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If there’s one single most important piece of mountain bike gear, it’s a helmet. You would never even consider riding your bike without wearing your helmet, right? Right.
The best mountain bike helmets are meticulously designed to protect your head and brain and even your face from injury in the event of a crash. Helmet technology has advanced massively over the past few years (perhaps you have heard of MIPS?) and gone are the days where we have to endure heavy buckets on our heads with little to no ventilation.
So really, there’s no excuse not to wear one or upgrade to a newer and safer model.
If you’re not sure where to start, I’ve got you covered. In this post, I’ve rounded up the best mountain bike helmets for 2023, so you can be sure you’re well-protected when you hit the trails.
Best Mountain Bike Helmets At A Glance
Types of Mountain Bike Helmets
Before I dive into the best mountain bike helmets, here’s a quick review of the three types of mountain bike helmets available:
- Half lid (‘normal’ helmet)
- Full face
A half-lid helmet is basically your normal or typical helmet. It protects the top and sides of your head to varying degrees depending on the make and model.
Most mountain bike half-lids will have a visor, but some cross-country styles will not.
Half lid helmet pros
Half lid helmet cons
A full face helmet has a sturdy chin par that provides protection to your face and pearly whites.
Full faces are common at bike parks, but you don’t really want to spend a lot of time pedaling in them.
Full face helmet pros
Full face helmet cons
A breakaway helmet is essentially two helmets in one. It has a removable chin bar that you can snap on for downhill days or remove for more pedaly rides.
You can also carry the chin bar strapped to your pack if you have a long climb ahead.
Breakaway helmet pros
Breakaway helmet cons
Best MTB Helmet Comparison Table
|1. Giro Manifest||Half lid||11.3 oz||19||$260|
|2. POC Kortal Race||Half lid||13.8 oz||17||$250|
|3. Smith Forefront 2||Half lid||14 oz||20||$250|
|4. Troy Lee Designs A3||Half lid||13.9 oz||16||$220+|
|5. Fox Dropframe Pro||Half lid||1 lb 10.5 oz||15||$210|
|6. MET Terranova||Half lid||11.8 oz||17||$159|
|7. Giro Fixture MIPS II||Half lid||11.5 oz||16||$70|
|8. Giro Merit Women’s||Half lid||12.7 oz||15||$220|
|9. Smith Mainline||Full face||1 lb 15.6 oz||21||$310|
|10. Bell Super DH||Breakaway||1 lb 15.6 oz||21||$350|
Best mountain bike helmets
1. Giro Manifest
Two Wheeled Wanderer Favorite
Where to shop
- Great for: Trail, enduro, cross-country
- What I like: Really comfortable, good ventilation, lightweight, one-hand magnetic chin strap release, great color choices
- What I don’t like: Expensive
A few seasons ago, I switched my helmet choice to the Giro Manifest Spherical helmet and it has quickly become my all-time favorite helmet.
It’s really comfortable and lightweight and features 19 large vents for amazing airflow. It also comes with quick-dry removable padding, integrated sunglasses grippers, and a magnetic chin buckle for easy one-handed clipping and unclipping.
Yes, it’s an investment at $260, but since buying mine, I haven’t looked back!
2. POC Kortal Race
Best Helmet For racers
Where to shop
- Great for: Enduro, racing
- What I like: Looks great, integrated NFC Medical ID chip stores medical info, RECCO reflector boosts signal for search and rescue teams
- What I don’t like: Doesn’t fit well for some people (like me)
I really love the look and design of the Swedish POC brand and I think they make some of the best mountain bike helmets around. That being said, I’ve tried several of their helmets and while I really want them to work, they just don’t fit well for me. I find that with my small head, the front of the helmet – even then small size – sits too low over the brow.
For many riders, though, the POC Kortal Race MIPS helmet fits great and is a top choice among racers. It has exceptional coverage and protection all around the head and it is MIPS certified to protect against rotational forces during a crash.
The Kortal Race MIPS is also designed to work with Twiceme Technology, which allows you to wirelessly connect your medical info so first responders can quickly gain access in case of an emergency.
If the $250 price tag is a bit high for you, the regular Kortal helmet is a great choice without all the bells and whistles.
