Table of Contents
Choosing the Best Mountain Bike Helmet: A Buyers Guide
Whether you are going to be buying a mountain bike helmet for yourself or as a gift for a loved one, you naturally want to make sure that you are choosing from among only the very best. A good helmet will provide more protection from impacts, will stay in place, and will have plenty of padding. However, with so many options available today, it can become difficult to know exactly which of the helmets is going to be the best choice. It can often seem like there are as many helmets as there are types of bicycles… and that is not far from the truth.
It is time to demystify that problem and help you learn more about what you need to consider when you are choosing your mountain bike helmet. We will also look at some of the very best mountain bike helmets available today.
What Makes a Mountain Bike Helmet Different from Other Helmets?
When you first start to look at the different types of biking helmets, you may notice that there are some similarities from one to the other. The mountain bike helmets, for example, tend to appear quite a lot like a road helmet in terms of the design. However, there are some differences that you will want to note.
One of the primary differences is the fact that the mountain bike helmets will usually have fewer vents for ventilation than the road helmets. In addition, they tend to cover the sides of the back and the head more than a road helmet. This is to help provide you with more safety for your head in the event that you were to take a bit of a tumble from the back of your bike.
You will also find that many of the best mountain biking helmets available today will have a built-in visor. Even though many riders will have their own eye protection, and even sunglasses for certain parts of trails, there are also those areas where sunglasses are just not going to work very well because they would make riding through darkened areas of the trail too difficult. Instead, the built-in visor tends to be a great way to help keep the sun out of the eyes on open trails, and to ensure that the rider still has full visibility when they are in darker environments.
Some helmets also incorporate MIPS technology, which is the best option you have for preventing injury if you are in an accident. MIPS isn’t found on every helmet on the market, so make sure you look for the MIPS logo on the ones you are considering if this is a concern for you. Many of the helmets reviewed here today offer MIPS technology to keep you as safe as you can be.
A feature that is going to be the same for all bicycle helmets sold in the United States, regardless of their type, is the fact that they all need to have passed the CPSC test and have the CPSC label on it. This is the Consumer Product Safety Commission. All of the helmets that you see and that are for sale should have this label, ensuring that the manufacturer has at least met the minimum safety requirements deemed necessary by the United States. Great helmets, whether full-shell or half-shell that have the label help to provide you with the added protection you need from accidents and impacts.
Mountain Bike Helmet Reviews
The following are some of the most popular mountain bike helmets available today, along with information about the various features that each of these helmets offers. These are some of the primary choices that are well worth considering
Giro Montaro MIPS Helmet
This MIPS helmet is made from a liner of EPS foam or expanded polystyrene, foam, and it includes a quality outer shell of in-mold polycarbonate foam for high quality padding. The helmet offers up 16 vents, which is going to help with the ventilation to keep the rider cool and comfortable, so they don’t sweat and to help keep the weight of the helmet down. It includes an adjustable visor, and it utilizes the company’s Roc Loc Air fit adjustment system. The adjustable visor can be adjusted to fit full goggles if you choose to use them. This helmet also comes with MIPS technology, or the Multidirectional Impact Protection System. This helmet has antimicrobial brow pads for comfort padding when riding.
Overall, this is a very safe MIPS helmet with excellent safety features and a high degree of comfort, but it does have some other elements that help to make it a real standout. Its design allows it to integrate with other gear quite well. For example, it offers a built-in camera mount with a breakaway design. This makes it easy to record your rides, and the breakaway ensures that you and the camera are protected more in the event of a crash. It is also known for its high level of comfort and reasonable price.
You can choose from four options to get the right size with the Giro Montaro MIPS helmet, and you can find the helmet in a wide range of hues. Choose models from matte black and gloss black, matte black/lime/flame, matte blue/lime, matte dark red, matte frost, matte lime/mountain division, matte olive, matte sonic psych, matte titanium flame, matte vermillion, matte walnut, matte white/lime, matte black riptide.
