7 Best Kayak Helmets in 2022: Reviews & Buyer’s Guide

If there’s one part of your body that you need to make sure you protect, it’s your head. As well as obvious injuries, we are becoming more aware as a society of the long-term effects of concussions and head injuries. A quality kayaking helmet will help to protect you from impact and help keep you kayaking for longer.

As with PFDs and other safety equipment, it’s not worth scrimping on a helmet. The best helmet is the one that you’re going to wear, so it’s important that you buy the right one for you. We have put together this guide to help you pick the right helmet to keep your head protected on the water.

Best Kayaking Helmets at a Glance

Comparison table: Best Kayaking Helmets

Model Specs Where To Buy

WRSI Current Helmet
Sizes: S/M – 20.9 – 22 in. / M/L – 22 – 23.2 in. / L/XL – 23.2 – 24.4 in.
Weight: 3 lbs.
Shell Material: ABS Plastic
Impact Protection: EVA Foam Liner
Amazon

Sweet Protection Rocker
Sizes: S/M – 20.85 – 22 in. / M/L – 22 – 23.2 in. / L/XL – 23.2 – 24 in.
Weight: 2.4 lbs.
Shell Material: Thermoplastic Laminated Carbon Fiber
Impact Protection: EVA Foam
Amazon

NRS Havoc Adult
Sizes: One size – 21.5 – 23 in. 
Weight: 1 lb.
Shell Material: ABS Plastic
Impact Protection: EVA Foam
Amazon

Sweet Protection Strutter
Sizes: S/M – 20.85 – 22 in. / M/L – 22 – 23.2 in. / L/XL – 23.2 – 24 in. 
Weight: 0.88 lbs.
Shell Material: Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer
Impact Protection: EVA liner
Amazon

WRSI Trident Composite Helmet
Sizes: S/M – 20.9 – 22 in. / M/L – 22 – 23.2 in. / L/XL – 23.2 – 24.4 in.
Weight: 4 lbs.
Shell Material: Carbon Composite with Polyurethane Sub Shell
Impact Protection: EVA Foam
Amazon

Palm Shuck Full-Cut Helmet
Sizes: S – 20 – 21.2 in. / M – 21.6 – 22.8 in / L – 23.2 – 24.4 in
Weight: 1.3 lbs.
Shell Material: ABS Plastic
Impact Protection: EPP Liner
Amazon

Pro-Tec Ace
Sizes: XS – 20.5 – 21.3 in. / S – 21.3 – 22 in./ M – 22 – 22.8 in. / L – 22.8 – 23.6 in. / XL – 23.6 – 24.4 in./ XXL – 24.4 – 25.2 in.
Weight: 1.1 lbs.
Shell Material: ABS Plastic
Impact Protection: EVA Liner
Amazon

Kayaking Helmet Buying Guide

When should you wear a helmet?

Choosing when to wear a helmet is largely up to you, but we have some guidelines to consider.

If you’re paddling a sit-in kayak with a spray skirt, you are going to spend time upside down if you capsize. This exposes you to the full force of rocks and riverbeds, especially on moving water. Even on a sit-on-top kayak, if you topple into shallow water, you can hit your head. 

In whitewater and ocean surf, where turbulent water moves you around whether you’re in or out of your kayak, we would always recommend wearing your helmet. You never know when you might capsize and won’t have time to put your helmet on last minute.

On long river journeys that have calmer sections, you may choose to wear your helmet intermittently. If you’re going to do this, make sure you’re looking far enough ahead to decide when to fit your helmet, otherwise, you may have to decide between putting on your helmet or making a critical move into a rapid.

Why Buy a Kayak Specific Helmet?

There are all-purpose helmets on the market, but they lack the kayak-specific features that make our chosen helmets a better option.

Firstly, a helmet that is specifically designed to be used in water will also be designed to withstand getting regularly wet without perishing. The use of plastic buckles and quick-drying foam inners, for example, means that the helmet can be used repeatedly up until the manufacturer’s recommended lifespan expires.

Kayak-specific helmets are also tested to be used on the water. This means that you know that the helmet you have bought is specifically designed to withstand the sort of impact you are trying to protect against. Look for kayaking helmets with safety certificates as proof of testing.

