Best Mountain Bike Helmets
Photo credit: Eric Phillips

The Best Mountain Bike Helmets of 2021

After countless rowdy test days, here are the best mountain bike helmets for all types of rides, from casual singletrack spins to enduro pursuits.

On a good day in the saddle, you won’t notice your helmet at all. But when an unlikely disaster occurs, a helmet can prevent serious injury or fatality.

To determine the best mountain bike helmets of 2021, our gear testers rode variable trails and conditions across the Rocky Mountains. Our team of men and women included professional, competitive, and recreational mountain bikers in Colorado and Utah. Their specialties range from dirt jumping and enduro events to endurance all-mountain, multiday, and avid weekly excursions.

Throughout each ride, we meticulously examined the characteristics of these MTB helmets from ergonomics to safety, customization features, accessory integration, and durability.

And while there isn’t a single trail helmet that works for every rider, we’ve categorized our picks from a range of mountain bike brands to help you find a perfect fit.

Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys, or jump to the category you’re looking for:

For more information about mountain bike helmets, check out our buyer’s guide and FAQ at the end of this article.

The Best Mountain Bike Helmets of 2021

Best Overall: Bontrager Blaze WaveCel Mountain Bike Helmet

bontrager blaze wavecel mountain bike helmet

The Blaze is a top performer for safety and comfort. The Bontrager helmet uses WaveCel, an exclusive interior honeycomb-like structure that crumples and glides to absorb impact and rotational energy. The technology is an alternative to MIPS liners.

WaveCel ($300) is five times more effective at head protection than traditional foam helmets in a cycling accident, according to a study completed by the Legacy Research Institute. While there has been some controversy around that study, it’s certainly proven to be effective.

Even Virginia Tech’s helmet evaluation tests stamped WaveCel designs with the highest safety rating possible at five stars. Safety aside, it’s one of the most versatile, user-friendly, and comfortable helmets for mountain biking, based on our test rides.

The buckle is magnetic and easy to clip, which is especially great when you have gloves on. And the 13 vents allow for maximum airflow. The WaveCel is breathable, too. We like that the quick-adjustment Boa fit system easily altered the fit.

When tightened up securely around the head, we experienced no pressure points or discomfort. The trail helmet also includes an internal NoSweat pad, with a silicone liner that catches sweat before hitting the eyes. And the visor is adjustable and extends further than other helmets we’ve used.

One tester noted, “This helmet has great versatility with an integrated mount up top for a light or GoPro camera, which is huge for me. Plus, the GoPro camera mount doubles as a screwdriver to adjust the visor — a smart feature I really like.”

The magnetic mount system stayed in place and didn’t move at all during test rides. However, the included mount screw wasn’t tight enough, and we had issues with the GoPro tipping forward while riding. Instead, we swapped out the screw with one that came with a GoPro, and it worked great.

And as our editor noted during our Blaze WaveCel review, “If you damage the helmet in a fall within one year of purchase, Bontrager will replace it for free.”

  • Weight: 420 g
  • Impact protection system: WaveCel
  • Safety
  • Ventilation
  • High cost

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Best Budget: Lazer Sport Chiru MIPS

Lazer Sport Chiru MIPS Helmet

The Chiru MIPS helmet ($64) comes in at a lower price point but with high comfort and protection. The design has lower-skull coverage (the material extends low on the back of the head, slightly behind and in front of the ears), which is optimal for trail rides.

The integrated MIPS layer adds protection against the rotational motion that impacts the brain during a slam. And the interior head basket system, called Turnfit Plus, offers a 360-degree customizable and anchored fit. This is a great option if you often fall between helmet sizes.

One tester noted, “This trail helmet was noticeably secure without hotspots and mid-ride adjusting. Coming from someone with an awkward between-small-and-medium-size head, I have struggled with smalls giving me headaches and skin marks, and the mediums being too bulky and needing to be cranked down too tight. This helmet fits and is comfortable with no pressure points.”

Overall, we were impressed with the comfort and coverage. The Chiru weighs in at 335 g and is decked with a visor that provides adequate sun blockage. The breathability is great with 15 large vents that let the air flow well on long, warm climbs — but it’s not too much with chillier temps.

