Starting your biking adventures is an exciting time, such an amazing time ahead of you. Having the right helmet will not only keep you safe but it might also allow you to relax, and enjoy riding just a bit more. We compiled a list of key factors to consider when buying a new mountain bike helmet, and we’ll give you some tips on helmets that we think are great!
The mountain biking community is booming. According to Forbes, mountain bike trails are in heavier use than ever. An increase of 100-500% could be seen in some parts of the United States between 2019 and 2020. Moreover, the interest in mountain biking can be seen all across the world, and according to the experts, the huge interest is here to stay.
But there is a downside to the increasing pull of the sport. With more inexperienced bikers in the mountains, unfortunately, more accidents happen. So to help you choose the right helmet for optimal safety and comfort we wanted to compose a guide for what features to consider and to give you some examples of helmets we like in each category.
Finding your type of helmet
First off, the biggest choice when it comes to bike helmets. Half-shell or full face. The main difference is of course the coverage, a half-shell covers the top and back of your head and generally stops just by your ear, while a full face continues down and comes together by your chin protecting the rest of your face as well. This added protection does however often come with added weight and in some cases less breathability and ventilation. Broadly speaking, a full-face helmet is used for mostly going downhill when extra protection is needed and less emphasis on breathability. While half-shell helmets are generally made for more easy-going trails where you might even do some climbing.
This is all, generally speaking, some people swear by their full-face helmets, whatever the activity, and some people zoom through rowdy trails wearing their half-shell. It is mostly a question about what you value more when riding.
Safety should be the aspect of buying a helmet you care most about. All other aspects should be secondary to keeping you protected. A helmet not keeping up to par with protection makes it useless. Look out for sturdy construction, good materials being used, and check for safety certifications.
The certifications you should be on the lookout for are “EN1078” the only mandatory European Standard which covers all bicycle helmets. “CPSC 1203” is the American counterpart to EN1078, and requires even greater impact protection! “ASTM F1952” is an American downhill helmet bicycle standard, if you are buying a full-face with this certification, the chin guard has passed a reflection test. “NTA8776” is a new Dutch standard for speed E-bikes/Pedelecs.
We all are a bit different. Your head will not be the same as someone else's, and your helmet should reflect your head to ensure the best possible fit. Wearing a helmet that is too big for you means that your head can move around inside the helmet or, having the helmet fall off in the event of a crash. This drastically reduces the effectiveness of wearing a helmet in the first place. A helmet can also be too small, digging into parts of your head making the helmet uncomfortable and unpleasant to wear. Your helmet should fit snugly, and the helmet shouldn’t be able to rotate in any direction. It should sit just above your eyebrows and not be tilted back or forward on your head.
The sizing of a helmet is measured from the diameter of your head. So, use a flexible measuring tape or a string to measure your head around the forehead. Then find the corresponding size of the helmet. Some manufacturers might use small, medium, and large tags but these will always be linked with a sizing chart, giving you the sizes in standardized units of measurement. Most helmets allow for a degree of adjustment but don’t rely on this to make a too big or small helmet fit. It’s better to get the sizing as close as possible, to begin with.
The next thing to consider is the weight of your helmet. A light helmet may feel better when riding than a heavy one might. Nowadays most helmets are reasonably light and buying an ultra-light helmet comes with a higher price point. As long as your helmet doesn’t feel like you have a bunch of bricks strapped to your head, you should be good.
On a similar note. The ventilation of one's helmet is something to look out for and consider when buying a helmet. Especially when you are looking at buying a full-face helmet, ventilation can be key in giving you the comfort of riding a whole day. Half-shells on the other hand, not so much. You will be able to breathe since your whole face won’t be covered. When considering ventilation, the amount of vents is the number one factor contributing to better airflow. Then there are a few extra considerations like material used and extra features that might disrupt the flow of air, but we’ll get into those in a bit.
Mountain Bike helmets have seen a great leap regarding integrated features. In the last few years, several new brands and integrated features have hit the market, all of them different but with the goal of solving a real-life problem. Some examples of these integrated features are:
twICEme, a technology integrated into equipment that allows you to upload safety information to your equipment via the twICEme app. Info such as medical ID, personal identifiers, ICE contacts, insurance details, and exact coordinates can easily be accessed by the first person on the scene in the event of an emergency, allowing for more efficient emergency response. All without the need for cell service or charging the equipment. twICEme is read by placing an NFC-enabled smartphone on the twICEme symbol.
RECCO is a piece of tech that makes you searchable on the mountain to help rescuers during search and rescue missions. The tech consists of a so-called reflector and is often integrated into equipment. As rescuers are looking for you, they use a special search beacon that is reflected on the tech in your equipment.
MIPS is built inside helmets to reduce the rotational force often seen in impacts against the head. The MIPS technology relies on a low-friction layer inside the helmet allowing the head a degree of rotation which in some cases can be the difference between life and death. MIPS can be integrated into a helmet together with Koroyd, allowing for improved safety.
Then we have additional features not tied to any specific brand. These can include crash sensors, breakaway visors, or convertible helmets that can go from a half-shell to a full face.
