The best mountain bike helmets offer head protection, so they're the most essential piece of mountain bike safety gear, especially when it comes to a trail-side crash or accident. What seems like a simple bump to the head can present unpleasant symptoms for weeks or longer, and while most helmets will add a much-needed layer of protection, none of them can prevent head injuries entirely. That's why it's a good idea to invest in a top-rated helmet that can reduce head and brain trauma.
With that disclaimer out of the way, what should you look for when buying a mountain bike helmet? Put simply, the bulk of a helmet is made from Expanded Polystyrene (EPS), which is a type of foam material. However, modern helmets feature many other functions and technology. Something that’s becoming more and more popular is spherical or slip plane technologies such as MIPS. These are thought to absorb more energy in the event of a crash so your head doesn’t. There are also factors like visors, ventilation and detachable chin bars to consider.
We've organized this guide into the best 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 for essential information you need to know when making a helmet purchase.
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Best mountain bike helmets: Cross-country
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.
In 2019, Bontrager made a big splash about its new WaveCel technology. WaveCel is a cell-like material that lines the helmet and is designed to crumple upon impact. This absorbs energy and is said to protect the head during crashes. While WaveCel is not a spherical safety technology, Bontrager makes the Starvos helmet in a MIPS version as well.
This helmet also uses a low-profile design, so it's fast on the XC racecourse as well as on the road or gravel routes. At just about $100, we feel that the Bontrager Starvos is a great budget option that combines performance and safety.
Some riders prefer a lightweight and well ventilated helmet for XC-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 XC or trail riding.
Using MIPS technology, the Artex also features 'wind tunnel' vents for internal air channeling 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.
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Best mountain bike helmets: Trail and Enduro
The Axion uses POC's SPIN technology, which stands for 'Shearing Pad Inside.' It's a rotational safety technology that's essentially the same as MIPS (which POC used in its helmets previously), however, the mechanics of the system are a bit simpler.
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.
Lazer is a 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 the ventilation properties. Compared to other 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.
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 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.
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 per cent lighter than the previous iteration.
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Best mountain bike helmets: Downhill
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.
The main feature of the Coron is its superior ventilation. POC says the ventilation system has been optimized for both low and high speeds, so it will keep you cool racing down the hill or pedaling back up. Like the Axion helmet featured above, this one also employs POC's SPIN spherical technology.
Full-face helmets can get expensive, and the Fox Rampage is certainly more expensive than half-shells. However, the benefits are 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 is seen as the industry standard for both downhill and motocross full-face helmets. The D4 is used by many pro downhillers and free-riders, proving its reputation as one of the best full-face mountain bike helmets out there. Fox produces the D4 in a cheaper composite version or a more expensive carbon version.
The helmet uses 20 intake and exhaust ports for ventilation. It also is offered in a wide range of sizes to fit any rider. The helmets feature unique graphics, but they also have some more conservative color options, too. If you're looking for something more exclusive TLD offers custom colors or lettering as an optional extra.
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Best mountain bike helmets: What you need to know
1. What type of helmet should you buy?
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 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.
The next step up in terms of coverage area are trail and enduro 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.
Downhillers and freeriders 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 can come down to personal preferences such as performance, comfort and safety requirements.
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.
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.
3. Spherical technology
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. Many helmet manufacturers now offer models featuring spherical technology. Giro uses MIPS or MIPS Spherical, POC uses SPIN, and Bontrager (Trek) uses a WaveCel honeycomb design. These technologies are also becoming cheaper, so more riders can take advantage of improved safety features.
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.
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