Best Kayak Helmet in 2020 – Top Models Tested & Reviewed

What Makes a G​reat Kayak Helmet? 

Modern kayak helmets come in styles that are nearly as varied as the paddlers who wear them. However, there are some basic features to consider when evaluating any helmet for the protection and comfort it can provide.

The helmet shell is the first line of defense in absorbing impact forces and reducing a potentially skull-cracking blow to a minor bump. In general, the stiffer the shell, the more effective it is. Composites like Kevlar and carbon fiber are the stiffest, and they have the advantage of being lightweight. But helmets made from these materials are quite expensive. Various formulas of injection-molded thermoplastic are used in most mid- to low-price range helmets—these helmets are not as stiff as composite helmets, and a bit heavier, but they will provide the protection required by most users.

The next component of the helmet is the liner—this is the second and final barrier between you and the source of impact. It provides a cushion between the head and the helmet shell, and also helps manage the deceleration forces that would slam the brain against the inside of the skull if you undergo a hard blow to the head. The helmet liner is also key to comfort and fit in any given helmet. 

And finally, for the shell and the liner to do their jobs, the helmet has to stay correctly positioned on the head. It should not wobble side-to-side or slip down in front or back, and it must resist being torn off by the force of the water in heavy rapids or ocean waves. Proper fit to head size and shape along with an effective strap system are both key here.

Protect Your Head—You Only Have One

Choose a helmet that fits snugly and feels comfortable enough for all-day wear. This can be tricky because everyone’s head shape is unique. Then, consider your use patterns. Are you going to be charging Class 5 rapids hundreds of days out of the year, or paddling on mellow back-waters a few weekends in the summer? Do you run shallow, rocky creeks, or deep, high-volume rivers? Do you need warmth or cooling ventilation? All of these are critical factors in your choice of a helmet. Finally, think about the style that suits you—manufacturers are making a wide selection of designs and colors available nowadays.

9 Best Kayak Helmets - Comparisons

Best Kayak Helmets in 2020 - Reviews

We have sorted through a lot of helmets and identified some of the best models in terms of protection, comfort, and value for the money. Use our review of the best whitewater paddling helmets out there to help you find the right helmet at the right price.

Sweet Protection Rocker HC

We had to go with the Sweet Protection Rocker as the ultimate high-tech helmet for professional-level performance. It is going to cost you some money to get into a Rocker, but you will get ultimate protection.

Sweet Protection is a Norwegian company that has been building skateboard gear, kayaks, and helmets since the 1980s when skateboarding was illegal in Norway. They are serious about their helmet technology. The use of Thermoplastic Laminated Carbon fiber (TLC) gives the Rocker the elastic, impact-absorbing properties of injection-molded thermoplastic combined with the strength of carbon fiber—this allows a balance of impact resistance with light weight, with different performance properties distributed in different areas of the shell.

The helmet features the unobtrusive Occigrip adjustment system to micro-adjust the fit for stability and comfort. The full-coverage liner is made from moisture-wicking Coolmax material that stays comfortable in a range of temperatures and is removable for washing.

The sculpted ventilation slots on the top are a really cool feature that make this helmet unique. We also liked the fact that the helmet comes complete with an adjustable shatter-proof visor and all mounting hardware. A visor like this provides extra levels of protection from both the elements and impact.

This helmet also comes in a full-face version for those who want total face protection. This is a top-quality piece of sports gear, and it comes with a 2-year warranty and customer service backing appropriate to its price point. We recommend the Rocker for boaters who want to push the limits of the sport.

What we liked

  • Comfortable and light
  • Outstanding design details
  • A proven company

What we didn't like

  • High price point
Gath Gedi Helmet

This Australian company released the first surfing helmet in 1989 when wearing a helmet in the waves was a novelty. However, with surfers pushing the boundaries of the sport on heavier waves and with tow-in surfing, the life-saving benefits of head protection were obvious. Some of the first Gath helmets in the US appeared on Japanese chargers at the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii. Now Gath helmets are the top choice for marine rescue personnel, professional water sportsmen, and heavy water enthusiasts around the world.

The Gath Gedi is aCE EN 1385-approved whitewater helmet. Its shell is made from UV-stable, high-impact ABS that is designed to flex on impact, absorbing force the same way plastic bumpers and crumple zones in cars do.

Neutral bouyancy and good immersion characteristics reduce the chance of head and neck injuries. The Gedi is fitted an extra layer of impact protection for the front of the head. Removable ear pockets allow the user to change from skull cap style to full coverage, and the ear pockets have adjustable audio vents. This is a very comfortable helmet, with a closed-cell foam liner and head band that give a snug, cushiony fit. Even the chin strap webbing is wrapped with foam to prevent chafing.

The Gath Gedi can be used with a range of accessories such as visors, full-face protectors, and camera mounts. This helmet comes at the top of the price range, but with a 3-year guarantee and a 20-year safety record, it is money well-spent to own one of these legendary water sports helmets.

