Best mountain bike helmets 2023 – head protection for trail, XC and enduro

A MTB rider in the woods
(Image credit: Smith)

A good helmet it arguably the most important piece in the mountain bike essential kit list puzzle. As traumas go, head injuries are some of the most serious and studies show that a blow to the head can have life-long lasting effects. This means it's absolutely vital to invest in the best possible helmet you can afford.

Fortunately helmet manufacturers are are aware of this and are constantly developing helmet technology to ensure riders are as safe as possible. Most of the best mountain bike helmets still use Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), which is a type of foam material. However, modern helmets benefit from refined designs, extensive testing, improved manufacturing, and feature extra functions and technologies. 

Something that’s becoming more and more common is spherical or slip-plane technology such as MIPS. Modeling and tests suggest that this helps absorb more energy in the event of a crash so your head doesn’t and we are seeing MIPS and other systems being featured at most price points. It's almost at the point where it's hard to recommend a helmet that doesn't feature some kind of rotational force protection. Almost all the helmets here feature some kind of slip-plane protection, but for a guide that specifically looks at those helmets, see our best MIPS helmet article.

We take a look at MTB helmets for cross-country, trail/enduro, and downhill riding. Continue reading to see our top picks for each riding discipline, or jump to the bottom of the article for essential information you need to know on how to choose the mountain bike helmet that's right for you.

While a helmet is a mountain biking essential, protection doesn't end there as you should also equip yourself with the best mountain bike gloves and the best mountain bike knee pads.

Meet the testers

Why you can trust BikePerfect Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

A man washing himself in a muddy puddle
Guy Kesteven

Guy's been testing and writing about mountain bikes since the early nineties and we're betting that he's tested more MTB helmets than anyone else in the UK.

Bike Perfect's Richard Owen
Rich Owen

Rich has been riding mountain bikes since the early nineties and testing bikes and kit for over a decade. He's worn hundreds of helmets over the years, so knows what works and what doesn't.

The best mountain bike helmets

Trail and enduro

POC Axion Spin review

(Image credit: Graham Cottingham)
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Best helmet for trail riding

Specifications

Rotational safety: SPIN
Sizes: XS/S, M/L, L/XL
Colors: Black, pink, green, and more

Reasons to buy

+
Comfortable fit
+
Decent ventilation
+
Good value
+
SPIN safety technology

Reasons to avoid

-
Check the fit before you buy if you're caught between sizes

The Axion uses POC's SPIN technology, which stands for 'Shearing Pad Inside.' It's a rotational safety technology that, instead of using a floating liner like MIPS, places silicon inserts within the helmet's pads to create the slip plane. This means there is no compromises in the comfort or ventilation of the helmet.

It might be POC's cheapest helmet but it certainly doesn't feel like it. The top-notch aesthetics with great performance and value make the Axion one of the best half-shell MTB helmets for trail riding.

This is a relatively affordable helmet for trail and enduro riders who want that signature POC look. Aggro enduro riders might look for something with a bit more coverage area. 

Read our review to find out why we awarded the POC Axion Spin five stars.

Specialized Gambit full-face helmet

(Image credit: Aaron Borrill)
The best ventilation around thanks to an innovative carbon fiber-reinforced shell

Specifications

Sizes: S / M / L
Weight: 615g
Colors: 4
Rotational safety: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Superlight weight
+
Excellent airflow
+
Full DH protection rating
+
MIPS SL rotation protection
+
Fixed peak

Reasons to avoid

-
Fixed peak (yes, it’s both a plus and a minus)

The distinctive looks of the Gambit are only possible because of the carbon fiber-reinforced shell that allows big holes and gaps without compromising on strength. This includes a massive mouth vent and big cheek slots for a face full of fresh air and no heavy breathing halitosis. 

Big front and flank vents lead into high-volume channels inside and high and low exhaust vents so the wind whips over your skull at speed. Five different density pieces of very thin EPS foam mean it’s smaller in external size than most full face lids and the padding is minimalist too. 

