If you are new to kayaking or other water sports, you may be wondering whether you can use your spare bicycle helmet instead of buying a proper kayaking helmet.
After all, a helmet is a helmet, right?
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Bike helmets and kayaking helmets are tested and certified for completely different usage situations. Their composition, shape, and coverage are too dissimilar for a bike helmet to effectively protect your head while kayaking.
So, No! You should not use a bike helmet for kayaking.
If you decide to wear a bike helmet while kayaking, you could sustain a serious injury. It is always worth spending a little more to protect your head, especially when starting a new hobby such as kayaking or white-water rafting. To help you understand why, we’ve compiled a few facts about what makes these two helmets different.
Different Helmets, Different Jobs
Consider the risks of kayaking versus the risks of cycling. While both sports could lead to a serious head injury, the nature of the injuries is completely different. Therefore, both types of helmet are designed to protect their wearers from the specific types of trauma the athlete could receive while doing that sport/activity.
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Consider a cyclist. If someone sustains a head injury while riding a bike, it’s most likely caused by falling sideways or backward onto the pavement. Even if the cyclist is traveling at a high speed, their bike helmet is designed to absorb a single blow and allow the cyclist to slide along the pavement without scraping their head. After an accident, the helmet should then be replaced.
Kayaking helmets have a uniquely different job. Kayakers, and especially white-water rafters, have to be wary of several risks:
- Rocks falling from the top of a cliff
- Low-hanging tree branches
- Submerged rocks in the water
- Thrashing rapids
If a kayaker falls overboard while paddling through fast rapids, they could hit their head or neck on several rocks before gaining control of their body. Even without falling into the water, kayakers are still at risk of paddling into a dangerous environment.
Kayaking helmets must be prepared to take repeated blows from multiple directions. For this reason, kayaking helmets are generally tougher than standard bike helmets and are certified safe under CE (European) standards due to a lack of similar standards in the United States.
Different Sizes and Shapes
To keep kayakers safe from the variety of hazards they face, kayaking helmets are designed to cover more surface area than a bicycle helmet. Whereas a bicycle helmet covers the side and crown of your head, your forehead, and some of the back of your head, a kayaking helmet is far more comprehensive.
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Water Sports helmets come down over the ears and cover more of the forehead. Many helmets even extend down to cover the back of the neck, while some white-water rafting helmets even include a visor and chin guard to help protect your face. This way, nothing can impact your head while you paddle your kayak or if you fall into the water.
Certified Kayaking Helmets are Guaranteed Safe
Before a kayaking helmet ever goes to market, it first has to be tested to guarantee that whoever buys it is safely protected. This testing process is done independently and involves subjecting the helmet to various impacts and strength tests.
When a helmet company releases a new model, they are required to send samples to a testing lab where the helmet is tested for a few key components:
- How much impact the helmet can sustain?
- Retention testing of the helmet’s chin strip?
- Will the helmet stay on during/after a fall?
Researchers mount the helmet to a model weighted to match a typical human’s head. They then drop the helmet from several different heights onto a variety of metal anvils. If the helmets register above a certain g-force when they make an impact, they fail the test and are deemed unsafe for human use.
Kayaking helmets are also exposed to environmental conditions similar to those that a kayaker would face. They are soaked in water and then tested repeatedly to show that the helmet retains its effectiveness even after prolonged use on a river, lake, or stream.
If they deteriorate because of water exposure, the helmet will also fail the test.
Avoid using a bike helmet for kayaking. If you are new to kayaking or white-water rafting, it is better to spend the money on a quality kayaking helmet. They are designed specifically to handle the hazards you could face while kayaking and will protect your head far more than a helmet designed for a different sport.
It’s also worthy to note that many river-related fatalities are due to drowning after being knocked unconscious from hitting a rock. Certainly much better to wear the right helmet for the task at hand.