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Best full-face MTB helmets: Ultimate head protection for serious gravity riding

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Best full-face MTB helmet
(Image credit: Sven Martin)

If you are working toward an elevated riding experience that might include black-graded descents, choosing the best full-face MTB helmet should certainly be part of your personal protective gear portfolio. The trauma (both physical and psychological) of having a rock or any bit of terrain strike you in the face while crashing is terrible, and a full-face is the best mountain bike helmet for protecting you from trail debris as well as during crashes. 

The best full-face MTB helmets feature more complex structures and internal padding, which leads to increased shock absorption. The chin bar not only boosts confidence but also gives a rider 360-degree protection. 

The primary issues that have prevented more mountain bikers from adopting full-face helmets have been weight and ventilation, with most riders opting for half-shell or traditional cross-country mountain bike helmets. Designed for ultimate structural safety and protection, the full-face helmet has traditionally been comfortable only for a few short minutes of descending. 

But since the mid-2010s there has been a significant change in mountain bike full-face helmet design, with the introduction of convertible helmets. These hybrid full-face helmets have a removable chin bar and can be as comfortable as any half-shell helmet for climbing and general riding yet still meet the safety certifications required for racing.

Full-face helmets are standard in downhill mountain biking and now you see even enduro racers wearing them. Continue scrolling for our picks for the best full-face helmets, or check out our general guide to the best full-face MTB helmets. 

The best full-face MTB helmets

Troy Lee Designs D4 MIPS

(Image credit: Troy Lee Designs)

Troy Lee Designs D4 Carbon MIPS

Extend your carbon-fibre safety

Weight: 1000g | Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL | Rotational safety: MIPS | SRP: $550 / £500 / €600

Exotic hand-laid composite structure makes it light and very strong
Huge sizing range for guaranteed comfort 
Sophisticated safety features
As with all things carbon, not cheap

Troy Lee Designs possess an enviable reputation for producing premium full-face helmets for downhill-obsessed mountain bikers. The company prioritizes strength and crash-energy dissipation above all else. 

To achieve the best safety rating without neck-straining structural weight, Troy Lee Designs blended a lot of exotic materials into its latest D4 helmet. A top layer of unidirectional carbon provides excellent impact and structural puncture resistance. 

Engineers have also added strategically placed Kevlar reinforcement to areas of the helmet which have high terrain strike probability. It even has considered post-crash safety features, such as the anatomically contoured quick-release cheek pads: which allow for easier helmet removal by emergency personnel.

Read more about the Troy Lee Designs D4 Carbon MIPS helmet.

POC Coron Air SPIN

(Image credit: POC)

POC Coron Air SPIN

Full-face protection from the innovative Swedish safety brand

Weight: 1,124g (size M-L) | Sizes: XS-S, M-L, XL-XXL | Rotational safety: SPIN | SRP: $275 / £260

Multi-impact EPP construction
SPIN rotational protection
Extra custom fit pads supplied
Easy breathing and hearing
Clean looks
Visor isn't adjustable

POC is a brand that is constantly innovating when it comes to mountain bike helmet safety and the POC Coron Air SPIN helmet is its downhill and enduro full-face offering. Constructed from  EPP, rather than the more commonly used EPS, it should better resist multiple impacts which can occur in a single incident and is finished in a carbon shell for added strength and durability.

Inside POC uses its own SPIN rotational protection which creates a slip plane by using silicon inserts in the helmet's pads, this keeps the system unobtrusive to the ventilation and comfort of the helmet. The helmet's sizing can be tweaked with the included set of smaller pads and the padding around the cheeks are removable to help first aiders take the helmet off carefully. 

For more details on how the POC Coron Air SPIN, check out our hands-on first look.

Fox Racing Rampage Carbon

(Image credit: Fox Racing)

Fox Racing Rampage Carbon

A solid full-face helmet from Fox

Weight: 1230g | Sizes: S, M, L, XL | Rotational safety: Dual-density Varizorb EPS liner | SRP: $499.95 / £360 / €500

Fairly lightweight 
Non-carbon version available
Magnetic Visor Release System
Very expensive

It doesn't take much to imagine where Fox Racing got the inspiration for the Rampage's name. This is a helmet that can handle the biggest freeride hits or downhill tracks. 

