The best mountain bike helmets are the most essential piece of mountain bike safety gear, especially when it comes to a trail-side crash or accident. Head injuries are no joke and as studies delve deeper into the subject two things are becoming clear. It takes a lot less force than previously thought to suffer a head injury and these traumas can have long-lasting effects. That means it's vital to invest in the best mountain bike helmet that you can.
Luckily helmet manufacturers are continually developing helmet technology to produce safer and safer helmets. 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, 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.
For information on Bike Perfect's testing procedures and how our scoring system works, see our how we test page.
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.
Meet the tester
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.
Best mountain bike helmets for trail and enduro riding(opens in new tab)
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.
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.(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
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.(opens in new tab)
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.
Best mountain bike helmets for cross-country riding(opens in new tab)
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 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. At just $90 / £89.99 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 provides some extra head coverage. The Artex is an ideal helmet for after-work rips or all-day epics.
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.
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.
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 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, particularly Giro.
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.
Do I need to replace my 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.