The best mountain bike helmets ridden and rated
Helmets are a mandatory piece of kit on the trail. Here’s your guide to finding the best mountain bike helmet including what to look for and links to all our favourites.
Hitting the trails, you don’t want to second-guess whether or not your mountain bike helmet is going to protect you if things go pear shaped. Thankfully, modern open face lids have kept pace with how the latest bikes allow riders to go faster and harder than ever, and the best examples are just as cool and comfortable as ever too.
Extra protection is always welcome, but not many riders want a stuffy full face on all the time, so it’s unsurprising half shell helmets with more coverage have become the staple shape. With deeper shells, these helmets offer way more protection above the ears and down to the nape of the neck, but also maintain the ventilation needed during hard exertion, so are suitable for any kind of riding.
Essentially, by reaching down lower, there’s more hard shell, (and whatever inner liner each brand uses to absorb impacts), between your head and whatever you point it at. It also means, in terms of fit, helmets feel more secure and stable than they used to be and less likely to ride up and expose the forehead or neck like older XC style lids.
As trail and enduro helmets have evolved they’ve picked up more specific features along the way too. Some brands share usage of protection technologies like MIPS that aims to reduce rotational impact forces by twisting a fraction in a crash, while others use their own proprietary technologies for a similar safety boost. Strap grippers and clips now help secure enduro essentials like goggles, with plenty modern helmets even geared up to stash them under the visor. P.O.V cam and night light mounts are also offered by some manufacturers and can be useful features for those that need them.
How to find your helmet size
Get hold of a fabric or paper tape measure if possible. If you don’t have one, don’t try and wrap a metal tape measure around your noggin, it doesn’t work – believe us. In the absence of a fabric/paper tape measure, find some string and wrap that around your head and note its length.
Whereabouts to measure around your head? Essentially around the widest (biggest circumference) part of your head. Around your forehead and around the most prominent bit of the back of your head. Note down the measurement in centimetres. All helmets have size ranges and with your head measured it’s then easy enough to find which sizing has your head size covered.
How often should you replace a helmet?
You should replace a helmet after any slightly significant impact or crash. A lot of helmet companies offer crash replacement schemes so it’s worth checking out their websites for info about such things.
In terms of general lifespan, it’s typically advised that you should think about replacing your helmet every two to three years. Some companies in the past have stated a longer term than this but we’d feel a bit iffy using a helmet that’s had more than three years proper trail riding use. General wear and tear as well as things like UV degradation can have negative affects on the performance and reliability of your helmet.
The best mountain bike helmets
With each product is a ‘Buy Now’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.
Scroll down past the reviews to read what makes a good mountain bike helmet.
Endura MT500 mountain bike helmet
The price is a little bit high, but in return you get a well ventilated helmet that is lightweight and has been tailored carefully to trail riding. Impact protection has been bolstered, too.
Giro Switchblade mountain bike helmet
This 2-for-1 helmet lets you remove the chinbar, which means it can be worn open or as a full face lid. Yes, it’s pricey – but it ticks two boxes with one purchase.
UK buy now: Giro Switchblade at Wiggle from £199.98
USA buy now: Giro Switchblade at JensonUSA for $250
Bell Super 3.0 MIPS mountain bike helmet
The Bell Super 2 got a test-winning score when we put it through its paces. The Bell Super 3 enjoys some revisions – and smashed it out the park with a 10/10.
UK buy now: Bell Super 3 MIPs at Cyclestore for £89
USA buy now: Bell Super 3.0 MIPS at Cyclestore for $127.59
Bontrager Rally mountain bike helmet
This helmet represents excellent value for money. Coming in at £80, the build quality is excellent. It does tip the scales at 400g, making it a little bit heavy – plus the internal vents create some pretty special helmet hair.
Giro Montara mountain bike helmet
A top-quality option with plenty of protection and bucket loads of trail friendly features. The helmet has been designed around a MIPS layer – and it does come up a bit tighter than others in the Giro range, so try before you buy.
USA buy now: Giro Montara helmet at Tweeks Cycles for $179.54
UK buy now: Giro Montara MIPs at Tredz for £69
Troy Lee Designs A2 mountain bike helmet
The outgoing A1 had issues with breathability, but this has been solved with the A2 which has massive air vents – which are 25 per cent larger. That makes the Troy Lee Designs A2 an awesome option from one of mountain biking’s coolest brands.
Bluegrass Goldeneyes mountain bike helmet
Aesthetics could be a concern, when we tested this one we had a couple of comments on the shape. Plus some of the unprotected polystyrene around the rim can be prone to damage over time. This said, the Golden Eyes is stable, comfortable and it gets a thumbs up when it comes to ventilation too.
