A helmet, while easily overlooked, is one of the most important components of mountain bike gear. The technology in your helmet can make a huge difference in how protected you are during a crash.
In general, mountain bikers ride in two different types of helmet: a full face or a half-shell.
Full-face helmets are used for downhill and some Enduro riding. They have a hard chin guard which sits in front of your face and offers added protection during a crash.
The second type of helmet is a half-shell. This helmet sits on top of your head and wraps around the sides and back to varying degrees.
More protective mountain bike helmets will have a longer back which can protect the back of your head or lower sides to protect the area around your ears.
Generally, full-face helmets or helmets with larger coverage are safer options. However, this added material also adds weight and minimizes ventilation.
The key to finding the right helmet is to pick the helmet that is comfortable enough for you to wear while still providing the protection you need for the type of riding your participating in.
1. POC Tectal Helmet – Best Helmet for Versatility
POC is known for their eye-catching colors and unique helmet design. The Tectal, in addition to all of POCs helmets, pushes the limits of helmet technology and safety.
The attention to detail on this helmet shows through the subtle goggle strap, size adjustment knob, and visor adjustment.
POC has chosen to stick with their notorious round shape with smooth ventilation holes. This helmet looks casual, protective, and matches well with mountain bike apparel.
This helmet can be used for cross-country riding, trail riding, or Enduro riding. The technology on this helmet allows riders to use glasses, goggles or opt for no eyewear comfortably.
In most sizes, riders claim this helmet fits true to size and is surprisingly comfortable compared to many other mountain bike helmets.
2. Giro Manifest Spherical – Best Helmet for Safety
- Shell Material: in-mold
- Ventilation: 19 Wind Tunnel vents with internal channeling
Giro’s new Spherical technology takes MIPS technology to another level. By using a slip-plane design, the two layers of foam on this helmet work to redirect the energy from impact by rotating the two liners independently from one another.
Further, Spherical technology creates greater ventilation making this helmet a comfortable option in the heat.
Giro has chosen a Roc Loc fit system with a magnetic buckle, making this helmet easy to wear.
Not only does the visor on this helmet adjust, but this helmet is also equipped with grippers to hold goggles or glasses in place.
The Giro Manifest is a well thought out, safe, and good looking helmet for any style of mountain bike riding.
3. 7 Protection Project 23 Carbon – Best Full-Face Helmet
- S.E.R.T slip plane system reduces impacts causing C.T.E
- The most ventilated full face hard shell helmet on the market
7 Protection has built a full-face helmet with top of the line crash protection and technology. This helmet utilities a S. E. R. T slip plane system which provides space for your head to move within the helmet, minimizing the energy transfer from a crash.
The Project 23 Carbon claims they are the most ventilated full-face hard-shell helmet currently available. This technology makes wearing this helmet in warm conditions much more attainable and comfortable.
While many full-face helmets are heavy, the Project 23 utilizes a carbon shell to reduce weight while staying intact during crashes.
This helmet is also equipped with specific ventilation systems to allow air flow with goggles on as well as an anti-microbial liner and a removable liner.
If you are looking for the top of the line safety, this full-face helmet is a great option for Enduro and downhill riding.
4. Fox Proframe – Best Ventilated Full Face
- Fox ProFrame Mink MTB Helmet - Replacement Visor - Dusty Rose - 23508-345-OS
The Fox Proframe taps into the best full-face helmet technology while creating one of the coolest and most ventilated full-face helmets on the market.
This helmet is the lightest full-face helmet made by Fox, meaning you’ll be able to ride comfortably for longer while maintaining the protection of a downhill helmet.
Fox has utilized MIPS technology which provides an inner basket that can move separately from the shell to protect your head if you crash. Additionally, the dual-density Varizorb EPS foam works to disperse the energy of an impact.
This helmet has fifteen front vents which work to intake air and nine rear vents which expel air and keep a continuous flow of cool air while you ride.
If you are looking for the protection of a downhill helmet, in a significantly lighter and cooler design, the Fox Proframe could be a great option.
5. Giro Switchblade MIPS – Best Versatile Helmet
- MARKET-LEADING PROTECTION: Engineered in Giro’s category-leading helmet test lab
- FULLY ADAPTABLE: Easily removable chinbar
The Giro Switchblade is a helmet made for versatility. If you’re at the bike park you can snap on the removable chin guard and then easily remove it to ride more mellow terrain.
Additionally, the Switchblade comes with MIPS technology which provides a separation between the movement of your head and the helmet during a crash, limiting the energy transfer and preventing harm.
The chin guard on the Switchblade is easy to attach or remove mid-ride. Some riders choose to climb in their helmet with the chin guard in a pack, then easily attach the chin-guard for the descent.