The helmet is compatible with both glasses and goggles. However, there’s no goggle resting spot, as the visor does not have adjustment capabilities. And the helmet received a five-star safety rating from Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings during a third-party analysis.

The helmet packs nicely into an Osprey Pack LidLock but is slightly asymmetrical due to the vent placements. The shell’s surface remained impressively scuff-free, even after rides through abrasive sagebrush. Overall, for the price, this is a great helmet with an agreeable fit, without any real drawbacks in its performance.

  • Weight: 335 g
  • Impact protection system: MIPS
  • Low cost
  • Ventilation
  • Adjustability
  • No goggle rest or visor adjustment

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Best Full-Face Helmet: Troy Lee Designs D4 Carbon MIPS

Troy Lee Designs D4 Carbon - Best Full Face Downhill Helmet

The D4 Carbon MIPS ($459-595) is the best-fitting, most comfortable full-face helmet we’ve worn. It fits snugly without pressure and feels very light. Throughout testing, we didn’t experience any inner cheek irritation, goggle pressure, or field vision loss, which are issues we experienced in other full-face helmets. This helmet’s fit has a wow factor.

The D4 Carbon has 24 total vents: 10 front, five overhead, and seven rear. None of the openings are adjustable, but a portion of them feed into channels in the EPS foam liner.

One enduro tester noted, “The vents kept my head very comfortable — not cool — during a sunny, 30-minute, 1,000-foot climb in 60 degrees F. That’s saying a lot for a full-face helmet with this level of protection.

“I could sit for 10 minutes at the top of the climb without feeling overheated or claustrophobic. I’d be comfortable pedaling fire roads or trails in this helmet in sub-70 degrees F, but would want to throw it on the backpack for greater temps if I was putting my head down to climb for more than 30 minutes.”

The D4 Carbon MIPS uses carbon fiber reinforcements, called TeXtreme Spread Tow, in the shell. The new material allowed for a 50g weight reduction without strength loss in the fourth-iteration helmet.

This 955g full-face is the lightest carbon downhill helmet made by Troy Lee Designs. In addition to the MIPS C2 liner protection, EPS foam was added to the helmet for impact absorption in the event of a crash.

Our tester did side-by-side ride comparisons of several full-face helmets and noted that the POC Coron Air SPIN ($275) is heavier at 1,170 g. The Fox Proframe Quo Helmet ($260) is lighter 750g and more breathable but sacrifices protection.

The Fox helmet would be beneficial to wear during an enduro race on an 80-degree F day — unless the course was difficult and dangerous. In that case, the D4 Carbon MIPS would be a better choice for superior safety.

The D4’s liner is adjustable and washable. The design provides a softer area at the center-lower base, called the collarbone impact system, in case the helmet slams the shoulder or collarbone.

We also like that the quick-release cheek pads are antimicrobial, anatomically designed, and can easily be removed with the helmet on after a crash.

The chin strap has thick padding, so the straps don’t dig in or irritate. We appreciate the weight consciousness of the two lightweight titanium D-rings, which secure the strap closure. The visor is adjustable, which is a plus. Goggles fit great — and so do sunglasses.

Overall, the construction is durable and fits the price tag. For lift- or shuttle-access downhilling and enduro racing with gnarlier stages, this helmet is a top pick for full-face riders.

  • Weight: 955 g
  • Impact protection system: MIPS
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable
  • Well-ventilated
  • Premium price

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Best Style: Smith Forefront 2 MIPS

Smith Forefront 2 Helmet

The Forefront 2 ($240) uses a patented safety material called Koroyd. Side-by-side tubes — which look like straws — are welded together and crush uniformly upon impact. The Koroyd protects the entire helmet plus MIPS.

The open-tube construction of the Koroyd, in addition to the 20 vents, also allows for airflow. Three vent portals in the helmet’s center offer complete ambient exposure.

The airflow channels kept our heads cool and seemed to help prevent sunglasses from fogging up on the climbs, which we never experienced. However, one tester’s clear glasses got murky on twilight descents.

Beyond safety, this helmet was one of the most comfortable and well-fitted that we tested. At 380 g (M), the helmet feels light. An easy dial adjustment, called VaporFit, quickly tightens down the helmet around the entire head.