- Design includes 16 Wind Tunnel vents with internal channeling to keep the head cool
- Outer shell is composed of an in-mold polycarbonate with an EPS liner for safety and full coverage
- Meets all required safety standards for a visor and is compatible with goggles through strap gripper on back of the helmet
- Camera mount has been noted to be of a lesser quality than the visor models themself
POC Tectal Race Bike Helmet
This MIPS mountain bike helmet model could be a wonderful choice, as it has a fantastic reputation when it comes to safety. The helmet has plenty of ventilation, and it is comfortable to wear, making it a smart choice for both trail riding and endurance racing. The helmet is composed of an expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam liner, along with a quality shell for durability. The helmet has been optimized for aerodynamics and ventilation thanks to the wind tunnel testing that it has gone through.
This MIPS POC helmet also offers a goggle clip, along with a simple to use adjustment system and straps that should make it easy for anyone to use and to ensure comfort and that the fit is secure and it stays in place. It is a top option hands down.
The helmet also features MIPS technology. You can choose the perfect size with this helmet, and you can choose from four different color combinations with this helmet system. There is the hydrogen white/uranium black helmet, the phenol gray/lactose blue helmet, the uranium black/beryl green helmet, and the uranium black/hydrogen white combination. Among those color schemes, the color that comes first is the main color of the helmet, with the secondary color being more of an accent color on the MIPS helmet.
- Model created to offer the highest level of coverage at the temples and back of the head
- Meets enhanced safety standards with more coverage than typical helmets and efficient ventilation
- Eight rear vacuum vortex outlets can help exhaust and prevent rider sweat
- Does not include a chin bar which some riders may with for when riding on a trail
Troy Lee Designs A1 Classic Mountain Bike Helmet
This is one of the new helmet system options on the market for Troy Lee Designs, and it has quite a bit going for it. The Troy Lee MIPS helmet includes MIPS system technology to help reduce rotational forces to the head, along with a reinforced polycarbonate shell with an EPS foam padding,or expanded polystyrene liner. The liner in the helmet is removable and washable. There are plenty of other features that help to make this a quality MIPS helmet including fantastic ventilation thanks to the six pressurized intake passages, and the six rear vacuum vortex outlets that allow for some exhaust to draw the heat away from the head.
Those who choose this Troy Lee Designs MIPS helmet will also enjoy the retention system, which has three positions. The various positions with the system help ensure safety and better protection. This retention makes it possible for you to customize your fit for different types of eyewear that you might have, along with your head shape and even your riding style for that matter.
- Helmet extends down the sides and back of the head for the best durability and coverage
- Offers comfort, coverage, and a good fit through the padding, ventilation, and engineering
- Includes MIPS coverage to prevent serious injury when taking a spill while riding
- The lack of a chin bar may make this helmet less than ideal for those riding on a trail
Giro Hex Mountain Helmet
The Giro Hex offers up a great rugged style front and back that is sure to please. You will find that this one also has some other great options that could help to make it a great choice for your next or your first mountain bike helmet. You will find that it has 21 wind scooping vents to provide you with plenty of ventilation while you are riding. It also has a specialized fitting system called the Roc Loc 5, which allows you to change the fit tension and the vertical position all with a single hand. That means it is designed to fit your head snugly for comfort and safety. This is a strong and safe helmet, providing plenty of protection and it is also 40% lighter than the predecessors in the line.
When you choose this helmet model helmet system, you will be able to choose from four different options for the right size, along with multiple colors and color combos. Color options include matte black, matte blue/lime, matte flame/white/titanium, matte purple/bright pink, matte titanium/flame, matte vermillion/flame, matte white/lime, and matte titanium/flame. There is a combination that should work well for just about anyone.
