Best Mountain Bike Helmets
(Photo/Eric Phillips)

The Best Mountain Bike Helmets of 2022

After countless rowdy test days on the trail, we’ve narrowed down the best mountain bike helmets for all types of rides. From casual singletrack spins to enduro pursuits, we’ve got you covered.

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 2022, 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 include dirt jumping, enduro competitions, and multi-day endurance all-mountain rides. All of the testers are avid riders who enjoy weekly excursions.

Throughout each ride, we meticulously noted the characteristics of these MTB helmets, examining ergonomics, 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 the best mountain bike helmet for you.

Scroll through to see all of our recommended buys, or for more comprehensive information to inform your choice, check out our buyer’s guide and FAQ at the end of this article. Otherwise, you can jump to the category you’re looking for:

The Best Mountain Bike Helmets of 2022

Best Overall Mountain Bike: Bontrager Blaze WaveCel Mountain Bike Helmet

Bontrager Blaze Wavecel mountain bike helmet

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

The Blaze WaveCel ($325) 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, our testers can attest that it’s one of the most versatile, user-friendly, and comfortable helmets for mountain biking.

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.”

With the stellar combination of premier safety and comfort, the Blaze is one of the best mountain bike helmets available today.

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

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Runner-Up Best Mountain Bike Helmet: POC Tectal Race SPIN NFC

POC Tectal Race Spin Helmet

After testing dozens of helmets, this one remains near the top of our list. The POC Tectal Race SPIN NFC helmet ($280) has a stylish, polished, and streamlined design. The inside is cushy, and the shell feels light but robust. Overall, the fit truly stands out above the rest.

The shell includes structural reinforcements — Aramid bridge technology — that increase sturdiness. The easy-to-use dial allows for quick customization, and we didn’t experience any pressure points or snags. We also appreciate that the shell reaches far down in the back of the head for extra protection.

For rotational impact protection, the helmet uses SPIN (shearing pad inside) pads, a patent-pending technology integrated into the helmet. For additional safety, the helmet features a RECCO reflector to help emergency responders locate an injured biker  — a unique attribute in a mountain bike helmet we haven’t seen before.

Additionally, the helmet stores the biker’s medical information via an integrated digital chip called the twICEme NFC Medical ID. Rescuers can scan the digital tag using a smartphone with the app. In addition to medical info, responders can read your insurance information, I.C.E. contacts, personal identifiers such as scars, and the location coordinates.

For wearable safety, 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 Tectal Race has a goggle clip in the back. And the visor placement is adjustable using an integrated screw that’s easy to loosen and tighten. With so many fixed visors on mountain bike helmets, we’re stoked to have an option that adjusts for different times of the day and season.

Specs:
  • Weight: 368 g
  • Impact protection system: SPIN
Pros:
  • Super comfortable
  • Safety bonus with RECCO reflector and digital medical ID
  • We love the visor adjustment
Cons:
  • SPIN technology is patent-pending (not sure what’s taking so long to secure the patent!)

Check Price at REI

Best Budget Mountain Bike Helmet: Lazer Sport Chiru MIPS

Lazer Sport Chiru MIPS Helmet

The Chiru MIPS helmet ($53) comes in at a super lower price point, but still meets our standards for 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.

An 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 — it’s not too much with chillier temps, either.

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

It 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, the Chiru is easily the best mountain bike helmet for the price.

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

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

Troy Lee Designs D4 Carbon Mips

The D4 Carbon MIPS ($330-575) 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: ten 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 or hot — 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,” he continued. “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 ($270) is lighter (at 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 — termed 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 also, which secure the strap closure. The visor is adjustable, which is a plus, and goggles fit great (as 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.

Specs:
  • Weight: 955 g
  • Impact protection system: MIPS C2
Pros:
  • Lightweight
  • Comfortable
  • Well-ventilated
Cons:
  • Premium price

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Most Stylish Mountain Bike Helmet: Smith Forefront 2 MIPS

Smith Forefront 2 Helmet

The Forefront 2 ($250) 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 in addition to MIPS technology.

The open-tube construction of the Koroyd design, in addition to the 20 vents, also allows for airflow. Three vent portals in the helmet’s center offer complete ambient exposure. These airflow channels kept our heads cool and seemed to help prevent sunglasses from fogging up on the climbs. 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 helmet on a range of desert and mountain rides from 8 to 15 miles long. The conditions were between 60 and 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.

