Best Mountain Bike Helmets

Updated January 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.

30 Models Considered
10 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
60 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 mountain bike helmets

While your skull is usually sufficient to protect your delicate brain from injury, there are some sporting activities in which a mishap could easily lead to a potentially life-threatening head injury. Mountain biking, with its adrenaline-pumping swerves, jumps, skids, and speeds, is definitely one such sport. While you should wear a helmet even to ride your bicycle down a paved bike path, if you’re taking to rugged trails to get your two-wheeled thrills, you need to wear a head covering that goes beyond the protection offered by a regular bike helmet: you need a mountain bike helmet.

Because there are a lot of options when it comes to buying a helmet, we’ve simplified matters by combing through the information for you and presenting it in this guide. We’ve included the most important factors to consider before pulling out your wallet, as well as a few of our favorites. Before you head off the road on your mountain bike, read on. And then take the necessary steps to protect your head with the right mountain bike helmet.

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Mountain biking is thrilling, but it can also be dangerous. Protect your head with a properly fitting helmet.

Key considerations

Helmets 101

At the most basic level, a mountain bike helmet shares many characteristics with helmets made for other noggin-endangering sports, such as horseback riding, skateboarding, road biking, or rock climbing. All sporting helmets consist of a hard plastic shell, typically vented to allow airflow, and a cushioned inner layer made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, the same material used to make foam coolers. Lightweight EPS foam works very well to partly absorb and partly distribute the force created during any type of impact, force that otherwise would channel directly to your head and potentially cause injury as the soft tissue of your brain bangs against the hard bone of your skull.

In lower-priced mountain bike helmets, the plastic shell and the EPS liner are simply glued together. In higher-end helmets, the shell and liner are molded together, creating a more protective helmet that also makes it easier to see any helmet damage after an accident.

Type

There are three basic types of mountain bike helmet, and each offers a different level of protection. Your choice comes down to the type of terrain you generally ride on.

Cross-country: These helmets, often called XC helmets, look similar to regular road biking helmets, but they are a little thicker all around, particularly in the back. XC helmets cover the forehead, top, and back of the head, and the sides down to the tops of the ears. These helmets are a good choice if you like riding on fairly tame trails, with nothing too technical, fast, or downhill.

Enduro: These mountain bike races take place on rugged or technical trails. The contestants are timed on downhill portions of the race, but not on the uphill climbs. Enduro riding is generally fast, steep, and aggressive, so helmets specifically designed for this type of mountain biking provide even more protection to the entire skull, especially at the back of the head. Enduro helmets cover the same parts of the head as XC helmets.

Full-face: These helmets offer the most protection of any bicycling helmet. They have a lower face guard, making them look something like a football or traditional motorcycle helmet. They also generally come farther forward over the front of the head than XC or enduro helmets for the most protection possible. Mountain bikers who tackle the steepest downhill rides typically wear full-face helmets, but many enduro riders prefer them as well.

Dyk1 
Did You Know?
Wearing a liner underneath your helmet absorbs sweat, prevents rubbing, and increases your comfort.
Staff
BestReviews

Features

Weight

Mountain bike helmets generally weigh a little more than road bike helmets, but they are still light enough for comfortable wear. The lightest weigh less than a pound, the heaviest might be a pound and a half, and most fall somewhere in between. Expect to pay more for a very lightweight helmet.

Ventilation

A plastic helmet filled with foam is undeniably hot, and a head drenched in sweat isn’t a comfortable way to ride. Like road bike helmets, mountain bike helmets have vents for airflow, allowing cooling breezes to reach your head and dry any sweat. Vents also lighten the overall weight of the helmet. XC helmets typically have the most ventilation, while enduro and full-face helmets have the least, but you’ll find a great deal of variation between brands. If you tend to overheat easily, it pays to shop around for a helmet that offers the most ventilation.

Comfort

You don’t want your ride to be ruined by a helmet that squeezes, pinches, or slides, so a comfortable fit is crucial. Luckily, most quality mountain bike helmets have an adjuster in the back that lets the rider slightly tighten or loosen the helmet’s fit. And while all helmets are cushioned, the best helmets have a little extra plush over the foam to prevent skin irritation or rubbing. Some even have removable, washable pads to absorb sweat.