3. Smith Forefront 2
Best Ventilated Helmet
Where to shop
- Great for: Trail, enduro, cross-country
- What I like: Beehive-like air channels provide excellent ventilation, great coverage especially at the back, lots of color choices
- What I don’t like: Not the lightest helmet out there, some women find that the MIPS liner and rear ratchet pull their hair
Another popular mountain bike helmet is the Smith Forefront 2. It’s one of the best-ventilated helmets out there thanks to the whopping 20 vents that help keep you cool on even the sweatiest of days.
Smith has designed internal tubular air structures that look like honeycomb to even further enhance ventilation and reduce overall weight (although it’s not the lightest helmet out there).
One thing to consider about this helmet, though, is that some women have noted that the MIPS liner for this helmet and the rear ratchet dial pulls on their hair. I briefly tried the Forefront on at an REI store and my hair did actually get caught, so it might be best for women with short cuts or men.
If you like the look of Smith’s tubular design but don’t want to shell out $250+ on a helmet, check out the Smith Session which is still MIPS-certified and a great entry-level choice.
4. Troy Lee Designs A3
Best Customizable mountain bike helmet
Where to shop
- Great for: Trail, enduro, cross-country, racing
- What I like: Aside from being a great all-around helmet, the A3 can be customized with lettering and paint
- What I don’t like: Very expensive to customize
Does the thought of having your name lettered across the back of your helmet tickle your fancy? Or maybe you want a custom paint job to match your custom bike frame.
With Troy Lee Design’s A3 mountain bike helmet, you can add these customizations and more. It’s definitely going to cost you some bucks, but everyone has their priorities, right?
Of course, you can opt for the non-customized Troy Lee Designs A3 helmet, which is a great choice for all riding styles. This is the helmet I use for bikepacking because it has great ventilation and the white color helps reflect the sun.
5. Fox Dropframe Pro
Most protective half-lid bike helmet
Where to shop
- Great for: Enduro, racing, technical riding, chargers
- What I like: As much coverage as you can get without wearing a full-face
- What I don’t like: Not versatile (ie you wouldn’t want to wear it for long cross-country rides), won’t get as much ventilation as other half-lids
If rowdy riding is your style, consider getting a mountain bike helmet with extra protection like the Fox Dropframe Pro.
This helmet is designed with added protection around the ears temples, and back of the head.
With the added protection does come with some drawbacks, though, mainly extra weight (it’s a good 10 oz heavier than most half-lids) and less ventilation.
But if speed and chunk are calling your name, it might be worth adding this style to your gear closet.
6. MET Terranova
Best for Cross-country riding
Where to shop
- Great for: Cross-country riding, e-bikes
- What I like: Low profile design, shorter visor, great colors, rated for e-bikes
- What I don’t like: Not as versatile as other helmets, limited US dealer network
For the cross-country-loving mountain bike crowd who don’t need the extra protection and coverage of other mountain bike helmets, the MET Terranova is a great option.
This low-profile helmet and streamlined and sleek yet is still MIPS certified and rated for e-bike use.
The shorter visor handles faster speeds and winds better than longer visors, and can easily be paired with your favorite shades.
7. Giro Fixture MIPS II
Best budget-friendly helmet
Where to shop
- Great for: Trail, enduro, entry-level riders
- What I like: Affordable, good ventilation
- What I don’t like: Only one size, which may mean less than optimal fit
If you’re just getting into mountain biking and you aren’t ready to drop a few hundred dollars on an expensive helmet, the Giro Fixture is a great choice.
It’s still MIPS certified (meaning it has the technology to help protect your head in the case you get tossed off your bike), but it doesn’t come with the price tag of other high-end helmets.
That being said, you do get what you pay for. This helmet won’t be as well-designed or have some of the nice features that other helmets on this list have like a fully wrapped shell to protect the foam underneath nor does it have multiple sizes to choose from to get a snug, secure fit.
8. Giro Merit Women’s
Best women’s mountain bike helmet
Where to shop
- Great for: Trail, enduro, women riders
- What I like: Really comfortable, good ventilation, lightweight, one-hand magnetic chin strap release
- What I don’t like: You don’t need a women’s-specific helmet
There’s really nothing different about women’s mountain bike helmets aside from maybe female colors.