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

Check Price at REI

Best Ventilation on a Mountain Bike Helmet: Giro Radix MIPS

Giro Radix MIPS Mountain Bike Helmet

The Radix MIPS ($100) is the best mountain bike helmet for staying cool. At only 316 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 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 of the Radix was very easy and user-friendly,” one tester said. “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.”

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

Specs:
  • Weight: 316 g
  • Impact protection system: MIPS
Pros:
  • High ventilation
  • Lower-end price
Cons:
  • Non-adjustable vents

Check Price at REI

Best of the Rest

LEM Spyne

LEM Spyne

Featuring LEM Helmets’ new proprietary safety technology, the Spyne Mountain Bike Helmet ($150) earns a spot in our helmet guide for being safe and comfortable.

The brand’s new squishy, fixed GelMotion technology offers impact protection through energy-absorbing gel-cell pads, which displace linear, oblique, and rotational impacts in a collision or crash. The pads are meant to imitate the loose areolar connective tissue in the head, which rests above the skull.

Strategically placed on the top, sides, and front of the head, the pads are integrated into the surrounding EPS foam liner. They’re visible when you peel back the cushion liner, which is attached via Velcro. Over time, the pads retain their shape and form for long-term protection and comfort.

A micro-adjust fit system allows you to quickly turn a dial and customize the tightness around your head. Inside, the removable pads are washable and anti-microbial. And with 15 vents, there’s plenty of airflow on a long ascent.

The straps of the LEM Spyne feature a magnetic Fidlock buckle, which works pretty quickly — traditional buckle-users can get the hang of it. We also like that the helmet strap is adjustable at the primary closure and is also adjustable up higher, where the two straps join below the ears.

Though the visor feels secure and rigid, you can pop it up for goggle storage below — there are three settings total.

Specs:
  • Weight: 309 g
  • Impact protection system: GelMotion
Pros:
  • Magnetic strap
  • Adjustable helmet straps
  • Anti-microbial inner pad
  • Visor is adjustable
Cons:
  • Interior padding is plush and comfortable but a bit too cushioned next to our temples

Check Price at LEM Helmets

Specialized Ambush MIPS SL

Specialized Ambush Mtn Bike Helmet

The Ambush helmet ($200) weighs in at 309 g (S) and has 20 vents. What sets it apart is the high-tech connectivity, as the design earned a five-star rating (the highest) from Virginia Tech for safety.

The Ambush is compatible with the 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. The ANGi crash sensor is sold separately for $50.

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 a proprietary ultralight MIPS design, called the MIPS SL protection, integrated into the helmet pads (SL is specifically made in collaboration with Specialized). 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, altering where the helmet rests above the brow.

“The Ambush 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.

Specs:
  • Weight: 309 g
  • Impact protection system: MIPS SL
Pros:
  • ANGi Crash sensor compatible
  • Ventilation
  • Visor micro-adjustments on-the-fly
Cons:
  • Style
  • Slower size adjustment

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Specialized Ambush 2

Specialized Ambush 2

The Specialized Ambush 2 ($180) features all of the same great safety features of the original Ambush, but adds a couple of key style and functional differences.

Similar to the Mindset system, the Ambush 2 features an integrated fit system called the SBC, which offers great all-over adjustability and is easy to use. Inside the helmet, five internal height positions can be easily changed by hand. And an integrated dial in the back adjusts the tension around the sides, top, and back of the head.

There are 17 vents including four small ones that sit low, below the visor, and directly in front of the forehead. Above the visor, three large ports provide great aeration on a desert or warm ride — but they honestly look a bit odd with one huge port dead-center in the forehead. From a style standpoint, we prefer the way the vents look on the O.G. Ambush helmet.

The patented helmet-mounted ANGi (angular and G-force indicator) crash sensor can be integrated into the helmet, too, just like with the original.

One of the biggest differences and neatest features of the Ambush 2 are the integrated sunglasses holders. There are two ports on either side of the helmet, below the visor, where the arms of sunglasses can slide in and are held with internal rubber flaps. They can stay in place during a break, on a climb, or when the conditions get a bit too dark for your lens choice. The sunglass holders double as tiny ventilation ports, too.

The other big difference with this newer Ambush model is that the visor is fixed instead of adjustable.

The length of the primary buckle strap can be quickly shortened or extended for snugness. However, the placement and angle of each strap that straddles both ears is fixed. In contrast, other helmets typically allow you to adjust the angle of those two straps via a lockable slider, so the straps are never too tight or loose.

Fortunately, the Ambush 2 straps are placed wide enough and seem to fit okay, but we do prefer greater adjustability to make sure none of the straps have any sag.