While you get two chunky switchable chin pieces to keep your jaw padded in a slam the rest of the padding is more like a road / XC lid. The “MIPS SL” rotation protection layer dodges an internal skin by putting the pads themselves on stretchy elastic band mounts. A minimalist trail / XC-style cradle with clip lock buckle secures the helmet on your head via vertical slider adjustment and a dial embedded in the rear of the shell. This keeps the Gambit both airy inside and super light at just over 600g for our medium sample, so it’s no strain on your neck.

The only potential grumble is the fixed visor that’s so high it doesn’t provide any weather protection. It’s light, snaps off easily in a crash, won’t flap out of position and leaves plenty of room for goggles though so it’s swings and roundabouts for that issue.

It’s definitely not enough to stop it going straight to the top of our full face enduro helmet chart anyway and if you want an open face lid Specialized’s new Ambush S shares a lot of the same design features.

For more info on why we gave this helmet five stars, read our full Specialized Gambit review.

The Outdoor Master Gem helmet

(Image credit: Rich Owen)
A bargain priced MIPS equipped helmet

Specifications

Rotational Safety: MIPS
Sizes: Medium and Large
Colours: Black, blue, yellow, and more

Reasons to buy

+
Good build quality
+
MIPS equipped
+
Amazing price
+
Well vented
+
Good adjustment

Reasons to avoid

-
Short peak 
-
Fit could be deeper
-
Some exposed EPS

The Outdoor Master Gem might well be the cheapest MIPS equipped MTB trail helmet currently available. But don't be fooled, the total bargain price tag doesn't mean sub-par performance, and the Gem sports impressive build quality and efficient venting. 

The Gem's fit doesn't sit as low as some, so protection levels don't feel quite high enough for enduro style trails, but it's totally sorted for XC and general trail use. With 25 vents in varying in size, the Gem's airflow is notable on the trail which makes it a great option for those based in warm climates.

We're also fans of the Gem's adjustment dial which allows for the sizing to be tweaked on-the-fly with ease. It's available in a wide range of colors so you're guaranteed to find a shade that matches your tastes.  

If you want to know more about this bargain helmet, check out our Outdoor Master Gem helmet review

Lazer Jackal helmet

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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Best trail helmet for ventilation

Specifications

Rotational safety: MIPS
Sizes: S, M, L
Colors: Black, blue, red, and more

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent protection 
+
Decent ventilation 
+
GoPro mount

Reasons to avoid

-
Slightly heavy 

Lazer is a slightly lesser-known company from Belgium, but its Jackal helmet stands up to competition from bigger brands. One of the standout features of this helmet is its ventilation properties. Compared to other trail/enduro lids, the Jackal has much more evident vents, which make for a cooler riding experience. 

We also like the overall coverage area and fit of the helmet. Another cool feature is the integrated GoPro mount so you can film and share the best bits of your rides. This helmet is ideal for aggro trail riders or enduro riders. 

In our review, we found the Lazer Jackel was a worthy competitor against some of the more established MTB helmet brands.

Troy Lee Designs A3

(Image credit: Paul Burwell)
Premium quality and maximum style

Specifications

Rotational safety: MIPS
Sizes: XS, M/L and XL/XXL
Colours: Blue, camo, grey, and more

Reasons to buy

+
Killer looks
+
Nip free magnetic clasp
+
Breakaway visor tech
+
Belt and braces protection

Reasons to avoid

-
MIPS liner not as smooth as some
-
Can be expensive
-
Foam brow pad can stick to your forehead

If you'd like classy, distinctive looks and attention to detail, while ticking the basic boxes of modern protection, the A3 should be on your list. It's not cheap at full price though. 

Troy Lee Designs makes three open face helmets as well as its famous full-facers; the A3 gets an extended rear section for greater protection and several little updates – such the 3D Fidlock magnetic buckle, a fully adjustable Magnajust visor and a silicone brow pad that’s designed to stop sweat running into your eyes. 

Like all premium lids, the A3 has anti-rotation protection (in this case, basic MIPS) , and as is increasingly common, dual-density foam for handling both big hits and smaller or repetitive knocks. (In this case, expanded polypropylene, along with the normal expanded polystyrene foam with the polycarbonate shell.)

