When you’re paddling down raging rivers and weaving in and out of eddies, your noggin is easily the most exposed part of your body.
As a result, protecting your head with a kayaking helmet is essential to mitigate the risk of paddling in tricky waters. With that in mind, ensuring that you always have the proper head protection while paddling starts with knowing what to look for as you shop.
Our Top picks
If you’re in a hurry, here are our top picks. Or continue scrolling to see our full list with in-depth reviews.
- Best Overall: WRSI Trident Helmet
- Best Value: NRS Havoc Livery Helmet
- Best Full-Face Helmet: WRSI Moment Helmet
- Best Full-Cut Helmet: NRS Chaos Full Cut Helmet
Best Overall: WRSI Trident Helmet
Weight: 1 lb. 7 oz. | Shell Material: Carbon composite | Liner Material: Removable, replaceable padded liner
For all-around performance and protection on the water, it’s hard to go wrong with the WRSI Trident Helmet.
This half-cut helmet is made from a durable carbon-composite outer shell, which provides the perfect blend of protection and weight savings. Meanwhile, the liner is crafted out of EVA foam and polyurethane to help dissipate the force of an impact while you paddle.
The liner on this helmet is also designed to breathe and wick away moisture for maximum comfort. What’s more, you can easily remove the Trident’s liner to make cleaning and drying your helmet as simple as can be.
WRSI crafted the Trident with their proprietary O-Brace harness. This harness is designed to comfortably wrap around the back of your head to help ensure that your helmet stays in place as you make your way downriver. This model also has an Interconnect Retention System that helps hold your helmet in place, even in hydraulics.
Furthermore, this helmet has a small brim that provides decent sun protection. However, note that this brim is solid, so it doesn’t allow water to flow through if you’re underwater.
Unfortunately, this model doesn’t have built-in vents or drainage points, which might be a concern on hot days or during paddles where swimming is a strong possibility. Plus, this helmet is pretty pricey. But if quality and performance are essential, the WRSI Trident is tough to beat.
Reasons to buy:
- Lightweight yet durable construction
- Liner can be removed for easy cleaning
- O-Brace harness for a better fit
- Interconnect Retention System helps keep the helmet in place
- Built with a small brim for sun protection
Reasons to avoid:
- Very expensive
- Solid brim can cause issues in big water
- No built-in drains or vents
Best Value: NRS Havoc Livery Helmet
Weight: 1 lb. 5 oz. | Shell Material: ABS plastic | Liner Material: Closed-cell EVA foam
One of the most popular kayak helmets to ever hit the market, the NRS Havoc Livery is a fan-favorite among budget-conscious paddlers.
NRS built the Havoc Livery out of rugged ABS plastic for maximum durability and versatility on the water. ABS plastic has long been used; it can handle getting banged around on rocks without costing you an arm and a leg.
Inside, the Havoc Livery features a glued-in closed-cell EVA foam liner that offers a mix of protection and padding on the water. For added comfort, this helmet also has plush-fit pads at the front and back that provide a better fit for long days on the water. There are even built-in drainage holes and vents at the top of the helmet to ensure breathability on hot summer days.
As far as fit goes, the Havoc Livery is one of the few models on the water designed with a universal sizing system. While the helmet itself doesn’t change size, it has an adjustable DialFit system that makes it easy to get a customized fit before you paddle.
Since this model is adjustable, it’s also an ideal choice for anyone who wants to have a spare helmet on hand for loaning out to friends or swapping between family members. This adjustability is also helpful if you think you might need to wear a hat while paddling during the year’s colder months.
The downside to the Havoc Livery is that it doesn’t offer any sun protection due to its lack of a built-in brim. In addition, its full ABS plastic shell is much heavier than some more expensive models. However, if you need a reliable paddling helmet that doesn’t break the bank, it’s hard to imagine a better option than the Havoc Livery.
Reasons to buy:
- Universal sizing design is highly adjustable
- Very affordable price point
- Durable ABS plastic construction
- Integrated vents and drainage holes
- Plush-fit pads for extra comfort
Reasons to avoid:
- Doesn’t provide sun protection
Best Full-Face: WRSI Moment Helmet
Weight: 2 lbs. | Shell Material: ABS plastic | Liner Material: EVA foam and polyurethane
When getting the best possible protection on the water is your top priority, the WRSI Moment Helmet is a sure bet.
Specifically designed for anyone paddling Class IV and V whitewater, the Moment is a full-face helmet built out of ABS plastic to provide maximum protection. It also has a highly breathable and fully removable liner that’s crafted to feel soft against your skin for additional comfort throughout a long day of paddling.
Furthermore, this model comes with the company’s dedicated Interconnect Retention System. This system is designed to hold the helmet in place, even if fast-moving water tries to push it backward. The Moment also has an Adjustable O-Brace Harness that wraps around the back of the head for superior security while you paddle.
