There are no shortcuts when it comes to gravel riding which is usually characterized by long days in the saddle, often on tricky, washed-out roads where the best gravel bike helmets will protect you in the event of a crash or nasty accident.
Gravel bike helmets, while following the same principles, differ from the best mountain bike helmets owing to their lightweight construction, great ventilation and clever ergonomic features, such as eyewear storage.
Most gravel bike outings include everything from high-speed road riding to slow off-road climbs, and that means you need a helmet that works in both the road and gravel cycling environments. Providing good airflow as well as allowing heat to radiate out when there isn't a helping breeze.
While many riders still use road bike helmets, the gravel bike market has responded to the category's surge in popularity with dedicated helmet offerings. Read our round-up of the best options currently available or skip to the bottom for advice on how to choose the best gravel bike helmet.
Best gravel bike helmets
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POC’s Ventral Air is a great gravel helmet, the overall proportions blend geometric and organic shapes, allowing for low aerodynamic drag and terrific ventilation levels. Engineers and aerodynamicists extensively tested the POC Ventral Air in a wind tunnel to validate their design outcomes.
Ventilation is ported across the head instead of creating no-flow spots, which can be an issue with helmets that have poorly designed airflow properties.
The POC Ventral Air also features an eye garage for keeping your riding eyewear securely stored, without the risk of having it drop from the helmet to terrain surface, during a ride.
The Giro Helios Spherical might be lightweight and aero, but it doesn’t sacrifice safety specification. A gravel bike helmet designed to allow for ample airflow, thanks to 15 vent ports, the Helios Spherical looks very different to most other helmets. Using a dual-construction method effectively combines two parts of the helmet, into one, with a slip-plane liner.
The bests way to experience this structural innovation is to hold the Helios Spherical in your hands, and twist it. It’s impressive to see the helmet’s two structural pieces rotate. And this is exactly what happens if you have an awkwardly angled crash – that engineered rotation between the helmet’s two hard-layers, absorbs and deflects impact energy.
Giro’s Helios Spherical is an evolution of the slip-plane helmet safety theme, in a very innovative way. And without the weight gain, often associated with trending MIPS technology.
To make the most of its unique structural form, the Helios Spherical is also available in a range of dual-tone colorways. And with Giro’s Roc Loc 5 Air retention system, you get clearly audible clicks when adjusting the fit.
One of the most originally named helmet brands is Norway’s Sweet Protection. The company produces helmets for a diverse range of outdoor applications: from snowsports to cycling. And its Falconer II is a helmet made for gravel bike adventures.
Although the futuristic design might appear to lack a multitude of ventilation ports, the helmet does feature very clever airflow technology. Industrial designers at Sweet Protection worked exhaustively with aerodynamicists, to create the brand’s Superficial Temporal Artery Cooling Channel (STACC).
This STACC ventilation system uses flow channels (sliders open the vents on each side) in the Falconer II’s roof structure to ensure that your remain cool, on a hot riding day. Beyond the attractively styling and packing of this helmet, the Falconer II also features a MIPS slip-plane inner liner, for enhanced crash safety.
If you believe that true gravel biking means going solo into the wilderness, Specialized’s S-Works Prevail II Vent is a trusted partner. The American cycling company has invested in digital safety technology, going beyond the traditional methods. Aside from its lightweight structure, the S-Works Prevail II Vent can call for help, if things go wrong – and you are unable.
Specialized’s ANGi sensor is the ideal solution for those riders who want to enjoy the mindfulness of a solo ride, without feeling that they are being irresponsible. It uses mobile phone networking, triggering a signal to selected emergency contacts if you crash, and cannot disable the ANGi reaction sequence.
As its name would indicate, the Specialized S-Works Prevail II Vent prioritizes airflow. Viewed front-on, the large horizontal duct shows how Specialized’s designers and aerodynamicists found a way to keep riders delightfully cool.