“The fit is so perfect it doesn’t even feel like the helmet is there when I’m wearing it. It’s also the most secure and least intrusive helmet I’ve ever worn. Without the straps buckled, I can shake my head upside down and the helmet doesn’t budge,” said one test rider who used the bicycle helmet on a range of desert and mountain rides from 8 to 15 miles long. The conditions were 60-70 degrees F with ample sunshine.

We celebrated this helmet’s streamlined visor, which is simple to adjust and has three settings that are easy to click through with one hand while pedaling. When the visor sits high, there’s enough space to park goggles beneath it. We found the lowest setting was ideal for blocking direct light on sunset rides.

The helmet’s liner is soft, antimicrobial, and really easy to remove and wash. We didn’t wear goggles with this helmet, but the shell features a unique integrated channel for a goggle strap to sit. There’s also a mount point (accessory mount sold separately).

Anyone looking for a comfortable, solid-fitting, and stylish helmet — plus a lineup of great color options — should consider the Forefront 2.

  • Weight: 380 g
  • Impact protection system: MIPS
  • Secure fit
  • Comfortable
  • Adjustable visor
  • GoPro or light mount not included

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Best Ventilation: Giro Radix MIPS

Giro Radix Mountain Bike Helmet

The Radix MIPS ($95) is the best mountain bike helmet for staying cool. At only 315 g, this design has 25 vents and is wonderfully breathable.

It’s a top choice for summer trail riding or long-distance jaunts and offers the ventilation you’d expect from a road helmet. Our glasses never got soupy, even while resting.

Sunglasses and goggles both pair well with the helmet, and neither one gets bumped downward. The adjustable visor offers three settings, including a high position for goggle stow. The helmet’s low-profile design feels good and accommodates a variety of hairstyles from braids to side ponytails.

We found the size adjustment worked well, with no pressure points or bobblehead. There’s a small-interval dial, so you can get a perfect fit. The slide adjustments are also easy and intuitive.

“The size adjustment was very easy and user-friendly. I started each ride by resetting the overall size before I put the helmet on — I like my head to be cradled just so — but no adjustments were needed for me to remove the helmet,” said one test rider.

Ultimately, these Giro helmets pair well with sunglasses and goggles, feel lightweight but sturdy, and hit the lower end of the price spectrum.

  • Weight: 315 g
  • Impact protection system: MIPS
  • High ventilation
  • Lower-end price
  • Non-adjustable vents

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Best of the Rest

Specialized Ambush MIPS SL With ANGi

Specialized Ambush Mtn Bike Helmet

The Ambush helmet ($200) weighs in at 309g (S) and has 20 vents, but what sets it apart is the high-tech connectivity.

The Ambush has a patented helmet-mounted ANGi (angular and G-force indicator) crash sensor. If a crash is detected, the device sends SMS and email notifications to specific contacts via the Specialized Ride app on iOS or Android.

When the sensor detects a crash, it sends a countdown alert to the rider’s phone that they can deactivate in up to 90 seconds. Otherwise, it will notify emergency contacts via SMS and email.

The sensor also syncs with Strava and the Specialized Ride app to provide GPS-based activity tracking, which can be sent to the rider’s emergency contacts as well. We did not test this helmet on jumps and did not experience an emergency crash, but found the system works on trail rides.

“It sent emails to my emergency contact at the start and end of my solo rides. And the sensor didn’t confuse banging up the helmet with a real crash,” said one test rider, who test-dropped the helmet on top of packed pebbles and granite from 3, 5, and 7 feet high, and also expelled the helmet on a boulder while trail riding.

The helmet also has an exclusive, ultralight MIPS design, called the MIPS SL protection, integrated into the helmet pads. The helmet’s fit system — the Mindset 360 — offers customization in every direction. An integrated dial alters the tension around the entire head, and five internal height positions are manually tailored inside the helmet.

“The helmet felt secure and comfortable with no pressure points once I set up the correct fit, but adjusting the size in every direction wasn’t as straightforward as other dial systems I’ve used,” said one test rider.

The visor does a great job of blocking the sunlight, easily slides along micro-adjustments on the fly, and has a broad range of settings. On warm, sunny rides, the quick-drying liner was appreciated for grabbing sweat before dripping into the eyes.

Solo riders looking for peace of mind on the trail or anyone interested in top-tier safety features will appreciate the Ambush.

