 
  • Has a removable, shatter-resistant visor
  • Occigrip turn-dial for a custom fit 
  • Sleek graphics and cool design

Cons

  • One of the most expensive helmets I’ve reviewed 
  • Only two available sizes

Yes, it costs a ton of money. And yes, it’s overkill for the average paddler. But if you’re an avid whitewater paddler, this certified Dagger Sweet Rocker helmet will give you the extra protection you can’t get anywhere else.

Best Bang-For-Buck Kayaking Helmet

WRSI Current Kayak Helmet

Are you surprised to see another WRSI helmet on this list? I sure hope not; they sure can make a reliable helmet without going overboard with the pricing. 

That said, WRSI Current helmet is priced higher than what most would consider “budget-friendly” – but I still believe that it offers an excellent bang for the buck. 

Construction-wise, the helmet features an ABS plastic shell with a polyurethane layer, complete with an EVA closed cell foam liner. Besides the multi-impact design, the fit of the Current is pretty great, too – all thanks to WRSI’s three available sizes and Interconnect Retainment System that allows you to customize the fit further. 

One area where this helmet comes up short is ventilation. While three well-placed holes are still better than nothing, I would imagine that things get pretty sweaty under the helmet on a summer day. 

Technical Specs 

  • Half-cut helmet design
  • ABS plastic and polyurethane shell 
  • EVA foam liner 
  • Weighs 2 pounds 
  • Three available sizes 

Pros

  • Reinforced polyurethane sub-shell layer 
  • Interconnect Retainment System and fit adjustments 
  • A suitable choice for recreational paddlers

Cons

  • It would benefit from a few more ventilation holes 
  • It’s pricier than most budget-friendly alternatives 
  • A bit heavy for a half-cut helmet

WRSI is one of those brands that consistently makes reliable, high-performing helmets – and the Current is yet another excellent example of that.

Overall Best Kayak Helmet

NRS Chaos Side-Cut Kayak Helmet

Moving on from my previous pick – the WRSI Current – that struggled with lack of ventilation, I’d like to introduce you to the NRS Chaos, which is the complete opposite: 

Excellent ventilation – with a total of eight drainage holes – is one of the helmet’s most significant features. It’s designed to provide breathability during the summer and allow water to drain out in the event of a capsize. 

Oh, and it’s a more reasonably priced option, too. 

As for the construction of this full-cut helmet, it features a tough ABS plastic outer shell paired with dual-density EVA foam for the inner lining. It can handle quite an impact – the CE EN 1385 certification is proof of that.

The helmet’s available in six different sizes, and as if that wasn’t impressive enough, it also has an easily adjustable BOA ratchet system to further customize the fit.

Technical Specs 

  • Full-cut helmet design 
  • ABS plastic outer shell 
  • EVA foam liner 
  • Weighs 1.94 pounds 
  • Six available sizes 

Pros

  • Has CE EN 1385 certification
  • A wide range of sizes available 
  • Adjustable BOA ratchet system for a custom fit
  • Has eight ventilation/drainage holes 
  • The ear pads are removable 
  • Four-attachment-point chin strap 

Cons

  • The helmet sizing seems to be a bit off 
  • Some might find it uncomfortable (depending on head shape)

I believe that the NRS Chaos is the perfect choice for intermediate-level paddlers. So, if you’re in that group, you’ll find that Chaos isn’t all that bad – pun intended.

Best Cheap Multipurpose Kayaking Helmet

Vihir Adult Water Sports Helmet With Ears

Next on my list is the Vihir Adult Water Sports Helmet With Ears – the name’s quite a mouthful, I’ll admit, but the price will surely make some jaws drop at first sight.

It’s, hands down, one of the cheapest full-cut helmets currently found on the market. That isn’t an indicator of poor construction, though. 

The Vihir helmet combines a standard ABS shell with a cold-molded EVA foam liner – nothing too out of the ordinary. It comes with 11 drainage holes and remains breathable and dry, even on a hot summer day. 

The fit is adjustable and light on the head – except for the area where the ear pads dig into the sides of your head. 

The durability – or, should I say, longevity – of the helmet isn’t on the level of some other models I tested, even if it’s excellent for the price. It doesn’t seem like it’ll hold up longer than a season or two.