Size and Fit

Your helmet is useless to you if it doesn’t fit you properly. If you test out helmets and find one that fits you comfortably, you’re more likely to wear it, too. 

Most kayaking helmets have an adjustable cradle, although some also have padding kits so you can fit the helmet perfectly to your head. Your helmet should be snug to your head without squeezing or being overly tight. Make sure your helmet is around two fingers’ width above your eyebrows and your whole head is fully protected.

An adjustable cradle of a helmet

It can take time to get the right fit for your helmet but it’s important to do before you head out on the water. The chin strap should be tight enough to get a couple of fingers in, too, but no more. A loose chin strap can come up over your chin in the water and this will cause your helmet to come off.

Materials 

The outer shells of most kayaking helmets are made from either ABS plastic or high-density polyethylene. These plastics are affordable and easy to mold to the right shape but also both dissipate impacts well to protect your head.

Some higher-end helmets will also use fiberglass or carbon in the construction of the shell. This will not only reinforce the helmet but will also make it lighter. It might seem minimal, but the weight of your helmet can determine how comfortable it is to wear over hours on the water. 

Cheaper helmets often just have a plastic shell with an adjustable cradle to make the helmet fit your head. Higher-end helmets will usually have some shock absorption inside that shell and this is usually made from some form of EVA foam. 

These liners absorb a lot of the shock force that would otherwise be transferred to the head and therefore the brain. Most helmets that are used in white water and fast-moving currents will have an EVA foam lining for this reason.

Shock absorption inside a helmet

Caring for your helmet

If you care for your helmet, it will care for you. Check your helmet regularly for cracks or damage and make sure you dry it properly between trips. Most manufacturers will recommend a lifespan on their helmets and after this time, the protective qualities are likely to be diminished. 

Even though kayaking helmets are designed for multiple impacts, it’s recommended that you retire any helmet that has been subjected to a large impact. Even if there is no visible damage, there could be structural damage that cannot be seen. This can stop the helmet from protecting you when you need it to.


Best Kayaking Helmets

Best All Round: WRSI Current Helmet 

WRSI Current Helmet

Sizes: S/M – 20.9 – 22 in. (53 – 56 cm) / M/L – 22 – 23.2 in. (56 -59 cm) / L/XL – 23.2 – 24.4 in. (59 – 62 cm)
Weight: 3 lbs. (1.4 kg)
Shell Material: ABS Plastic
Impact Protection: EVA Foam Liner

The WRSI Current Helmet uses a triple-layer impact protection system to protect your head. The outer ABS plastic shell has a polyurethane sub-shell and this all sits outside the EVA foam liner. In short, this helmet is designed to keep you safe, no matter what the environment.

The Interconnect Retention System is easy to adjust and gives you a secure fit, keeping the Current Helmet exactly where you want it. This system is designed to self-adjust so that as the water pushes the helmet back, the system keeps it in place.

The WRSI Current Helmet has a breathable liner and ventilation ports on the top to allow your head to breathe on those hot days. The liner can also be removed to prevent sweat and water from impacting the foam. The WRSI Current Helmet is suitable for kayakers of all levels and environments.

Pros:

  • Excellent all-round helmet for any kayaker
  • Triple-layer impact protection
  • Adjustment system designed to auto-adjust to counter the pressure of water

Cons:

  • None that we know of

Best for Extreme Conditions: Sweet Protection Rocker

Sweet Protection Rocker

Sizes: S/M – 20.85 – 22 in. (53 – 56 cm) / M/L – 22 – 23.2 in. (56 -59 cm) / L/XL – 23.2 – 24 in.  (59 – 62 cm)
Weight: 2.4 lbs. (1.08 kg)
Shell Material: Thermoplastic Laminated Carbon Fiber
Impact Protection: EVA Foam

Watch any extreme white water kayaking film and you will be met with a sea of Sweet Protection Rockers. These are the helmet of choice for anyone sending waterfalls, steep creeks, and gnarly rapids. The Sweet Protection Rocker is even the helmet that Red Bull sponsored athletes wear – it’s just that good. This isn’t just a helmet for the extreme though and is worn around the world by white water kayakers at all levels.

