The most important bit of protective equipment is your helmet and strangely, few mountain bikers ever opt for the increased protection of a full-face helmet.
If you are working toward an elevated riding experience that might include black-graded descents, a full-face 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 helmet will better protect you from trail debris as well as during crashes.
Full-face 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 issue that has prevented more mountain bikers from adopting full-face helmets has been weight and ventilation, with more 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.
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 mountain bike helmets.
The best full-face mountain bike helmets
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.
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.
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.
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.
Leatt is a renowned mountain bike and motorcycle protective gear brand, most famous for its neck-brace technology. The DBX 4.0 is its latest convertible full-face helmet model featuring credible technology.
It has been constructed with 22 breathing ports to provide enough airflow and features a removable mouthpiece for better breathing.
Rotational energy calming measures include Leatt’s 360 Turbine Technology, which the company claims can reduce rotational head injuries by 40 percent.
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 mountain bike helmet
1. Full-face or half-shell?
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 enduro racers do, too.
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.
2. Convertible full-faces
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 at the bike park, but it's a great option for trail and enduro riders who are hooked on gravity.
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.
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.
If you are riding a triple-crown downhill bike and using chairlift access, there is absolutely no question: you simply must have a structurally sound full-face helmet with goggle-mount ergonomics.
Riding descents that require a full-face helmet imply that you are going to be riding risky terrain, attempting drops and some jumps, too. For those riders who take the option of a full-face helmet, they realize that crashing is an eventual probability and helmet technology has advanced to a point where post-crash care features are now part of the design.
5. Ancillary protection
To enable medics and emergency response personnel to easily extricate a helmet from an injured rider, designers have made chin pads seamless to remove. Helmet design has also had to evolve with medical care inflation systems, which can stabilize neck injuries when a rider is being moved.
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 terrain mountain biking.
6. Eyewear compatibility
Eye protection is crucial with a full-face helmet. Goggles, rather than sunglasses, are best 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.