- Offers a micro-dial that opens or closes the retention system with the use of only two fingers
- Includes ideal ventilation through 24 Wind Tunnel vents that include internal channeling
- Creates comfort when riding through in-mold polycarbonate with an internal ESP liner
- May not offer as much protection on the back of the helmet as some other models
Smith Optics Rover Adult MTB Cycling Helmet
Here is a mountain bike helmet model system that offers up some great design choices, along with plenty of other elements that make it a nice choice for those in search of a quality helmet. It features an integrated visor,a nice liner, along with plenty of ventilation to keep cool. It is a helmet with a low weight, as well, so you can be sure it is going to be comfortable to wear. Lower weights that can still provide a great liner and protection are always a good choice. The construction includes Koroyd, which offers a design that targets zonal impact areas to prevent injury during a crash or accident. It also comes at a reasonable price, so you won’t break the bank choosing this helmet with visor.
You can choose from several options to get the right size for this helmet. It offers a specialized VaporFit Adjustable Fit System, so you can make sure it is sitting just right and that it is providing you with the protection that you need through pads and a great fit. It has a nice liner and comfortable fit. The helmet is also available in several different colors. You can choose from the matte black, matte charcoal, and the matte white. There is also a matte reactor, which is a bright green color.
- Includes an integrated visor for better protection when on rough terrain around dust and debris
- Offers comfort and great fit through the VaporFit adjustable fit system
- Constructed with Koroyd to target important impact areas to prevent injury during a crash
- Will not offer as much protection in an accident as MIPS models would do
Bell Super 3R MIPS Bike Helmet
One of the first things that you are going to notice about this MIPS system helmet, which makes it different from the others on the list thus far is the fact that it is a full-face helmet system that includes a visor. This provides more overall protection for the rider. The helmet comes with breakaway screws, a float fit, fusion in-mold polycarbonate shell, and a goggle guide adjustable visor system. The helmet also has over brow ventilation, as well as a great liner and MIPS.
Overall, this one is a safe and highly effective MIPS helmet. It is available in three options so you can choose the correct size, as well as a range of hues. Color choices include matte black/Orion, matte black/white, matte cobalt/pearl, matte emerald joy, matte hibiscus/smoke, matte lead, matte smoke/pear, matte white/cherry, matte or gloss black/cherry, matte or gloss copper/black, and matte or gloss navy/cherry fibers.
Another very interesting feature of this MIPS helmet is the integrated breakaway camera mount. This is a nice choice for those who might want to have a camera mounted on their helmet, which can help them capture all of their adventures on the trails.
- Comes with a protective, removable chin bar that is designed for riding on trails and other locations
- Offers an adjustable visor that accommodates both goggles and glasses when riding
- Includes XT2 padding which means more pads for comfort and safety in an accident
- Chin strap may be too short for some to use for the best comfort, fit, and coverage
Fox Metah Mountain Bike Helmet
This MIPS helmet features 14 large vents, which can help to improve the ventilation and airflow of the helmet, and it helps to reduce the weight. The flow of air also helps the head stay cool. The helmet features MIPS technology, which provides riders with additional protection. It has an anchor Y-strap system that makes putting the helmet on and taking it off again fast and easy. It has a premium liner with sealed edges, and quality construction overall. The liner is comfortable and adds the protection needed in a quality helmet.
There are five sizes from which you can choose with this MIPS helmet, as well as a substantial number of colors. For the color choices, you can pick from black and yellow, flow cloud gray, flow teal, flow black/white/red, green camo, gray, matte black, silver and black. Others include thresh flow yellow, thresh red/black, flow yellow, and flow yellow/black. It’s always nice to have more than one or two color options on the list.
- Offers substantial coverage in the back of the helmet to protect the sides and rear of the head
- Models include fit adjustment through a single-hand dial retention system for convenience
- Includes a sufficient amount of ventilation through 10 Big Bore vents to keep riders cool
- Does not come with MIPS technology and may not be as safe in a serious accident
Smith Optics Forefront Adult Off-Road Cycling Helmet
You will find quite a bit to love when it comes to this particular Smith Optics Helmet system. It’s one of the top options and it features some excellent elements that make it a great helmet that offers plenty of coverage, protection, and safety, and that is nice for racing or trail riding.
The helmet offers lightweight construction, while still being highly protective in the event of a fall. It has 21 vents on it that help to make it so lightweight and that allows more ventilation and flow of air for a cooler and more enjoyable ride. It includes the VaporFit Adjustable Fit System, which is geared to make the process of putting the helmet on and getting it to fit just right much easier.
