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Climbing Helmets

Petzl Meteor

The right helmet makes the difference between wearing and not, and the Petzl Meteor.

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MSRP: $99.95

I appreciate the helmet. I’ve never really needed one, but a couple of years ago a climber I didn’t know thanked me for saying in a podcast interview that you should “never climb without a helmet!” Because of my Prime Directive he had a helmet affixed to his head when he fell and hit his head. “That helmet saved my life,” he said.

My affection for helmets grows every year, as brain buckets just keep getting better. They get stronger, lighter, easier to adjust. Sexier.

Now, Petzl has added a “side protection” designation to their stalwart model, the Petzl Meteor.

I’m no mentalist, but I know you are thinking: “Don’t helmets already protect you from side impacts?”

The CE and UIAA certify helmets that have withstood an 11-pound weight falling and striking it right on top, as if you fell, and hit the ground like a dart headfirst. For a second test they lower the fall distance to 20 inches, and strike the helmet 60 degrees off angle to its crown, what you might call a glancing blow. To pass CE, the maximum impact force transmitted to the head can’t be over 10 kN in either test. For the UIAA, the maximum force is 8 kN.

So, no, helmets aren’t certified for direct hits to the front, back or side. Certainly they do offer protection in those situations, but the amount they afford is unknowable.

Petzl decided to change this and added its own test, dropping that 11-pound weight from 20 inches so it strikes squarely on the front, back and sides of the helmet.

Kudos to Petzl for raising awareness in this area, and for developing the test. The big unknown, of course, is whether other helmets from other brands might also pass the test. My hunch is that some would, you just don’t know which ones because the test isn’t required for climbing certification.

About the helmet itself, it is very good. It’s so lightweight you barely notice it, it has copious ventilation, holds a headlamp, and is easy to adjust. The only detail I don’t like is the magnetic buckle. It’s fiddliness was tough to cope with when I was wearing gloves, and was almost as tricky barehanded. Impatient, I sometimes let the chin strap all the way out and pulled it off  overhead like a T-shirt. A minor glitch in an otherwise excellent and versatile helmet.

—Duane Raleigh

Petzl Meteor

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