Written By
Published Mar. 11, 2019

Mountain biking can be an incredible hobby. It gets you out and about seeing some of the greatest sights our country has to offer, and as a side benefit it can help to keep you fit and healthy too! Not many hobbies can boast such a wide range of advantages.

That said, as a form of exercise that often takes in riding on uneven roads and even off road riding, it could carry a small risk of injury. One of the ways to protect against that risk is by investing in a quality mountain bike helmet.

In this article we’re going to help you do just that. We’ve lined up ten of the best mountain bike helmets on the market right now and combined that with a comprehensive buying guide to ensure that you choose the right helmet to suit you and your needs.

The Best Mountain Bike Helmet

We’ll kick off our list with this entry from Giro. If you’ve never heard of this company they are a helmet manufacturer with a very well earned reputation for producing quality items. This helmet, featuring and a new and improved fitting mechanism, is very much designed to keep up that tradition.

The fitting mechanism we described is called the Loc 5. First off all it is 40% lighter than the predecessor model, the Loc 4. It is a dial-controlled mechanism that makes use of multiple adjusting points within the helmet. This allows for an easy to operate custom fit and tension that keep the helmet secure and comfortable no matter the ride conditions.

Key Features
  • 24 Ventilation Vents
  • In-Mold Polycarbonate Shell
  • Built-In Visor
  • 12 Available Colors/Designs
Specification
  • Brand Giro
  • Model 20-HE-COLSIZE
  • Weight 10.5 Ounces

Next up we’re going to take a look at an offering from another manufacturer with a very well regarded reputation for producing quality helmets. Fox MTB Helmets are well regarded especially by pro mountain bike riders, and you will see a lot of them at races wearing Fox manufactured equipment including helmets.

This is more of an everyday use design from Fox, missing the full-face protection that you would see on a racing helmet. As far as everyday wear goes however there is a high level of protection provided by this helmet. In particular this helmet has a very deep rear profile, providing more protection to the back of the skull than you will find on many contemporary Half Shell styles of design.

Key Features
  • Ratchet Retention System
  • Extra Deep Rear Profile
  • 20 Ventilation Ports
  • Removable Visor
Specification
  • Brand Fox
  • Model 20021
  • Weight 12.6 Ounces

Smith Optics is a manufacturer better known for making snowboarding and skiing visors, glasses and helmets. What they have done here though is to take that knowledge and put it use in designing a pretty unique looking mountain biking helmet.

The key stand out feature that makes this helmet different is the Koroyd Tube Insulation used inside the helmet. These are tiny polymer tubes that provide the internal insulation and shock absorption – and they are very good at it too! Smith Optics calculate that they absorb up to 30% more impact energy than traditional EPS. That is very impressive!

Key Features
  • Koroyd Tube Insulation
  • Very Light Weight
  • Removable Visor
  • 11 Color Designs
Specification
  • Brand Smith Optics
  • Model Smith
  • Weight 10 Ounces

Giro are back already with another helmet, this time featuring MIPS. This is a safety feature not found on all helmets, and is frankly one that some manufacturers are not convinced of. That being said, other helmet makers think it is an important safety feature and Giro is definitely one that falls into that camp.

MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. This means that an internal plastic liner is mounted inside the helmet where it sits close to your scalp. This provides a few millimeters of additional movement during a crash, which can help to protect against rotational brain injuries during an impact.

Key Features
  • Built in MIPS
  • In-Mold Polycarbonate Shell
  • 16 Ventilation Ports
  • 14 Colors/Designs Available
Specification
  • Brand Giro
  • Model Montaro
  • Weight 14 Ounces

This is the first Bell bike helmet to make the list, and is also our first full-face helmet to make our list. This style of helmet is designed to provide maximum protection to all parts of the skull, especially the jaw and face.

Because of that full protection, these styles of helmets are much heavier than a Half Shell design. Bell have worked hard though to keep weight down, and with a total weight of 33.5 ounces, this is a helmet that provides excellent protection at a lower weight than many similar sized contemporary designs.

Key Features
  • Full Face Design
  • Hand Laminated Fiberglass Shell
  • 15 Vents
  • Available in 18 Designs/Colors
Specification
  • Brand Bell
  • Model Sanction
  • Weight 33.5 Ounces

Lets take a look at the second Fox MTB helmet to make our list. Again, as you would expect from Fox this is a helmet very much designed with mountain biking in mind. This helmet is designed to provide a little more protection than the one we looked at previously from this manufacturer though, being a good middle ground between a lighter half shell and heavier full face helmet.

