Helmet Hair: The Only Side Effect A Good Helmet Should Have

by Delle – AKA: “She who doth not yet have a derby name”

One of the things we take for granted on the track, is the fact that our helmet will protect us in the event of a fall. As a relative newbie to the sport (just on 12 months now), I did some research into helmets to discover a bit more about that vital piece of equipment protecting our noggins from getting a floggin.

What I found surprised me more than I was comfortable to admit:

Most of us are probably not as protected as we may have thought, or even as much as we might like.

It turns out, that most of the helmets being sold to us for derby purposes, aren’t actually rated to take more than 1 serious hit (and some of them, surprisingly, aren’t even rated to do that!).

What counts as a serious hit I hear you ask?

Well it could be something as simple as falling hard and smacking your head on the floor on the rebound… or running into a wall and rebounding off your head (which I was prone to do as a freshie – I’m a klutz by nature what can I say).

Read on if you want to find out more – but make sure you grab yourself a cuppa or a nice glass of vino first (it’s a wee bit lengthy explaining these things)…


For a start, I want to be upfront and tell you that I am by no means an expert on these things.

BUT I did want to share some of the research with you, maybe you’ll learn something in the process and hopefully I’ll be able to give you something to consider the next time you look at upgrading the head ware.

With a lil luck, I’ll even be able to do it with minimal techni-babble.

Helmets that are approved or recommended for derby use come in two types –

* Single Impact

* Multi Impact

And basically, they split into 3 styles of helmets…

Single Impact Styles

Helmets with a soft foam interior lining:

* Soft foam (or Skate Only) helmets have a plush interior liner and are intended to protect against multiple, low-force impacts commonly associated with sports like roller derby, inline skating, and skateboarding. “Soft foam” roller derby helmets may or may not be skate certified. (Note that lack of such a certification is not unusual and does not mean that your helmet isn’t safe.)

Helmets with a hard foam interior lining

* Hard foam (or bike/skate) helmets have a stiff EPS foam liner, like that of a traditional bicycle helmet. They are mainly intended to sustain one large impact. Hard foam helmets with an EPS liner are typically CPSC certified for bike use. They can also be used while doing other activities, such as roller derby, skateboarding, or inline skating.

Multi Impact Styles

Hockey style helmets or helmets rated to the multi impact standards

* Multi-impact helmets use a different kind of foam which deforms but doesn’t completely crush. In addition to the CPSC test for bicycling, they’re also tested against ASTM F-1492-08, a

standard for roller skating and trick skateboarding, very similar to derby. It’s okay to keep using a multi-impact helmet after falling, but you should still replace it after the event.

Multi-impact helmets are tested by dropping straight down a number of times from a lower height and measuring the amount of energy transferred to the meter inside.

So what’s the standard?

America seems to have set the standards when it comes to rating derby helmets and it’s no surprise that they take it very seriously considering the cult status the sport has in the US. A lot of my research into the topic, involved reading through pages and pages of technical speak about the standards of what a multi-impact helmet was in the US, versus the single impact helmet varieties. There is a lot of information out there on the topic (and I’ve included some links at the end if you’re interested in reading up on it).

In a nutshell, the 3 main certifications setting the standard are the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) certification (for single “large impact” helmets), the ASTM certification and the HECC hockey safety certifications (for multi-impact helmets).

U.S Standards

CPSC certified

These helmets meet the requirements for protecting the head in the event of a significant impact (such as hitting the floor with a bit of speed). They are designed to protect the head in the event of a single large impact, or protecting your head in the event of smaller knocks (such as those we cop in the pack at scrim). They tend to have a stiff foam liner which is good for absorbing minor knocks, but which doesn’t dissipate the energy of a larger knock as effectively more than once, the way a multi impact rated helmet will do.

To absorb the impact, the hard shell casing of a CPSC helmet will deform as it dissipates the energy of the fall, basically meaning that the foam lining, won’t go back to its original shape. The effects might not be visible in these cases, which are why on inspection, things might look fine. After a big fall (or even dropping your helmet from a significant height or throwing it in a tanty), the lining isn’t as effective and might not protect you the next time round from getting a concussion.

ASTM certification

This is the standard certification for Multi-Impact helmets used for skating. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of helmets out there that meet the standards required to get this kind of rating. But those that do are slowly finding their way onto the Australian market. To meet the ASTM rating, the helmet needs to be able to take multiple beatings similar to the test for the CPSC certification. In order to pass, the integrity of the liner needs to be maintained.

HECC certification

The HECC certification is the standard for hockey helmets and is the most stringent in terms of testing and pass requirements, and you can imagine why it needs to be when a puck flying through the air could occur multiple times over a game. Naturally, the HECC certification therefore takes the ASTM certification to the next level.

The Australian Standard

Australia doesn’t have a rating for multi impact skate helmets as yet, the closest we get to the US standard is what is used for Hockey helmets in Australia, and most of those are based on the US testing regime.

The bottom line being that that Australian Standards for bike and skate helmets, are more closely aligned to the US CPSC standards for a single large impact.

And a lot of the helmets we get in Australia are from companies in the US which means they’re more likely to have a US Standard attached to them also.

Helmets that don’t meet the cut

S-One derby has a blog on the least protective helmets out there, surprisingly, the following are on the list of helmets that don’t quite make the cut when it comes to protection:

* S-One Premium Helmet (EVA Foam w/ DLX Terry Liner)

* Triple 8 Brainsaver (EVA foam w/ Sweatliner)

* Protec Bucky Helmet (w/ 2 stage foam)

* Protec Classic (w/ 2 stage foam)

* Protec Ace Helmet (2 stage foam)

* 187 Helmet (w/ Sure-Fit Foam liner) You can read more about these helmets at http://s-onederby.blogspot.com.au/2012/04/list-of-least-protective-helmets-for.html

Tips for helmet care

* Make sure your helmet is designed for skate use and not bike-only use (a bike/skate helmet is fine). A skate helmet covers more of the back of your head and neck. You’ll need that protection when you fall backwards.

* Don’t store your helmet in your trunk between practices. Let it and the liner air out. (Your friends will thank you.) Plus, depending on the construction, temperature extremes can damage your helmet.

* Make sure you check your helmet before you use it, inspect it for any visible damage as well as for soft spots in the liner and the outer shell.

X Sports Protective has a couple of articles with more tips on what to look for when inspecting your helmet and knowing when to replace it. Visit http://www.xsportsprotective.com/pages/how-to-choose-roller-derby-helmet for more details.

So which do you choose?

As a minimum, you should be looking at a skate helmet that meets the minimum standards for a single large impact, that means looking at the hard foam interior linings and making sure that you replace your helmet after a big fall (or after throwing your gear around). I’m not going to tell you which helmet to buy, cause ultimately, that’s your decision, and you need to make sure that the helmet fits comfortably also.

Thankfully, there are a few more multi-impact helmets on the market nowadays, not all of them have hit the shops in Aus-land, but you can expect that this will change the more people are looking for them.

Protec, Nutcase & Triple 8 all seem to have ASTM rated helmets in their ranges so that might be a good starting place to start looking if you’re after a multi-impact rated helmet.

For a great read on the ins and outs of helmet standards and the different types of helmets out there, Windy City Rollers have a great article here which is well worth taking the time to read.

At the end of the day, it pays to ask questions and it pays to do a bit of research – a little time and pain now, can stop a lot of pain later and hopefully having read this, you’ll have a better idea of the questions you need to ask to get the best protection to meet your needs.

Thanks for reading!

Derby love