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Published: August 24, 2017
Why Do Skydivers Wear Helmets
Helmets are required for student skydivers and worn almost universally by experienced skydivers.
The helmets worn by student skydivers are generally of open-faced style used at skate parks (often referred to by the "Protec" brand name). At many dropzones, there's a pocket on one or both ears. The pocket configuration is designed to hold a radio, over which the student will be coached from the ground as s/he is landing. These helmets are impact-rated by the DOT and are meant to protect the student from injury if a bump occurs on the inside of the plane, on the teacher in freefall or upon landing. Pretty straightforward stuff, no?
Once that student graduates, the world of skydiving helmets gets a whole lot bigger. Experienced jumpers wear discipline-specific helmets that range from leather aviator-style chinstrap hats (called "frap hats") to full-face helmets to--in rare cases--nothing at all. Helmet usage is not generally a requirement in the sport for licensed jumpers. (Individual dropzones, however, may set whatever gear pre requisites they wish to enforce for their communities.)
As opposed to, say, mountain bikers, snowboarders or the denizens in your local skatepark, skydivers aren't just putting a lid on it for safety. In practice, skydivers wear helmets for a number of reasons:
The wind in freefall is a powerful thing. Lots of skydiving athletes wear helmets that aren't impact-rated for one important reason: comfort. A helmet keeps your hair contained, helps you hold on to your expensive sunglasses and keeps the rush of the wind off your face (so you don't have flappy cheeks on every single skydive). In fact, truth be told, "skydiving comfort helmets" are the most common helmet type in the sky.
Helmets look good. They're available in all the colors of the rainbow, so they match your suit and your container. They provide a handy space to display your stickers--the local-pride ones; the brand-pride ones; the cheeky ones; the ones from the brewery you visited when you went to that boogie and you can't quite remember what happened that night if you're being honest but the pictures looked amazing.
Especially since the dawn of the GoPro, skydiving helmets have taken on another role: that of camera mount. While some skydivers debatably take it a little too far, most of us have a GoPro sticking Teletubby-style out the top of our heads or jutting from our chins. It's part of it, really.
Note that camera usage is only allowed for licensed jumpers meeting the USPA recommended requirements such as having 200 jumps.
With all that said: You'll rarely see a hard helmet on the head of a tandem student. Generally, students are either helmetless or frap-hatted, because there's a chance that (if they really got a wind-up) they could knock their tandem instructor unconscious with a helmeted head. To be safe, the USPA teaches that tandem students should go without.
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