The complete guide to buying a hockey helmet

Stay safe on the ice this season.

Hockey poses some inherent risks for all who play it, and that is why safety equipment like padding and helmets is so important. Finding the right helmet can be a lifesaving move, so it makes sense to take the process seriously. Luckily, the task isn’t as daunting as it may seem. Shopping for a hockey helmet is a matter of determining the right size and fit for your needs. Whether buying a helmet for yourself or one of your kids, follow these steps to get the best protection for your head.

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Sizing

Hockey helmet sizes may vary by manufacturer, so a good first step in knowing the right size for your helmet is to measure your head and know how many centimeters it is in circumference. Get a flexible measuring tape – a cloth tape measure used for sewing is a good choice – and place the end that starts with the lowest numbers about 2.5 cm over your eyebrows on your forehead. Then wrap the other end of the tape around your head. The point where the wrapped end meets up with the low-number end will give you your head circumference measurement. Make sure the measuring tape is snug against your scalp as you measure, but don’t pull it so tight that it hurts. Make sure you get an accurate idea of what your head circumference is. If it’s too tight or too loose, this will affect the way your helmet fits. If possible, have someone help so you can be sure the tape is aligned evenly around your skull. If you are on your own, stand in front of a mirror to make sure the tape is properly in place. Write down your exact measurement and take it with you as you shop.

Fit

The helmet’s fit is one of the most important selection criteria you have during the shopping process. Even if your head circumference measurement says that a certain helmet size should work for you, this may not actually be the case, so make sure you try before you buy. One manufacturer’s helmet may not work well for your particular head shape, while another may fit perfectly. Try several different brands to see which one fits the best and feels the most comfortable.

Put the helmet on your head. It shouldn’t be too tight. If it feels uncomfortable, try the next size up or opt for a different brand. During a game, a helmet that is too large may slip around on your head, obscuring vision or failing to properly protect your head.

Fasten the chin strap when trying on the helmet. Adjust it so it doesn’t cut into your skin, make you feel choked, or impede your movement. The chin strap is an important element in keeping the helmet in place, and the helmet should not shift around as you turn your head. You want a snug, secure fit that feels comfortable. If the helmet has adjustable screws, loosen them all the way, put the helmet on your head, then tighten to get a proper fit. If the helmet doesn’t feel right or moves around no matter how much you adjust the screws and the chin strap, move on to a different model or brand.

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Features

Youth hockey players are required to have face protection attached to their helmets, and some adult players also opt for this added safety feature. The two main options for facial protection are plastic face shields, which are translucent, and wire cages, which have large enough holes to allow the player to see well. The fit of the face protection is very important, as a shield or cage that doesn’t fit properly can actually cause injury to the nose, mouth, or jaw if it is too small. Usually, hockey players are able to opt for facial protection that is the same size as their helmet, but some players’ face shapes require that their shield or cage be either smaller or larger than their helmet size.

Each mask type has its own advantages and disadvantages. Plastic shields are lighter and offer unobstructed vision, but can fog up as the player sweats and breathes. Wire cages do not have this problem, but they do tend to be heavier and the view is slightly hindered by the cage’s crossbars. Both types should be attached to the helmet securely by carefully following the manufacturer’s instructions. Make sure to attach any additional equipment that accompanies the facial protection piece. For example, a cage may have side clips that actually help stop the cage from collapsing into the player’s face in the event of facial impact with a puck, stick, or another player. If the helmet you are looking at doesn’t have these side clips, do some research to find out if they are needed.

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Brand and Certification

There are multiple sporting good brands that manufacture hockey helmets, and no one brand is necessarily better than another. Different brands may have different shape or size standards that work better for one individual than they do for another. More important than brand name is certification. All hockey helmets sold in Canada must be certified by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). The certification sticker must appear on the helmet and may be prominent on the helmet’s packaging as well. This certification signifies that the helmet’s manufacturer adheres to safety and quality control standards endorsed by the CSA and is a way to ensure that you are getting the safest helmet possible.

Material

Modern hockey helmets tend to have high-tech foam padding and lining on the interior. Dual-density vinyl nitrile (VN) and expanded polypropylene (EPP) are two examples of modern foam materials that are often seen on the interior of hockey helmets. Some brands have proprietary materials with high-tech names, but ultimately, is not necessarily better than another. It is all a matter of fit and comfort.

Think about fit, and don’t get taken in by marketing that tries to make one high-tech foam seem better than another. Pick a material that doesn’t have too much give and that fits snugly around your head. Foam that is too dense or too soft can lead to unsafe gapping between the helmet and the player’s skull. You do not want a loose helmet that moves around while you play. If the helmet shifts back even a couple inches, it could expose very sensitive parts of the skull making you more susceptible to a traumatic head injury.

New or Used?

If you are on a budget, it may be tempting to buy a used helmet. Certifications and warranties often become void when a helmet is resold, so double check with the manufacturer to find out its policy. When buying a used helmet, be very selective.

Do not buy a used helmet without first holding it in your hands and visually inspecting both the inside and the outside. If it is cracked or damaged in any way, do not buy it. Once a helmet is damaged, it can no longer be guaranteed to provide the proper protection and should be discarded. If in doubt, move on to the next option. Compromising your safety is not worth saving a few dollars. If, on the other hand, you find a used helmet that has only been worn once or twice and looks to be in almost new condition, it is worth consideration. With careful inspection and a proper fit, a used option can save you money and offer protection. The best advice is to use common sense while shopping for a used helmet and put safety first.