Smith Optics Forefront mountain bike helmet
The Smith Optics Forefront boasts trickle-down technology at a price which – though high – is a little more affordable than others in the range. It’s made using a honeycomb structure which is built around short plastic tubes – with a carbon veneer binding the two outer shell halves. We’re not 100% it’ll hold well again the UK gloop – but adjustability, comfort and breathability are all class acts.
Giro Chronicle mountain bike helmet
The Chronicle features a total of fourteen vents but we still found it ran a little bit hot, though it’s loaded with protection and we found the fit spot on. A perfect companion for harder trail riding.
UK buy now: Giro Chronicle at Evans Cycles from £71.99
USA buy now: Giro Chronicle at Cyclestore for $126
Fox Proframe mountain bike helmet
Breathability means you can pedal without overheating, it’s lightweight and doesn’t restrict movement and offers greater protection than an open-face trail helmet. This one will suit days in the bike park as well as full-on rides in the alps.
UK buy now: Fox Proframe at wiggle for £225.00
USA buy now: Fox Proframe at JensonUSA for $249.95
MET Parachute mountain bike helmet
The greater protection means this one does get a little hotter inside when compared to an open trail helmet. However, you can remove the Dualgel brow pad and slacken the retention dial and almost forget it’s there.
UK buy now: MET Parachute at Tredz for £179
USA buy now: MET Parachute at Wiggle from $188
Bell 4Forty MIPS mountain bike helmet
An excellent quality helmet that’s lighter than the move expensive Sixer model. We found it stable in use and super snug.
Key features of mountain bike helmets
All bike helmets sold in the UK need certification. This means helmets must meet certain fixed test criteria like impact velocities, roll-off tests, and strap system strengths. This is a minimum and many modern helmets surpass these requirements by incorporating composite materials into sub frames or “roll cages” for extra protection.
Crash replacement schemes
If your helmet is involved in an accident, most manufacturers offer a reduced price crash replacement scheme. With proof of original purchase, these programmes can save you up to 50% on an expensive replacement lid.
In-Mold construction describes how the impact-absorbing foam EPS liner is “fused” to the exterior shell in the manufacturing stage. It means helmets can be made lighter and stronger, yet still have more venting than traditional methods.
Expanded Polystyrene is used as standard for impact protection in the liner, with more expensive helmets also incorporating variable density technologies and implants such as Kevlar or Aramid webbing for extra puncture protection. Exposed EPS is easily damaged, so fully hardshell wrapped lids should last longer.
The aim of a Multi-directional Impact Protection System is to reduce the violence of rotational impacts. The design uses a second internal plastic liner close to the scalp to slide over the inner shell for a few millimetres at the moment of impact to reduce rotational brain injuries. (Bell has now incorporated this liner directly into its fit system). Not all brands fully buy into the system’s protection claims, however, and MIPS helmets can run warmer than the same models without the technology.
Internal padding thickness and density has a significant effect on sweat absorption, as well as overall comfort. Helmets with thicker pads may run a little hotter, but can dribble less sweat, and be ‘squeezed dry’ by pressing into the skull. Pads need to be well placed to relieve pressure, durable and easy to remove and wash too to stop helmets from stinking over time.
All the tensioning devices here use a variant of a rotating dial that incrementally tightens an internal headband. Most of these take the form of overlapping plastic webbing although Kali use a thin wire ‘boa’ thread system. Look out for small ratchet increments to get precise tensioning and for a range of cradle height adjustment options for perfect positioning on the brow and ears. Long haired or ponytailed riders might need to check compatibility too.
EPS can dent easily, so to increase durability it’s protected by a thin micro-shell. This is made from plastic, making it lightweight, easy to mould and available in a wide range of colours.
Typical EPS liners have excellent insulation properties, so helmets use cooling vents, rear exhaust ports and a combination of internal shaping to encourage air flow to reduce heat build up. One helmet uses a technology called Koroyd, which looks like a bundle of short plastic tubes perpendicular to the head. These ‘tubes’ collapse along their length if impacted and also channel heat build up away from the head effectively.
Peaks provide shade and keep stuff out of your eyes, but need to be out of your line of vision riding as it can be very distracting. If you wear goggles, check whether they fit underneath, as it’s often the easiest place to stash them when climbing. Peaks that can twist independently on each side can end up wonky – something riders can’t spot themselves.
On some helmets the visor can be adjusted so far up that you can park your goggles underneath. This allows you to push them out of the way on a climb and pull them back down again for the descent.
To add extra protection in this vulnerable area, the shell often wraps under the bottom of the helmet.