Sports like football, hockey, lacrosse, snowboarding, and skiing are a great deal of fun, but they also carry certain risks and as such require helmets. No helmet is 100% proof against any concussion, but knowing what to look for can help prevent head injury and keep everyone in your family safe. Find out how to choose the best helmet for each sport with this handy guide. 

1. Choosing the Best Helmet for Football

Given the well-publicized risk of concussions, football is one sport where a helmet is essential. Football helmets are sometimes marketed with claims to reduce or prevent concussions; however, it is usually best to be skeptical of these.

A football helmet should be snug, with no space between the temples and the liner or padding of the inner helmet. Your helmet should not move when you turn your head.

Measuring the head is a particularly effective way to ensure you get the best fit. Wrap a cloth tape measure around the athlete’s head, about an inch above the eyebrows.

Virginia Tech is regarded by many as the gold standard of helmet rankings, with its Summation of Tests for the Analysis of Risk (STAR) ratings, but STAR ratings are better thought of as a guideline — at best — than a guarantee.

STAR ratings have been criticized quite soundly by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), which argues that scientific evidence does not back up Virginia Tech’s claims that some brands are better at protecting against concussions than others. 

Concussions are very complex and involve many factors beyond the choice of helmet. In general, better and more careful gameplay is the best way to avoid concussions. 

2. Choosing the Best Helmet for Hockey

While football is famous for its concussions, in hockey there has been an alarming increase in the number of concussions over the past 10-15 years, a trend described as an epidemic.

Unfortunately, the picture for hockey is arguably even worse than for football. Virginia Tech has started to test hockey helmets as well, and its first round of testing granted only one out of 32 helmets a ranking of three stars, with all others ranked lower.

A hockey helmet should sit flat and snugly on your head, about a half-inch above the eyebrows. Use the chin strap to adjust it beneath your chin.

The pressure on hockey helmet manufacturers to step up and create safer helmets is mounting, but in the meantime, it is best to be well-informed and skeptical when choosing a hockey helmet.    

3. Choosing the Best Helmet for Lacrosse

Lacrosse has been growing rapidly, in no small part because it is perceived as a safer alternative to football. There may be something to this, but lacrosse’s increasing popularity has also led to mounting safety concerns about concussions.

As a case in point, last year NOCSAE voided certification for two very popular models: Warrior Regulator and Cascade Model R.

Your lacrosse helmet should be firm, with enough pressure on the head so that it stays in place. A helmet may feel weird at first, but it should not feel uncomfortable — if it does, it is too tight.

There are a variety of lacrosse helmets, from open-face models to half- and full-face, but the full-face models are the best for safety.  

4. Choosing the Best Helmet for Skiing and Snowboarding

Both skiing and snowboarding are characterized by a much better safety track record than any of the above sports, but a helmet is still essential protection in the event of head injuries. And contrary to certain misconceptions, there is actual evidence that helmets do reduce the risk of head injury in snow sports.

As with other sports, getting the right fit is fundamental to choosing a ski or snowboard helmet. The key is for the helmet to be snug enough so that it will not shift at all when you shake your head from side to side.

Make sure that your helmet reaches the top of your goggles without leaving a gap. Of course, it should not come so low as to hinder vision or push down your goggles.

The chinstrap is also a vital part of snow sport helmet safety. Be sure you choose a helmet with a chin strap that fits back against the throat. A properly fitting chin strap will be less likely to come off in the event of an impact. 

In general, the best way to avoid injury is to be prudent and not take unnecessary risks. If a helmet becomes cracked or otherwise visibly damaged, replace it before you play again. Knowing how to pick the right helmet will help you maintain your family safety and health.