The carbon-reinforced ABS shell is stiff and lightweight, adding the strength of carbon fiber to the moldability of plastic. This gives you a helmet you can rely on to dissipate impact forces and keep your head safe. The EVA foam inner prevents those forces from going to your head and helps to keep you safe in the long run.

The Sweet Protection Rocker uses the Occi grip adjustment system that provides a secure and comfortable fit without needing to be overtightened. The Rocker comes in a standard cut or a full face option for those who are kayaking steep and shallow rivers. A removable peak and padded ear flaps make this a great year-round choice.

Pros:

  • Arguably the most protective white water helmet on the market
  • Endorsed by top-end athletes
  • Carbon-reinforced ABS shell

Cons:

  • High price tag
  • Thick foam and lack of ventilation make this a warm helmet

Best on a Budget: NRS Havoc Adult

NRS Havoc Adult

Sizes: One size – 21.5 – 23 in. (54.6 – 58.4 cm)
Weight: 1 lb. (450 g)
Shell Material: ABS Plastic
Impact Protection: EVA Foam

The NRS Havoc Adult proves that you don’t have to break the bank to get a protective helmet. If you’re just starting in the world of kayaking, or need a spare for visitors who want to come out on the river with you, the Havoc is an affordable one-size-fits-most choice. 

The ABS outer shell is protective and lightweight, with the glued EVA foam inner offering a reasonable level of impact protection. An adjustable knob at the back of the helmet lets you get this helmet to fit your head comfortably and without fuss, making it the ideal choice for kayak schools and as a spare helmet.

Six drainage and ventilation ports on the top of the NRS Havoc help to keep your head cool on the water, so if you’re working hard or out in the sun, you won’t be cooking. They also let water drain out, so you won’t find yourself carrying excess weight around with you. These quick-drying, no-nonsense helmets lack some of the finesse of others on this list, but that doesn’t stop them from keeping you safe in your kayak.

Pros:

  • Affordable one-size helmet
  • Great as a spare helmet
  • Simple adjustment system

Cons:

  • The internal cradle isn’t the most comfortable system
  • One-size-fits-most means it won’t fit everyone

Best for Hot Weather: Sweet Protection Strutter

Sweet Protection Strutter

Sizes: S/M – 20.85 – 22 in. (53 – 56 cm) / M/L – 22 – 23.2 in. (56 -59 cm) / L/XL – 23.2 – 24 in. (59 – 62 cm)
Weight: 0.88 lbs. (400 g)
Shell Material: Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer
Impact Protection: EVA liner

Is there a more iconic helmet in kayaking? The baseball cap design of the Sweet Protection Strutter makes it instantly recognizable and gives it that stylish appeal. The Strutter is more than just a great way to keep the sun out of your eyes though.

This low-profile helmet has a carbon-reinforced shell and low profile EVA foam liner that offer high levels of protection at a low weight and volume. The Strutter has long been the helmet of choice for playboaters and warm weather kayakers but is also popular among sea kayakers playing in the breaks around the beach. The protection to weight ratio stops you from overheating while working hard. 

The Sweet Protection Strutter uses the Occi grips system to give you a secure and comfortable fit, even in the most turbulent water. They also provide fit pads so you can ensure that your helmet fits every contour of your head and keeps it safe. 

Pros:

  • Recognizable baseball cap design
  • Large visor for sun protection
  • Low-volume helmet for warm weather
  • Lightweight and comfortable.

Cons:

  • Less all-around protection than other helmets on the list

Best for large heads: WRSI Trident Composite Helmet

WRSI Trident Composite Helmet

Sizes: S/M – 20.9 – 22 in. (53 – 56 cm) / M/L – 22 – 23.2 in. (56 -59 cm)/ L/XL – 23.2 – 24.4 in.(59 – 62 cm)
Weight: 4 lbs. (1.8 kg)
Shell Material: Carbon Composite with Polyurethane Sub Shell
Impact Protection: EVA Foam

The WRSI Trident Composite Helmet is an all-around choice for white water, sea, and surf kayakers who want a high level of protection. The large outer shell and depth of the Trident Composite make it the ideal choice for those with larger heads, who struggle to find stylish helmets that fit comfortably. With the padding provided by WRSI, this helmet also has a secure fit on smaller heads.