  • Weight: 309 g
  • Impact protection system: MIPS
  • Crash sensor
  • Ventilation
  • Visor micro-adjustments
  • Style
  • Slower size adjustment

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Lazer Sport Impala MIPS

Lazer Sport Impala Helmet

The Impala MIPS helmet ($149) has 22 vents and lower shell coverage with extended material in front of and behind the ears. The 335g helmet includes a light or action camera mount that’s designed to not internally protrude upon impact.

The Impala MIPS checks a lot of important boxes. It feels pleasant to wear with no hot spots experienced.

“The helmet is comfortable and feels secure on variable terrain with no movement. The air flows great with the numerous vents. The interior liner is soft, dries quickly with sweat, and is easy to remove and wash. And the helmet’s size is easy and intuitive to adjust even with gloves on,” said one test rider.

The internal size customization, called the Advanced Turnfit System, enables a 360-degree and vertical fit adjustment.

A protective coating on the bottom edge of the shell prevents deterioration of the helmet foam. The internally molded thermoplastics and EPS foam liner absorb major impacts. The visor offers great eye protection against brush and branches.

And its three-point adjustment system accommodates goggles to rest on the lip of the helmet. One drawback: The fastening clip of the chin strap engages well but is harsh and rigid, making fastening more of an effort.

All in all, this is a great helmet. It’s a solid pick if you’re looking to spend more than the budget Chiru ($60) but less than $200.

  • Weight: 335 g
  • Impact protection system: MIPS
  • Ventilation
  • Fit
  • Rigid fastening clip

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POC Tectal Race SPIN

POC Tectal Race Spin Helmet

The Tectal Race SPIN helmet ($220) has a stylish, polished, and streamlined design. Plus, the inside is cushy, and the shell feels light but robust.

The shell includes structural reinforcements, called Aramid bridge technology, that increase sturdiness. Plus, a dial-fit system allows for quick size customization. For rotational impact protection, the helmet uses SPIN (shearing pad inside) pads, a patent-pending technology integrated into the helmet.

The optimally placed SPIN pads are made with a silicone gel-like membrane, which allows the helmet to “spin” on impact. The design is 368 g (M/L) and has 17 vents, which kept our tester cool on long rides.

The helmet has a goggle clip in the back. And the visor is adjustable, but it’s not easy to adjust on the fly because it needs to be tightened down.

For further safety, the helmet has a RECCO reflector, which allows rescuers to quickly locate an injured person in the helmet.

  • Weight: 368 g
  • Impact protection system: SPIN
  • Comfortable
  • Stylish
  • Ventilation
  • Non-on-the-go visor adjustment

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Buyer’s Guide: How to Choose a Mountain Bike Helmet

Riding Style: XC, Trail, Downhill

Different ride objectives will influence the helmet design that best suits your needs. To choose a helmet, first determine where and how you plan to ride the majority of the time. Your intended trip style could range from cross-country, trail, and all-mountain to casual day rides or downhill and park, bikepacking, and enduro.

The riskier or more technical the style of riding, the more protection and coverage — extended material on the sides, back, or across the front — will be needed. The greater the energy output, like tackling an enduro race or toasty desert rides, the more ventilation will be key to help prevent the rider from overheating.

Geographic location and weather also play a role. If you mostly ride in a hot, humid, or sunny climate, having a visor and liner (which absorbs sweat) is a higher priority.

And, if you plan on winter fat biking or pedaling through frigid gusts, fewer ventilation ports could be preferred. Lastly, if you race or bikepack, or if you have a neck or shoulder condition, the helmet’s weight might be crucial, too.

Helmet Weight

Depending on your riding goals, the weight of the helmet may be a high priority. Generally, lower-weight materials cost more. Ventilation ports can drop weight, too.

Within our bike helmet guide, the open-face helmet weights vary by 241 g (8.5 ounces/0.5 pounds). If you are taking greater risks on your mountain bike — like riding technical trails or bikepacking — then a lower-weight helmet could be important for energy conservation as well as to reduce impact force in the event of a crash.

“Sweet Protection builds helmets on three principles: lightweight, low volume, and providing world-class impact protection. It needs to be lightweight, as we do not want to add any more mass to a head in a crash or impact. More mass translates to increased impact forces and speeds,” said Casey Garrity, North America marketing manager for Sweet Protection.

