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Always Wear a Rock Climbing Helmet

Climbing Helmets Save Lives


Mike Heinrichs climbing on The Whale at Red Rock Canyon, Colorado.

Mike always wears a helmet to protect his head while lead climbing.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green

If you go rock climbing long enough, then sooner or later you’re going to find that you need to wear a climbing helmet. It’s a simple fact of life that rock is hard and your head is soft. If you regularly wear a climbing helmet you will live long and prosper. It’s best to get in the habit of wearing a helmet on your first day of climbing and then wear it every day after that. Make your climbing helmet part of the essential climbing gear you always take with your for a day outside. Both your head and your momma will thank you.

Rock is Unforgiving

So many climbing areas, especially sport climbing areas, seem safe and benign. We’re out climbing on the cliffs, joking and laughing with friends. We’re having fun. That’s how it should be. But rock climbing as we know, and as I reiterate again and again here on About.com, is not safe. We get lulled into a false sense of security and well-being, while potential dangers lurk everywhere. The rock we play on is a very unforgiving medium. It doesn’t yield. And rock doesn’t care if it hurts us.

Helmets Protect Heads

If you wear a climbing helmet while you’re climbing, it ensures that your soft head doesn’t become mush when it’s hit by a falling rock or when you bang your skull into a rock face while falling. A helmet helps mitigate the dire effects of gravity and tilts the odds in your favor so that you’ll be going home after an accident rather than lying in a hospital bed or worse, a body bag.

Head Injuries Change Lives

The consequences of not wearing a climbing helmet and sustaining a head injury can be severe and life changing. The head injuries caused by climbing accidents can lead to impaired motor skills and paralysis, loss of your memories, an altered personality, speech difficulty, and a life without climbing or even walking. Many climbing accidents and fatalities, as evidenced by long-term statistics in North American Accidents in Mountaineering, occur as a result of head injuries. If you read the climbing accident reports, you’ll find over and over again that a victim survived because they were wearing a climbing helmet.

U.S. Brain Injury Statistics

In the United States, every 21 seconds someone sustains a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and over 50,000 people die from these injuries every year while 235,000 are hospitalized. Another 1.1 million are treated and released from emergency rooms annually. While 50% of the injuries occur in auto and bicycle accidents and another 20% are from violence. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) reports an estimated 313,726 sports-related head injuries treated in U.S. emergency rooms in 2007. The highest number of injuries was, not surprisingly, to bicyclists. Climbing was not included as a separate category on their list. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons reports that 21% of traumatic head injuries occur in sports and recreation. Males are twice as likely as females to have brain injuries. The lesson from all these sports-related accidents is: always wear a climbing helmet to protect your head and your life.

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