Details include a Fidlock SNAP magnetic closure on the chin strap, easily adjustable side buckles for fine-tuning, and an effective Sweat Glide EVA foam brow pad to help deflect any extra perspiration. It also has a mini-magnet to minimise vizor rattling.

Check out our full review of the Troy Lee Designs A3.

Giro Tyrant helmet

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
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The best mountain bike helmet without a chin bar for enduro riding

Specifications

Rotational protection: MIPS
Sizes: S, M, L
Colours: Green, yellow, multiple types of black

Reasons to buy

+
Excellent spherical MIPS protection
+
Extended over-ear coverage
+
Far better venting and hearing than you’d expect
+
Reasonable price for tech

Reasons to avoid

-
Can get hot on long climbs

The Giro Tyrant helmet features much more material coverage toward the rear of the head. In fact, the side walls extend all the way over your ears, so you get more protection without needing to wear a sweaty full-face. Speaking of sweat, the helmet does get hotter than some other trail or enduro helmets, but it's not as bad as one may assume. 

The helmet features MIPS for spherical protection as is standard on nearly all Giro lids. There are vents on the cheek pads/sidewalls, too, to help with heat management. The visor is also adjustable, and the internal pads use slimline webbing. 

We felt the Giro Tyrant set the benchmark for open-face aggro helmets in our full review.

Bell Super Air R

(Image credit: Bell)
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Bell Super Air R

Best helmet with detachable chin bar

Specifications

Rotational safety: MIPS
Sizes: S, M, L
Colors: Black, grey, red, green, and more

Reasons to buy

+
Half-shell breathability for pedaling up
+
Chin bar protection for going down 

Reasons to avoid

-
Price is more in line with full-faces, which this helmet kind of is 

Bell was one of the companies that pioneered detachable chin bar technology, so it's only fitting to include it on this list. 

The Super Air R includes a detachable chin bar, which is perfect for enduro riding and racing. The helmet can be worn as a half-shell for cool climbing and can be configured as a full-face for more protection on the descents. 

Vents are located over the brows which intake air and pass it through the helmet to keep you cool. The visor area features storage for both goggles or glasses. Bell also claims that this year's model is 22 percent lighter than the previous iteration. 

Giro Manifest helmet review

(Image credit: Guy Kesteven)
Incredible lid for those who can afford it

Specifications

Rotational safety: MIPS
Sizes: S, M and L
Colours: Black, orange, white, and more

Reasons to buy

+
Next level protection at most angles
+
Top ventilation
+
Uber comfortable
+
Barely bulkier than a normal lid
+
Great optics compatibility

Reasons to avoid

-
Very high price
-
No 'spherical effect' on side impacts

The Manifest is Giro's top of the range trail lid, and remains tech editor Guy Kesteven's go-to all-rounder. When it was released in 2020 it was a ground-breaking showcase for MIPS' double-decker Spherical rotational protection, as well as road race levels of venting and a host of small neat details. 

Spherical super-sizes the concept of an inner layer of the helmet being able to rotate slightly separately from the main outer layer, to reduce the shearing effect of an impact on the brain. Regular MIPS allows the lattice holding the helmet's padding to shift by a few millimetres on impact. MIPS Spherical enables a firmer outer shell to rotate around a slightly less dense inner shell, which allows various benefits including two levels of impact protection, and the potential for massive venting, since the padding can become independent.

The Manifest took inspiration from the venting of Specialized's Aether road helmet and the protection of the bulkier Tyrant, and blended it into a Goldilocks package. The fit is super-secure even with the straps undone and while the buckle is bulky its ‘self-seeking’ closure mechanism is awesome. The bolted visor moves through a really wide range of angles but stays secure on rough descents and the rubber goggle strap and glasses arms grabbers work brilliantly to secure your optics. 

Read our full review to see why the Giro Manifest Spherical scored 4.5 stars.

