Of all the protective gear a hockey player wears, the helmet is clearly the most important, safeguarding the head, face, and (to a certain extent) brain against impacts of all sorts. Today's hockey helmets—which
feature high-tech plastics, foams, and fitting systems—represent a vast improvement over the old-school helmets players wore in decades past. The best hockey helmets on the market are lighter weight, stronger, and more comfortable than their
predecessors, and manufacturers have made big improvements in hockey helmet sizing and comfort, as well. That being said, some players still choose a "bucket" based on style—how it looks on the ice.
It's important to note that all hockey helmets—from NHL helmets to toddler hockey helmets—must be certified by the HECC (Hockey Equipment Certification Council) and the CSA (Canadian Standards Association). You'll find certification
stickers on the back of a helmet, and it's good for 6.5 years from the helmet's manufacturing date. Although used hockey helmets are readily available, we don't recommend them, for several reasons. First, a helmet with an expired certification cannot be used in most hockey leagues. Also, with use, the foam inside a helmet can begin to deteriorate, which diminishes the effectiveness of the protection.
Whether you're choosing a kid's hockey helmet for your Peewee player, a street hockey helmet for weekend fun, or purchasing the best hockey helmet that money can buy, there are several things to consider, from materials to price to proper fit.
Hockey Helmet Construction
A hockey helmet consists of an outer shell made from hard plastic, and an inner foam liner designed to resist impacts and provide a snug fit. Most helmets feature a two-piece shell for adjustability, and equipment designers are constantly improving
liner materials and adjusting how they are placed inside the helmet. Cheap hockey helmets (those under $100) usually have a shell made of vinyl nitrile (VN), which helps to disperse the force of any impact, spreading the effects over a wider area.
More expensive helmets are usually made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which has a higher strength-to-density ratio and is lighter weight than VN.
The helmet liner is where most of the research and development has been focused, and it's where you'll see the biggest differences between low-end helmets and those that NHL players wear. Basic helmets often have a single-material liner made from
VN foam, which some players prefer for its snug fit. High-end helmets often feature two or three different materials, strategically placed to provide the most protection—especially against rotational impact, which is seen as the main cause
Six Things To Consider When Choosing A Hockey Helmet
Hockey helmets for adults range in price from about $40 for basic models, to almost $300 for the best hockey helmet you can buy. (These prices are for the helmet only, and not a combo, which includes a cage.) Kids' hockey helmets start in the same
$40 range, but fewer options exist as the prices climb past $150. What you end up paying for at the higher price points is a stronger, lighter weight shell; more complex, multi-material padding inside the helmet; a better fit; and an overall lighter
weight. If you're looking for something to wear during weekend stick-and-puck sessions, you might not feel the need for a lot of high-tech protection or special weight reduction features, whereas a more serious athlete who plays in a full-contact,
competitive hockey league may see these as a necessities.
2. Impact Protection
Remember that all helmets must be certified as providing a minimum level of protection, but no helmet is a guarantee against a head injury or concussion. It's also important to
note that the science behind hockey helmet ratings is the subject of much debate, with some people arguing the tests that produce the ratings do not mimic real-world hockey conditions. That said, these hockey helmet ratings do provide some level
of comparison for consumers.
The safest hockey helmets are designed to protect the skull from impacts and to protect the brain against rotational acceleration, which is considered a prime cause of concussion. The shell—whether
made of VN or PE—is the first line of defense, and some newer models also have a subshell for added impact resistance. The foam on the inside absorbs and distributes the force of the impact, as well.
The best hockey helmets for concussions—at least according to the manufacturers—are those that feature multiple kinds of high-tech foam. In the FitLite 3DS Hockey Helmet, for instance, CCM uses D30 Smart Foam, which is "rate sensitive,"
meaning its level of compression is dependent on the forces being exerted on it. Hockey players who play aggressively and expect to take a lot of hits will want to spend more time considering which kinds of protection will be most effective, reading
the specifications for each helmet, and learning about the benefits of the different materials used.
How should a hockey helmet fit? In order for the protective qualities of the shell and lining to work, the helmet must be properly situated on the player's head, and stay in place. A snug fit means that the helmet moves with the player's head but
isn't so tight that it's uncomfortable or causes pain. Hockey helmet sizing can vary considerably from manufacturer to manufacturer, so consult the size chart for each. Do not buy a helmet that a player can "grow into"—meaning a helmet that's
slightly too large—because a loose helmet is simply not safe. The best hockey helmets have two-piece shells that can be adjusted as the player grows, and some of the elite-level helmets have proprietary fitting systems. For instance, the
Bauer RE-AKT 200 Hockey Helmet features the FIT PLATE customizable occipital lock with Recovery Alloy technology, which allows for fine tuning to create a custom fit. The way the padding is placed inside the helmet can also affect fit, so a player
should try on several models to see which fits best and is most comfortable. Consult our hockey helmet fitting guidelines for more information on hockey helmet sizing and fit.
4. Face Protection
All youth leagues and school leagues through college require players to wear a cage or full face shield. Professional players and those in some adult leagues can choose to wear a plastic visor
When choosing a cage, your three biggest concerns are visibility, weight, and proper fit. Manufacturers offer different wire configurations to improve sightlines and thinner materials to reduce weight. It's important to note that helmet size and
cage size do not necessarily match, so for instance, you might need a large helmet but a medium mask. Many helmets are sold with cages, as a hockey helmet "combo," which can cost less than buying
the two pieces separately. Full face shields are made from high-impact polycarbonate, and the obvious advantage is the absence of wires to look through. Shields are also usually lighter weight. However, they can fog up during play, there's less
air circulation to keep you cool, and you need to be extra careful not to scratch the shield when you're not using it.
A hockey helmet with a visor looks cool, is lighter weight than one with a full-face shield, and restricts the player's vision less, but clearly doesn't provide the same level of protection as a cage—especially for the mouth and jaw. If you
want to maintain those pearly whites, you'll go with some form of full-face cover. Of course, if you are a casual player looking for something to wear during low-intensity stick-and-puck sessions, you might not be too worried about face protection.
If you play a lot of hockey, you'll be wearing your helmet for dozens, if not hundreds of hours per season, so you'll want to make sure that the padding, the configuration, and the fit all combine to make the helmet as comfortable as possible. For
some players, this might also include weight, with a lighter helmet being more comfortable over the long haul, and air flow, which helps to keep you from overheating. Wearing a comfortable bucket will allow you to focus on your play and perform
better on the ice.
Helmet style is a personal matter, and many hockey players simply like the look of one helmet over another, even if the second one has more features. As long as the helmet is certified and fits properly, feel free to consider how you look out on
the ice when you're choosing a new hockey helmet.
A hockey player looking to buy a new helmet has many options—from the most basic lid to NHL helmets—and the choice often comes down to how are you going to use it. The more you play and the higher the level of competition, the more you
may want to focus on individual features. The one important takeaway is that a proper fit will be vital to both comfort and performance, so take the time to ensure the bucket fits your melon.