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Best Water Sports Helmets for Wakeboarding, Kayaking & White Water Rafting (2023)

Though water sports might seem safer than land sports, there’s still the risk of knocking your head on a rock or something else when out rafting, kayaking or wakeboarding.

Sure, wearing a whitewater helmet seems obvious, but it might not occur to you to get one for other water adventures.

So, even though it’s not the most attractive attire, do yourself a favor and invest in a quality helmet for water sports.

You can’t just choose any type of helmet, as you need one where the protective materials won’t deteriorate when wet.

If this is your first time shopping for water helmets, then let us help you evaluate the best water helmets on the market. We want you to stay safe out there so you can have many more aquatic adventures!

Best Water Sports Helmets for the Money

NRS Chaos Side Cut Helmet4.9/5AmazonREIOutdoorplay
NRS Chaos Helmet – Full Cut4.8/5AmazonOutdoorplay
Liquid Force Hero Wakeboard Helmet4.8/5AmazonThe House
Pro-Tec Ace Water Helmet4.7/5AmazonREIThe House
Bern Watts Matte Water Helmet4.3/5AmazonREI
NRS Havoc Livery Helmet4.3/5AmazonREI
WRSI Trident Composite Kayak Helmet4.7/5AmazonOutdoorplay
Jobe Slam Wake Helmet4.9/5Amazon

Types of Water Helmets

It is important to pick the helmet that is designed for your particular sport.

This means if you enjoy a few different activities on the water, then you just might need to invest in a few different options, depending on what you’re doing out there.

While you can technically pick one type and use it for all your water sporting needs, we think you’ll get the most comfort by picking the one that best matches your activity.

Wakeboard Helmet

As you shop, you’ll notice that the wake helmets are pretty standard and they look a lot like bike helmets.

You’ve got the half-shell style body that gives you coverage on the back of the head, your forehead, and the top of your head.

And the chin strap lets you tighten it to fit so that it stay secure while you’re out trying new flips and tricks on the water.

One thing to pay attention to is that some models are designed only for a single impact, and then you need to replace it, while others can handle repetitive shocks and impacts.

Note that this type offers zero coverage for your ears, neck and face.

Our pick for best wakeboard helmet –> Liquid Force Hero Wakeboard Helmet

Kayak Helmet

You get a bit more coverage with this style as it is more akin to a motorcycle helmet.

With one of these you can get full coverage for your ears, chin, and head.

You can even get shields and masks to offer coverage for the eyes and face, if you desire that.

Don’t need full coverage?

That’s okay because you can also get half coverage with kayak helmets. Basically, you have two options here:

  • Full-cut that gives you the total coverage
  • Half-cut that rests above your ear for partial coverage

Obviously, you get more protection from the full-cut, but it’s also a lot easier to get a good fit from a half-cut.

So, which do you choose? If you’re doing some whitewater kayaking, then definitely go with the full-cut.

For most recreation yakking though, a half-cut will likely be all that you’ll need, but choose whatever you’re most comfortable with since this is a safety device.

Our pick for best kayaking helmet –> NRS Chaos Side Cut Helmet

Which Is Better For Multiple Activities?

Want to buy only one for several sporting activities, but not sure which to choose?

For calm waters, a good wake helmet should be enough to keep your noggin safe and sound.

For whitewater or other rough aquatic adventures, a full-cut kayaking helmet will offer better protection out there.

How To Get A Good Fit?

Having a proper fit from your helmet is incredibly important because you need it to be secure on your head, otherwise it basically does you no good.

So, you can’t just randomly go out and buy yourself one of these.

Instead, you need to take some measurements of that head of yours to ensure that you’re getting something that fits well.

Here’s how to measure yourself for a water sports helmet:

  1. Get yourself a flexible measuring tape (like the ones that a seamstress might use, or like you would use to take a waist measurement)
  2. Stand in front of a mirror with it.
  3. Start in the center of your forehead and wrap the measuring tape around your head to get the circumference measurement.
  4. Jot down this measurement to use when referring to sizing charts for the various brands and models.

You’ll find that most helmets are available in three different sizes:

  • Small/Medium
  • Medium/Large
  • Large/Extra Large

One important thing to remember that is each brand uses slightly different circumference ranges for each size.

So you might be a Small/Medium in one brand, but a Medium/Large in another brand.

That being said, there is a general rule of thumb in regards to the ranges for each size.

  • Small/Medium = 53 to 55 centimeters
  • Medium/Large = 56 to 58 centimeters
  • Large/Extra Large = 59 to 61 centimeters

Just remember that this is a rough guide and you should always consult the size chart for the helmet you’re considering purchasing for yourself.

When you try on one of these, is should sit on your head comfortably and the proper position is just above the eyebrow.

It is too big for you if it sits up too far. If it feels like it is pressing to hard, then it’s probably too small.

Try jumping, running, or moving while wearing it – if it jiggles or moves around, then it is too big.

Keep in mind that there should be some pressure in order for it to be secure, but that pressure should be evenly felt around your head.

Also, there should be no slack when the chin strap is secured in place, otherwise it is too big for your head.

Does It Have A Safety Certificate?

As you compare helmets, you’ll notice that some have a safety certificate from Whitewater Research and Safety Institute (WRSI) and some do not.

A WRSI safety certificate is not required for a helmet to be safe, but don’t you want the peace of mind that comes with WRSI approval?

The WRSI puts the helmets through rigorous testing to ensure that they will hold up to any abuse and protect your head.

With that in mind, we definitely recommend a model that comes with a WRSI safety certificate.

Note: In Europe, helmets are safety certified by CRN (European Committee for Standardization).

NRS Chaos Helmet (Side Cut or Full-Cut) Review

nrs chaos side cut
pictured: Side Cut model (image via NRS.com)

This right here is one of our favorite options on the market and you can get it with full coverage of the ears with the Full Cut model, or go with half coverage with the Side Cut model.

Both coverage options offer great safety and support for your head.

You can buy these in a variety of different colors – so get something to match your kayak or just go with your favorite color.

  • Durable ABS plastic shell dissipates impacts.
  • Dual-density EVA foam provides outstanding comfort and protection.
  • The BOA dial-fit retention harness lets you easily customize the fit for total security.
  • Eight ventilation ports keep you cool on those hot days.
  • Keep the removable ear pads in place for extra protection, or easily remove them for improved hearing.
  • Multiple sizes and quick-adjust harness ensure you’ll find the right fit.
  • Meets CE EN 1385 standards for whitewater safety.

Sizes range from XS up to XL, which means that this is a good water sports helmet for kids and teens since you can get it in the X-small size.

Size Head Circ.(cm) Head Circ. (in)
XS 52.5-54 20.7-21.3
S 54-55.5 21.3-21.9
M 55.5-57.5 21.9-22.6
L 57.5-59.5 22.6-23.4
XL 59.5-61.5 23.4-24.2

Who is the NRS Chaos good for?

For whitewater rafting, the Full-cut is a great and cheap choice. For the side cut model, it’s good for kayakers, rafters, stand-up paddlers and canoeists.

Overall, this is a quality option at an affordable price. And it’s versatility makes it a great choice for almost anyone planning some water adventures.

extreme water sport image by mur162/licensed DepositPhotos

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