Technical Specs 

  • Full-cut helmet design  
  • ABS outer shell
  • EVA foam liner 
  • Weighs just over 1 pound
  • Three available sizes

Pros

  • For a wide range of activities 
  • The ear pads can be removed when needed 
  • Lightweight but durable design
  • Features a total of 11 drainage/ventilation points 
  • Runs true to size 
  • Has an adjustable fit

Cons

  • Durable but has its limits longevity-wise
  • If you’re looking for some style in your gear, look away
  • The earpads can be slightly uncomfortable 
  • Seems a bit too flexible for safety

Vihir’s helmet gives you more than enough bang for the buck. It’s durable enough, dirt cheap, drains well, and comes in multiple colors. That’s more than enough for this price point!

Best Helmet For Everyday Kayaking

Sweet Protection Wanderer Paddle Helmet

Bang for your buck might be great for some – but who doesn’t want a stylish shell on their head? 

Don’t worry; the extra money isn’t only going towards the style. The helmet’s ABS outer shell is dependable, durable, and impact-resistant. Furthermore, the ABS layer is reinforced with carbon fiber, meaning that it’s as lightweight as it is tough. 

Some have even dubbed this the poor man’s Rocker – which earns the highest of praises as far as I’m concerned. 

On the inside, you’ll find the EPP liner that absorbs impacts, while the drainage ports take care of the excess water that gets stuck between you and the helmet. And since the drainage’s good, the ventilation is decent, as well – although I would’ve preferred a few more holes. 

The Wanderer also comes with an Occigrip turn-dial system that will ensure it fits securely and comfortably on the head. 

Technical Specs 

  • Half-cut helmet design
  • Reinforced ABS outer shell
  • Polypropylene (EPP) liner  
  • Weighs 1.8 pounds
  • Three available sizes 

Pros

  • Extremely durable, reinforced shell
  • Firm-but-comfy fit with Occigrip turn-dial 
  • Great strength-to-weight ratio 
  • Hypoallergenic liner
  • Has EN-1385 Class I-IV certification

Cons

  • There are cheaper options that offer a bit more
  • Doesn’t provide any ear protection 
  • Not enough ventilation for hot weather

I’m honestly not sure if there’s a better option at the price point. If there is, I haven’t found it yet. The Wanderer helmet is where style and substance meet – and they don’t even break the bank!

Best Composite Helmet For Kayaking

WRSI Trident Composite Kayak Helmet

In last place (but don’t you dare judge this model on the ranking), we have the WRSI Trident Composite Helmet.

Yup, that’s the third WRSI helmet that gets a spot on my list. It’s safe to say that WRSI knows a thing or two about how to design a helmet that ensures maximum head protection. 

“Composite” is the most important word to focus on here, as it is a carbon-composite shell that brings the safety reputation that the WRSI brand is known for worldwide. Even better, the outer shell is paired with a polyurethane sub-shell and an EVA foam liner. 

Not to mention the Interconnect Retention System that’s here to keep the helmet firmly on your head – even in the water.

Speaking of secure fits, you can use the O-Brace Harness to find the right fit that’ll make you feel safe and secure, customizing the helmet to your head.

In true WRSI fashion, you’re getting the full package here. 

Technical Specs 

  • Half-cut helmet design
  • Carbon fiber, composite outer shell
  • EVA foam liner 
  • Weighs 1.45 pounds
  • Two available sizes

Pros

  • Interconnect Retention System keeps it in place
  • O-Brace harness provides a customized fit
  • Incredible weight-to-safety ratio due to the carbon design
  • The liner is removable

Cons

  • Size options are limited
  • Doesn’t feature any ventilation/drainage ports 
  • A less-than-ideal choice for hotter weather 
  • Not the most affordable choice

The WRSI brand is inescapable if you’re looking for some quality safety paddling gear – and the Trident is no different than any of its cousins in that regard. It’s just a helmet that has everything you need! 

Best Helmet For Kayaking: Conclusion

Okay, if you stuck around this long, it’s safe to assume you’re serious about safety – and getting the best kayak helmet

My recommendation? 

Well, I do believe that the NRS Chaos Side-Cut Kayak Helmet has the most to offer at a pretty reasonable price point. 

However, there’s no right or wrong choice here. 

If you want full-face protection, WRSI Moment and Dagger Sweet Rocker are your best bet. And if you’re looking for something basic, NRS Havoc Livery and WRSI Current meet your needs.

As long as you’re wearing a helmet while out on the water, you are making the right choice and staying safe – and that’s all that matters.