Open Canoe Helmet for Class II?

When I first started paddling, open boaters did not wear helmets unless they could roll, and very very few could do so. At least this was my experience on Class III and IV rivers. That was thirty years ago. Now, at least on Class III, everyone wears a helmet. Today, I’m fine with a helmet on Class III. On Class I and II, I feel my wiser option is a wide brimmed hat. I’m curious were others draw the line (assuming you cannot roll a canoe.)

on something continuous class 2 I’ll usually wear my helmet. In something class 1 it really depends on my mood. If it’s cold I’ll often wear my helmet instead of a hat to keep my head warm. If it’s warm, I won’t. My helmet is always in my gear bag, a hat sometimes isn’t.

Hardest hit I ever took to the head was poling. Pole got stuck and then released and smacked me in the head. Fortunately I had my helmet on or I would have been seeing stars.

Depends partially on outfitting
I would certainly wear a helmet on any Class III and Class IV water.

It is true that open boaters could often get away without a helmet because they often came out of the boat so quickly during a capsize that their head was not at risk. But tight outfitting could result in being head down for a bit before exiting the boat. And one can certainly sustain a head injury during a swim in whitewater.

I usually don’t wear a helmet in an open boat on water that is exclusively Class I. For Class II water I might go without if I am virtually certain I am not going to swim.

The Nantahala is regarded as having
many class 2 rapids with just one class 3. I always wear a helmet when paddling open canoe on that sort of river. I would not argue that your odds of braining yourself paddling open on the Nanty are “high” but it’s a prudent precaution.

It’s prudent even on easier rivers where the current is rushing past rocky banks and outcrops.

As to helmet quality, something from Protec or a similar “cheap” helmet manufacturer will provide a considerable improvment over nothing. The head blows I’ve taken over 40 years of paddling in open boats have been relatively mild, but my cheap helmets have kept me from being stunned unconscious or scalped. Some argue that paying twice as much for a not-clearly-defined additional increment of protection is essential. I say it’s a matter of choice.

Situational for sure
I have been paddling an open canoe on virtually exclusively class 2-3 rivers for 20 years and I agree with earlier statements about the nature of the river. If it is continuous in nature like the many I paddled out west and in the pacific NW, YES. If its a pool-drop like many southeastern rivers I paddle now, carry it with you and strap it on ahead of the bigger drops. If you strap yourself into your canoe, then the helmet would be a wiser choice on even less continuous Class 2 rivers.

I’ve done it both ways

– Last Updated: May-26-14 7:20 AM EST –

with and without the helmet. In canoe tripping mode- where you're definately not strapped in, helmets weren't part of my thinking, just one more thing to load up, carry across a portage trail yet I ran plenty of class II and III rapids. Kayaking in rapids I'm pretty sure I wore one even in tripping mode- for example permanent rapids on the Northern Forest Canoe Trail, I'm pretty sure I wore one.
If I was out for the day, with the express purpose of running whitewater, strapped in, the helmet would
surely go on regardless of boat type.
Helmets aren't that big a deal to wear provided you get one that fits your head. I like the idea of a light helmet (like the old protecs) and your not going big and keepin' it class II I think thats okay. My "ace" helmet is that equivalent and I even use it kayaking on easier runs. Loosen the chin strap and wear a ball cap underneath for shade and sun protection. Take some of the padding out and wear it with a balaclava for winter paddling. What I don't like is when I loan a helmet out and I have to readjust the chin strap. That's a pain in my book. I've got probably eleven or twelve helmets- I use some for friends rafting or duckying but I've got 3 or 4 I switch out depending on what I'm paddling. My wife's shred ready red fleck helmet never gets loaned out and I never wear it. Its not just a helmet its a fashion statement.

Not just for rocks

– Last Updated: May-29-14 7:14 PM EST –

I was jogging back to my boat this afternoon after taking some pictures below a rapid when I tripped on a root and fell head first into a tree. I know I'm a klutz, but thank god I had my helmet on - I think I would have split my head open.

When I was exploring the Chattooga
Headwaters and other similar rivers, I wore a life jacket and a helmet. My exploration required wading and swimming in the stream, and climbing over and around many rocky prominences. I remember one occasion when I slipped and fell backwards and stunned myself.

Of course, we know that a lot of river injuries occur when landing, embarking, scouting, and portaging. Once one’s really in the water, things can be safer.

Why not wear it?
First a story. One of the very few injuries I’ve received while boating was dealt by my canoe. After tipping out, I had the painter in my hand and was following the canoe, floating feet up, pretty much per the book. The canoe got stuck in a hole. I was swept into the hole, too. I tried to duck as the canoe was tossed towards me, but with a PFD on, it’s hard to duck. I got a nice bloody cut above my eye. My helmet? I’d taken that off while scouting and forgot to put it back on–it was clipped to the gunwale. I meant to have it on. Just forgot. The rapid was probably a class III at that particular point, but it could happen easy enough on a II.

Eckilson tells of conking a tree. I probably shouldn’t have even removed the helmet for scouting over 2’ - car-size boulders. How easy would it be to take a stumble on those boulders? I’ve been told most boating injuries occur at riverside rather than in the river, which seems true per my experience.

Anyhow, I agree that we canoeists generally land in the river heads up, so we don’t need the helmet the way a kayaker does. But still, there’s rocks and logs (and boats) and all it takes is one knock and you can be bloodied or worse. A well fitted helmet is pretty comfortable. Why not put it on?


Only if I’m a Role Model
Generally I put on a helmet when conditions approach Class III.

That is New England Class III which may well be Class II for those of you in the South and West.

But if I’m supposed to be setting an example I wear my helmet on Class I, II and while riding my tricycle in the driveway.