Gear Review: Petzl Elia Climbing Helmet

I have five helmets in my gear closet to cover skiing, biking and climbing. It might seem like overkill, but like most quality equipment, each is sport specific. Each meet sets of safety standards for their intended uses and they generally aren’t interchangeable.

I consider helmets to be essential safety gear in climbing, and I had questions when I started investing in equipment almost two years ago. What sets a climbing helmet apart from my bike and ski helmets? What safety standards govern climbing helmets? What features should I look for? The first place I went to for guidance was to my outdoor community on Twitter; my peers and the companies I follow are my best source of information. Brad Werntz at Pemba Serves answered my call for help. Now, two years later and (at least a little) wiser, I got to test out a new, innovative women’s specific climbing helmet for them!

Testing the Elia at Birdsboro Quarry.
Prior to receiving the Petzl Elia from Pemba Serves, I’d been on the lookout for a climbing helmet that really, truly fit. I already had two to work with, the lightweight and simple Petzl Elios and the heavier, less ventilated Trango CPU, but neither was quite right. If the helmet doesn't fit, it's not going to make it on my head as often as it should. Enter the Elia, heaven’s gift to women who climb.

Petzl designed the Elia specifically for women. A reasonable buy at an MSRP of $65, it's a durable and lightweight foam helmet with four clips to hold a headlamp in place. But right out of the box, I could tell there was something special about it. The instructions for use show a woman with a ponytail and how to adjust the OMEGA headband to fit around it. The light blue headlamp clips and neon green padding don't scream Girl Helmet, but add enough pizzazz to make it look good. And it fits like a glove.

Headbands on standard helmets can be the bane of any long-haired climber girl's existence, and the way Petzl addressed this with the Elia is its most unique feature. The headband features a cutout that fits perfectly around my ponytail and adjusts on the sides rather than in the back. These independent lateral adjustment buttons prevent wisps of hair from getting snagged and also provide a better overall fit. The helmet felt just as secure with my hair down. (Read: the Elia can work for guys, too!)

Ponytail problems aside, I’ve forgone helmets in the past because an ill fitting one will slide all over the place. The last thing I want while I'm heaving myself up a burly overhanging route is to simultaneously have to survive an attempted choking. But the Elia just stayed put, comfortably. I almost forgot it was there. The removable padding absorbed sweat on my forehead, which I need desperately climbing in East Coast humidity, and provided the perfect cushioning for my noggin.

In trying to be a diligent reviewer, I thought hard about any feature missing or anything I didn’t like. The only initial concern I had was that the shape of the back of the helmet would compromise safety. In comparing it side by side to the Elios, I saw that the cutout in the shell of the Elia itself is minimal; the real difference is in the headband, which isn’t what truly protects the head from the impact of a falling object. Its function is to keep the helmet secure on my head. The Elia is CE (European Committee for Standardization) EN 12492 and UIAA (Union Internationale des Associations d'Alpinisme) certified, which put my concerns to rest.

I have yet to take it out for ice climbing or mountaineering, but all the preliminary over-the-winter-hat testing I've done at home makes me think my opinion won't change. My theory is the Elia will be even better on ice than the Elios; the arrangement of ventilation holes might further block falling debris. Odds are the rest of my helmet collection will sit gathering dust in the gear closet while the Elia and I go out and play.

Think the Elia sounds good to you, or do you have another go-to helmet? We'd love to hear your thoughts!