An age old question of skydivers, both new jumpers and more seasoned ones. Do I buy a full face skydiving helmet or an open face helmet? The answer, as often in skydiving gear, is personal preference. Although intended use may also be a consideration in your decision. When you begin to pick your own gear, there is a decent price tag attached, so its good to think about your available options.
I have asked some of my fellow jumping friends what they think and what they prefer. As well, I have my own reasons behind my choice. Which admittedly, is a little bit embarrassing. But hey, maybe it will help one of the ladies out there when making their decision! There are reasons ranging from comfort, for safety, to style and importantly – to discipline! Think about your foreseeable future in skydiving, and consider which skydiving helmet may be a better option for you.
Skydiving helmets 101
Okay, so if you are a new skydiver and see a variety of different helmets, lets do a quick recap. So we have got full face and open face hard shelled skydiving helmets. Of course, the leather frap hats exist as well, but we are just going to talk about open and full face today. Under the USPA rules, unless you have a D-license, you are required to wear a skydiving helmet.
You may remember during your AFF, that you were required to wear a open face helmet. These helmets resemble skateboarding helmets, and they are impact rated by DOT. Skydiving AFF students are much more likely to potentially hit their head on exit, on the instructor in freefall, or on the ground when landing. As well, these helmets are very easy for the drop zone to mount radios for student canopy work. It is also of assumption that, with a full face helmet, an AFF student need not be distracted by opening a full face helmet under canopy, or dealing with visor fog.
At drop zones you will see that tandem instructors are usually wearing helmets. Although it is not required to be full face, you more often than not will find TI’s using full face to avoid injuries to their face, from their passenger attached. Also, you will see all the other licensed jumpers and skydiving instructors sporting either full face or open face. Surely if you walk up to them and ask, each one will tell you their personal reasons of why they prefer one or the other!
If you are jumping some place where the weather becomes colder, full face is a comfortable option. I am from Canada and it can get really chilly. And so I love my full face for keeping that icy wind off my cheeks! However, it is also a big problem to have my visor fog up on those cold days, which becomes a safety hazard. There are products that can be used on the visor to limit this issue, as well as regular cleaning of your visor.
Although, the same can happen regarding fog while jumping in very humid weather – you can experience a visor fogging up. The full face helmet can become uncomfortably hot when jumping in summer weather. For this reason, many people prefer to be jumping open face helmets during the hot summer weather. It offers a much more comfortable skydive all around, in the plane, freefall and under canopy! The majority of feedback I received from open face helmet users was that they loved the feeling of the warm air on their face in the summer.
Full face helmets
Obviously the biggest positive for full face helmets is face protection. Protecting your money maker! Full face skydiving helmets offer full face/chin protection, shielding the top, back and sides of your head – full face. Full face helmets have a visor that opens, so you can open in the plane and under canopy. Although keep in mind sporting a full face helmet can mean you may need to dish out a bit of money for replacement pieces once in a while. Due to wear and tear, replacement visor or visor accessory pieces may mean more maintenance costs compared to open face helmets.
One of my friends prefers full face because he has less equipment to manage. Meaning, he doesn’t need to find his goggles and helmet before a jump! Another friend enjoys that the full face helmet is a more quiet option for him. An interesting opinion I received was, “I can connect the feeling between tunnel and sky, so I don’t feel much difference from the wind”.
Why do I prefer my full face helmet? This is a bit cheeky, but hey its the truth. When I started skydiving I was constantly driving to the DZ before my shift as a bartender. When I would get ready in the morning, I would put my makeup on and head to the DZ. I would jump as much as possible then drive 45 minutes and make it JUST in time to start my bar shift, with no time to spare. My full face helmet kept my makeup in place, and I could jump until the last possible minute, then make it to work ready for the night! Yes, a bit silly, but it really was a saving grace.
Avoiding blows to the face
Full face is great for team flying, since you will be in close proximity to each other, making quick movements. For example, think belly formation work. It is pretty easy to get a knee, elbow or foot to the face, when turning these quick points with multiple jumpers. Additionally, you can quickly experience a less than pleasant hit to the face in all jumps, especially on exit. Wearing full face will avoid this painful moment, which can easily distract you from your jump. This distraction can turn into a safety hazard pretty quick for the people you are jumping with (and yourself).
Consider if will you be flying in a wind tunnel as well. Full face is much more comfortable to use inside the wind tunnel. Although you are able to wear an open face, its not really a fun experience in my opinion. Since you are flying in a smaller area, and probably with others. You are more likely, sooner or later, going to experience some blows to the face with body parts, or maybe even the glass wall! I don’t know about you, but I would much prefer to be wearing a full face helmet to avoid this.
Open face helmets
Preferred by many jumpers because they love the true feeling of the wind on their faces! Although they may not have the facial protection of full face, they offer a really important safety feature: full visibility. Which can be obstructed in some full face helmets, it is not an issue with open face helmets.
There is less maintenance with open faced helmets, as there is only a strap/buckle under your chin. This same reason is why they are more easily operated. Meaning, no struggle to open the visor under canopy, which may happen with a full face. Even better, they tend to be a bit less expensive then full face helmets, which is always a positive!
One skydiving instructor mentioned that they preferred to use open face helmet for better communication visibility. When she is making coaching jumps, the student has an easier time seeing her facial expressions. Which in her opinion, makes her communication easier. I thought that was for sure an interesting consideration!
For hop n’ pops, jumpers I spoke to preferred their open face helmet, again, because of feeling the wind on their face. As well, for swooping it allows for super clear vision and less gear to manage.
If you are a camera flyer, or considering making camera flying a focus for you, open face helmet is the way to go. Yes full face you can attach your GoPro cameras to. However, for more professional and high quality camera set ups, you are going to need an open face helmet. They are much better for building and mounting set ups, and importantly, much more safe! Open face helmets have an ideal cut away system, which the full face helmets cannot compare to.
“Cameras on open face helmets are much safer over all. Provided you use one of the great cutaway systems available, like the Tonfly system. Cutaways on full face helmets tend not to really work, unless they are ones meant to cut away the mount, rather than the helmet. For serious camera work, open face is the only way to go.” – Roy Wimmer Jaglom, professional skydiving photographer and cameraman
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What do you think? Are there other reasons why you would choose between a full face or open face skydiving helmet? Share with me your thoughts, I would love to know what you think!
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