If you are looking for a safe helmet with impressive versatility for trail, Enduro, or downhill riding, this could be a great option for you.
6. Smith Network – Best Helmet for Cross Country or Road Riding
- Shell Material: Aerocore technology featuring Koroyd
- Impact Foam: EPS
The Smith Network is a uniquely designed helmet. From the intriguing and modern aesthetics to the Aerocore technology, this helmet stands out as an incredible feat.
Smith has equipped some of their helmets with a honeycomb like technology which helps disperse energy during a crash and retains its strong shape more readily than just EPS foam.
This helmet is available in a dozen different colors, creating a helmet that can be an exciting part of a bike kit. Each helmet integrates seamlessly with glasses and has a top-end adjustable fit system.
This helmet is designed for use on the road or for cross-country mountain biking. For long hours in the saddle when comfort, weight, and protection are the top priorities, the Smith Network is a great option.
7. Bern Macon 2.0 – Best Multisport Helmet
- This helmet can be used all year long with either our summer or winter pad sets
- 15% lighter than our previous Macon, this is our lightest helmet ever, while still prioritizing, comfort, style and protection
When space or funds are limited, picking a do-it-all product can be a great choice. The Bern Macon 2.0 does just that, providing a great helmet for biking, skiing, and snowboarding.
This helmet offers MIPS protection which helps keep you safe during a crash as well as a ribbed EPS liner to reduce impact.
This helmet has nine vents which will help keep you cool while riding but can easily be closed off by using a warm hat in the winter.
This helmet is ideal for cycling commuters, casual mountain biking, cooler climates, and warmer ski/snowboard days.
If you are looking for a budget-friendly helmet that serves more than one use and you can throw on any time of year, the Bern Macon 2.0 could be perfect.
8. Oakley DRT5 – Best Trail Riding Helmet
- Lightweight Polycarbonate shell
- Integrated eyewear dock to securely stow your shades and keep them handy for quick and easy access
Oakley created the DRT5 for trail or Enduro riding, optimizing ventilation, protection, and standout features such as their eyewear attachment system and X-Static pads to channel sweat away from your eyes.
This helmet offers plenty of protection with MIPS technology and EPS foam. Oakley has added a longer back in the helmet which protects the back of your head from crashes more readily than some helmets.
The DRT5 is highly adjustable with a BOA 360-degree fit as well as straps which allow for adjustments in four different directions.
In the back of the helmet, Oakley has added two clips to ensure your glasses stay in place during a long climb or break from riding.
If you are planning to spend your time on the trails, climbing and descending with speed, the Oakley DRT5 is an excellent helmet choice.
9. Giro Tyrant – Best Trail, Dirtjump, or Freeride Helmet
- MARKET-LEADING PROTECTION: Engineered in Giro’s category-leading helmet test lab
- MIPS SPHERICAL: Eliminates the plastic slip plane of the MIPS brain protection system
Giro created the Tyrant to meet the demands of riders who are aggressive in a range of progressive riding situations.
This helmet comes with safety features such as MIPS which reduces rotational forces during a crash. Giro has also integrated two shell materials, a hardshell upper with an in-mold polycarbonate lower and two different types of foam, an EPS outer layer and an EPP inner layer.
The combination of shell materials, foam, and MIPS make this helmet a great option for riding technical terrain or in high-risk situations.
The Tyrant is surprisingly light and well ventilated. While it does seem similar to a full-face helmet, it feels drastically lighter and more breathable.
Giro has created a helmet that offers added protection for the sides as well as the back of your head but does not feel as cumbersome as a full-face helmet.
If you are planning to ride in technical situations where you are likely to need the protection of a helmet, the Giro Tyrant may be a great option.
10. Sweet Protection Rocker –Best Budget Helmet
- Shell Material: ABS, TLC Shell technology (Thermoplastic Laminated Carbonfiber)
- Impact Foam: EPP
Sweet Protection has utilized many of the best technologies at a fraction of the cost of many leading brands.
This Rocker has TLC shell technology, which utilizes a separate plastic insert which helps reduce the impact of crashes.
In terms of ventilation, Sweet Protection has integrated a Superficial Artery Channel as well as Digitally Optimized Ventilation which works to keep your head cool and breezy while riding.
This helmet is intended primarily for cross-country riding, some trail riding, or commuting.
Technology around helmets has grown drastically in recent years. There is a huge range of systems which all work to protect you during a crash.
MIPS- MIPS, or Multi-directional Impact Protection Systems are found in many new helmets. This system utilizes an inner plastic liner/basket that sits between your head and the foam of the helmet and has the ability to move and reduce the rotational force in some crashes.
