Cheap Hockey Helmets vs. Expensive Hockey Helmets: Which One Is Right For Me?
There are so many pieces of hockey equipment that every player needs, with the helmet arguably being the most important. All hockey helmets are primarily designed to protect the skull and brain. However, a handful of models, such as the Bauer Re-Akt or CCM FitLite 3DS, also have special foams and paddings which are designed to help maximize protective capabilities and absorb impacts.
Helmets come in a wide variety of prices, typically ranging from a slim $27 for a Bauer 2100 to a wallet-draining $300 for a Bauer Re-Akt 200. This huge gap between prices is heavily dependent on the foams, plastics, comfort level, and research used to design and create the product. Let's take a look at the differences between some helmets.
Helmets under $60 will be made of cheap plastic shells and have standard EPP (expanded polypropylene) foams. They often have fixed ear guards which cannot be removed or replaced, and will not be very comfortable or protective. Sometimes "middle-of-the-road" clearance helmets will be available at this price range, but they will likely have expired HECC certifications, making them unsuitable for full-contact or travel hockey. However, they can still be used in recreational adult league play.
At this price point, your mileage may vary - proceed with extreme caution.
Hockey helmets that are under $100 usually feature slightly more-protective VN foams. These foams can withstand harder impacts than basic EPP foams, but are still not extremely protective. Some helmets at this price range, like the CCM FitLite 60, will have more-strategically placed foams to provide a little more cushioning.
One of the most iconic helmets in hockey since the early 1990s, the Bauer 4500, is available at this price and is still used by several NHL players today. Many players swear that it is the best-looking helmet they've ever worn. With that in mind, players using the 4500 are protecting their heads with a helmet originally designed about 27 years ago.
Helmets at this price range are good enough for non-checking adult leagues, but players in full-contact leagues should consider something more protective.
The majority of helmets on the market fall into this price range. Here, players will start to get high-density PE (polyethylene) plastic shells, gel-based foams, and tool-less adjustment features which greatly improve comfort. These helmets will be protective and available at a good price. Occasionally, clearance helmets that were once "expensive" or "very expensive" will be found at this price range but may have expired certifications.
Helmets at this price point are great for non-checking adult leagues and are good enough for full-contact play.
All of these helmets will feature gel-based comfort foams and some will feature impact-dampening technologies. They will all use high-density PE shells with sizing adjustment capabilities. Bauer helmets, like the Re-Akt, use a suspension liner and CCM helmets, such as the FitLite, use liquid-filled "bladders" that are both designed to minimize brain movement during rotational impact - the most common type of concussion-causing impacts.
Helmets in this price range are very comfortable, offer more than enough protection for non-checking leagues, and are a great option for full-contact and travel players.
Helmets that cost more than $250, such as the Bauer Re-Akt 100, Bauer Re-Akt 200 (pictured), and CCM FitLite 3DS, are at the pinnacle of helmet technology. They are extremely comfortable, thanks to the high-quality foams like Poron XRD® found in Bauer helmets and D3O® found in CCM helmets. These types of foams are designed for repeated, high-impact absorption.
Very expensive helmets offer the highest level of fit customization. For example, the Bauer Re-Akt 200 helmet uses a special, heat-moldable "fit plate" at the back of the helmet to completely form around the player's head. Then, the CCM FitLite 3DS uses the Microdial III at the back of the head for a full 360° wrap.
$250+ helmets offer more than enough protection for both non-contact and full-contact players alike and are a great option for players who want nothing short of the best.
Some of the most popular questions players and parents ask about hockey helmets include:
Q: "I'm only playing non-checking, beer league hockey; do I really need an expensive helmet?"
A: It depends. A helmet is a piece of equipment that players shouldn't cut costs on. Sure, you probably won't be getting lined up at the blue line when your head's down in adult league, but accidents happen. Sometimes two players who aren't looking collide pretty violently, resulting in accidental elbows or shoulders to the head, or worse - heads hitting the ice.
There's nothing wrong with having a nice helmet in adult league. If you have the funds for a $200+ helmet, by all means, go for it. But, if funds are a little low, you will be fine in a "middle-of-the-road" helmet.
Q: "My child is playing travel hockey; will he or she be fine playing in a clearance helmet from seven years ago?"
A: Absolutely not. All hockey helmets for youth and travel hockey require HECC (Hockey Equipment Certification Council) and CSA (Canadian Standards Association) certifications. According to HECC policies, helmets are certified for use for 6.5 years after their manufacturing date, which will be identified on a sticker on the back of the helmet. Once the helmet passes the expiration date, it is no longer HECC certified and cannot be used for youth hockey.
Our recommendation for youth hockey players would be any current-generation helmet from the "middle-of-the-road" price range and up.
Q: "Will this $300 helmet prevent me from getting a concussion?"
A: The short answer is no. No two impacts in hockey are exactly the same, which makes it impossible for manufacturers to create a "concussion-proof" helmet. However, manufacturers perform years of research, development, and testing before releasing these helmets to the public. Because of this, the likelihood of getting a concussion in a $300 helmet using state-of-the-art foams and padding should be vastly lower (but still possible) than a $60 helmet.
When shopping for a hockey helmet, the main idea all players should base their purchase on is this: "How much is my brain worth?" Nobody wants to be told by a doctor that they cannot perform basic tasks or play hockey anymore because of a brain injury.
If you don't have the money to invest in a high-quality helmet, just get the best that you can, understand the risks, and keep your head on a swivel!