When it comes to safeguarding you from in-water hazards, the Moment provides protection around your ears, chin, and cheeks, as well as on top of your head. This helmet also has a visor with drainage holes to offer sun protection without interfering with your ability to roll.
Unlike many full-face models, the Moment comes with vents around each ear. This means that this helmet breathes well and drains water whenever you go for a swim. At the same time, these ventilation holes help ensure that the padding of your helmet doesn’t interfere with your hearing ability on the water.
As with any full-face helmet, the Moment is heavy, bulky, and quite warm when paddling in the summer. Some kayakers also find that the removable liner in this helmet tends to shift around if it gets very wet. Nevertheless, if superior protection is your goal, it’s hard to find anything better than the WRSI Moment.
Reasons to buy:
- ABS plastic shell is highly durable
- Provides full face protection in rugged terrain
- Vents around each ear for breathability and drainage
- Includes a visor with drainage holes for increased performance
- Adjustable harness system for the best possible fit
Reasons to avoid
- Heavy and bulky
- Often too warm for summer paddling
- Some fit issues with the removable liner
Best Full-Cut: NRS Chaos Full Cut Helmet
Weight: 1 lb. 15 oz. | Shell Material: ABS plastic | Liner Material: Dual-density EVA foam
A budget-friendly and versatile choice for paddlers that want protection without sacrificing comfort, the NRS Chaos Full Cut Helmet is a nifty option.
With the Chaos, paddlers get a helmet made from robust ABS plastic for protection and durability. This plastic shell wraps around the head and ears to provide increased insurance against rocks in the water.
Meanwhile, the lining of the Chaos is a dual-density EVA foam that offers a blend of padding and comfort while paddling. When combined with the helmet’s ABS plastic shell, this dual-density foam can efficiently dissipate the forces of an impact if you capsize during a descent.
While many paddlers find that full-cut helmets like this don’t breathe well, NRS crafted the Chaos with vents that line the top of the plastic shell. At the same time, vents are built into the helmet’s earpieces to ensure that your hearing isn’t inhibited during your paddles.
However, note that the Chaos is not a universally sized helmet. Instead, this model comes in five sizes, so you’ll need to select the one that’s right for you. But each size has a quick-adjust harness so you can fine-tune your helmet’s fit before you paddle.
We should also mention that some paddlers find the strap on this helmet slightly uncomfortable after a long day on the water. But if versatility, protection, and affordability are priorities, the Chaos Full Cut helmet is a solid choice.
Reasons to buy:
- Affordable price point
- ABS shell and dual-density foam for performance and comfort
- Integrated vents on the top of the head for breathability
- Provides ear protection
- Drainage holes on each earpiece provide improved hearing
Reasons to avoid:
- Can be tricky to find the right size
- Chinstrap is a bit uncomfortable for some kayakers
Kayak Helmet Comparison Table
|Kayak Helmet||Sizes||Weight||Vented||Ear Coverage||Shell Material||Liner Material||Adjustment|
|WRSI Trident Helmet||S/M, M/L, L/XL||1 lb. 7 oz.||No||No||Carbon composite||Removable, replaceable padded liner||Interconnect Retention System|
|NRS Havoc Livery||Universal||1 lb. 5 oz.||Yes||No||ABS plastic||Closed-cell EVA foam||DialFit adjustment|
|WRSI Moment Helmet||S/M, M/L, L/XL||2 lbs.||Yes||Yes||ABS plastic||Removable, replaceable padded liner||Interconnect Retention System|
|NRS Chaos Full Cut Helmet||XS, S, M, L, XL||1 lb. 15 oz.||Yes||Yes||ABS plastic||Dual-density EVA foam||Quick-adjust harness|
Kayak Helmet Buying Advice
With something as crucial for your well-being and safety on the water as a helmet, it’s vital that you know what to look for before you buy. To help you out, here are some key features and considerations to keep in mind as you shop for your next kayak helmet.
- Types of Kayaking Helmets
- Fit & Comfort
- Brims & Sun Protection
- Water Drainage & Ventilation
- Weight & Bulk
Types of Kayaking Helmets
There are three basic kayaking helmet types, each of which offers its advantages and disadvantages for paddlers. These include:
- Full-Face – Similar in shape and style to a BMX or motorcycle helmet, a full-face kayak helmet is designed to provide you with maximum protection on the water. These models wrap entirely around your head and the lower part of your face to give you padding around the skull, jaw, ears, and cheeks. As a result, they’re ideal for paddling big water or for anyone particularly concerned about injuries. However, these helmets tend to be heavy, bulky, and poorly ventilated, so that’s something to consider before buying.