The helmet also features a goggle retention strap, sunglass integration, and even an integrated camera and light mount if you want to record your rides, or you need to have some extra light. It also uses a Koroyd tube structure to ensure the best safety after a crash or accident.
This helmet is available in multiple sizes, as well as many different colors, so you can find the fit and style you need. Some of the colors from which you can choose include matte black, matte darkness, matte disruption camo, matte neon orange, matte opal/charcoal, matte pink/charcoal, matte reactor gradient (green), matte reactor split (another shade of green), matte root/lasso, which is brown with some interesting design features, and matte white.
- Implements a Koroyd tube structure to prevent injury in an accident or crash while riding on a trail
- Visor has two different position options for the best comfort and coverage depending on the trail and time of day
- Includes a threaded insert for cameras and other accessories to beef up the abilities of the helmet
- Models do not come equipped with MIPS technology for an added layer of safety
Bell Sanction BMX/Downhill Helmet
This is a full helmet system that is lightweight but durable and that works well for many different types of mountain bikers, especially those who are into downhill racing. It’s able to provide plenty of protection. The full-face helmet features 15 vents for ventilation, and it has a low profile design. While it is available in four sizes, it should be noted that these are sized for smaller riders and junior riders. Those who have larger heads will want to buy a larger size, or they may want to choose a different brand so it will fit.
The available hues for this helmet include the gloss black/hibiscus, gloss force blue/retina sear assassin, gloss smoke/pear, hibiscus/smoke, black/titanium/retina sear, and the white/black/red.
- Includes an adjustable visor that can be used to keep dust and debris away from the face while riding
- Offers plenty of ventilation and a lightweight design for comfort and coverage while mountain biking
- Comes at a reasonable price point for those on a budget who want a helmet with a great fit and padding
- This model does not come with MIPS which means it may not be as safe as other models
Fox Head Flux Helmet
The helmet system is designed to work well for all types of mountain bike riding. It has a deep rear EPS profile for added coverage and protection, along with 20 vents for better overall ventilation and airflow and temperature control. The addition of these vents can also make the ride more comfortable, since you can keep cooler with more air. This helmet offers a removable adjustable visor, as well.
It features a nice overall design that should please most riders. You will also have plenty of choices when it comes to the colors for the helmet. You can choose from Creo dark green, Creo yellow, Creo white/navy, matte white, red, fluorescent yellow, and red/black.
- Offers a huge number of ventilation holes which can prevent sweat while riding
- Lightweight design is easy to use on long treks and comes in a bright color for visibility
- One of the most reasonable prices for a mountain bike helmet with a good fit and coverage
- This model is basic and does not come with MIPS coverage or extra padding
Now that you have seen and started to learn about some of the top options available when it comes to mountain bike helmets today, it is time to go a little deeper and learn more about these helmets, some of the different styles of helmet, and the features they offer. This way, you will have a better understanding of which one of the preceding helmets would likely be the right choice for you.
Main Features Found on Most Helmets
When you start to look at the different types of mountain biking helmets on the market, it is helpful if you have some knowledge of the main features that these helmets include. It can be a good way to help ensure that you are getting the helmet that is right for you, that will fit, and that you know what all of the parts are and what they do.
- MIPS – MIPS is a designation that some of the mountain bike helmets will have. It stands for Multidirectional Impact Protection System (MIPS). This is discussed later on in the article and why it is important for impact protection.
- Hair Port – There are some helmets on the market that feature hair ports. These are helpful for those who have ponytails.
- Straps – The straps are the system that will help to keep your helmet on your head and firmly in place so it can protect you. There are different types of strap systems available. It’s always important that you have the right size for the right fit.
- Ventilation – The vents that you see on the helmet, and that are often highly touted in product descriptions, help to improve the flow of air over your head. Ventilation helps to keep you cooler and provides comfort as you are riding while preventing excess sweat.
- Visor – Some of the helmet models will include this piece, which helps to shield riders from the sun.
