Choss: (noun) Rock that is unsuitable for rock climbing, because: 1, that nice-looking ledge crumbles when you lunge for it), 2: there’s that non-zero chance of large slabs falling off onto your belayer, 3: chalk ain’t gonna help you grip moss.

Also defined as: unpredictable rock that I want as far from my head as possible. You can find choss in various amounts at any climbing destination, whether it’s shale that breaks off into candy bar-sized slabs, weathered sandstone, or unstable volcanic breccia. I’m talking about you, Pinnacles Nat’l Park. I’ve gotten called out for describing rocks as chossy on my field notes (I fund my outdoor adventures working as an environmental scientist); it’s not a geology term, but one that I’ve gotten so used to as a climber. Dirt is just rock that hasn’t met heat, pressure, or chemical cementation yet, and choss is the state of a rock that’s still a little “underdone”.

On a related note, this Christmas was the Christmas of climbing gear since I no longer have access to gear through an employer. My sister bought me quickdraws. My parents bought me a helmet. I bought myself a rope and an anchor setup as a reward for finishing my graduate school applications. I’m psyched about all of it! My mom had distinctly mixed feelings about buying me a helmet; she’s not sure how much she wants to encourage me in her least favorite of my hobbies. I persuaded her that if I was going to climb, she could at least invest in the safe return of as many of my brain cells as possible (see definition of choss, above).

I initially asked for the Petzl Elia; I couldn’t find a single negative review of it on the web, and as a ponytail-wearing person was intrigued by the design! The Elia is a fantastic idea but it turns out It’s just not quite right for my head shape, which is verging on cone-head territory. I have to pull the pink side-adjusting back band quite low to keep the helmet on my head, but this leaves a large gap between the top of my ponytail (as defined by the bottom of the pink strap) and the bottom of the hard plastic shell of the helmet. I felt that if I were to slip and hit the back of my head, my odd-shaped head would become even more odd-shaped. It’s a pity, because I’m a sucker for aggressively girly climbing gear. I’m a lot more confident about climbing in the Elios, which gives me more back coverage and a more secure fit, at the expense of time spent braiding my hair. I guess I’ll be keeping the Pippi Longstocking look for the foreseeable future! In an ideal world, I would love Elia if it had the same adjustment mechanism and girly cutouts but if the ABS shell had the same profile as the Elios.

In the photos below, the Elios is on the left and the Elia is on the right.

What do y’all think? What’s your helmet of choice, and what made you start bringing one to the crag?

For the geology fans out there, Courtney writes a geology focused blog ( that’s definitely worth checking out!