For downhilling, jumps, and enduro, full-face helmets have expanded protection and denser foam, so they weigh more than open-face helmets. That 360-degree protection is worth the increased weight.

If an enduro racer is participating in a less technical event, she might opt for a full-face helmet that has more ventilation ports instead of the highest amount of material protection.

As you examine helmet weights, consider the associated size. The weight of a particular helmet will be slightly more or less depending on the size you need.


Trail biking can be a high-output activity, and adequate ventilation is important to help riders maintain or drop their body heat.

The amount of ventilation is determined by the number of vents, size of ports, and if the vents are adjustable. In some helmets, the materials used to construct the shell offer airflow, too.

Having tons of vents means there will be less material in contact with your head, which could lead to an impact force being concentrated to a single point in a crash, according to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute (BHSI).

Consider the type of riding you’ll be doing and how much airflow you’ll need. Avoid choosing a helmet with excessive or inadequate vents.

Fit & Comfort

A well-fitting helmet is essential for safety and comfort. The helmet rim should rest one to two finger-widths above the eyebrow, according to Virginia Tech researchers.

During use, tighten your helmet down and make sure that helmet movement is minimal — it should not move more than an inch in any direction. Look for a helmet that sits level on your head — not tilting forward or backward — and that touches your skull all around without any gaps.

If you can pull, twist, or slip it off, it’s a no-go. The straps, which close and hold your helmet on, should feel snug but not strained while you ride.

“The helmet should sit comfortably and correctly on the head without being too tight or causing any hot spots or pressure points. You’ll want to ensure it does not move when you shake your head. You can always use the micro-adjustment features, like dial fit systems, or strap adjustments to fine-tune the fit,” said Garrity.

An open-face or full-face helmet that is too small or fitted too tight can cause skin marks, headaches, interior cheek irritation, or blurred vision. A helmet that is too large or bulky could also be cranked down too tight with the size-adjustment features.


A helmet’s padding provides comfort and slightly alters the way a helmet fits. Some helmets come with various sizes of padding so that the rider has options and can dial in the best fit. Smaller heads or faces might need to use thicker pads.

Contrary to what you might think, padding is not associated with impact protection. The shell’s internal materials, like an EPS foam liner, are designed to crumple and absorb an impact — not the pads.

Helmet pads, also known as the liner, can be sweat-absorbent, antimicrobial (which can help eliminate odors), removable, and washable. Depending on the surface fabric, the pads can be soft, too, which is appreciated when they rest against the forehead, cheeks, or a bald scalp.

Women’s-Specific Helmets

All full-face or open-face helmets — regardless of being women’s-specific or unisex — feature the same technologies needed to meet or exceed the national safety standards of the US Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC).

Some brands offer women’s-specific helmets with aesthetic differences from the men’s helmets, such as color choices and shell style. A handful of helmets are ponytail-friendly and often marketed toward women (but could benefit anyone with long hair).

Some companies sell the same helmet as a “women’s” and “men’s” helmet to help the consumer find what they need. Other brands invite female product testers, professional athletes, and ambassadors to provide input that helps tailor designs to women.

As far as we know, Liv Cycling is the only brand with an all-female internal team designing mountain bike helmets for women, by women.

Regardless of Gender, Fit Is Key

No matter the gender identity of riders, it’s imperative to find a helmet that fits. In general, the most significant differences between male and female head shapes are the measurements, according to a study published by the University of Antwerp, Belgium.

Researchers found the greatest contrasts are the head length and circumference, with the average woman’s head trending slightly smaller. There’s no correlation between ear height and head size.

However, there are varying distances across the front of the face. The most prominent difference is around the glabella, the smooth part of the forehead above and between the eyebrows.

Glasses Compatibility

You’ll need to check how a helmet integrates with your preferred eyewear protection. Pain points or air rifts can develop if a helmet is not compatible with your goggles or sunglasses.

Pinched sunglasses arms against the temples or downward pressure on goggles can lead to headaches, during or after a ride. Sometimes strap adjustments can fix the issue.