Cross-country

The front of the Scott Centric Plus helmet is packed with huge air vents

(Image credit: Sean Fishpool)
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Best helmet for XC racing

Specifications

Rotational safety: MIPS
Sizes: S, M, L
Colors: White, grey, black, purple

Reasons to buy

+
Aerodynamic design
+
Offers MIPS rotational safety technology
+
Low weight

Reasons to avoid

-
Aesthetic may be too road-like for some 

With a lightweight, aerodynamic shape, the Centric is geared more towards the speed of cross-country and marathon racing. This is one of the best XC helmets and is proven by the fact that it is worn by riders like Nino Schurter and Kate Courtney during World Cup races. 

The Centric uses a more aero design than some mountain bike helmets, so it is at home on road bikes, too. In addition to the shape, the Centric features MIPS technology to protect against any falls. You'll notice the large vents on the helmet too, which will keep your head nice and cool during all-out efforts. 

For more details, check out our full review of the Scott Centric Plus.

Giro Agilis (MIPS)

(Image credit: Giro )

Giro Agilis (MIPS)

Best budget cross-country helmet

Specifications

Rotational Safety: MIPS
Sizes: S, M, L
Colors: Black, white, yellow, bule, red

Reasons to buy

+
Great value for money
+
Secure and stable fit
+
Good ventilation at all speeds

Reasons to avoid

-
MIPS cradle increases direct head contact

Giro takes inspiration from its road and mountain bike helmets to create the Agilis, a helmet that offers the airiness of a road helmet yet has the additional coverage to offer the added protection that off-road riders seek. The helmet has many of the features seen on higher-end Giro helmets including a comprehensive in-molded outer to help protect the helmet.

This helmet also uses a low-profile design, so it's fast on the cross-country racecourse as well as on the road or gravel routes. With a highly competitive price tag and considering it has MIPS, we think the Giro Agilis is a great buy.

Cannondale Junction helmet hero

(Image credit: GuyKesTV)
Bargain MIPS equipped lid focussed at XC and gravel

Specifications

Rotational saftey: MIPS
Sizes: S/M and L/XL
Colours: Blue, Black, Grey, Black cherry and Quicksand

Reasons to buy

+
Great price
+
Brilliant fit and adjustability
+
Decent venting at all speeds
+
good coverage

Reasons to avoid

-
Very long straps need trimming
-
Only two sizes

The Junction is Cannondale's entry-level MIPS equipped XC and gravel helmet, but it's performance and build quality are far superior than it's price tag suggests. 

Right from the off the Junction feels light and well ventilated, there's no unwanted pressure or discomfort around the temple areas and we found the helmets pads themselves to be of good quality. 

Internally the MIPS liner is hyper mobile and looks like it'll do an excellent job of redirecting forces in the unfortunate event of a crash.

It's shell design is high end and it's available in a variety of premium looking color schemes. 

For more info, head over to our full Cannondale Junction review.

Giro Artex

(Image credit: Giro)

Giro Artex

Best cross-country/trail cross-over helmet

Specifications

Rotational safety: MIPS
Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Colors: Black, red, blue, and more

Reasons to buy

+
Detachable visor
+
MIPS rotational impact safety
+
Stylish design

Reasons to avoid

-
Not a pure XC helmet

Some riders prefer a lightweight and well-ventilated helmet for cross-country style riding that isn't super aero or race optimized. That's where the Giro Artex comes in. The brand has created a stylish helmet that features a detachable visor, which works perfectly for cross-country and light trail riding. 

Using MIPS technology, the Artex also features 'wind tunnel' vents for internal air channels to keep you cool out on the trails. The visor helps keep the sun out of your eyes as well as provides some extra head coverage. The Artex is an ideal helmet for after-work rips or all-day epics. 

Downhill

POC Coron Air SPIN full-face helmet three-quarter view

(Image credit: Sean Fishpool)
Best full-face for ventilation

Specifications

Rotational safety: SPIN
Sizes: XS/S, M/L, XL/XXL
Colors: White, grey, black, pink

Reasons to buy

+
Multi-impact EPP construction
+
Innovative SPIN alternative to MIPS
+
Extra custom fit pads supplied
+
Easy breathing and hearing
+
Clean looks

Reasons to avoid

-
Average weight

Designed with input from professional athletes, Martin Söderström and Robin Wallner, POC offers a full-face helmet that's burly enough for freeride or enduro, but cool enough for long enduro days. 