What we liked

  • Very light and comfortable 
  • Close-fitting and low-drag characteristics 
  • Leading reputation for quality and performance
  • Comes with a 3-year warranty

What we didn't like

  • Sizing runs very small
  • Highprice point

The Strutter helmet from Sweet Protection has been a favorite of whitewater boaters for over 20 years. A lightweight, low-volume helmet, the Strutter captures the classic baseball cap design with a computerized 3D shape.

Certified for protection in water up to Class 4, this helmet features a long fiber thermoplastic shell that combines Polyamide with long fiberglass strands to produce exceptional impact resistance at a low volume. Extra protection is provided by a carbon fiber reinforced polymer insert on the inside front of the shell. The EVA liner absorbs shock and has high-memory fit characteristics, allowing it to form to the user’s head shape for comfort. It also resists cracking at low temperatures.

Even though we personally like full-coverage protection, many boaters prefer the Strutter for its classic profile and super-light weight. The baseball cap design itself naturally eliminates many potential pressure and pinch points, and the helmet is very easy to get on and off. Comfort pads are included, and the Occigrip adjustment system lets you snug the helmet up so it does not wobble or roll. The soft polypropylene chin straps give good stability and make this helmet comfortable for all-day wear.

We found that this simple-looking little helmet actually had a lot of advanced technology in its build. It is a very high-quality helmet, and this is reflected in its price point.

What we liked

  • Light and comfortable to wear all day
  • European made by a pioneering company
  • Sporty looks

What we didn't like

  • The helmet sits too high on some head shapes
WRSI Trident Composite Helmet

The Trident is a high-tech carbon composite helmet from the Whitewater Research and Safety Institute.

Made for high-performance boating, the Trident gives maximum impact protection by combining a carbon-composite outer shell with a polyurethane sub-shell and EVA foam liners. The liner is removable and replaceable, and this model comes with 9 adjustable fit pads. The strap system automatically adjusts to hold the helmet in place against the force of rushing water.

We liked the overall fit and style of this helmet. It is very light at 1.45 lbs., and will be comfortable as long as you choose a size compatible with your head. The front visor not only deflects the sun, it also keeps some space between your face and the rocks, and the use of high-visibility white plastic on the chin strap quick-release buckles is also a nice touch.

The one downside was the lack of any options for ear protection, something that should probably be standard at this price level. 

What we liked

  • Good shell design and shape
  • Super-lightweight
  • Plush liner
  • Very durable and solid feel to this helmet

What we didn't like

  • Minimal features for the price
Shred Ready Standard Fullface Kayak Helmet

The top-shelf model in Shred Ready’s ABS helmet line, the Standard Fullface gives the highest level of protection available—this one is strong, light, comfortable, and one of the most affordable full-face helmets available.

The EPP liner material combined with the closed-cell foam custom fit pads gives this model a snug, cushioned fit. Like the ABS shell, the liner is made to handle multiple impacts, making for a very durable helmet.

This helmet has Shred Ready’s HOG dial adjustment rear retention strap system that allows for precise fit with different head shapes—but we found this was not really needed once the custom fit pads were adjusted to match the head shape. The detailing and comfort features on this helmet are excellent, as we have found with other Shred Ready helmets we tested.

The Shred Ready Fullface gives the protection needed for creeking and paddling shallow, rocky rivers. It also looks really cool. However, as with all full-face helmets, fit is critical—since the helmet encloses the entire head, there is a higher chance of having pressure points and discomfort. Restricted vision can also be a problem.

With a full-face model,you need to make sure the helmet works with your specific head shape and is comfortable for long wear. If it fits your head, the Shred Ready Full face is the best full-face helmet for the money.

What we liked

  • American made 
  • Stylish protection at a low price
  • Comes with a 1-year warranty

What we didn't like

  • May not be comfortable on some head shapes
Shred Ready Standard Fullcut Whitewater Helmet

The Shred Ready Fullcut helmet is based on the same design as the popular Standard Halfcut, with added extensions that drop down to provide ear protection.

The Fullcut is built around an injection-molded ABS shell that gives great protection and durability at an affordable price. The helmet feels light and secure on the head, with a snug, comfortable fit provided by the expanded polypropylene (EPP) liner and closed-cell foam fitting pads. The liner is designed to retain its protective qualities even after multiple impacts.

Soft, plush material covers the liner and adds comfort, and the fitting pads hook to the liner for easy custom fit adjustments. A micro-adjustable retention strap system that runs across the back of the head below the helmet rim allows the helmet fit to be dialed in for different users and prevents the helmet from tipping back.

Like all Shred Ready whitewater helmets, the Fullcut was designed with hard use in mind. We liked the detailing on this helmet—all rivets and other metal fittings are made from corrosion-resistant stainless steel. The nylon webbing used for the straps is very soft, and the buckles and fasteners are molded from strong Duraflex plastic. The drain and vent holes are well-positioned, and ventilations in the ear-guard portions of the helmet let you hear what’s going on.

