Hockey helmets are designed with longevity on the list of important features. They’re not designed to last you a year or so before they self-destruct or fall off of your head. If they were, some helmet manufacturers would have a lot to answer for.
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The reality is, the helmet doesn’t necessarily run out of steam so much as the certification does. The HECC (Hockey Equipment Certification Council) certifies hockey helmets and that certification does have a time limit. That time limit is 6 and ½ years.
Of course, there is one important rule of thumb that you should follow. It’s the same rule of thumb that those in the construction industry follow. If you get hit in the helmet, hard enough to seriously ring your bell, it’s time to change helmets.
The reason being is that you can’t know if the helmet is compromised. If it takes a serious blow, it may look genuinely unblemished but the structural integrity may very well be lost and that’s why you should make a change.
How Long Are Hockey Helmets Good For?
According to HECC, a certified hockey helmet is good for 6 and ½ years, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. The lifespan of a hockey helmet is how many scuffs, scrapes, impacts, and wear and tear that it has undergone since you purchased it.
There are several good reasons to go ahead and upgrade or just retire your hockey helmet:
- Cracked or visibly stressed inner foam or gel linings
- The helmet takes a severe blow
- HECC certification expires
- Visible damage
If you’re playing competitively, even if it’s just a pick-up game on roller blades, you want your gear in solid condition because it could mean the difference between getting your bell rung and a full-on concussion.
And, just to throw a spanner in the works, CDC states that hockey helmets should be replaced no later than 10 years from the date of manufacture. As HECC is the governing body for hockey in the United States, I would be sticking to their 6 and ½ year rule. In fact, I doubt HECC will recertify a helmet that is older than 6 and ½ years.
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If you are north of the border, up Canada way, then there doesn’t appear to be a definitive lifespan or expiration date for hockey helmets.
What Are The Helmet Rules in the NHL?
In terms of the safety of the material that goes into NHL helmets, there’s not much in the way of NHL regulations except that they must be approved by the NHL according to unspecified criteria.
The remaining helmet rules are concerning the players in the game and what happens when their helmet comes off. For instance, the NHL just released a new rule for players whose helmets come off in-game.
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According to NHL Rule 9.6, A player who loses their helmet must get it back on within a reasonable amount of time or leave the ice. Not doing so will net the player a minor penalty.
It’s a rule designed to improve player safety in the case that their helmet comes off on the ice, during play. The rule goes on to say that players who knock off other players’ helmets intentionally will get a minor penalty for “roughing.”
How To Maintain Your Hockey Helmet
There’s not much that you have to do to properly maintain your hockey helmet, however, you definitely want to keep it clean, with a focus on removing sweat from the inside. The salt residue in sweat may facilitate a breakdown of the lining materials over a period of time.
- Clean it after each use, with warm water
- Store it inside, never in a car
- Don’t paint your helmet
- Never sit or lean on it
- Periodically check it over for damage
Never store your helmet—or any hockey equipment for that matter—inside your car. The extreme temperature changes within a car are more than enough to compromise the material that is necessary to protect your head.
Paint is also problematic unless it is certified and cleared with the manufacturer because the paint may degrade the material on which it is applied.
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Sitting or leaning on your hockey helmet is also something that can potentially compromise the helmet. Extreme pressure on the material is capable of creating stress fractures or cracking in the lining.
You also want to periodically check it over for damage. Any time that the helmet is subjected to a serious blow, you should either get a new one or have it inspected to see if the structural integrity is still sound.
Oftentimes, you won’t be able to see any visible damage—although cracking is usually pretty visible in the lining—because the damage is within the material or the cracks are microscopic and/or very difficult to see with the naked eye.
Even though hockey helmets have an expiration date, how long hockey helmets are good for really boils down to how hard you play, and how well you take care of your helmet.
They aren’t designed to be a short-term method of head protection. They’re designed to be strong, durable, with plenty of built-in longevity so that you can wring every drop of usefulness out of it.
If you know your certification is nearly up, it’s a good idea to start shopping because 6 and ½ years is a fair amount of time for personal protective equipment to last. Always consider replacing your helmet after a heavy blow, or at least have it inspected.
You always want to keep your equipment in prime shape as it could mean the difference between walking away from an injury or sustaining a severe concussion.