With a specifically front-shaped vent, aerodynamicists at Specialized allow for the smoothest possible airflow throughout a broad spectrum of rider head angles, for those wearing the S-Works Prevail II Vent. That means you have a much lower likelihood of experiencing any aero buffeting (when accelerated airflow tugs the helmet upwards) at high descending speeds.
Renowned for its value mountain bike gear, the 100% gravel bike helmet offers a lot. Altis Gravel delivers 14 ventilation ports, an intuitive fit adjust system and decent aero. The number of vents openings are impressive (14), and they are large volume too for maximizing airflow, but shaped not to create unnecessary drag.
The 100% product team keeps it simple by using a traditional ratchet system, proven to allow for easy on-the-fly fit tensioning. 100% uses a propriety Smartshock Rotational Protective System. It uses a series of elastomers between the helmet’s inner shell and fit retention system, which look like earplugs.
These Smartshock elastomers can absorb compressive forces in a crash. And also move sideways, adding yet another dimension of energy dissipation in the event of a crash.
A typically stylish design from the Italian helmet brand, Met’s Allroad is a great multiuse option. Comfortable as a commuter in the week, and with features to go on a gravel ride, come weekend.
The overall shape is subtle and comparatively light. Ventilation is good, thanks to 16 vent ports, which is crucial when grinding out that gravel ride, on an unshaded route, in summer. Safety features include an integrated rear light, making the Allroad wearer more visible at dawn or dusk, on their commute – or gravel adventure ride.
The Met Allroad also has a snap-on visor. Although not the last word in rigidity, does a fair job of shielding you from light flare. The visor is easily removable when you don’t need to use it.
Keenly priced, the Met Allroad offers terrific value.
How to choose the best gravel bike helmet
Can I use my mountain bike or road bike helmet for gravel?
In short, absolutely. That's not to say investing in the best gravel bike helmet isn't a worthwhile consideration. Even the lightest of the best half-shell mountain bike helmets still prioritize extra coverage and protection and the compromise of ventilation. On the flipside, road helmets offer great ventilation but lack the deep coverage of a mountain bike helmet.
Gravel helmets fall in the middle to try and offer a middle ground in lightweight, well-ventilated performance with a little extra coverage to deals with the more unpredictable nature of riding off-road.
Why is MIPS important?
MIPS has been a revolutionary innovation in mountain bike helmet safety – and has migrated to road and gravel riding.
What is MIPS in helmets? The concept is simple: you rarely crash directly on top of your head – unless it is an extraordinary over the bars crash.
Most crashes involve riders detaching from the bike in a side-off motion. And impacting terrain at an awkward angle, creating a sharp angular force on the helmet. This twisting motion of the helmet clashing with terrain, can jerk the brain – and cause soft tissue damage.
Having a slip-plane liner inside the helmet helps absorb some of this unexpected and rapid helmet movement when impacting terrain. Although MIPS is the most common system that is used, some helmet brands offer their own alternatives.
The takeaway logic is this: nobody knows they need a directional impact absorption system until they are sitting on the deck, dazed and confused, after a crash.
Visor or no visor?
Mountain bike helmets usually feature a visor, which is one of the most obvious distinguishing features when comparing an off-road helmet to a road helmet. The visor adds a little extra protection from the sun, weather, tree branches and, in less than ideal scenarios, the ground.
Road helmets forego visors as it helps drop weight and improve aerodynamics and ventilation. If road riders do need a little extra protection from the elements they will opt for a cloth cap instead.
Whether you want a peak will depend somewhat on the speed and protection you seek, but in reality, it's more likely to be decided by the aesthetic of the helmet. There are no rules but we generally opt for a peakless helmet when wearing lycra and a visor if we are in baggier clothing.
Do you need light mounts?
As gravel riding takes in a mix of road and off-road miles there will be the likelihood that even the most remote ride will at some point find you on tarmac. Combine that with fact that long miles or bikepacking goes hand in hand with gravel riding means that riding in poor lighting conditions means you may be hard to see to other trail users. If this is the sort of riding you find yourself doing then having secure mounts for lights on your helmet will be a big selling point.
That said, not all riders have the same demands so it isn't going to be a deal-breaker for most.