Best Football Helmets

Updated June 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

35 Models Considered
20 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
202 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best football helmets

As we learn more and more about the long-term effects of sports injuries, specifically traumatic injuries to the head, the science and technology behind safety equipment grow increasingly important. The survival of many of America's favorite pastimes will depend on how well we can protect ourselves and our children from the lasting damage that may occur while engaged in full-contact sports such as boxing, lacrosse, water polo, ice hockey, or mixed martial arts. Receiving the most scrutiny is football. And the piece of equipment in the brightest spotlight? The helmet.

There are many factors that go into determining which football helmet provides the best protection for you or your child. There are ongoing debates regarding almost every aspect that you will be considering, including the effectiveness of helmets in preventing concussions. Everyone has gnawing concerns and feels a little unqualified to choose because of the potential risk of injury.

BestReviews is here to help you choose the right football helmet. We can help you with everything from the parts of a helmet to the importance of proper fit so you can have the information you need to make an informed purchasing decision. When you’re ready to buy, check our top recommendations.

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There are many conflicting stories about the invention of the football helmet. One of the most colorful states that in the Army-Navy game of 1893, Admiral Joseph Mason Reeve invented the helmet out of his determination to play. He’d been hit in the head so many times that his doctor told him one more hard impact could lead to

Football helmet parts and features

Every aspect of a football helmet is designed with one thing in mind: protection. Each part of a helmet serves to defend the wearer in a very specific way.


The shell is the hard outer part of the helmet. It’s the barrier that takes the brunt of the impact in a collision and disperses that force so it’s less damaging to the wearer. Typically, the shell is made of a durable, impact-resistant plastic, but current thinking is heading in the direction of a more flexible shell that reduces acceleration in much the same way less rigid, energy-absorbing plastic car bumpers work.


The padding fills the space between the shell and the player's head. There are four basic types of padding used in the construction of football helmets.

  • Expanded polypropylene foam: This is a flexible, lightweight, impact-absorbing foam that typically covers the entire inner surface of the helmet. It offers multi-directional impact resistance, is water resistant, and can withstand multiple impacts.

  • Vinyl nitrile foam: This is a firmer foam that absorbs impact as it compresses. This material is extensively used in newer helmets for snow sports, but its effectiveness can diminish in warmer temperatures.

  • Soft foam: This foam is not as effective at absorbing force. It covers areas of the helmet that receive less impact and serves to aid in comfort and ensure a better fit.

  • Air bladders: These are inflatable padding that can serve as an additional layer of protection and aid in fitting. Air bladders only work when properly inflated to the individual player's head. Although air bladders are widely used, the medical community is still debating the effectiveness of this option in reducing injuries.


The facemask is designed to protect the most fragile areas of the face. A facemask may or may not be included with the helmet. Many manufacturers design facemasks to only fit specific helmets. If you’re purchasing a facemask separately, be sure it will fit your helmet. Facemasks are categorized in one of two ways: the area the facemask protects and the material used to construct the facemask.


  • Oral: This facemask offers unobstructed vision and is best suited for quarterbacks, defensive backs, wide receivers, and tight ends.

  • Oral and jaw: This facemask provides increased protection for the jaw while keeping the vision unobstructed. This helmet is an all-purpose solution, appropriate for most positions.

  • Oral and nose: This facemask adds a little more protection for the face. It’s a good choice for receivers and running backs.

  • Oral, jaw, and nose: Offering the most protection, this facemask is best suited for players who receive the hardest hits, such as linemen.


  • Carbon steel: This is the most common facemask material. It’s the least expensive but also the heaviest. This is the best option for a younger or casual player.

  • Stainless steel is lighter than carbon steel, but it is also a little more expensive. This type of facemask is recommended for the more serious player.

  • Titanium is both stronger and markedly lighter than the other two options. This is recommended for professionals. It is the most expensive facemask material.

Chin strap

The chin strap is the vital little cup that slips over your chin and holds the helmet on your head. It also helps protect your jaw, mouth, and teeth. The chin strap can be hard or soft.