But, if you like the idea of getting a women’s-specific lid, the Giro Merit is a good option. It’s basically the same as my favorite helmet – the Giro Manifest – which is really comfortable, provides good protection and comes it great color options.
9. Smith Mainline
Best full-face mountain bike helmet
Where to shop
- Great for: Bike parks, downhill riding, racing
- What I like: ASTM certified for downhill riding, good ventilation for a full face, comes with three pad kits for optimal fit
- What I don’t like: D-ring chin strap fastener provides better safety, but makes it harder to remove the helmet
If you ride – or plan on riding – bike parks often, it’s a good idea to get a full face helmet. I always wear a full face (see the Bell Super DH below) when I’m at the bike park or doing a particularly rowdy trail.
The Smith Mainline helmet is one of the best mountain bike helmets and a really popular choice among downhillers.
It’s ASTM certified for downhill racing, so you know it’s been tested rigorously for safety. It also comes with 3 pad kits so you can get a snug fit and it’s designed with Smith’s proprietary tubular vents for optimal airflow
10. Bell Super DH
Best helmet with removable chin bar
Where to shop
- Great for: Bike parks, downhill riding, people who only want one helmet for everyone
- What I like: ASTM certified for downhill riding, removable chin bar, versatile for all styles of riding, basically two helmets in one
- What I don’t like:
The Bell Super DH MIPS helmet was my go-to mountain bike helmet for many years. I would have stuck with this helmet, but Bell stopped selling the replacement pads for a while so I switched brands. (The replacement pads are back on their site, which is great).
The main feature I love about this helmet is the removable chin bar design. If you’re heading out for a mellow, pedally ride, you can wear it as a ‘normal’ half-lid helmet. If you want to take things up a notch on more challenging, technical downhill trails, you can snap on the chin bar to transform it into a full-face, full-protection helmet.
Because it’s essentially two helmets in one, the Bell Super DH makes traveling – whether on a road trip or abroad – a lot easier to pack for as well.
It also comes with two different pad thickness options for the chin bar to get a perfect fit.
Tips for choosing a mountain bike helmet
If you’ve shopped around online for a helmet or walked into a bike shop, you know that there are a lot of models and options out there. With so many brands to choose from and sleek styles vying for your attention, it can be overwhelming to make a decision on which helmet to get.
So to help you find the perfect lid, here are a few things to know before investing in a new mountain bike helmet.
Define your style of riding
Just like there are a variety of mountain bikes for different types of terrain, there are different mountain bike helmets for different styles of riding:
- Mountain bikers that do mostly long cross-country rides without much risk of high-stakes crashes will probably want a helmet that is lightweight and has tons of ventilation.
- Enduro or trail riders who enjoy riding a little bit of everything including techy rock gardens and drops will want a helmet that is a little more burly and provides lots of coverage and protection and has MIPS or a similar technology to disperse rotational forces.
- Mountain bikers who spend more of their time at the bike park doing downhill runs will need a full face helmet or at least one that has a removable chin bar
Measure your head
Choosing the right helmet size is the single more important factor when it comes to buying a helmet. Helmets that are too big will slip and slide around on your head and may even cause a crash if it slips down over your eyes.
On the other hand, helmets that are too small will sit too high on your head and not provide the protection where it’s needed.
Choose a helmet that is sized according to the circumference of your head.
To take this measurement, place a fabric tape measurer just above your ears and about 1″ above your eyebrows. Keep the tape level and measure around the largest part of your head.
This will give you a general measurement for helmet size. You can then make further micro-adjustments to the fit with a dial at the back of almost all mountain bike helmets (if a helmet doesn’t have this fit dial, I don’t recommend buying it).
Determine your budget
Mountain bike helmets cover a range of prices from less than $50 to well over $300. Most fall somewhere in the middle.
While I don’t recommend buying the cheapest helmet, you don’t need to shell out hundreds of dollars for the most expensive option either.
But that being said, a helmet can literally save your life, so consider this gear purchase one of the most important ones that you can make.