The big stand out is the Varizorb Multi-Density Impact Protection system. This use EPS foam insulation of varied densities, providing extra impact protection exactly where it is most needed. This has resulted in a slightly thicker EPS layer within the helmet. This could have made the helmet a bit hotter in use, but Fox have fought back against this by incorporating 10 extra deep ventilation ports.

Key Features
  • Extra Rear Coverage
  • 10 Extra Large Vents
  • Varizorb Multi-Density Impact Protection
  • Available in 12 Colors/Designs
Specification
  • Brand Fox
  • Model Metah Solids
  • Weight 9 Ounces

Troy Lee Designs are the designer and manufacturer of this next cycle helmet that we’ll take a look at. It is certainly a very eye catching design, but this model is also packing a number of high-grade features.

First to note is that this model is the second style of mountain bike helmet to deploy MIPS in the design. As we discussed with the Giro model earlier (and we’ll get into more in our buying guide below) MIPS is not for everyone – but if it is something you are interested in, it is certainly deployed very well in this design here.

Key Features
  • Equipped with MIPS
  • High Spec Impact Liner
  • Huge Vent Ports
  • Available in 19 Colors/Designs
Specification
  • Brand Troy Lee
  • Model 2
  • Weight 10 Ounces

Another entry from Bell, and this bicycle helmet is very clearly designed with safety at the very forefront. As another full-face design, it is of course designed to provide maximum impact protection to as much of the head as possible.

More so than just the overall shape of the helmet though there are a number of excellent features to be found here. Bell have opted for a fusion in-mold polycarbonate shell here. This is designed to provide an excellent level of impact protection whilst keeping weight manageable.

Key Features
  • MIPS Equipped
  • Built in Goggle Guide
  • In-Mold Polycarbonate Shell
  • 33 Venting Ports
  • 17 Colors/Designs
Specification
  • Brand Bell
  • Model Super 3R
  • Weight 40 Ounces

This is another really cool bike helmet from Smith Optics. Just as we saw with the previous Smith Optics helmet design, this model comes with a Koroyd internal tubing style liner. Once again, this makes for a very high quality liner that provides excellent levels of rider ventilation.

EPS foam has been used in the internal liner of this helmet for impact protection. Smith Optics have chosen to go for a zonal impact protection system, designed to offer better protection where and when it is needed most.

Key Features
  • In-Mold Aerocore Shell
  • EPS Liner
  • 18 Ventilation Ports
  • Integrated Visor
Specification
  • Brand Smith Optics
  • Model Rover
  • Weight 9 Ounces

We’ll finish up our list with this beast of a helmet from Giro. This is another full-face style of helmet and it is also equipped with MIPS. So if you are looking for a very high-grade helmet with a top level of protective performance, this could be the one for you.

It’s also very nice to see that the chin bar can be removed. For us, that is a very impressive design feature. You can keep the chin bar in place for a full-face level of protection. But then you can remove it and take it away, increasing the ventilation and airflow to help keep the rider cool.

Key Features
  • Full Face Design
  • In-Mold Construction
  • 20 Vent Ports
  • Removable Chin Bar
  • MIPS Equipped
Specification
  • Brand Giro
  • Model Switchblade
  • Weight 38 Ounces

Best Mountain Bike Helmet Buying Guide

In our buying guide, we’ll take you through the features that you should keep an eye out for when picking out the best mountain bike helmet for you. After that, we’ll take a look at how best to use your new helmet and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about this extremely useful product.

What to Look for in a Bike Helmet

  • Liner

The material inside the helmet, the liner, is perhaps the most important component in any helmet design. It is the shock absorber, which will absorb the energy of an impact and help to protect your skull and brain. EPS is the most widely used material since it is tough but also very light.

  • Vents

Vents help to keep you cool when riding by allowing cool air to enter the front and hot air to be released via rear exhaust vents. If you ride in hot conditions, or if you know you get hot when riding, look for a helmet design with plenty of venting.

  • Retention Device

Most helmets these days have a retention device of some kind. At it’s most basic it’s a simple band with a dial attached. Turn the dial to increase the tension and create a tighter fit.

