All forms of climbing have a degree of risk and helmets are just one piece of gear that we can choose to use to mitigate that risk as we consider things like loose terrain and fall potential.

Finding out how climbing gear is certified to protect us is often confusing, tedious, and nearly impossible from most google searches. So for the curious climber we’re diving into exactly how helmets are tested so you can see how they reduce risk.

There are two main organizations in charge of establishing standards and expectations for climbing gear. Let’s break down the certifications and testing for climbing helmets and how they relate to your safety, risk management and decision making when buying a helmet.

UIAA and CEN logos
The UIAA and CEN are two bodies that work to develop standards in climbing equipment. The EN Certification relies heavily on the recommendations of use-specific groups like the UIAA when it comes to establishing climbing norms

The two certifying bodies that climbers will encounter when searching for a helmet are UIAA and CEN. The UIAA is a group of climbing industry professionals that gather data and make recommendations on best practices for the industry. Essentially, someone needed to make a set of standards for all different types of safety gear relating to rock climbing, so these brands and individuals gathered and weighed in on what they should be.

CEN is the group and the EN standard is the specific document that lists the testing process and is filed as a European standard required to be sold in the EU. The CEN often relies on expert groups like the UIAA to inform them on standards, and we wrote a post on these and other standards bodies if you want to do a deeper dive.

Though the certifying process is obviously a lot more involved and nuanced, for our purposes here EN-12492 and UIAA-106 are the specific set of requirements developed for climbing helmets which are mostly thought of as interchangeable.

If you would like to dig into the full details of the testing and certification process, links to the full documentation for both groups of tests can be found here for the UIAA and here for CEN, though the EN documentation sits behind a paywall.

UIAA and EN Testing Methods

The testing process of a climbing helmet for the UIAA and EN standard is essentially broken into two parts: the test of the shell and the test of the suspension.

Helmet testing for certification
This diagram is a shortened explanation of the UIAA 109 and EN 12492 certification of helmets. It details the testing methods for impact, puncture and chin strap strength. Image courtesy of the UIAA

Testing of the shell is done from the point of view of impact absorption as determining the amount of force that makes it from the top of the helmet onto your skull (and thereby your soft, pink brain-stuff). Basically this tells us the helmet’s ability to protect your head from injury.

An interesting thing to note is that there are multiple drops performed in this test: one from the top with a rounded 5kg mass from 2m, and also one each from the front, sides, and rear with a 5kg flat mass from .5m. These separate impacts are essentially simulations of rockfall from above, and swinging impacts from the sides such as when lead falling below roofs, respectively.

Then there is another mass drop test that involves a spike dropped from directly above to test the helmets ability to protect against penetration from falling debris.

The test of the helmet’s suspension is designed to ensure that it will stay on our head during a fall, something that is important if you want your helmet to protect you at all. The suspension test is split into two parts with .5kN of force is pulled downward on the chin strap to ensure the strength of the buckle and the suspension attachment to the shell, plus a lateral pull test to check that the helmet cannot slide off the head if it were to catch on something.

This lateral pull test highlights something interesting about the importance of how we fit our helmets and the fact that an improperly adjusted helmet technically ‘isn’t certified’ to protect you according to the UIAA. Something to keep in mind if you share a helmet with others and are constantly adjusting the fit or are ‘getting by’ with a climbing helmet that doesn’t fit correctly.

What the UIAA/EN Test Tells Us

There is more to certifications than understanding the tests and stamps of approval. It is also important to think about how helmet certifications are (or are not) reflective of real life scenarios that climbers encounter. For example, while UIAA and EN tests provide a standard for a helmet to take a blow from 90º above us, in practicality the possibility of a falling rock hitting us slightly from one side or the other (say 75-89º) is far more likely.

Similarly, the the side impact tests are are also only from one angle and are done with much less force and only at a single angle.

Also an impact from a pointed rock or sharp ledge from the side or rear, like is possible when falling an hitting your head against a sharper rock, though less likely than a hit from above, is not taken into account with these drop tests.

The expectation that any testing apparatus or system will ensure maximum protection – like from every angle – is of course not a reasonable one. It’s worth noting that the UIAA has received a lot of criticism over the years that this current testing method doesn’t take enough scenarios into account. Though it is true that the current form of UIAA-106 hasn’t been updated in 10 years as of this writing and many helmet materials and production methods have improved in that time, having a uniform method does provide at least a few ways for we climbers to be able to know that helmets at least partially lower and mitigate risk, and using them offers more protection than not.

