The best kayak helmet is a vital piece of safety equipment for anyone venturing out on to fast-moving water, and people paddling in aquatic environments with rocks and other obstacles.


The importance of wearing the best kayak helmet can’t be overstated. Like the best lifejacket, it could very well save your life – it’s as simple as that. But it might also protect you from a catastrophic, potentially life-changing accident. Sorry for the sobering intro, but some things are seriously worth looking after, and your head is right at the top of that list.

So, when is a kayak helmet a 100% necessary? There is no kayaking situation when you really shouldn’t wear one, but people paddling any sort of craft – be it an inflatable kayak, a canoe, a raft or stand-up paddleboard – in rough or moving water where there are rocks or other obstacles, and/or where the depth varies, should definitely be wearing a helmet. Always.

This includes on rivers, in estuaries and along coastlines, especially if you’re playing around in the surf (when you can get tipped at any time) or venturing into caves, where waves and swell can take you suddenly upwards to meet an unforgivingly hard and often jagged ceiling.

child in a kayak helmet

Kayak helmets can be required even when the water looks benign, because you can always end up upside down, and making contact with the bottom headfirst can be disastrous, resulting in injury or concussion, which combined with water can be fatal. If you’re looking after children, helmets are especially important.

As with other sports, such as cycling, there are various styles available, and the best kayak helmet for you will depend on the kind of paddling you most often do. Occasional recreational kayakers who stick to low-grade rapids will be fine with a basic lid, but more advanced whitewater chasers will require a kayak helmet with face protection. Kayak helmets should all be CE / UKCA EN1385:2012 approved, and all of the models featured here carry that seal of compliance.

Here we take a look at some of the best kayak helmets on the market.

Best kayak helmets for beginners

lomo kayak helmet on the beach

Lomo Kayaking Helmet

An uncomplicated but highly functional and versatile open-ear kayak helmet suitable for a range of paddle sports and water-based activities


Design: Open ear, head only; Sizes: Small / Medium / Large; Colours: Orange / Red / White / Yellow; Materials: High-density polyethylene shell with an EVA interior

Reasons to buy

+ Versatile
+ Easily adjustable
+ Good vents
+ Bright colours

Reasons to avoid

– No peak
– Relatively heavy

This comfortable and well-padded kayak helmet is available in three sizes at a very sensible and affordable price. Each size can be quickly and easily tightened securely to your head, with a dial located at the back. The rigid shell provides excellent protection, while the EVA cushioning inside the helmet is generous and comfortable.

There are a pair of large vents at the front and the back of the helmet, and seven more on the crown, which allow plenty of airflow to reach your head and water to drain out quickly. The open-ear design means all your senses remain unimpeded.

A versatile helmet, it can be used by surfers as well as kayakers and canoeists and rafters. The under-chin strap is very easy to do up, tighten and adjust, it keeps the helmet very securely on your head and boasts a soft-feel rubber pad to avoid any rubbing on your chin and neck.

The orange version is easy to spot in the water if you get in trouble and require rescue, while the slightly more aerodynamic red, white and yellow models have open ear protectors.

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Palm AP4000 kayak helmet on a pebble beach

Palm AP 4000

A well-vented, highly functional plastic kayak helmet available in half-cut and full-cut designs, ideal for new paddlers.


Design: Half-cut, over ear, head only; Sizes: Small / Large; Colours: White / Red / Yellow / Blue; Materials: High impact injection moulded polypropylene

Reasons to buy

+ Well vented
+ Drains quickly
+ Affordable

Reasons to avoid

– Fiddly to adjust
– No chin protector

With an outer shell constructed from high-impact injection-moulded polypropylene, the Palm AP 4000 kayak helmet will provide good protection for your head during all kinds of paddlesports.

It’s a very well ventilated lid that facilitates plenty of airflow and lets water drain out quickly via a flower of vents on the top of the helmet, and two additional pairs of portals at the front and back.

This helmet has a half-cut design, leaving your ears exposed to the elements (the Palm AP2000 is the full-cut version of this helmet, which comes complete with ear protection).

Inside the helmet there’s a cradle you can adjust to suit your head size – it’s a little more fiddly than helmet designs with a dial, and less easy to get securely dialled in. The helmet wobbles atop the cradle a little bit too, and there’s no protective pad on the chin strap.

Buy the Palm AP 4000 from

Crewsaver Kortex Helmet

A solidly reliable, no-frills kayak helmet suitable for beginner to intermediate kayakers paddling in various moving water scenarios.


Design: Open face, over ear, head only; Sizes: Small–Medium / Large–Extra Large; Colours: Red / Black / Blue; Materials: ABS outer shell with PU foam lining

Reasons to buy

+ Durable materials
+ Decent, functional design
+ Easily adjustable
+ Excellent price

Reasons to avoid

– Limited sizes available
– No chin pad
– No peak

A versatile and functional kayak helmet with all the features you require from a lid when you first start paddling whitewater or venturing out amid surf, the Crewsaver Kortex has a solidly tough ABS outer shell, lined with PU foam to protect your noggin from knocks.