POC has used an expanded polypropylene (EPP) rather than the much more common expanded polystyrene (EPS) as it doesn’t deform permanently under impact and should offer better protection from multiple impacts, which can be common on a high-speed incident.

POC says the ventilation system has been optimized for both low and high speeds and while we found it wasn't as breezy as we expected, it still performed well enough to keep us cool racing down the hill or pedaling back up. Like the Axion helmet featured above, the Coron also employs POC's SPIN spherical technology to help manage rotational forces that occur in a crash.

For more details, check out our first look at the POC Coron Spin full-face.

Fox Rampage

(Image credit: Fox )

Fox Rampage

Best budget full-face helmet

Specifications

Rotational safety: MIPS
Sizes: S, M, L, XL
Colors: White, black, red, green, blue

Reasons to buy

+
Less expensive full-face helmet 
+
MIPS technology
+
Still looks great

Reasons to avoid

-
Basic features and specs 

Full-face helmets can get expensive, and the Fox Rampage is certainly more expensive than open-face offerings. However, the protection benefits are well worth the price if you ride downhill or freeride. 

The Rampage is a fairly standard full-face helmet, and Fox offers more expensive options (you can get a lightweight carbon version, for example). This standard version features MIPS and uses an injection-molded ABS shell. It also features mesh screen ventilation, a D-ring closure system and an adjustable visor. 

Troy Lee Designs D4 Carbon Helmet

(Image credit: Sean Fishpool)
Best full-face mountain bike helmet for racing

Specifications

Rotational safety: MIPS
Sizes: XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
Colors: Multiple colors and designs

Reasons to buy

+
Very light
+
All-day comfort
+
Sophisticated safety features
+
Awesome looks

Reasons to avoid

-
At the top end of the price spectrum

Troy Lee Designs is seen as the industry standard for both downhill and motocross full-face helmets. The D4 is used by many pro downhillers and freeriders, proving its reputation as one of the best full-face mountain bike helmets out there. Troy Lee produces the D4 in two versions, a cheaper composite construction or a premium carbon version. 

The helmet uses 20 intake and exhaust ports which offer superb ventilation to make the helmet more comfortable on all-day sessions. It's also impressively light, with the carbon version sneaking under the 1kg mark and the composite only 50g more.  

It also is offered in a wide range of sizes to fit any rider and is available in either the strong graphics that Troy Lee Designs are known for, but also in more conservative color options too. If you're looking for something more exclusive, TLD offers custom colors or lettering as an optional extra for the full factory feel.

We have a first look on the Troy Lee Designs D4 Carbon helmet if you are looking for more details.

How to choose the best mountain bike helmet

What kind of helmet do I need for mountain biking?

The type of helmet you buy, whether it's half-shell or full-face, can largely be determined by your riding discipline.

To start, cross-country mountain biking helmets are most similar to road cycling helmets. They are more circular in their profile and tend to be lightweight. They will also feature lots of ventilation to allow riders to push themselves to the limit without overheating. These helmets also cross over as some of the best gravel bike helmets too if you are also interested in gravel riding.

The next step up in terms of coverage area are trail and enduro mountain biking helmets. These helmets are a bit bulkier and have more protection toward the back of the head. Full-face helmets can be used for enduro, too, with many racers preferring them for the gnarlier tracks. Some enduro helmets feature a detachable chin bar. These helmets have become more popular in recent years. They offer lots of versatility as you can stash the chin piece in your backpack while climbing, and then attach it for more protection on the descents.

For downhill mountain biking and freeriding riders use full-face helmets, which are pretty much mandatory when racing or riding bike parks. 

There's lots of cross-over in mountain bike disciplines and helmet designs. What helmet you buy comes down to personal preferences such as performance, comfort and safety requirements. 

How much should I spend on a mountain bike helmet?

