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There’s a price on your head

Clients on a guided trip have the luxury of not having to worry with risk identification, and wondering how they will protect themselves from the hazards of the activity. Any guide worth his salt will make sure that his clients are at all times well protected against any hazards.

Adventurers that go their own way do not have this luxury. Identifying risks in their game is their own problem, and if things go wrong they only have themselves to blame.

Every year countless adventurers sustain head injuries, some through the process of natural selection, some through inexperience, some by bad luck. The lucky ones walk away with a scratch, or get killed instantaneously. The unlucky ones spend some time in a coma, undergo intensive medical treatment, years of rehabilitation and never recover to a degree where they can continue life without the assistance of a full time care giver.

head protection-3385

Top left: Cycling helmet. Replace after any impact.
Top right: Rock climbing helmet. Made to take repeated impact.. to some degree.
Bottom Left: Woolen skull-cap. Cheap protection against hypothermia.
Bottom Right: Broad rimmed hat. Protects against heat stroke and the ‘cooked lobster’ syndrome.

Losing a finger, a hand or maybe a whole leg may be a serious inconvenience, but humanity has proven time and again that we do have the capability to lead meaningful lives without a digit or two, but for some reason or another we still haven’t figured out how to lead our lives once we lose our heads. Maybe science and technology will find some way in future to deal with such inconveniences, but for now we can not avoid the fact: If your head is gone, you die.

The more daring the adventure, the more the risk. Mountain biking, rock climbing, mountaineering, white water kayaking, the list goes on. If you are involved in these games you better get your basic survival skills right and know what can hurt you. Most of the time serious head trauma lands somewhere close to the top of the ‘great ways to die’ list.

Now everybody knows that it is really cool to have the wind in your hair while doing that hairy descent (or ascent), but you can take it for granted that brain surgery is not.

Sometimes we don’t have to worry about bashing our heads, but still need head protection. A hoody or skullcap can prevent hypothermia, and a broad rimmed hat on a sunny day will make sure that you don’t look like a cooked lobster at the end of the day.

When buying your first helmet, there’s a few things you have to keep in mind:

  1. Fit for purpose. Cycling with a rock climbing helmet is almost as good as not wearing one. Helmets are made for specific purposes. Choose the correct type.
  2. Size. If it is so small that it crushes your head you will get a headache and remove it. If it is too loose it will flop around, pull off during impact and cause all kinds of problems. As a general rule when fitting, put the helmet on without securing the strap. If you can not dislodge the helmet from your head while shaking your head vigorously it is a good fit.
  3. Weight. When whiplash is a risk, a lighter helmet is safer. Lighter helmets are more comfy too.
  4. Manufacturing standards. Don’t buy a dodgy helmet and think you are protected. Look out for codes printed on the helmet that start with CE, BS, EN, UIAA and a few others. You can also google these for most credible manufacturers, and find out exactly what the standard promises to protect you against. The info booklet in the box will also tell you more about the standard it complies to.
  5. Fashion. Who wants to look like a dork? If you like the styling of your helmet chances are better that you will wear it proudly.
  6. Good Advice. The sales rep at a reputable store, and any experienced adventurer will know the requirements for helmet selection. Even better, ask a professional instructor.
  7. Price. The general rule is that the more expensive, the better the helmet. Start off by deciding how much you are willing to spend on emergency brain surgery to relieve the pressure buildup from internal bleeding and use that as a gauge when buying head protection.

For certain activities helmets are not needed. For others they are preferred (for a beginner this means compulsory), and for some activities they are simply not negotiable. Familiarize yourself with the activity you plan to undertake. Wear the correct protective equipment, especially for your head. Get professional advice and training.

Never think that your helmet makes you indestructible – it is not a replacement for common sense. Ignorance is the greatest killer.

by Franz Fuls. 6 May 2013.

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About Franz Fuls

Adventurer Freelance Journalist Photographer Bunny Hugger Engineer January 2014 I depart on a 2,500km eco-expedition called Triwaters Tour. The website link is in my profile. Go check it out.

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