Eyeshields (tinted or clear) are optional pieces of protection that slip into your facemask. Be sure the eyeshield you’re considering is compatible with your facemask and helmet. (Also check your league rules regarding wearing eyeshields.)

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Did you know?
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) is the result of repeated head impacts that can lead to structural changes in the brain. Symptoms may include memory loss, erratic behavior, impulsiveness, aggression, depression, and a gradual onset of dementia.

Adult vs. youth football helmets

Yes, adult helmets tend to be larger than youth helmets, but there is another distinction you should know.The outer shell of adult helmets is constructed of polycarbonate, while youth helmets are made of acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). Both are lightweight plastics designed to withstand impact, but polycarbonate is considerably stronger.

There are two concerns that stem from wearing the wrong helmet – even one that fits properly. If an adult wears a youth helmet, it won’t withstand the harsher impacts delivered by adults and therefore won’t provide adequate protection.

Conversely, a child wearing a polycarbonate helmet will be better protected, but he or she will also pose a greater risk to other players. The stronger material will act much like a battering ram when impacting against an ABS helmet and could cause serious injury in a helmet-to-helmet collision. Additionally, youth leagues prohibit the use of polycarbonate material.

"Helmets are invaluable at preventing structural damage to the skull in the event of a collision. However, since helmets can’t prevent the brain from moving around inside the skull, many experts argue that the headgear does little to protect against concussion. As a result, helmet manufacturers have started posting a disclaimer that states this information so everyone is well aware of the risks."

Football helmet prices

There are two major factors affecting the overall price of a helmet. The first is if the facemask is included. Helmets on the low end of the price range will generally come without a facemask. The second factor is knowing if it's a youth or adult helmet.

Youth helmets cost between $100 and $200.

Adult helmets cost between $200 and $600 or more.

Prices for facemasks range from $15 to $50 for carbon steel, $50 to $100 for stainless steel, to $120 and up for titanium.

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For your safety
Helmets don’t last forever – ten years at most. However, many will need to be replaced years sooner than that due to wear and tear.


  • Don’t store your helmet in direct sunlight. Football helmets are tough – they can withstand severe impact. However, they can’t endure prolonged exposure to the sun. Sunlight can deteriorate the pads in your helmet, so never store a football helmet in areas with direct sunlight.

  • Always check the manufacturer's website before decorating a helmet. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adding stickers or paint to your helmet may adversely affect its performance.

  • Don’t use a helmet that doesn’t fit. Don't make the mistake of purchasing a helmet that your child will "grow into" or using a hand-me-down that isn't the proper size. The injuries sustained from wearing an improperly fitting helmet could easily be severe enough to cause permanent damage.

  • Determine your correct helmet size. Starting an inch above the eyebrows, wrap a measuring tape around your head to find the circumference. Compare this number to the sizing chart from the helmet manufacturer to determine the proper size. When the helmet is fitted and positioned properly, there should be no space between your temple and the helmet or between your chin and the chinstrap. Also, the helmet should not obstruct your vision.
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The National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE), founded in 1969, is the independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to setting performance standards for athletic equipment. Any helmet you consider must be NOCSAE approved.


Q. At what age should a youth start wearing an adult helmet?

A. As a rule of thumb, somewhere in middle school is a good time to start considering moving up to an adult helmet. However, the league will probably make that decision for you. If your child is still playing in a youth league, a youth helmet may be required. High school football, on the other hand, will require an adult helmet.

Q. What's the best way to clean a football helmet?

A. Do not use anything harsh to clean your helmet. A mild dishwashing soap and a microfiber cloth dipped in warm water should be sufficient for the exterior. You need a little more on the inside, where it’s sweaty and bacteria can thrive. Thoroughly wipe the inside with a warm, soapy cloth, then clean the soap residue away with a warm, damp cloth. Spray the inside of the helmet with disinfectant and position it upright to dry.

Q. How much do helmets weigh?

A. Depending on the padding and the materials used, a helmet with a facemask and chin strap can weigh between three and five pounds.

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