It's absolutely vital to invest in the best mountain bike helmet you can afford. A good lid is arguably the most important piece of kit you can buy, because head injuries are among the most serious a cyclist can suffer – indeed, many studies have shown that a serious blow to the head can have lifelong repercussions on your health.
Luckily, manufacturers are aware of this and are constantly developing their technology to ensure the best mountain bike helmets keep improving. Many still use Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) to absorb impacts, though modern products benefit from refined designs, extensive testing, improved manufacturing, and new functionality.
Spherical technologies such as MIPS are becoming more and more commonplace at most price points. Tests suggest that these systems, designed to offer rotational force protection in the event of a crash, absorb more energy, and almost all of the products below boast some form of slip-plane protection. If MIPS is your priority, check out our guide to the best MIPS helmets.
Our expert testers have tried out the best head protection for the trails to pick out the best MTB helmets for trail/enduro, cross-country and downhill riding. For trail/enduro, we're loving the the POC Axion Spin, the Specialized Gambit and the Giro Tyrant; our top picks for cross-country are the Scott Centric Plus and the Cannondale Junction; and for downhill, the POC Coron Air impressed our reviewer. With so many quality lids on the market, however, your biggest challenge may be choosing between them.
The best mountain bike helmets
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The best trail and enduro helmets
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 didn't feel like it when we tested 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.
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.
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 we found when we tested was a 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 on that one.
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 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, we found 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 – see why in our full review.
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.
This KenetiCore version of the Jackal uses Lazer’s in-house tech to bolster the impact absorbing properties of the helmet's EPS foam core, by introducing shapes and cutouts on the inside of the helmet, which are designed to crush and shear on impact.
We also like the overall coverage area and fit of the helmet. Another handy 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 Jackal Keneticore was a worthy competitor against some of the more established MTB helmet brands.
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 we found it stays secure on rough descents. The rubber goggle strap and glasses arms grabbers also work brilliantly to secure your optics.
Read our full review to see why the Giro Manifest Spherical scored 4.5 stars.
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. And while we’ve had mixed opinions of the fit of the Troy Lee Designs A1 and A2 helmets, the A3 is really snug without any hot spots.
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.
Spada have been selling helmets and clothing to motorbikers since 1994 and now they’ve added an MTB line. This includes the Howitzer enduro/trail helmet which offers a decent balance of venting and MIPS protection at a reasonable price.
In test we were impressed by the 17 well spaced vents, especially as there’s a bug mesh across the front three vents. Having separate upper and lower hard-shells to protect the foam liner is also a win at this price. We did have a slight concern, however, that while the firmly fixed peak is replaceable and attached with adjustable metal screws either side, it sits against a relatively deep ‘notch’ on the shell – that makes it much harder for it to flip up/pop off if you face plant. The Howitzer meets all the relevant safety standards, though, and you can loosen the attachment screws if you want.
Assuming you fit into the two sizes and rounded form, the rim mounted straps and rear dial make settling your head into the Howitzer very easy. The cradle is not quite as micro-accurate or adjustable as some of the other lids in this guide to the best MTB helmets, but it secures the helmet fine without obvious pressure points.
Read Bike Perfect's full verdict in our Spada Howitzer helmet review.
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 DH Spherical is very similar to the Bell Super Air Spherical open face helmet, but comes with a detachable chin bar. We’ve found it a great option for trail, enduro or DH riding/racing as the chin bar is DH certified – unlike the lighter Super Air R MIPS.
Removing or adding the chin bar involves operating three clips – one on each side and another one at the rear. When locked into place, the chin bar is totally sturdy and free from any movement at all.
Vents are located over the brows which intake air and pass it through the helmet to keep you cooler. The visor area features storage for both goggles or glasses. Our medium test sample weighed in at 897g, which is heavier than the claimed 860g but still reasonable for a DH certified lid. The Super DH comes with two sets of cheek pads in different thicknesses to help you dial in the fit when running as a full-face.
Cross country helmets
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.
Our reviewer found it extraordinarily airy, light and comfortable. The fit system is easy to adjust, and that fixed-length strap arrangement around the ears is a bonus rather than an inconvenience. Because it’s fixed, it never goes out of alignment, and the unobtrusive triangle buckle sits flat. And while the super-slender MIPS/cushioning system looks fragile we've found it holds up just fine.
For more details, check out our full review of the Scott Centric Plus.
The Junction is Cannondale's entry-level MIPS equipped XC and gravel helmet, but its performance and build quality are far superior than its price tag would suggest.
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 helmet 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. Its 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 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.
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 providing some extra head coverage. The Artex is an ideal helmet for after-work rips or all-day epics.
Having collaborated with professional riders Martin Söderström and Robin Wallner in its design, 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 in testing 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 helmet.
Full-face helmets can get expensive, and the Fox Rampage is certainly more pricey than open-face offerings. However, the protection benefits are well worth the additional cost rice 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 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.
|POC Axion SPIN||Trail and enduro||SPIN||XS/S, M/L, L/XL||Black, pink, green and more||$149.95 / £140.00|
|Specialized Gambit||Trail and enduro||MIPS SL||S, M, L||Black, oak green||$300.00 / £295.00|
|Giro Tyrant||Trail and enduro||MIPS||S, M, L||Green, yellow, multiple types of black||$169.95 / £149.99|
|Outdoor Master Gem||Trail and enduro||MIPS||M, L||Black, blue, yellow and more||$69.99 / £56.00|
|Lazer Jackal||Trail and enduro||MIPS||S, M, L||Black, blue, red and more||$219.99 / £159.99|
|Giro Manifest MIPS||Trail and enduro||MIPS Spherical||S, M, L||Black, orange, white and more||$259.95 / £249.99|
|Troy Lee Designs A3||Trail and enduro||MIPS||SX, M/L, XL/XXL||Blue, camo, gray and more||$249.95 / £200.00|
|Spada Howitzer||Trail and enduro||MIPS||S/M, M/L||White/gray, matt black, olive green||$98.00 / £79.99|
|Bell Super DH Spherical||Trail and enduro||Spherical MIPS||M, L||Black, blue/hi-viz, black/camo and more||$350.00 / £319.99|
|Scott Centric Plus||Cross country||MIPS||S, M, L||White, gray, black and purple||$229.99 / £164.99|
|Cannondale Junction||Cross country||MIPS||S/M, L/XL||Blue, black, gray, black cherry and quicksand||$95.00 / £65.00|
|Giro Agilis (MIPS)||Cross country||MIPS||S, M, L||Black, white, yellow, blue and red||$99.95 / £99.99|
|Giro Artex||Cross country/trail||MIPS||S, M, L, XL||Black, red, blue and more||$139.95|
|POC Coron Air||Downhill||SPIN||XS/S, M/L, XL/XXL||White, gray, black and pink||$299.95 / £260.00|
|Fox Rampage||Downhill||MIPS||S, M, L, XL||White, black, red, green and blue||$229.95 / £189.99|
|Troy Lee Designs D4||Downhill||MIPS||XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL||Multiple colors and designs||$399.95 / £399.99|
Meet the testers
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.
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.
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.
Jim Bland is a product tester and World Cup downhill mechanic based in North Yorkshire, England, but working Worldwide. Always on the hunt for the perfect setup, Jim will always be found comprehensively testing kit with World Cup racing levels of detail.
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.
And while a helmet is a mountain biking essential, protection doesn't end there – you should also equip yourself with the best mountain bike gloves and the best mountain bike knee pads.
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 testers 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 the event of 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 while 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, though 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 sooner 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.