What to look for in a Mountain Bike Helmet
The best mountain bike helmets offer a range of features that help improve comfort and performance. Some of these features include:
Sunglasses or google compatibility
Many brands design their helmets to be compatible with specific sunglasses or goggles.
This doesn’t mean you can’t wear non-compatible eyewear with your helmet, but if you want a seamless fit or are worried about your sunglasses digging into your face, you may want to shop for both a helmet and sunglasses together.
Most visors on mountain bike helmets can be shifted up and down to shield your eyes from the sun.
Some brands make their visors even more adjustable by having set positions (usually 3 or 4) or even allowing you to completely remove the visor when it’s not needed.
Visors also differ in shape and size. Large visors tend to be more popular because they provide more protection against the sun and low-hanging branches.
Every mountain bike helmet is going to come with vents, but the number of vents and how they’re designed will differ between helmets and brands.
The Smith Forefront 2 is one of the best-ventilated helmets on this list. However, keep in mind that the more vents a helmet has, the less material it has to keep your brain protected.
Camera or accessory mounts
More and more helmets are being designed with integrated camera and/or accessory mounts on the visor or shell (Giro seems to be taking the lead on this). If you will be shooting lots of footage or you enjoy night riding and want a light mount on your helmet, this could be a feature to look into.
Removable chin bar
Helmets that have a removable chin bar are super convenient and versatile because they give you the option of having more protection while still allowing you to pedal the mellower stuff with a more comfortable half lid.
If you think you’ll be diving into some bike park riding or more challenging terrain, it could be a good idea to invest in a breakaway helmet like the Bell Super DH.
Mountain Bike helmet safety Ratings
All mountain bike helmets manufactured after 1999 are required to meet a bicycle helmet standard that was set to protect riders from skull fractures and brain injuries.
However, helmets are certified to protect users only from straight-on impacts, which doesn’t always happen on a bike.
Crashes often result in angled, or oblique, impacts. Therefore, many brands opt to design their helmets with even more protection with technology like MIPS.
MIPS stands for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System. It’s basically a low-friction liner inside the helmet that allows the helmet to rotate independently around your head. This is super beneficial during a crash occurring at an angle because the liner helps lessen the rotational forces transmitted through the helmet.
Some brands have created their own MIPS-like technology. For example, POC uses SPIN (Shearing Pad Inside) which fundamentally does the same thing as MIPS but instead of a liner, they use silicone pads.
Spherical Technology is a newer technology by MIPS. With MIPS Spherical, there are 2 layers of EPS foam with a slip-plane between the two instead of one single plastic MIPS liner.
These layers of foam rotate independently, like a ball and socket joint, and work together to redirect forces during impact. The Giro Manifest is designed with Spherical Technology.
Helmet material matters, too. Most helmets are made with an EPS (expanded polystyrene) or EPP (expanded Polypropylene) foam liner and a PC (polycarbonate) shell.
EPP is a bit stronger and more durable than EPS. Some helmets will also have other materials added for protection like carbon or a fiberglass shell.
When to replace your mountain bike helmet
If your helmet was made before 1999 when safety standards started to be required, it’s definitely time for a new one! Hopefully, you’re not riding around with one that is that old…
If you have a bad crash and your helmet gets damaged, that’s also a clear reason to get a new one.
As for replacing your helmet, there’s no set rule as to when you should upgrade your lid. Most helmets have a lifespan of 3-8 years, but it really depends on how often you use it, what abuse you put it through, whether it’s been sitting in hot or cold storage, and even how dated the technology is.
For example, is it MIPS certified? If anything looks questionable, it’s a good idea to err on the side of safety and invest in a new brain-saving helmet. I like to replace mine every 1-3 years.
There are a lot of different mountain bike helmets on the market these days and the best one will really depend on you and what you’re looking for. Take some time to think about what kind of riding you’re going to be doing the most, what features you need, what style you’re drawn to, and what your budget is.
There’s no one right answer when it comes to the best mountain bike helmet and there’s no one size fits all. Good luck with your search!
Ready to upgrade your gear? Check out these related gear posts:
What is the best mountain bike helmet you’ve owned? Why do you love it? Give us some tips and insights in the comments below!