The helmet features two different systems that help mitigate forces from impacting the head. The dual-density Varizorb EPS liner is designed to spread out forces to a larger surface area. Plus, the Magnetic Visor Release System allows the visor to detach from the rest of the helmet. 

This carbon helmet is fairly light, but you have to pay the price. Luckily, those on a budget can purchase a non-carbon version of the Rampage for a cheaper price. 

100% Aircraft Carbon MIPS

(Image credit: 100%)

100% Aircraft Carbon MIPS

Anatomically contoured carbon helmet goodness

Weight: 1070g | Sizes: XS, SM, M, L, XL | Rotational safety: MIPS | SRP: $400 / £350 / €400

Clever combination of composite structural strength, with ample ventilation ports
Impressive post-crash safety features  
Wild colors and graphic designs might not be for everyone 

Another composite blended full-face helmet, from an iconic American motocross racing brand. The refocussed 100% company has ventured into mountain bike safety and its Aircraft Carbon is exactly what it claims to be. 

Constructed with an aviation-grade Kevlar and composite shell, this is a light but also a tremendously strong helmet. It runs cool too, with a generous array of ventilation ports, totaling 25. 

Impressive post-crash treatment features include an integrated compartment that accommodates inflatable emergency release systems and quick-release cheek pads. The Aircraft Carbon is also compatible with most neck braces and has an energy-dissipating MIPS liner.

Leatt MTB 4.0 Enduro V21

(Image credit: Leatt )

Leatt MTB 4.0 Enduro V21

Convincing first convertible effort from the neck brace specialists

Weight: 850g | Sizes: S, M, L | Rotational safety: 360 Turbine Technology | SRP: $299.00 / £279.99

DH certified Lightweight Polymer Compound 
Dri-Lex moisture-wicking liner
Solid chin guard lock
Fidlock buckle
Standard full face is cheaper
Awkward chin guard release

Although the Leatt MTB 4.0 Enduro V21 features a removable chin guard and is aimed at enduro riding, the South African brand has still managed to meet ASTM DH certification standards so you know you have one of the best enduro helmets in terms of protection. The MTB 4.0 helmet includes more technology than just a removable chin guard too, including its own brain-saving 360º Turbine inserts to reduce rotational forces, a break-away visor and a Fidlock magnetic buckle, all whilst keeping the overall weight low.

The half-shell section of the helmet is based on Leatt's MTB 4.0 AllMtn V21 and has two mounting points on each side of the helmet which securely lock the chin bar in place without any rattle or creaking.

Read how this helmet earned four out of five stars in our Leatt MTB 4.0 Enduro V21 review.

Bell Super Air R MIPS

(Image credit: Bell)

Bell Super Air R MIPS

Evolving the convertible helmet standard

Weight: 676g | Sizes: S, M, L | Rotational safety: MIPS | SRP: $275 / £275 / €300

Better chin bar security from one of the original convertible full-face innovators
Very light for what it offers   
New chin bar design not quite as easy to necklace-wear when you are climbing 

The Super Air R is Bell’s latest-generation convertible full-face helmet and builds on the reputation it established with the original Super 2R, launched five years ago. 

A significant redesign and evolution from the 2R and 3R, this Super Air R features a superior chin-bar attachment system with two latches. It also happens to be 144g lighter than the 3R, too. Ventilation is provided by 18 primary structural vents, while four additional ventilation ports are found in the detachable chin bar. 

For riders who use goggles with their helmet instead of riding glasses, there is a clever rubber grip pad on the back of the Super Air R, to prevent your goggle strap from slipping. 

Giro Switchblade MIPS

(Image credit: Giro )

Giro Switchblade MIPS

A hard charging convertible helmet

Weight: 975g | Sizes: S, M, L | Rotational safety: MIPS | SRP: $270 / £270 / €320

Combines convertible helmet technology with downhill safety certification 
MIPS
Spare visor with camera mount
Not the lightest hybrid helmet out there 

The Giro Switchblade MIPS combines downhill helmet certification with removable chin-bar convenience. 

