Gear Guy

Ace Wake Helmet     Photo: courtesy, Pro-Tec

Q:

When should I retire my whitewater kayaking helmet?

When should I retire my whitewater kayaking helmet? I have a Pro-Tec full cut that is old enough to vote in some states. I've never taken a serious thump while wearing it, which gives it some talismanic value. But even the best things don't last forever, so I'm probably due for a new hat. Any recommendations? Kelly Sanders, Oregon

A:You’re a little coy about the real age of your helmet, but let’s say it’s ten years old. If so, then I don’t think your lack of an accident is due to the helmet’s talismanic value. I think it’s because your helmet is screaming, “Whoa! Don’t hit that rock! Or that one! Yikes!" as it frantically maneuvers your melon around obstacles in order to avoid its own demise due to its age-weakened state.

The thing is, even if the helmet looks OK, that’s no indication of its structural integrity. Lots of things can decay the plastics and polymers in a helmet: sun (highly destructive), repeated wettings and dryings while boating, and your own sweat (very acidic) to name a few. Chances are the straps have lost half their original strength, while the shell may be far more brittle than it was when new. Bicycle helmets—a close kin to boating helmets—are thought to be due for replacement after three to five years, depending on how much use they get. I always err on the side of conservatism and don’t let mine go more than three years.

Besides, buying a new helmet will hardly break your bank account. Pro-Tec’s Ace Wake helmet (pro-tec.net), for instance, is only $60, and probably fits better and offers more protection than your old skull lid. And seeing as you have only one head, it seems prudent to invest in keeping it intact, no?

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