Basic Types of Helmets for Mountain Biking
You will find that most of the helmets that are on the market, including those listed above, tend to utilize EPS foam padding, or expanded polystyrene foam padding as the main part of their construction. However, they will still feature a polycarbonate shell around the outside of this foam. Not only will this help to protect the foam from damage, but it also helps to spread the force of an impact over a larger area on the helmet, which can help to reduce injury.
A typical helmet is also going to have a harness or strap to ensure fit and that helps to keep it attached to the head. This strap is adjustable as well, which will make it possible to get the perfect fit. It is important that the strap is in good working condition, and that it helps to keep the helmet in place in the case of an accident. After all, if the helmet were to fly off your head when you go over the handlebars on a trail, it would not be doing you much good at all.
There are two basic categories of helmets for mountain bikes. There are those that cover the entire face, and the half-shell options that cover only part of the head. Let’s take a closer look at these two different types of helmets.
The half-shell mountain bike helmet system are a popular option because they can be used for off-road riding, but they look close enough to a typical road bike helmet that they could pull double duty. The biggest difference between the half-shell and the road helmet tends to be the fact that the half-shell helmet includes a visor, while the road helmet does not. A quality half-shell helmet also offers quality foam padding, straps, and more.
These visors are more necessary for those who are out on the trails, as they can help to keep the sun, rain, and other elements out of the face and eyes. With some of the helmets, including many of the full-face helmets, the visors will be adjustable. They are also removable in most cases, which makes these types of helmets very versatile. You can easily take off the visor and use it as a road helmet when needed.
One of the other differences you are likely to notice is that the half-shell helmets will generally provide a bit more coverage and protection than the road helmets. This is because those who are out and riding the trails, whether they are just out for a lazy Sunday or they are competing in a cycle-cross event, tend to have a higher risk of crashing.
You will find that the half-shell helmet is also lighter in weight compared to other types of helmet. Low weight is nice, but it can still provide an adequate amount of protection from impact. They have quality liner systems, can handle impact, and have good padding. When using the straps properly, you can be sure the helmet will stay in place, as well.
These helmets can be worn with sunglasses or with goggles, both of which have their advantages and disadvantages. Sunglasses are easy to put on and take off, while they might not provide quite as much protection as the goggles do. However, one of the issues that some people have with the goggles is fogging since they do not have ventilation.
These types of helmets tend to be a top option on the list for those who are brand new to mountain biking, as well as those who have been enjoying this activity for many years. They are versatile, available in many styles, and at many price points. However, they are not the only option.
The other basic type of helmet is the full-face helmet. This type of helmet is going to cover the entire head, which will provide you with a substantial amount of protection from impact. These features help to make this a good choice for those who want to ride fast and who do a lot of downhill riding and racing. Bikers who like cycle-cross might prefer this type of helmet, as well.
The chin guard on the helmet will help to protect your chin and mouth from rocks, dirt, and other debris that you could be facing out on the trails and during an impact. While these are popular among many riders, they are not as ventilated as other types of helmets, and this could be a concern for some riders.
Most of the helmets of this type come with an adjustable visor, which means you can wear it when you wish to but push it up and out of the way when you do not. Many riders have positive experiences using an adjustable visor and some have found it offers safety in the event of a crash. However, the construction of the adjustable visor should be considered as well as how easy it is to see through.
One of the things that is important to remember about these helmets is that even though they might look similar to dirt bike helmets, they are not DOT certified. This means that they are not going to provide you with as much protection as you need on a motorbike. You should only use them for mountain biking and BMX biking.
These helmets will feature a chin strap that is attached to the helmet, typically beneath the ear area. Most of the time, you will also want to get a pair of goggles that can go with your full-face helmet that covers more than just the top of the head. It is also possible to get a neck brace to wear with these full-face helmets. They can help to keep the spine safer in the event of an accident, and they can be quite beneficial to those who do a lot of racing and downhill riding. However, these braces should only be worn with a full-face helmet. They are not for the half-shell helmets.
