Shell Shocked by Climbing’s Lightest Helmet (The Petzl Sirocco)

Editor —  July 9, 2013 — Leave a comment

Rachel 039 s RouteBy Chris Weidner

Helmet, or no helmet?

The answer is a no-brainer on ice, in the mountains, or on adventure routes in areas like Red Rocks or the Black Canyon: obviously yes! But what’s your answer in climbing’s gray-areas, like clean, well-protected trad, splitter cracks, or even sport routes? While most climbers (including me), seem comfortable climbing without a lid much of the time, wearing one is never a bad idea.

A helmet has unquestionably saved my life on one occasion (it broke in three places – as it’s designed to do – sparing those same fractures to my skull), and climbing helmets have spared me countless head injuries over the past 25 years.

So why do we shun helmets? Climbers like me conjure all kinds of excuses not to wear them but practically speaking, they’re annoyingly bulky and heavy.

Until now.

Petzl’s new Sirocco helmet is so light that the ‘you’ll-forget-you’re-wearing-one’ helmet cliché actually applies. Seriously, after three weeks of rocking this lid on Colorado’s Front Range and at Rifle (yes, Rifle), there were times when I’d kicked off the climbing shoes and packed my pack before I remembered that I still had it on. And trust me, the first thing I always do when my toes touch terra firma is take off that damned helmet.

The Sirocco comes in two sizes that weigh just 145 grams (5.1 ounces) and 165 grams (5.8 ounces) respectively – the lightest lids on the market. The larger Sirocco is 12% lighter than the smaller version of its closest rival, the Black Diamond Vapor.

Light is right and all, but if I wear a hard-hat I expect it to protect my noggin.

Rest assured, the Sirocco aces all UIAA tests. Petzl even claims that it can withstand multiple impacts without damage and that, post-impact, it can return to its original shape (Don’t believe it? See for yourself on Petzl’s YouTube video below). Fortunately, I didn’t suffer these kinds of tests in the field, but the Sirocco did protect me from pulled ropes, minor rockfall, and the typical (at least for me) head-bonking that goes with wearing helmets. After all, the Sirocco is still an extra chunk of foam on your head.

But there’s something different about the Sirocco’s foam. It’s a single piece of expanded polypropylene (EPP) – the same protective material used in car bumpers. The so-called “monobloc” construction eliminates the standard – and heavy – outer shell that encases the expanded polystyrene foam (EPS, aka Styrofoam) in other climbing helmets.

The buckle is also different. It incorporates tiny magnets in both buckle ends that invisibly nudge the clip together properly. It’s genius actually, considering that the blind buckle clip is most helmets’ Achilles Heel. The Sirocco can be buckled easily, even with one hand, but that’s more of a party trick than a practicality. The only issue I had with the buckle came after wearing the Sirocco while bolting and cleaning a granite sport route. Some of the swirling granite dust adhered to the magnets, obstructing the clips. It was easy enough to fix: I just wiped the magnets clean, and it has worked perfectly since.

The Sirocco’s strap adjustments are simpler than other helmets: one rear strap and one chin strap secure the fit. Two quilted foam liners add comfort to the top and front of the helmet, and they’re removable and washable. Ventilation holes surround the Sirocco for maximum breathability, and it’s compatible with Petzl’s Vizion helmet shield for ice and mixed. Indeed, the Sirocco is designed for all types of climbing.

Two plastic hooks in front and elastic in the back make headlamp attachment surprisingly easy and secure. The hooks were tough to pry open at first but they loosened up thereafter.

At $110 the Sirocco is at the high end of the helmet price range, costing twice as much as some heavier models. But if its featherweight properties have you answering “yes” to protecting your head more often, then spending a little more is a total no-brainer. Purchase the Sirocco by clicking here.

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