Putting it all together
Find the helmet type that suits your preferred style of riding. Going hard - choose a full-face helmet. Making those smooth turns and doing more climbing? A half-shell helmet will do!
Check that it adheres to the correct standards, this again depends on your style ASTM F1952 – 15 for downhill riding or NTA8776 for e-bikes for example. If you find a certification you don’t recognize, check what it entails!
What safety features to include? This depends on your riding style, riding patterns, and safety needs. Make sure you choose features that solve real-life problems and don’t hinder the riding experience. Make sure you choose a helmet that you want to wear. Nice design, well-ventilated, lightweight, or other nice-to-have features.
Helmets we recommend
We’ll start in the half-shell category. Our pick for the top half-shell helmet would be the POC Kortal Race MIPS
The Kortal Race MIPS was released earlier this year and boasted some of the best safety features on the market right now. The build itself gives the wearer more coverage around the temples and back of the head. It also features an array of integrated safety features. Like the previously mentioned twICEme, RECCO, and MIPS and also a breakaway visor that comes loose in the event of a crash.
Its listed weight is just over 400g which is no ultra-light nor is it a heavy helmet, it is perfectly fine, and quite good when you take into account the extra safety features. With 17 vents the helmet has plenty of ventilation. Since it has MIPS-Integra instead of the normal MIPS insert there shouldn’t be any interference with the ventilation. It adheres to the NTA8776 e-bike certification thanks to the improved safety coverage. Even if you are not going to use this with an e-bike, it is still a great sign that this helmet will protect you even during some of your most daring rides.
Some people find an issue with the fit that comes with the helmets' longer temple guards. They have an issue with the frame digging into the cheeks, leaving them uncomfortable after longer periods of use. We have not had an issue with this problem but it is something to have in mind. Also related to the unusual shape is that not all glasses are fully compatible with this helmet. Again some people find their glasses digging into their temples and have a hard time storing them on the helmet. there don’t seem to be any problems when using POCs’ own glasses, but again, something to keep in mind.
POC does also sell a version of this helmet without all the bells and whistles regarding safety. It is the cheaper option but you lose out on the integrated features. Though it still passes the NTA8776 e-bike certification. Our recommendation stays with the Kortal Race MIPS but if you think the extra safety features won’t be of use, go for the standard Kortal helmet.
In the full face category, our top pick goes to Daineses’ Linea 01
This helmet's main selling point is that it is incredibly light! At just 570g it even puts a few half-shell helmets to shame. As we said earlier, the weight of a helmet is not the most important aspect to look out for, but in this case, the weight is only in addition to the already impressive safety features they have packed into this thing. The Linea 01 also boasts an integrated chip from twICEme, lining from MIPS, and a breakaway visor. It adheres to all international standards including EN1078 as well as CPSC 1203 which is even more strict with its testing. It also has an unprecedented 29 (!) vents meaning next to optimal airflow for a full-face helmet.
So even with its incredibly light construction it still manages to be incredibly safe. This makes it a perfect buy for anyone that might both like going downhill where more protection is needed, as well as going uphill where you want something lighter and well ventilated.
We get that when you are starting mountain biking you don’t want to spend a fortune just while figuring things out, but of course, you still want to be safe. So our budget half-shell option comes in at half the price of the Kortal Race MIPS but still provides plenty of safety and extra features. The newly released Everest U Trail nfc MIPS is built like your typical modern half-shell helmet, it has a sleek, understated design. It gives plenty of protection to the back of your head and the sides it stops right above your temples. The visor protrudes right around 5,5cm which is a bit on the smaller side.
The U trail NFC MIPS has integrated both twICEme and MIPS for that extra ease of mind if you were to crash. While not as light as the Kortal Race MIPS it comes in at only 20g more with a total weight of 420g. It also gives above-average ventilation with its 15 vents. It adheres to the EN 1078 certification.
All of this for just around $120. That is incredible value for just a solid normal mountain bike helmet but this also has the additional smart safety features which you usually don’t see at this price point, giving you a lot of helmet for a small price.
The padding might be our biggest gripe with this helmet. In extended use, we find it can at times be kind of uncomfortable. The rest of this helmet has us in awe over the value it provides.
For a budget full-face helmet, our pick goes to Troy Lee Designs D3 Fiberlite. At $250 we are aware that cheaper helmets exist but we find that this finds a balance of both safety, price, and comfort.
The D3 Fiberlite is very comfortable. It has great padding all around making you feel safe and sound without any excessive pressure or chafing. It adheres to both EN 1078 and CPSC 1203 which is great!
This is though the heaviest helmet on our list, by far. At 1200 g this is in the upper echelon of what we would consider weight-vise when buying a helmet. We don’t think that this weight will hinder you though, but it might be noticeable, especially if you previously had been biking with a lighter helmet. The ventilation also leaves some room for improvement. While it does have 20 vents, most of the intake vets are covered by a mesh meaning subpar airflow.
You could spend more money to get a helmet with lighter weight and better ventilation but in our opinion, these things are not dealbreakers. We consider the D3 Fiberlite to be the best compromise in price and safety you can find in a full-face helmet.