- Full-Cut – Offering a similar amount of skull and ear protection as a full-face helmet but without the chin and face coverage, full-cut kayak helmets are a popular choice for intermediate paddlers. These helmets cover the entire ear with a plastic shell, which is helpful in more hazardous waters. At the same time, they allow for more ventilation than a full-face helmet. The downside is that full-cut models can be uncomfortable if not appropriately sized, and some people find that they inhibit their hearing abilities.
- Half-Cut – Arguably the most popular kayak helmet type, half-cut models are open-face helmets that sit above the ears for maximum comfort and breathability. These models protect your skull but don’t offer much by way of face or ear protection. Therefore, they are great for moderate rivers where the risk of injury is relatively low. These helmets are also quite affordable, so they’re ideal for new paddlers.
Fit & Comfort
Simply put, if your kayak helmet doesn’t fit you well, it’s useless on the water. Therefore, the fit and comfort of your helmet should be your chief concern as you shop. A poorly fitting helmet can be dangerous, especially if it impedes your vision as you paddle or comes off while underwater.
Therefore, finding a model that fits you well and feels comfortable enough to wear for a whole day of paddling is essential.
Like the NRS Havoc Livery Helmet, some helmets have a universal adjustment system that works for nearly any paddler. But others, especially full-face models like the WRSI Moment Helmet, require that you get the right size for your head to ensure a proper fit.
So, measure your head and use a manufacturer’s sizing chart before buying a helmet. Then, test out your helmet at home to ensure you get a model that fits you well. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to exchange it for a different size. Otherwise, you could inadvertently increase your risk of injury on the water.
Brims & Sun Protection
In addition to impact protection, many kayak helmets now come with integrated brims (also known as visors) for sun protection during your paddles. If you live somewhere particularly sunny, these brims can provide invaluable shade from the sun as you make your way down a river.
But, very long brims can interfere with your ability to execute a roll if they start interacting with the current while you’re underwater. Nevertheless, they provide essential protection against the sun, which is worth considering when purchasing a kayaking helmet.
If you’re concerned with a brim interfering with your paddling, then you might be better off with a model that has a shorter brim that’s less likely to cause problems. Additionally, keep in mind that kayaking helmets with brims with holes built-in to allow water to flow through them are less likely to cause issues for you while you’re in the water.
Water Drainage & Ventilation
Ventilation is a concern for any type of helmet, and kayak helmets are no exception. But, in addition to ventilation, kayaking-specific noggin protectors also have to be concerned with water drainage if you were to fall into the water.
Helmets without vents and drainage holes tend to be warm, damp, and uncomfortable for paddlers.
Thankfully, the ventilation and water drainage abilities go hand in hand with kayak helmets. Many built-in vents in kayak helmets can do double duty as drainage holes underwater.
So you’ll want to look for these features as you shop. As a general rule, the more ventilation and drainage holes in a kayak helmet, the merrier. This is particularly true if you paddle in warm environments, but a bit of breathability is always appreciated when you’re in a kayak.
Weight & Bulk
These days, helmets are a common sight among whitewater paddlers, and for a good reason: they offer invaluable protection against hazards in the river.
But it wasn’t always this way. Like skiers, cyclists, and other athletes, paddlers didn’t always like wearing helmets because they can feel heavy and bulky on your head.
Of course, the fact that kayak helmets can be heavy and bulky doesn’t detract from their value on the water, and it’s always best practice to wear one when the conditions demand it. However, getting a relatively lightweight and low-volume helmet can do wonders for your comfort levels.
As a result, many paddlers prefer to use helmets made from premium materials, like carbon composite, which provide exceptional protection and weight savings. These high-end helmets, such as the WRSI Trident Helmet, often come with premium prices, though.
Since kayak helmets are designed to protect you from significant impacts, it should come as no surprise that these are naturally durable pieces of gear. However, some models are made with more rugged materials than others.
In particular, ABS plastic helmets tend to be the most resilient after years of frequent use. ABS plastic also holds up better to scratches and nicks than higher-end materials, like carbon composite.
Ultimately, any kayak helmet you buy that’s certified for use in whitewater will be designed to withstand high-impact forces. But if you opt for a model not made from ABS plastic, you need to be prepared to treat it with care outside of the water so that it stays in good working condition for as long as possible.
When you go whitewater kayaking, there are few pieces of gear more important than your helmet. However, selecting the best kayak helmet can be tricky because there are so many features that you need to consider before you buy.
Out of all the kayaking helmets on the market, the WRSI Trident Helmet stands out as a front-runner for us. The Trident’s carbon-composite shell, removable foam liner, and adjustable harness system provide it with the mix of protection and comfort paddlers need on the water.
Nevertheless, kayak helmets are one of those things that only work if you wear them. As a result, what’s important is that you purchase a model that’s comfortable for you and designed for your paddling style.