Specs:
  • Weight: 360 g
  • Impact protection system: MIPS SL
Pros:
  • ANGi crash sensor compatible
  • Integrated holder for sunglasses
Cons:
  • Centered ventilation port isn’t the best style
  • Visor is fixed

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Lazer Sport Impala MIPS

Lazer Sport Impala Helmet

The Impala MIPS helmet ($120) has 22 vents and lower shell coverage with extended material in front of and behind the ears. This 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 and we experienced no hot spots.

“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, while the internally molded thermoplastics and EPS foam liner absorb major impacts. The visor offers great eye protection against brush and branches as well.

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, the Impala MIPS 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.

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

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Fox Racing Mainframe MIPS

Fox Racing Mainframe MIPS

The Mainframe MIPS features top-notch noggin protection with the integrated MIPS impact protection. And at only $90, the price doesn’t break the bank.

With 13 vents, the helmet offers adequate space for cooling on sweat-bending and sunny summer rides. The removable, sweat-absorbing liner is streamlined and feels soft, so it doesn’t push against any pressure points. It’s also washable.

The length of the primary buckle strap can be quickly shortened or extended for snugness. However, the placement and angle of each strap that straddles both ears is fixed. In contrast, other helmets typically allow you to adjust the angle of those two straps via a lockable slider, so the straps are never too tight or loose.

Fortunately, the Mainframe straps are placed wide enough and seem to fit well, but (as already mentioned) we prefer greater adjustability to make sure none of the straps have any sag.

With eight color options, we also like that the helmet offers a variety of style choices, from hot red to lime green and everything in between.

Specs:
  • Weight: 390 g
  • Impact protection system: MIPS
Pros:
  • Adequate ventilation
  • Nice fit
Cons:
  • Fixed visor — we wish it was adjustable

Check Price at Backcountry

Specialized Camber

Specialized Camber

New this year, the Specialized Camber is an economic, well-made option for mountain bikers at only $80. The design doesn’t cut corners with safety, either. It features MIPS and earned a full five-star rating from Virginia Tech for safety.

In contrast to the Specialized Ambush and Ambush 2, this helmet comes in five size options from XS to XL, and its seven different colorways offer a variety of style options.

With 13 vents, the helmet offers ample airflow for most summer days. We think the large center-placed port looks a bit odd, so we docked some style points (but it’s functional).

Using a dial, the size is easy to adjust. And like the other Specialized helmets on the list, the patented helmet-mounted ANGi (angular and G-force indicator) crash sensor can be integrated into the helmet.

The length of the primary buckle strap can be quickly shortened or extended for snugness. However, the placement and angle of each strap that straddles both ears is fixed. Overall, this helmet is a good budget pick that doesn’t skimp on safety.

Specs:
  • Weight: 370 g
  • Impact protection system: MIPS
Pros:
  • Comfortable
  • Large range of size options
  • Lower price tag
Cons:
  • Fixed visor — we like adjustable options

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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. Both 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 rates 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.

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.

For downhilling, jumps, and enduro, full-face helmets have expanded protection and denser foam, so they weigh more than open-face helmets. However, 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.

Ventilation

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.

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 may need to be cranked down too tight, which limits durability and function.

Padding

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 men’s helmets, such as color choices and shell style. A handful of helmets are ponytail-friendly and are 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/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.

MIPS, SPIN, and More

One of the most common technologies is made by MIPS (multidirectional impact protection system), who has been developing the technology for more than two decades. MIPS has a few different impact protection models including the MIPS SL, which is a lightweight design made in collaboration with Specialized. There’s also the extended MIPS C2 on the full-face Troy Lee Designs D4 Carbon MIPS.

Other types of impact protection include WaveCel, developed by Bontrager, and POC’s SPIN, as well as the most recently launched LEM Helmets’ GelMotion technology. Smith has also integrated the patented Koroyd technology into helmet designs in addition to MIPS. Koroyd features side-by-side tubes — which look like straws — that are welded together and crush uniformly upon impact.

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.

Shell

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)

FAQ

How Much Should I Spend on a Mountain Bike Helmet?

The mountain bike helmets in our guide range from $53 to $595 with an average cost of close to $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 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
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Morgan Tilton is the Senior Editor, Buyer's Guides, Snowsports for GearJunkie and is based in Crested Butte, Colo. More broadly, she's an adventure journalist specializing in outdoor industry news and adventure travel stories. A recipient of more than a dozen North American Travel Journalists Association awards, when she’s not recovering from high alpine or jungle expeditions she’s usually trail running, mountain biking, or splitboarding in Southwest Colorado, where she grew up and lives today.