For those riders who are going to climb to the top of steep drop-ins, and want sufficient security on the way down again, the Switchblade's certification is a big win. Beyond its structural strength, this is also a helmet that plays nice with action cameras, as Giro supplies a special visor mount designed to accommodate recording equipment. 

With 20 ventilation ports, the Switchblade stays cool and its internal padding is hydrophilic, which means that it can absorb a lot of moisture before reaching saturation point.

How to choose the best full-face MTB helmet

Is a full-face helmet safer?

Full-face helmets have their roots in motorcycle riding, where speeds are higher and crash forces are greater than in mountain biking. Because of the similarities between the two sports, gravity-oriented mountain bikers use full faces to best protect themselves. Downhill riders and racers always use a full-face helmet and as enduro tracks get more technical enduro riders often also choose to wear full-faces due to the extra protection. 

Many casual riders opt to wear a half-shell helmet, which is what we traditionally think of as what a mountain bike helmet looks like. Half-shell helmets are great for everything from cross-country riding up to enduro riding. However, if you are looking to push yourself on the downhills, a full-face helmet may be warranted. Full-faces protect nearly all of the surface area of your head and face and are increasingly getting lighter and implementing the latest safety technologies, like MIPS. 

Are convertible mountain bike helmets good?

In the past few years, helmet manufacturers have designed helmets that cater to riders who want to go fast on the downhills but still want to pedal on the uphills. One of the problems with a traditional full-face helmet is breathability, making things miserable to climb in. 

This is where convertible helmets come in. Multiple manufacturers make helmets that allow the chin bar to be removed, so you can ride either in full-face mode or the more breathable half-shell mode. We wouldn't recommend this for riders who spend all day every day at the bike park, but it's a great option for trail and enduro riders who are hooked on gravity. 

Even better is the fact some brands are now able to make these convertible helmets to meet DH safety certifications so you know that they will offer the protection that you expect. All you need to do is figure out how to carry the chin piece when you pedal back to the top. 

Do full-face MTB helmets get hot?

Helmets that have ample cooling vents, by definition, must contain less surface structure. Those vents also create entry points for debris or curiously angled trail features, such as sticks. For riders who spend most of their season in cooler conditions, ventilation is not an issue and they can afford to opt for helmets that have the highest possible protection rating, with airflow a secondary consideration. 

Full-faces have never had great ventilation due to their coverage and extra protection although this has improved as more enduro riders choose full-faces options as the best enduro helmets. If you live and ride (or plan to vacation) in a warm-weather location, ventilation becomes an issue nearly equal to the protection and this markedly complicates your full-face helmet choice. 

Do full-face helmets have other safety features?

Many helmet manufacturers have considered how a helmet can help in the event of a crash beyond simply reducing impact forces on the thread. Many brands now include features such as NFC chips to communicate emergency details to first medical responders or crash sensors and recco beacons. Designers have made chin pads seamless to remove to enable medics and emergency response personnel to easily extricate a helmet from an injured rider. 

Like all other helmets, rotational crash protection features in all the best full-face MTB helmets. Systems like MIPS, POC SPIN and Leatt's Turbine technology are all designed to reduce sharp rotational forces to the head and reduce concussions and other brain traumas by letting the helmet move independently of your head. Generally, it's only 10-15mm of movement but this slip plane effect can significantly reduce damaging forces.

Committed downhill riders should also regard how compatible their helmets are with neck braces, which are seen as a part of the head-and-neck safety system for extreme or severe technical mountain biking. 

Do you need goggles with full face helmet?

Eye protection is pretty crucial when mountain biking to stop dust and debris from getting in your eyes. The best mountain bike goggles, rather than sunglasses, are preferred when wearing a full-face helmet as they give superior coverage. Helmets with a considered ergonomic design, which includes a groove, grip pad or clip, will keep your goggle straps in place. The last thing you want is the distraction of a goggle strap which starts to annoyingly slip as you bounce through a high-speed rock garden.  

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Lance Branquinho
Lance Branquinho is a Namibian-born media professional who graduated to mountain biking after injuries curtailed his fascination with trail running. He has a weakness for British steel hardtails, especially those which only run a single gear. Rides: Morewood Kwela Cotic Simple 26 Pyga 160mm aluminium prototype