It’s an open-ear, half-cut helmet, with multiple ventilation holes across the top and rear to facilitate water drainage and airflow.

Although it only comes in two size options (small/medium and large/extra large), this helmet can be adjusted with an internal ratchet adjustment system to achieve a tight and confidence-inspiring fit.

Buy the Crewsaver Kortex Helmet from Amazon

NRS Havoc Livery Helmet

A functional no-frills kayak helmet, perfect for a range of paddling pursuits.


Design: Open face, half-cut (over the ears), head only; Sizes: Universal; Colours: Yellow / Blue / Red / White / Matte black; Weight: 1lb; Materials: ABS plastic shell with EVA foam liner

Reasons to buy

+ Versatile
+ Simple and easy to adjust
+ Durable materials
+ Unfussy design
+ Good price

Reasons to avoid

– One size only
– Strap can be uncomfortable around some people’s ears

Whether you’re rafting with the family, kayaking around rocky coves or dipping your toes into some gentle whitewater river runs, the NRS Havoc Helmet is a super-functional and very versatile lid that will protect your head from unexpected encounters with inanimate objects.

The lightweight ABS plastic shell is hardwearing, protective and durable, and it’s lined with glued-in EVA foam to effectively cushion the force of impact. The FIT pads in key contact points provide extra comfort and protection.

Available in five colours, this helmet does only come in one ‘fit’s all’ size, but the easy to use DialFit system does mean you can quickly make the necessary adjustments to ensure it fits almost any head size. It boasts six ventilation and drain holes so air can get in and water can escape.

Buy the NRS Havoc Livery Helmet from Amazon

Best kayak helmets for intermediate paddlers

Palm Shuck kayak helmet on a pebble beach

Palm Shuck helmet

A highly adjustable, very versatile kayak helmet with a superior lining, a snug fit and excellent all-head protection levels.


Design: Half-cut (over ear) and Full-cut versions available Sizes: Small / Medium / Large Colours: Black / White / Ocean blue / Flame red Materials: ABS shell with multi-impact protection EPP foam

Reasons to buy

+ Excellent fit
+ East to adjust
+ Very comfortable
+ Washable liner with odour control

Reasons to avoid

– No vents
– No peak

As soon as you pull the Palm Shuck onto your head and buckle it up, this kayak helmet inspires confidence. Designed using biometric data taken from nearly 4,000 people, the fit is simultaneously super-secure and extremely comfortable, and it’s very easy to adjust and dial in tight with the occipital stabiliser located at the rear.

The ABS outer shell is tough and it’s padded with multi-impact protection EPP foam. The fully removable quick-drying inner lining is both washable and impregnated with a Polygiene odour control treatment to avoid the build up of nasty smells, and the chin strap has a pad for extra comfort.

Available in four colours in both an over-the-ear half-cut and a full-cut version, offering ear protection, the Palm Shuck is an excellent kayak helmet, but it can run a little on the warm side as there are no vents, which also means it doesn’t drain as quickly as some of the other kayak helmets I’ve tested.

Buy the Palm Shuck from Palm Equipment

Peak UK freeride kayak helmet on a pebble beach

Peak UK Freeride helmet

A low-profile stylish lid with a tiny peak that provides excellent protection where it matters for whitewater and freestyle paddlers.


Design: Low profile, over ear, head only; Sizes: Small–Medium / Large–Extra large; Colours: Grey / Black; Materials: Tough ABS shell with High impact EVA, non absorbent foam inner

Reasons to buy

+ Great fit and shape
+ Easy to adjust
+ Rugged construction
+ Small peak

Reasons to avoid

– No chin guard
– Only two sizes

This kayak helmet has a super secure fit, which can be tightened or loosened for comfort and confidence with a simple-to-use dial. The ABS shell is robust and the mat finish and low-profile shape of helmet gives it a stylish look.

On the inside, high-impact EVA, non-absorbent foam provides plenty of protection for paddlers running rapids and technical creeks, and there are additional material pads, held in position by Velcro dots, which can be customised or removed altogether according to your personal preferences.

The Freeride leaves your ears open, so your hearing is unmuffled but your wingnuts are exposed to elements. There are slot vents on the crown of this helmet and at the rear, and another sequence of smaller vents just above the tiny peak, which – despite its diminutive size – does direct water away from your eyes and face.

The lively turquoise-coloured strap is easy enough to adjust, but it does lack a chin pad.

Buy the Peak Freeride helmet from Peak Paddlesports

Best low-profile kayak helmet for freestyle

Sweet Protection Strutter

An iconic kayak helmet for those who like to paddle on the wild side.