Size

Many brands of mountain bike helmet come in just one size, but they allow the wearer to slightly adjust the fit to their own head. But there are also brands that offer small, medium, large, and even extra-large helmets, based on the circumference of the head measured an inch or so above the eyebrows. While the exact measurements vary from brand to brand, typical measurements include the following:

  • Small:  20 to 22 inches
  • Medium: 22 to 23.25 inches
  • Large: 23.25 to 24.75 inches
  • Extra-large: 24.75 inches and more

Gender

While most mountain bike helmets are unisex, there are some marketed specifically to women. Along with a wider range of colors, these helmets often come in smaller sizes and weigh a bit less than unisex helmets. Many have an opening for a ponytail, which is a nice feature if you have long hair.

Safety

While every bike helmet helps protect your head, many mountain bike helmets go further by including a Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS). Basically, MIPS means there’s a low-friction layer between the helmet’s hard shell and inner foam. During impact, the outer shell very slightly shifts to reduce the force transmitted to the skull and brain.

Other features

There are a variety of extra features offered on mountain bike helmets. The following are the most common.

Visor: Many helmets have a visor to block out rain or sun glare while offering a bit more protection to your upper head. Some visors are fixed in place, but most let you push the visor up and out of the way when desired.

Camera mount: Many mountain bikers want to capture the excitement of their rides with an action camera. Some helmets have an attached mount to firmly hold the camera in place even during the most rugged ride.

Goggle compatibility: Many riders like to wear goggles to protect their eyes from dust, pebbles, and twigs. Some helmets make this easier by including straps at the rear of the helmet to keep goggles firmly in place while riding.

All mountain bike helmets are required to meet consumer safety standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials, the U.S. Product Safety Commission, or the Snell Foundation.

Staff
BestReviews

Mountain bike helmet prices

While a good mountain bike helmet isn’t cheap, it’s a bargain compared to the cost of a head injury.

Inexpensive: Below $100, you’ll mostly find helmets suited for XC riding, not extreme trails. These helmets usually have no visor or a fixed visor, and they might be heavier than pricier options.

Midrange: Between $100 and $200 is the sweet spot for most riders. At this price, you’ll find a wide range of options for all types of mountain biking, including extra features such as an adjustable visor and camera mount.

Expensive: Above $200, you’ll find helmets with cutting-edge technology suited to the most extreme terrain and fully equipped with a nice selection of extra features.

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Did You Know?
Your helmet will last longer if you store it in a cool, dry place away from excessive heat and moisture.
Staff
BestReviews

Tips

Here’s how to find the best fit for your helmet.

  • Inner lining: This should cover the entire top, back, and sides of your skull.
  • Front: This should sit right above your eyebrows without blocking your vision.
  • Strap: When the strap is tightened, it should not move more than an inch in any direction. The strap should form a V around your ears but not rub against them. When adjusted, the strap should be snug, not painfully tight. The strap shouldn’t rub against your skin, itch, or cause irritation.
  • Tilt: A properly adjusted helmet sits straight on your head with no backward or forward tilt.
  • Tightness: The helmet should feel snug, but it shouldn’t hurt or give you a headache. To check the tightness, open your mouth. You should feel the inner foam press against the top of your head.
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You’ll find mountain bike helmets in a huge range of colors and patterns, so go ahead and choose whichever one you like best.

FAQ

Q. How long does a mountain bike helmet last?

A. There’s no definite answer to that question. It depends on how often you ride, how much you sweat, the weather conditions during your rides, and the type of terrain you cover. As a general rule, a mountain bike helmet lasts anywhere from a few to several years before the foam starts to break down, 

Q. Do I really need to buy a new helmet if I have an accident?

A. Yes, absolutely. Helmets are designed to absorb the impact of one significant crash, so if you hit your head during a wipeout, it’s time for a new helmet. Even if the helmet looks okay, there can be damage or fine cracks that aren’t easily visible but reduce the helmet’s protective capabilities.

Q. Do I legally have to wear a helmet to ride a mountain bike?

A. The majority of states require riders younger than 18 to wear a helmet when riding any type of bicycle, and many require adults to wear a helmet while riding a bike. But even if your state doesn’t require a helmet, wearing one is a good idea that just might save your life.

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