EPS- EPS, or Expanded polystyrene is a crushable foam is intended to soften the blow of being crushed or landed. Most helmets have EPS foam combined with a hard shell to increase protection.
Varizorb- Varizorb is a type of EPS foam that is injected into the mold from two different directions, creating pyramids of interlocking foam that help dissipate the energy from an impact.
Spherical Technology – Spherical technology utilizes a ball-and-socket design, capitalizing on allowing the outer shell of the helmet to rotate around the inner liner when you crash. This system prevents some of the damaging rotational forces of a crash.
SERT- SERT, or Seven Energy Reduction Technology works to reduce impact from rotational forces, oblique impacts, and low-G direct impacts through a combination of flexible cubes inside the helmet shell.
Helmet shells are typically made of polycarbonate. They help protect your head during a crash by providing a hard shell to cover the foam layer.
In-mold polycarbonate – In-mold polycarbonate means the EPS foam is attached to the polycarbonate shell. This method allows the helmet to be lighter and more protective.
Aerocore- Aerocore technology utilizes hexagonal patterns like a honeycomb to improve temperature regulation, airflow, and impact resistance.
How do I know which helmet is best for me?
Picking the best helmet is highly dependent on which terrain you plan to ride. If you will spend most of your time at a downhill park, you should consider a full-face helmet for maximum protection.
If you plan to spend your time in a mix of downhill and cross-country style riding, perhaps the Giro Switchblade is a good option due to its versatility.
If you plan to stick to cross-country riding, a smaller and lighter helmet will suffice.
How important is airflow?
Depending on where you live, the ventilation of a helmet can make a huge difference. In warm or humid environments, maximizing airflow can make be a game changer while out on the trails.
Further, full-face helmets can be very warm, and finding an option with maximum ventilation may be helpful in hot environments.
How long can I use the same helmet?
Helmets are intended to be used until they are crashed on or break. The best helmet technology is intended to be crashed on only one time.
Unfortunately, this means if you have a hard crash and hit your head, it is critical to check for any dents, cracks, or damage. If your helmet has any visible damage points, it is compromised and will not protect you as well if you crash a second time.
Advanced helmet technology can make a huge difference in preventing head injuries. Even though you may need to replace your helmet after a crash, it many ways, it is a small price to pay to ensure you’re staying as safe as possible while riding.
What should I consider when it comes to eyewear?
In general, riders who climb uphill use sunglasses and riders who only ride downhill use goggles.
In order to stay cool and comfortable while riding, glasses can protect your eyes while still providing ample airflow.
Downhill riders may opt for goggles because they are less concerned about ventilation and may choose to have more protection from using downhill goggles.
What do I need to know about visors?
Visors can be a helpful component of a helmet in order to provide shade from the sun. However, visors can also increase the rotational damage of a crash.
Many helmets utilize flexible or easily movable visors to decrease this risk.
How can I keep my helmet in good condition?
When cleaning a helmet, use a mild soap to clean the liner and shell. You can use some water to wipe off dirt or bugs from the shell of the helmet but do not submerge the helmet for long periods of time.
Scrubbing the chinstraps on your helmet with mild soap and water can help keep them soft and clean.
Some riders will simply take their helmet in the shower and rinse it with soap and water, then leave it out to dry.
It is also possible to take the pads out and either hand wash them or throw them in the laundry to remove the sweat and grime.
When storing your helmet, avoid keeping it in high heat locations as this can melt the glue that holds it all together. It is also important to keep your helmet away from chemicals such as sprays and solvents which can break down the glue as well or damage the EPS foam.
How do I know if my helmet fits?
Your helmet should fit snugly on your head and the straps should go around either side of your ears.
The front of the helmet should sit most of the way down your forehead. Ensuring a proper fit is an important component of making sure your helmet can take care of you when you crash.
In my opinion, the best helmet for downhill riding is the Fox Proframe. This helmet offers superior safety combined with ventilation and a lightweight construction.
If you plan to ride downhill or Enduro trails, the Proframe looks great and will keep you safe while out on the trails.
In terms of trail riding, the Oakley DRT5 is an awesome combination of safety, function, and appearance. The lower back will protect your head and the sunglasses holders will make sure you keep your eyewear with you.
This helmet is a great option for a rider looking to ride trails with a focus on downhill.
Cross country helmets often resemble road helmets, and the Smith Network is a great helmet for riding with speed and safety. This helmet looks great and provides a unique airflow system in a lightweight and safe design.
Regardless of which helmet you choose, remember it can only keep you safe when you’re wearing it correctly and ensuring you have taken proper care of it. Enjoy the trails!