  • Weight

Pay attention to the weight of the helmet. Whatever it weighs will be sat on your head potentially for hours. A helmet that is too heavy and uncomfortable can ruin a long bike ride.

mtb helmets

Why You Should use a Mountain Bike Helmet

You should use a helmet when riding a bicycle to protect your head from injury should you fall off the bike.

A mountain bike helmet is a design of helmet that typically provides a higher degree of protection than a smaller road bike helmet. It can, as we’ll see below, offer a level of protection all the way up to a full-face helmet, though that is not necessary in most cases.

Bottom line, cycling is a generally very safe hobby. But if the worst should happen, a quality cycle helmet can provide very important protection to one of the most vulnerable parts of your body.

Types of MTB Helmet

As you will have seen on our list above, whilst there can be some variation in helmet design and even in the materials used, the most glaring difference is between the overall size of the helmet.

The basically come in two types, a Full Face which looks like a motorbike helmet, and a Half Shell which is a more traditionally bicycle style helmet.

Half Shell

The half shell has no face protection at all. It sits on top of the head, and in some designs can also extend quite far down the back of the head for added protection in a rear impact. This style of helmet does not offer the same level of all over protection seen in a full face helmet, making it unsuitable for more dangerous mountain biking such as racing or down hill courses.

On the other hand, it is much lighter and has better ventilation. That makes it ideal for riding on the road or on flatter off road courses where rider comfort is more important than high level impact protection.

Full Face

This style of helmet provides the highest levels of protection. It wraps all the way around the face to protect the jaw and all sections of the skull. Because of this, it is heavier and less comfortable to wear than a half shell design.

The full face is perfect for high-risk riding then such as racing down hill or traversing high skill level off road courses. It is less suited for a leisurely ride on a quiet Sunday road or a sightseeing trip through the countryside!

Best Mountain Bike Helmet FAQ:

Got a question about mountain bike helmets? Read on to find the answer here!

Q: What is MIPS and why is it important?

We saw several models of mountain bike helmet above that include MIPS. We mentioned it in our reviews, but just to clarify MIPS stands for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System. It is an additional layer, made of light plastic, which sits inside the helmet and directly against your scalp. This layer provides a few millimeters of movement at the very moment of an impact. This, it is claimed, can help to reduce the chances of a rotational brain injury. As we mentioned, not all manufacturers are on board with the effectiveness of MIPS, which is why you won’t find it on every model of helmet. Young trial biker with bicycle standing on cliff

Q: How do I choose the correct size?

It’s actually quite easy, though you do need to know the size of your head. This is, strangely, not a measurement that everyone knows, but luckily it’s easy to find that out too. You need to get a fabric or tape measure, one that can wrap around your head. Place it at the widest point of your head, which is usually about one inch above your eyebrows. Measure it and write it down – that is the size of your head! Then just bring up the helmet size chart of the manufacturer of the helmet that you are interested in buying. Compare your head size in inches to the size chart and that will indicate which helmet size is best suited for you.

Q: How often should I replace my bicycle helmet?

This is a difficult question to answer, since even the helmet manufacturers themselves are not able to give a straight answer! Bell, for example, suggest that a helmet should be replaced every three years. MET, a premium Italian manufacturer on the other hand state that their helmets are fine for up seven years of wear. At the end of the day, it’s up to you. If the helmet is beginning to look a little tired, if the straps are fraying then it may be time for a replacement. The only exception here is after the helmet has received an impact. Whether this is dropping the helmet onto the floor or an impact during an accident, the lining of the helmet, especially if it is EPS, is only designed to go through one impact. So after a drop or if you fall off your bike and hit the helmet then you must replace it immediately.

Our Top Pick

How do you improve on a classic? Well, you get your designers to reduce 40% of the weight without losing any of the strength and protection and there you have it – a new classic!

That is exactly what Giro has done with their Hex range of mountain bike helmets. This helmet is designed to provide excellent strength and protection whilst also providing plenty of venting to keep you cool. Add in the excellent built-in tension and fit adjusters that are easy to use but also effective and you have a very well designed and very practical helmet here.

It is only a Half Shell design, so is not suitable for more extreme off road biking, particularly racing and downhill riding. But for normal, every day use it provides an excellent combination of comfort and protection.

That’s why the Giro Hex is the best all round mountain bike helmet on our list today.

Sources:

  1. 15 Benefits of Cycling – CyclingWeekly
  2. My Bike Helmet Saved My Life! – Bike Helmet Blog
  3. Mountain Bike Performance Accessories – HowStuffWorks

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