Spending more money on a helmet doesn't necessarily achieve better protection. A quick browse of independent helmet tester's Virginia Tech will show a broad range of helmets amongst its top-rated with Specialized's Tactic 4 helmet taking the top spot with second place, Sweet Protection's Trailblazer MIPS, costing 50 percent more.

Spending more on a helmet will generally offer better ventilation, lower weight, better adjustability and other features such as sunglass storage or tracking sensors etc.

Rather than budget, the most important consideration is fit. Whether you are looking for the best mountain bike helmet under $100 or your budget is three times that, choosing a helmet that fits well is going to offer much better value in a crash.

How should a mountain bike helmet fit?

While there are many factors that need to be considered when choosing the right helmet, how well it fits trumps all. MIPS and other protective features will improve the safety of a helmet but a poor fit will massively reduce the helmet's effectiveness in all aspects.

A helmet should fit securely whilst still being comfortable. You shouldn't feel any pressure points when the helmet is worn. When adjusted and secured in place the helmet shouldn't move on your head either as in a crash this can severely reduce the helmet's ability to protect you, or even worse obscure your vision on rough sections of trail and cause you to crash.

All manufacturers will provide a size guide based on head measurements but these can only go so far as there is no way to account for skull shape. Our advice: try before you buy.

Is it worth paying extra for MIPS?

Spherical helmet technologies are like a ball and socket. While one layer stays put, the other can move freely in the event of an impact. This is thought to absorb more energy, taking away some of the forces that your head will experience from an angular impact which can be the cause of concussion and other head injuries. 

The most common system is from a brand called MIPS and many helmet manufacturers are utilizing the tech to create the best MIPS mountain bike helmets.

MIPS isn't the only system on the market though with many other brands opting to develop their own systems. POC uses SPIN, Bontrager (Trek) uses a WaveCel honeycomb design and Leatt uses a 360 Turbine system. 

It's difficult to quantify whether one system is better than another however spherical helmet technologies are also becoming cheaper, so more riders can take advantage of improved safety features. 

Do mountain bike helmets get hot?

It’s difficult to know how cool or hot a helmet will be without actually wearing it on a ride. However, ventilation is important to keep in mind when buying one of the best mountain bike helmets. You can also get a sense of a helmet’s ventilation by reading reviews published on Bike Perfect. Whatever the case, it's worth considering your own personal heat tolerances before taking the plunge.

Why do MTB helmets have peaks?

You will notice that some helmets in our guide have peaks, while others don't. Generally, helmets designed for trail riding, enduro and downhill will feature peaks to help keep dirt, weather and tree branches out of a rider's face while they ride narrow trails.

Many cross-country riders opt for helmets without peaks as they give better ventilation, weigh less and offer better aerodynamics, as cross-country mountain biking is generally faster-paced this can make a significant difference in comfort and speed.

When should I replace my MTB helmet?

Helmets rely on the Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam material they are made from absorbing impacts by compressing. The reality is as a helmet gets older it will experience small impacts through use and transport that can render the helmet less effective. Manufacturers generally recommend replacing your helmet every three to five years. 

This advice is simply a guide though and if your helmet begins to show signs of wear or damage then it needs to be replaced. The same can be said for very old helmets as well, safety technology and manufacturing techniques have come a long way over the last 10 years meaning it's worth investing in new tech even if your old faithful lid still seems fine.

Back to the top.

Graham Cottingham
Senior reviews writer, Bike Perfect

Graham is all about riding bikes off-road. Based in Edinburgh he has some of the best mountain biking and gravel riding in the UK right on his doorstep. With almost 20 years of riding experience, he has dabbled in downhill, enduro, and gravel racing. Not afraid of a challenge, Graham has embraced bikepacking over the last few years and likes nothing more than strapping some bags to his bike and covering big miles to explore Scotland's wildernesses. When he isn’t shredding the gnar in the Tweed Valley, sleeping in bushes, or tinkering with bikes, he is writing tech reviews for Bike Perfect.


Rides: Canyon Strive, Stooge MK4, 24 Bicycles Le Toy 3, Surly Steamroller

Height: 177cm

Weight: 71kg

With contributions from