When compared to testing in other industries for other types of helmets, the mountaineering certification stands out a bit because all impacts are performed on a stationary helmet. While this makes sense for above and side impact testing for rockfall, it is a bit of a further stretch to say the forces and angles from impacts due to a climber falling against an object or ledge is really being taken into account. Does it mean climbing helmets aren’t adequately providing protection? In a word, no. But it isn’t far fetched to imagine additional testing procedures that could be built to better simulate non-rockfall impacts.

In recent years Petzl has taken it upon themselves to begin designing and testing their helmets to provide more protection from side, front, and rear impacts. Petzl has proposed that all manufacturers and the certifying bodies update to accommodate this higher level of testing per side and rear of the helmet. Since Petzl’s vocal proposal, we have noticed that some manufacturers are trending to provide more side and rear coverage, perhaps in advance of an eventual UIAA adoption.

Petzl Helmet Enhanced Protection Test 1
In 2018 Petzl began designing and testing their helmets to include additional side, front, and rear impact requirements. (Image courtesy Petzl)

Other EN Certs for Helmets

Two other EN Certifications for helmets are the European Ski & Snowboard Standard EN-1077 and European Cycling Standard EN-1078. Though they are not designed and conceived with climbing directly or indirectly, both of these certs come into play when considering a helmet for multiple sports.

EN-1077 is a certification that verifies that a helmet meets the testing standards required by the speeds and forces required in downhill skiing. Helmets including these features have become a bit more popular in recent years due to the increased popularity of ski mountaineering, as climbers want to have a single helmet for skiing and summiting technical rock. Technically EN-1077 has 2 versions, A and B, with the difference being A requires ear coverage and B does not. As climbing helmets often struggle to be as light and low profile as possible, it is likely that any climbing helmets you encounter with the EN-1077 cert are certified B. If you want to read more, we wrote a longer post about dual use ski helmets here.

EN-1078 designates compliance with European cycling safety. Today, dual certified climbing and biking helmets are far less common for adults (they’re more common for kids helmets). One large difference between this biking cert and its snowsport cousin EN-1077 is that the “anvils” used to test the helmet’s ability to absorb force include both flat and ‘curbed’ angular shapes to simulate the common edges more likely encountered in urban or mountain cycling.

Another interesting thing to note about these testing methods and certifications is that they are derived with very different purposes and applications in mind than climbing helmets. The EN-1077 and EN-1078 tests place the helmet on a form and actually swing the helmet at the anvil. In contrast, the tests outlined for climbing hold the helmet steady and drop a weighed shape on it. This distinction is very telling about the intention of each test: can this helmet adequately absorb forces when something hits ME versus when I suddenly hit something else. 

Technically speaking, a climbing helmet with an additional ski or bike certification means that the helmet has been tested in a more exhaustive manor. As such, these dual or triple certified helmets are more likely to hold up in extraordinary circumstances. That said, these helmets are often bulkier and heavier.

Multi-certified helmets come with a heftier price tag than a standard helmet made for climbing only, but the price is justifiable if you only buy 1 multi-use helmet vs multiple specific-use helmets.

A Final Note

To ensure your helmet is made for climbing you need to make sure it is CE EN-12492 certified. Being CE certified is not enough – the CE cert needs to come along with the specific EN standard for climbing helmets. Similarly, ski helmets need to be CE EN-1077 certified and bike helmets CE EN-1078 certified.

We make this distinction specifically because we’ve seen some products, say on Amazon, claiming to be CE certified, but this does not mean they are certified for climbing since it does not include the EN standard.

There is one more ski-related ‘certification’ that Petzl has worked with the CE to create specifically for ski touring. We’ve done quite a bit of digging and so far have been unable to define exactly the testing and parameters (which may not be available online). The gist appears to be that the helmet is able to pass all the tests for EN-12492 with additional considerations for side and rear impact. This designation doesn’t appear to have a number or documentation that we can find, but we feel it’s important to note that it should not be confused with an actual UIAA/EN approved testing method.

At WeighMyRack, we only list safety equipment like helmets that have been certified by the UIAA or CEN. We think it is important that gear we use to keep ourselves safe in climbing be put through catalogued and rigorous testing, even if the current testing my seem incomplete. We see a brands willingness to include and pay for testing performance in their designs as a sign that they value the health and well-being of their customer, we the climber.

Helmet Features List

You can check out other posts on all things helmets on the blog by searching ‘Helmet’. If you want to see just how many helmets out there pass the the ski cert, bike cert, or both, we have custom filters at WeighMyRack.com/helmet for those and many other features that will help you decide the best way to protect your dome.

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Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff Jaramillo

Jeff currently lives in the Midwest and spends most of his free time answering questions nobody asked. When not plugging gear on moderate warmups and calling it a day, he can be found whining about whipping on bolts in the gym or at the local pub waxing poetic about climbing saving humanity and the planet.

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