The overall look of the Shred Ready Fullcut is sleek and modern, with built-up ridges on the shell over likely impact areas. This helmet is an American made product with a 1-year warranty on materials and workmanship. It is a very nice helmet at an economical price point.

What we liked

  • High quality build details 
  • Stylish yet strong and comfortable
  • Value pricing

What we didn't like

  • Cable rear fit adjustment system looks weak
ProTec Ace Wake Helmet

Even though the ProTec Ace is listed as a wakeboard helmet, we wanted to take a look at it because of ProTec’s reputation as a pioneering skate board and water sports helmet manufacturer.

The Ace is known among paddlers, kitesurfers, and wakeboarders for the ultra-fast draining characteristics provided by 15 large vent holes. The build of this ABS helmet did not disappoint either—it showed the refinement that comes from several decades in the sports helmet business. Removable ear guards provide the fully protected feeling we like, and they feature water channels to keep things clear around your ears.

The dual-density liner system of the Ace gives extra padding where it is needed and is very comfortable, and offers a snug fit that can be dialed in with the Headlock fit system. This system works well without being obtrusive or too gadgety. The chin strap is simple and easy to adjust, and foam padding keeps it from digging in or chafing.

The high-visibility Ace models in red, orange, and blue come with a built-in accessory mount strap on the rear of the helmet. The ProTec is just a solid all-around brain bucket from a proven manufacturer. You can’t go wrong with it at the price.

What we liked

  • Very solid and padded feel
  • Well-designed ear guards
  • Super-fast draining

What we didn't like

  • Rear adjustment strap edge can dig into the back of the neck
Tontron Water Helmet with GoPro Mount

The Tontron Water Helmet is a fairly typical ABS-shell helmet with an EVA foam liner. A rear dial-strap size adjustment system allows for tuning the fit snugly to different head shapes, and the removable ear protection pads allow the user to adapt the helmet to different conditions and temperature ranges.

This helmet is particularly well-vented and drained with 11 large openings spread across the top and back of the shell. This quick-draining capability makes it suitable for sports like surfing, kite surfing, and water skiing as well as kayaking.

The helmet is comfortable and fairly light-weight for an ABS helmet, but what really interested us is the number of unusual features it has. It comes standard with an integrated GoPro mount on the front. Rail mounts on each side of the helmet above the ear piece allow for mounting LED lights. When everything is mounted up, the helmet looks like a serious caving or mountaineering helmet, but with no accessories mounted, the helmet retains a reasonably sleek profile. The hard plastic mounts on the outside of the shell will also serve as additional impact bumpers.

This is the most versatile helmet in our review, and considering the value price range it falls into, we recommend it as a very good buy.

What we liked

  • Comfortable full-wrap liner 
  • Removable ear guards
  • Camera and light mounting systems included 
  • Great price

What we didn't like

  • No fitting pads included
  • Manufacturer is not well-known
NRS Havoc Livery Helmet

The Havoc Livery Helmet by Northwest River Supply is a simple, lightweight ABS helmet with a closed-cell EVA liner. The design provides excellent impact protection, and six large vent ports give good airflow and quick drainage.

This is a very basic, low-priced helmet that still meets CE EN 1385 standards for whitewater safety. With fixed comfort pads and a ratchet-adjust dial fit system that will let nearly any adult use the same helmet, the Havoc is a one-size-fits-all solution. It takes the name livery because it is the choice of many whitewater guide outfitters and kayak rental companies.

The hardware and strap system are as simple and sturdy as one would expect from a helmet designed to be worn by many people on hundreds of river runs every season. And while the Havoc does not offer the level of protection needed by extreme river runners or creek boaters, the affordable price and versatility of this helmet make it a good option for users who need several helmets—for example, to take friends out, or to gear up several family members for weekend outings on milder stretches of whitewater. 

What we liked

  • Good quality from a proven company
  • Comfortable for all-day wear
  • Great price

What we didn't like

  • Offers minimal protection or warmth
  • Narrow chin strap needs some padding

Choosing the Best from a Crowded Field

While basic kayak helmets have been around for quite some time, in the past there was nothing even close to the range of styles and prices we now see.

The only way to sift through the pack was to draw on our own knowledge and experience with rafting, surfing, skateboarding, and snowboarding, while also depending on reports from team riders and other professionals.

The history and reputation of the manufacturers were also important considerations.

It Really Is a Matter of Life and Death

Accidents can happen even during simple family outings on the mildest of waters. Head protection is a must and you need to choose a helmet wisely, particularly when shopping for children.

Base your decision on the protection needed, not on matters of money or style, and be careful with sizing and fit. We hope you have found this review to be a helpful place to start your search from.

Share This Post
David Valle

I started this blog to provide advanced material, guiding you towards a better and more comfortable fishing experience. I deliver more than fishing gear guides, and motivate people to hit the water!