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Roller derby equipment options can be pretty overwhelming for a new or potential skater. Choosing the right equipment for you is important but how do you know where to start? I’ll try to give you some ideas of what to look for.

Your helmet is the piece of equipment that will be most likely to save your life, or at least maintain your quality of life if really horrible things happen. Your skates and your pads will help you prevent injury, but your helmet protects your brain. The rest of your body can heal, but once your brain gets busted it’s going to stay busted.

The three types of helmets that are commonly seen out on roller derby tracks are skateboard helmets, hockey helmets, and bicycle helmets. All three types have advantages and disadvantages. Let’s talk about all three categories.

Skateboard Helmets

The go-to helmet for many derby players is the Triple 8 Brainsaver skateboard helmet. This helmet is designed for multiple impacts and has a few pretty neat features. It’s fairly lightweight and the rubberized coating on the shell is pretty cool looking. The sweatsaver lining wicks sweat away from your brow so that you don’t get so much sweat in your eyes.
The biggest problem with this helmet is that it doesn’t do so well with big heads as all the sizes (XS all the way through XL) use the same shell. Seriously. Check this out. This is me in my old Brainsaver, size XL, on my 24in round head. Which, by the way, is as big as this helmet is designed to fit. This thing fit me like a beanie.

There are variations of skateboard helmets, even the Triple 8 Brainsaver, that are dual-certified, single impact helmets. The CPSC and ASTM certifications these helmets carry are the same your bicycle helmet have stamped on them, which makes them pretty safe but since you’re fairly likely to be bumping your head and these types of helmets should be discarded after a good impact you will find yourself spending lots of money replacing your helmet. At the very minimum they should be replaced a few times a year with regular derby use.

In 2012 while reffing a scrimmage I had a collision with a jammer and fell hard backward and I hit my head. I was wearing my Brainsaver helmet and I received a moderate concussion. The helmet did its job and protected me from more serious injury but I’m pretty sure that if I was wearing a helmet that covered more of the back of my head my risk of injury would have been reduced.

 

Hockey Helmets

Hockey helmets are becoming more and more popular, especially since the Windy City Rollers published their research about helmets that indicated that hockey helmets may provide the best protection for roller derby players.

Hockey helmets cover more of the head and are certified for multiple impacts. They’re also the only helmets on this list that are designed to be used in a contact sport. They have better coverage on the temples, cover more of the back of the head, and can even have a face guard installed on many of them if you need to protect your face more. Any hockey helmet worth its salt will carry an HECC certification. If you find a “hockey” helmet without this certification, do not buy it.

I currently rock a CCM Vector v08. It’s HECC certified and it’s easily adjustable, even for my giant noggin. Look how less ridiculous I look in an appropriately sized helmet!

Because of the better coverage, the fact that it’s designed for a contact sport, the multiple impact rating, the better accommodation for different sizes of heads, and the strict HECC certification, my personal recommendation is STRONGLY in favor of buying and wearing a hockey helmet for roller derby.

Bicycle Helmets

Last and, in my opinion, least are bicycle helmets.

Bike helmets are great for riding a bike, don’t get me wrong. But they’re designed to protect you from falling off of a bike, not getting slammed to the floor by a 250 lb dude named Wrecking Bill. Since most bicycle helmets are single impact there’s the problem of having to replace your helmet frequently and as mentioned by the Windy City Rollers in the research I linked above, not many helmet manufacturers are willing to define what a “significant impact” that would require replacement actually is. That leaves a lot of uncertainty.

Hero’s Final Word

My recommendation is, if you love your head, spend a little more cash on a well fitting hockey helmet.

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