C.A.M.P. Speed Helmet: The Lightest Lid

Posted on: July 11, 2011


MSRP: $129.95

A helmet's weight and stability are important to me because I don't like wearing one—and neither do many other climbers. I can remember one of my clients who threw his helmet off Granite Mountain in Montana because it kept knocking his glasses sideways. As a geyser of swearing erupted from his mouth, I climbed down and recovered the discarded lid. We've all been there. Helmets can be so top heavy the straps can't hold them in position. You look back at your partner and his frontal lobe is shining in the sun while the helmet humps the back of his head. Thank goodness technology has finally caught up. The market is quickly filling with ultra-light, single use foam lids that actually stay in place. At the head of the pack is C.A.M.P.'s Speed helmet. With a weight of 7.4 ounces, it's the lightest UIAA-cerified helmet on the market.

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Falling rock is a hazard everywhere we climb—especially where I like to play. I have seen rocks fly overheard like birds of prey, and have had a friend killed by falling rock. And a few seasons ago, our chief guide took a granitic uppercut to the jaw. While guiding this summer in the Tetons—land of loose scree and teetering death blocks—I kept grasping my head, wondering how I had forgotten my helmet only to find the Speed helmet secured to my noggin. I couldn't even tell it was there!

The Speed's comfort is not found in padding or adjustability, but in its extreme light weight. At first impression I wondered if this helmet is burly enough to handle a big impact, and durable enough to withstand heavy use. Expanded Polystyrene foam makes up the shape and mass of the helmet, while the outer coating is a hard shell of polycarbonate. The shell is strong enough to resist minor wear and tear while the EPS foam protects me from the bigger hits. I am sure most people will take a little extra care with their investment, but I choose to abuse mine. I jam it into my pack against cams and nuts with total disregard. I dangle it on the outside of my pack, scraping it against rock walls. I give it zero respect and it still looks new. The green polycarb coating still shines and there are only a few small, unnoticeable dents. I am impressed.

In meeting UIAA standards, the Speed helmet is capable of taking a direct hit of five kilograms to the top of the helmet from a height of two meters. A passing grade indicates the neck of the test mannequin does not feel a force greater than 8kN. The EPS foam crushes under the load, absorbing a significant portion of the force. As with all single- use helmets, if the EPS foam takes a significant hit, it needs to be replaced. Hard shell helmets do last longer and can take more abuse, but are heavier and more cumbersome.

[Photo] Jed Workman

The helmet's other features are twenty-two holes for excellent ventilation, clips for a headlamp, limited padding, Velcro crown adjustment and a Velcro chinstrap. All adjustments are easy to tweak, but not as easy as the Petzl systems. The Speed's chinstrap clip is easy to use when the helmet is on my head, while some other designs leave me fumbling. The headlamp clips appear to be fragile, but I have had no problems over several months of heavy use.

A couple issues I have with the Speed is how high it sits on my head and the lack of visor for shedding rain, snow and sunlight. Without even a tiny sun-visor sunlight can be blinding. Even with sunglasses it can be a problem.

That said, the Speed helmet's light weight and comfort makes it my first choice for all climbing activities—winter or summer, cragging or alpine climbing.

Pros: ultra-lightweight; durable; stable fit.

Cons: no sun visor; sits high on my head.

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