Union Internationale des Associations d’Alpinisme (UIAA) and European Community (CE) certification.The shop salesperson puffs up and says, “Oh, yeah, that helmet’s UIAA and CE-certified.” You think, ‘That’s nice, but what does that mean? For all I know, they could be hucking the helmets at a brick wall, seeing how scratched they get, and calling it good.’ Chances are the salesperson probably also doesn’t know what those labels really signify. Fortunately for our skulls, the certifications involve a battery of elaborate trials that test a helmet’s impact absorption and penetration resistance.In the lab, the helmet (three samples are tested per helmet model, and each sample must pass) is mounted on a wooden form that simulates the human head, with a load sensor located in the head-form’s neck. Of primary importance is the helmet-top impact test, which drops a 5-kilogram weight (called a striker) with a 50mm-radius blunt business end onto the helmet’s top from a height of 2 meters. The resulting force on the neck’s load sensor can’t exceed 8 kiloNewtons (kN) for the UIAA and 10kN for the CE.
“Hold on!” you say. “You lost me at kiloNewton.“ A kiloNewton is a measure of force, where 1kN equals about 225 pounds. Thus 8kN is about 1800 pounds and 10kN is about 2250 pounds. It’s very important to note that the helmet-top impact test doesn’t measure the amount of force a helmet can withstand; it measures how much force is transmitted to your neck. The UIAA test is more strict — not the reverse, which you might assume by simply reading the 10kN/8kN numbers. Seven of the 10 helmets we reviewed are UIAA certifed.
Front-, side-, and rear-impact tests are performed by tilting the helmet 60 degrees in the direction of the incoming blow, then dropping the 5kg striker onto the helmet from a height of 50cm. As with the helmet-top test, the force on the neck’s load sensor can’t exceed 8kN for the UIAA and 10kN for the CE.
For the penetration test, a cone-shaped 3kg striker with a .5mm tip is dropped 2 meters onto the top of the helmet. The result is a simple pass/fail — while the striker can penetrate the shell of the helmet, it cannot touch the head-form.
The helmet’s stability (also called front-and-rear roll-off) is tested by dropping a 10kg weight separately onto the front and rear of the helmet. The degree of displacement is recorded, but to pass the test, the helmet must simply stay on the head-form after being struck.
It is important to note that test results can vary from lab to lab due to inconsistencies in how each lab adjusts the helmet’s fit and suspension on the head-form. This is an issue of some discussion in the climbing manufacturing world, one that will likely be addressed by the UIAA in the near future.