What Is MIPS and Why Is It Important?
You have likely noticed that some of the helmets discussed include MIPS technology and some do not. The Multidirectional Impact Protection System is essentially a specialized construction method that helps to provide the head and brain with added protection from rotational forces that may occur during a fall or crash on the bike. These MIPS helmets will feature something called a “low friction layer”. This layer has the capability to rotate a tiny amount. This movement can help to reduce the amount of rotational force that has been applied to the head. Whether it is an injury with the ground, wall, a crash with another rider, the helmet with MIPS technology can help to reduce head trauma.
When you fall and hit your head, it’s most common to fall at an angle instead of in a level way, which is where MIPS can help. Falling in a rotational motion is something that can seriously affect your brain. At impact, the force transfers to your brain and can result in catastrophic injury. MIPS can help reduce that motion and will make it less likely you experience brain damage.
Most Important Features to Consider When Choosing Your Mountain Bike Helmet
Knowing more about the options available for mountain bike helmets is important when you are making your decision. However, there are certain basic elements and features that you are going to need to consider when you are buying a helmet. Let’s look at a list of those most important considerations to find the one you want to use.
- Safety – Naturally, safety should be your primary concern when you are buying a helmet. Only choose those devices that have proper certification, and that utilize high-quality materials and foam padding in their construction. Always make sure they have plenty of padding for impacts. You do not need to have a MIPS helmet, but it can add some extra protection for your brain in the event of a crash.
- Type – The type that you choose – full-face or half-shell – is likely to depend on the type of riding that you are going to be doing. For those who are just starting out, or who are not planning to race downhill, the half-shell is typically a perfect choice.
- Size – You need to be sure you are getting a helmet that fits properly. The right size is essential for safety, as much as the construction. To know your basic measurement for helmets, you will want to take a piece of string, wrap it around your head just about an inch above the eyebrows, and then measure the string in inches to determine the circumference of your head. Use this circumference number when you are choosing the size for your helmet to ensure it fits.
- Weight – When a helmet is lightweight, it is going to feel more comfortable on the head, so you might want to look at the overall weight when you are comparing helmets. Quality foam padding can help keep the weight light. For the most part though, the weight differences between helmets will be minor, and most riders are not going to notice an ounce or two. Helmets with a heavier weight will be noticeable on your head, just like those without ventilation.
- Aesthetics – Naturally, you want to make sure that you have a helmet that looks great and that fits in well with your style. Fortunately, there are plenty of style and color choices out there, so anyone should be able to find something that works for them.
- Price – Of course, you will also want to consider the price. There are many helmets out there today that are reasonably priced, and that still offer plenty of safety and style. Just make sure that you never sacrifice safety just to save a few dollars on the price. Safety should always be more important than price.
When Should You Replace a Mountain Bike Helmet?
Your mountain bike helmet is one of the most important pieces of equipment that you own and that you will take out with you on all of your rides. It is just as important as your bike. It helps to keep your head safe from injuries sustained during falls and crashes with the bike, which tends to happen far more frequently with trail riding and racing.
You will always want to replace a helmet after you have been in a crash on your bike and the helmet impacts the ground, a tree, or any other surface. The reason for this is simple. The foam padding that provides the protection and distributes the shock of these forces when in an accident is likely going to be damaged in the crash. This means it is not going to protect the wearer as effectively in the future, and you should simply get a new helmet. If the foam is bad, the helmet should be replaced.
Many manufacturers say that you will want to replace the helmet every three to five years, and this tends to be a good rule of thumb. However, if the helmet has not been damaged in that time and the foam is in good shape, it should still provide you with adequate protection.
Now that you have more of an idea of what you should look for with your mountain bike helmet, and you know some of the popular brands, it should be much easier for you to make your final choice. There are a lot of product options available and a range of models. Go back to the list and find a MIPS helmet or other option that can provide vents with air, a quality liner, and plenty of protection. Get a new mountain bike helmet today!
Brad grabbed up his first bike when he was a kid and never looked back. He is an avid BMX rider and mountain biker.