Many helmets provide space to pull up and rest goggles or place sunglasses. A handful of visors are adjustable and, at higher levels, compatible with parked goggles. A portion of helmet shells have an integrated ridge or clip in the back to secure a goggle strap but make sure the strap’s width fits.

When you go to your local retailer to try on helmets, bring your riding eyewear. To do a fit test, adjust the size of the helmet and the straps to the appropriate fit. Buckle the straps closed before sliding on your eyewear.

Comparing the Best Mountain Bike Helmets
Comparing helmet styles. Photo Credit: Eric Phillips

Helmet Safety

Bicycle helmets are built with a layer of stiff foam materials that crushes, expands, or collapses to absorb energy in a crash. To measure their impact protection, helmets sold in the U.S. must meet the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) bicycle helmet standard.

Approved helmets protect against skull fractures and severe brain injuries. Unfortunately, no helmet design has been shown to prevent concussions. When you’re shopping for a helmet, look for a CPSC sticker label inside the liner.

Other voluntary safety certifications for helmets exist, too. One is the ASTM International standard for downhill mountain biking and racing (ASTM F1952), which tests helmets for greater coverage and at higher impact levels.

If you’re looking for a convertible multiuse helmet, for both downhilling and trail riding, make sure it’s designed for both high-speed and low-speed impact. The Snell Foundation also established a rigorous certification for bicycle helmets (Snell B-95), but that verification is not as common.

To complement a foam liner, many mountain bike helmets now include an integrated layer that allows the head to shift inside the helmet during impact, which reduces harmful rotational motion to the brain.

“Rotational motion impact reduction technologies, in short, are materials used as a ‘lubricant’ between the head and the helmet to reduce injuries resulting from angular impacts. When implemented in a helmet, they are designed to reduce rotational forces by absorbing and redirecting rotational energies and forces transferred to the brain,” said Garrity.

MIPS, SPIN, and More

One of the most common technologies is made by MIPS (multidirectional impact protection system), which has developed the technology for more than two decades. Other designs include WaveCel, developed by Bontrager, and POC’s SPIN.

Regardless of the manufacturer, bikers can check if a helmet’s rotational motion impact reduction technology has been certified through testing and third-party certification.


Overall, a helmet’s external shell is supposed to be smooth and rounded, so that it easily skids on rough pavement or surfaces during a crash rather than getting stuck or tweaking the rider’s neck.

According to the CPSC, make sure your helmet doesn’t have deep ridges or permanently fixed projecting items that could snag in a fall like a horn, mohawk, GoPro, or light. And it’s best to avoid adding stickers, coverings, or attachments to your helmet that could hinder its ability to completely protect you.

Extra Features

Most mountain bike helmets have an integrated visor, which provides eye and face protection from the sun, insects, or debris while improving visibility. Visor designs can be rigid or adjustable, of which some can be quickly modified mid-ride while others require two hands. Visors can be designed to withstand a crash, but others snag or shatter in a fall.

A bright color choice is better for visibility, especially if you plan to pedal around motorists like on multiuse off-road bike trails or connecting roadways.

Lastly, be honest about style. If you don’t like how it looks in the mirror, you’re less likely to wear it.

Testing Mountain Bike Helmets
(Photo/Eric Phillips)

Why You Should Trust Us

A recreational rider, I learned to mountain bike more than 20 years ago in the San Juan Mountains of Telluride, Colorado, where I grew up. Now, I live and pedal in the adjacent mountains of Crested Butte, Colorado, home to one of the world’s most extensive trail networks.

I have access to flowy terrain, rocky all-mountain burners, and high-alpine desert singletrack and granite at Hartman Rocks. More recently, I started bikepacking and have navigated a self-supported trip on the 142-mile Kokopelli Trail, among other routes.

For this gear guide, our lineup of athlete testers included extremely experienced, competitive, and professional mountain bikers in Colorado and Utah. Male and female riders shared their input. Our crew’s style preferences ranged from endurance all-mountain rides to downhilling, trail commutes, jumps, enduro races, and bikepacking in all conditions.

Throughout testing, our team rated each helmet on a scale of 1 to 10 for ventilation, comfort, adjustability, glasses integration, ergonomics, and the liner. We inspected 16 additional traits in each helmet including durability, weight, and overall style. We also recorded our test locations, temperature, time of day, and test methods.


