“Guys! Loose…rocks!” The words reached our ears in garbled blasts as they echoed off the dihedral walls. Somewhere above, David was following the crack that we hoped would continue to the top of the Dog Tooth spire. We had managed to free climb five pitches so far up this unclimbed Alaskan wall, and it was starting to look like the route might actually go. Parallel granite cracks continued to stretch upward; however, as with any unclimbed wall in the wilderness, there was plenty of loose rock. Craig and I scrambled to shelter the ropes and ourselves underneath a shallow overhang, and then we waited for the rocks to fall. As David tossed the large stones well beyond us, smaller rocks inevitably rained down. Just as the barrage ceased, a small rock whacked me in the head. Before this trip, I wondered how my new lightweight Mammut helmet would handle the abuses of alpine climbing. On the hard shell of the helmet, where the rock had hit, was a small ding. No cracks, no mess, just one clean dimple.
The Mammut Wall Rider helmet fills a hybrid niche between two emerging helmet designs. Over the past decade, foam helmets covered in a plastic shell have become increasingly popular. The foam absorbs force and protects your noggin during an impact, much like the “crumple zones” in modern cars. But the polystyrene foam (Styrofoam) can crack, sometimes just from having too much gear crammed in your car on a road-trip. Recently, Petzl innovated the Sirocco helmet out of expanded polypropylene foam, which stretches and rebounds more like rubber. These bright orange helmets are now visible (highly visible!) from crags to alpine routes the world over. The Sirocco brings ultra-lightweight technology (at only 5.7 oz, it is the lightest in the world) to helmets. Yet some people are skeptical of the Sirocco’s ability to deflect larger falling objects, since it lacks an exterior hard shell. Others just don’t prefer the color. Despite Petzl’s claims about the helmet’s resilience, I’ve known a Sirocco helmet to crack in a crammed rucksack during a long hike.
Mammut engineered the Wall Rider helmet to combine an expanded polypropylene, shock-absorbing structure with a rigid shell. To save weight, the hard shell covers only the top and front of the helmet, where impact from falling objects is most likely. The shell is made of polycarbonate (the material in a Nalgene bottle), and it is thicker than those on popular foam helmets like the Black Diamond Vector or Petzl Meteor. The total package still saves weight: the Wall Rider weighs 6.9 oz compared to the Vector’s 8.1 oz.
The Wall Rider offers good protection in a low profile design. It’s less bulky than the Vector, yet more roomy underneath. For example, I can fit a beanie under the Wall Rider helmet (size small), but I can’t fit the same hat under a size small Vector. The rear cinch straps are easy to adjust with one hand when I switch hats. And, major bonus, the Wall Rider’s headlamp retention straps are wide enough to secure a goggle strap. The Vector and Meteor helmets lack this feature, and in the past I frequently resorted to duct tape to keep my goggles in place. Furthermore, the side vents are larger than the Sirocco’s vents, helping you keep cool in hot weather.
This helmet is a real improvement over other models, combining lightweight, resilient foam with a durable, hard shell right where you need it. The only compromise over the Sirocco is 1.2 oz of weight, but it comes in more colors than “traffic cone.”
Flexible foam resists breaking, hard shell is durable, low profile, goggle compatible.
It’s not the lightest helmet, but it’s close.