Design: Peaked half-cut helmet; Sizes: Small–medium / Medium–large / Large–Extra large; Colours: Deep Purple Metallic / Dirt black / Gloss chopper orange / Gloss fiery red / Gloss white / Matte burning orange / Matte fluo / Matte nardo gray / Neon blue / Race blue / Woodland; Weight: 500g; Materials: Long fibre thermoplastic (LFT) outer shell, carbon fibre inner, EVA foam liner

Reasons to buy

+ Tough construction
+ Super stylish
+ Low volume
+ Good peak
+ Myriad colours to choose from

Reasons to avoid

– No ventilation
– Peaked design isn’t for everyone
– Low volume, half-cut design only offers limited protection
– Pricey

First launched in 1997 (but modified several times since), Sweet Protection’s Strutter helmet has an attitude, personality and style all to itself, and has become an iconic lid for rapid-running rafters, freestyle paddlers and whitewater jockeys of all descriptions.

The original design was inspired by the profile of a baseball cap, and it bestows the wearer with a certain cool nonchalance as well as shading your eyes from sun glare. And beyond the looks, some serious protection is offered by this helmet, which is comprised of a long-fibre thermoplastic (LFT) shell, backed by a carbon-fibre reinforced polymer inner and EVA foam lining.

It is a low volume, half-cut design, however, which leaves the back of the head pretty exposed, and there are definitely other helmets out there that offer more comprehensive coverage for creeking.

The Strutter is available in three sizes, it comes with foam pads for personal adjustment and once set up it’s easy to get a really dialled-in fit with the OCCIGRIP ratchet system, located on the back of the head.

Buy the Strutter Helmet from Amazon

Best kayak helmet for high-grade whitewater and big drops

Sweet Protection Rocker Full Face Helmet

A full-face kayak helmet for ultimate protection when paddling the biggest drops and most hectic rapids.


Design: Full head and face protection; Sizes: Medium–large / Large–Extra large; Colours: Gloss white / Matte fluo / Neon blue / Sassy green / Woodland; Weight: 725g; Materials: Carbon fibre reinforced injection-moulded thermoplastic

Reasons to buy

+ Very tough
+ Offers comprehensive head and face protection
+ Lifting peak
+ Vented
+ Lots of colour options

Reasons to avoid

– Too full-on for many paddlers
– Limited size options
– Pricey

If you’re eyeing up some seriously big drops or planning on running rivers with lots of grade-5 rapids, then the Sweet Protection Rocker Full Face Helmet could be the lid for you.

Over-specced for most paddlers, this design offers comprehensive protection for your head and face for outings on the most technical river runs and creek shoot throughs.

Made with injection-molded thermoplastic, to give it shock absorbing and flex properties, reinforced with carbon fibre, to supply rigidity and strength, the Rocker Fullface is a high-tech lid designed to deliver excellent protection for advanced paddlers taking on very technical and challenging conditions.

This kayak helmet is available in spectrum of gnarly colours, and it has several vents on the top and by the ears. Adjustable at the rear for a secure fit, it features a dynamic peak and is EN 1385 class I-IV certified for safety.

Buy the Rocker Full Face Helmet from Amazon

kayak helmets hanging up to dry

How to choose the best kayak helmet for you

There are myriad models and styles of kayak helmet out there, made with a range of materials. What constitutes the best kayak helmet for you will depend on the kind of paddling you most often do, and in what sort of conditions. It could be that you will need several lids to keep you comfortable and your head safe in different scenarios. There are various factors to consider, including the following:


The vast majority of kayak helmets have a shell are constructed from either ABS plastic or carbon fibre, or a combination of the two materials. ABS plastic is tough, hardwearing and durable, and it can survive picking up a few scratches and war wounds during your adventures. Carbon is lightweight and strong, but much more expensive.


Advanced whitewater paddlers, who take on big drops and technical creeks, often wear full-face helmets that protect their entire head, but most people reading this will choose between a half-cut helmet or a full-cut helmet design, with the latter offering more protection across the ears and down the back of the head. Ear protection can be valuable in fast flowing water and high grade rapids, but it will impact your ability to hear instructions being called out by your fellow paddlers.

Fit and ease of adjustment

Get a secure fit is absolutely crucial to keeping your head safe while paddling in moving water around hard objects (even the best kayak helmet is no good to you if it comes off). Look for a lid that comes in a range of sizes and has an adjustable inner cradle. Ratchet systems with a dial that sits just above the occipital lobe on the back of your head are the best.


Some paddlers like a peak on their kayak helmets, which shades your eyes from the sun and directs water away from your face, but many creekers don’t like the way a peaked lid can get pushed up your head when you make contact with the bottom in shallow stretches – it’s a personal preference.

Consider a kayak helmet with vents, which not only let your head breathe in warm conditions, but also let water out.

Some chin straps have extra padding, which can make a considerable difference to comfort levels.

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