How Much Should I Spend on a Mountain Bike Helmet?

The mountain bike helmets in our guide range from $60 to $575 with an average cost of $240. Recreational bike helmets with basic impact protection are adequate for casual, mellow trail rides and are on the lower end of the price scale.

Expect to pay a higher price for mountain bike helmets that provide above-and-beyond protection like chin guards, extended rear head coverage, rotational motion impact reduction, or a crash sensor. The more technical the terrain that you ride, the more you might consider extra protective features.

I Already Have a Road Helmet. Do I Need a Special Helmet for Mountain Biking?

There are several differences between mountain bike and road helmets. Most mountain bike helmets have extended material coverage on the back of the head, which is important for backward falls.

Mountain bike helmets usually have an integrated visor, a fundamental detail for eye and face protection. Road bikes are generally more aerodynamic. Stylistically, they look different.

All bicycle helmets in the U.S. are CPSC-certified whether they’re designed for road or trail rides. So technically, you can safely wear a road helmet on trails or vice versa.

However, downhill mountain bike racing helmets have a different certification standard (ASTM F1952) to account for a larger volume of crashes and higher-level impacts. A road helmet could not safely replace a downhill helmet, and a downhill helmet would be too heavy for the lower-level impacts on the road, reports BHSI.

Are More Expensive Helmets Safer?

Economic helmets meet the same basic safety standard as more expensive ones. All CPSC-certified bicycle helmets sold in the U.S. have an internal foam liner that crumples and absorbs energy upon impact.

Some helmets have upgraded features for comfort or protection that cost more due to the additional material construction and manufacturing process.

What Is a MIPS Helmet?

In a crash, a bicyclist can experience an angled impact, which causes rotational motion that tears brain tissue. While CPSC-certification guidelines account for vertical free fall, they do not address angular collision.

When integrated into a bicycle helmet, a thin, durable MIPS (multidirectional impact protection system) layer of polycarbonate plastic allows the head to shift 10 mm to 15 mm relative to the helmet, reducing rotational motion to the brain.

MIPS patented technology is licensed out by helmet brands and is produced by MIPS AB, a Sweden-based company that specializes in helmet safety and brain protection. For more than 20 years, the company has researched and developed rotational motion impact technology for helmets.

Close to 80 helmet brands have partnered with MIPS to integrate this protective layer into their designs. More recently, a growing number of brands like Bontrager and POC are independently designing their own proprietary rotational motion impact technology for helmets.

Can Climbing Helmets Be Used for Mountain Biking ?

Climbing and mountaineering helmets have their own design, performance requirements, and certification (EN 12492). Mountain bike helmets are not verified to protect a climber or mountaineer in an accident and vice versa.

What Are Some Lifespan and Recycle Options for Helmets?

Keep track of your helmet’s age. Over time, exposure to environmental factors will diminish the life of the helmet from sunlight to extreme cold, moisture, and sweat.

Also, repeated small impacts, such as dropping the helmet at the trailhead or tumbling around the back of the rig on the commute home, contribute to reducing the helmet’s life expectancy.

The CPSC recommends replacing your helmet every 5 to 10 years, depending on the frequency of use, storage conditions, and overall care. But each manufacturer’s guideline is different.

For example, Sweet Protection recommends replacing your helmet every 3 years. Check with your helmet’s brand and mark your calendar.

Right now, there are no special programs for recycling biking helmets. The former Snow Sports Recycling Program (SSRP), operated by Snowsports Industries of America, closed in 2015 due to revenue issues.

If you need to retire a helmet, it’s one gear item that can’t be safely donated. Instead, you can check with your helmet manufacturer to see if they will properly dispose of the helmet for you.

Or, check your helmet for the common recycling symbol and the number associated with it. And contact your local waste management authority to see if they can take it for recycling. Certain cities and communities are capable of recycling helmets.

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Morgan Tilton

Staff Writer Morgan Tilton is an adventure journalist specializing in winter sports coverage, travel narratives, and outdoor industry news. A recipient of nearly a dozen North American Travel Journalists Association awards, when she’s not recovering from jungle expeditions or doing field research in far-out villages she’s usually trail running, mountain biking, river surfing, or splitboarding in Colorado’s San Juan and Elk Mountains, where she grew up and lives today.