The interconnect system not only gives the WRSI Trident Composite a secure fit onto your head but auto-adjusts with the force of the water. This means that if you end up swimming in turbulent water, your helmet will secure itself and prevent any exposure.

The rugged carbon composite outer combines with a polyurethane sub-shell to provide high levels of protection in any kayaking environment. This double layer does raise the weight of the helmet slightly, but it still feels lightweight and comfortable to wear. The small peak at the front helps to protect your eyes and stop water from running down your nose.

Pros:

  • Fits larger heads securely
  • Triple-layer protection
  • Stylish design
  • Secure auto-adjust system

Cons:

  • Warm compared with other peaked helmets
  • Those with smaller heads find they have to use a lot of extra padding

Best for Beginner White Water: Palm Shuck Full-Cut Helmet

Palm Shuck Full-Cut Helme

Sizes: S – 20 – 21.2 in. (51 – 53.8 cm) / M – 21.6 – 22.8 in (55 – 58 cm) / L – 23.2 – 24.4 in (59 – 62 cm)
Weight: 1.3 lbs. (581 g)
Shell Material: ABS Plastic
Impact Protection: EPP Liner

The Palm Shuck Full-Cut Helmet is an affordable kayaking helmet that is suitable for beginner white water kayakers, sea kayakers playing in ocean breaks, and surf kayakers. This lightweight helmet fits your head snugly and feels almost like you’re not wearing a helmet at all. 

Despite the lightweight design, the tough ABS outer shell and EPP multi-impact liner offer a high level of protection in any watersports environment. The full cut of the Palm Shuck also protects your ears and down the nape of your neck, giving you a feeling of security that most beginner kayakers look for. 

Adjustment is quick and easy with the occipital stabilizer, a system that adjusts the whole cradle rather than just tightening a band around your head. The quick-drying liner can be removed and washed to help keep your head fresh on the water. 

Pros:

  • Lightweight and comfortable fit
  • Full-cut protection
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • You’ll want to upgrade before tackling anything too hardcore

Best for Canoe Tripping: Pro-Tec Ace

Pro-Tec Ace

Sizes: XS – 20.5 – 21.3 in. (52 – 54 cm) / S – 21.3 – 22 in.(54 – 56 cm) / M – 22 – 22.8 in. (56 – 58 cm) / L – 22.8 – 23.6 in. (58- 60 cm) / XL – 23.6 – 24.4 in.(60 – 62 cm) / XXL – 24.4 – 25.2 in.(62 – 64 cm)
Weight: 1.1 lbs. (499 g)
Shell Material: ABS Plastic
Impact Protection: EVA Liner

The Pro-Tec Ace is one of the longest-running and most popular kayaking helmets on the market. These simple helmets offer a high level of protection and ventilation to keep you safe and cool on the water. The ABS outer shell and low-volume EVA liner give you protection without the weight and bulk of other helmets.

When you’re out canoe tripping or on long kayaking journeys, you’re likely to take your helmet on and off frequently. You need a fast-drying helmet that offers a good level of protection and is easy to fit every time. The Pro-Tec Ace is the ideal helmet to clip to a thwart, ready to throw on at a moment’s notice as you navigate the next on your journey.

Unlike other helmets, the Pro-Tec Ace does not have an internal adjustment system. This means that you need to measure your head carefully before buying and then pick from the many sizes on offer.

Pros:

  • Lightweight and fast-drying
  • Great for tripping and long journeys
  • A simple and effective helmet

Cons:

  • No internal adjustment system means you have to make sure to get the right fit
  • Not suited to high-end white water
Tom Kilpatrick avatar

Moose started his paddling life on the ponds and rivers in the South-East of England. He has slowly worked his way north and has spent the last few years paddling in Scotland, both with friends and as a canoe guide. A very experienced and knowledgeable coach and guide across Scotland and the rest of the UK, he spent a summer in Norway and a month in Nepal. He is also a cofounder of PaddleMore.co.uk.

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