Ice Hockey Helmets: Don't be Bodychecked at the Store

Shopping for ice hockey helmets is a fairly straightforward task because there aren't really that many variables other than fit and visibility. However, even within these two, there may be more variations that you're prepared for. A quick look at what these are can better prepare you when you're faced with a salesman who's trying to get you to buy one of the more expensive brands of helmet - no offense to those in the noble profession of sales but you have to admit that some of us can get quite pushy with customers who don't really know what they're after. So that's where it's at, really; a better understanding usually leads to a better purchase decision.

Ice Hockey Helmet Types: To Each His OwnIce Hockey Helmets

There are three basic types of ice hockey helmets, all of which are made from Vinyl Nitrile, which is a shock absorbent, durable material that can take the impact of most types of hits from pucks, sticks, skates, and the floor and boards. It is also relatively light-weight when compared to other materials of similar strength, this being the reason for their wide usage. Foam liners of different kinds are used as impact absorption materials so that the final impact to the head can be reduced by as much as 80 to 90 percent – experts don't concur but that's the general proportion of impact reduction typical of any good helmet. The three types are the helmet with cage, helmet with chin strap, and combination helmet. All these ice hockey helmets are quite popular, with each having its own set of pluses and minuses.

Ice Hockey Helmets: Head in a Cage

Ice hockey helmets with a cage are probably the most common type. Essentially, visibility is not restricted, but that might not be the case. Put one on to see if that's the kind of view you want to have while playing. Usually, a cage affords the most protection because of its rigid, convex design. Alternately, a plastic visor may replace a cage for better visibility for skaters, as opposed to the additional protection that a cage will provide for a goaltender. As with anything else, it's a matter of preference and comfort, so go with what you think is the best combination of visibility and protection. The older plastic visors used to fog up pretty bad in the heat of the game but nowadays they're usually treated with a fog-free coating; an older plastic shield can also be coated later. The fog-free treatment will help visibility immeasurably.

Helmets With Straps: Take It on the Chin

Simpler versions of ice hockey helmets are the ones with just a chin strap. These aren't as safe as those with cages or visors, but even a lot of pro players prefer this to the claustrophobic feeling that other helmets can give. Besides, with the amount of time that a professional player spends on the ice, comfort often takes precedence over calculated safety. However, face protection in some form is always recommended, and these helmets are ok if you're just taking practice shots or skating around making shots on your own or with a couple of friends.

The Plasti-Cage Combo: Best of Both Worlds

The combination helmet is fairly new, and comes with a plastic shield as well as a cage that starts where the shield ends. There are some advantages to this – the shield gives the maximum possible visibility without any obstruction whatsoever, while the rigid cage provides the necessary protection from stick hits at close quarters. A lot of Goalies prefer these helmets, as do skaters because it reduces the chance of facial injury as well as affords the best visibility.

The Right Fit to Take a Fight Hit

The fit of the helmet is very important. If it's too loose, then it hardly qualifies as protective gear. In fact, a loose-fitting helmet is more of a hazard than anything because the additional movement can distract you from your game and lead to accidents. Similarly, a too-tight helmet will be very uncomfortable and doesn't really help absorb a whole lot of impact. Older helmets had screws on the sides or back to adjust the size; one of these is a good idea for kids because they outgrow helmets so quickly that it can be an expensive proposition to keep buying a new one every season. Newer ones are technologically advanced, and there are even helmets that flex to accommodate two or three sizes of heads without compromising comfort or safety. The Bauer 9900 is a good example of this, but it can set you back nearly $200.