The Best Ski and Snowboard Helmet Review
In need of a new ski helmet and overwhelmed with all the choices these days? Whether you're a first time buyer or an old hand in need of a new lid, there are myriad factors and considerations to take into account. Between the price, style, safety certifications, and features, and with so many helmets on the market, the choice can seem a bit daunting. In a range of conditions including snow, rain, high winds, sun and cold, we've tested nine of the industry's top helmets. We've provided thoughtful reviews and ratings on their fit, style, ventilation, goggle compatibility, weight, and warmth, to aid in your hunt for the perfect helmet. Keep reading to discover which contenders came out on top.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
For the second year in a row, the Smith Vantage won our Editors' Choice Award with their top of the line helmet. Solid, stylish, modern, innovative, and safety rated, the Vantage is perhaps the finest snow sports helmet on the market. Its easily adjustable Boa dial, adaptable ventilation system, and tight construction make it an easy choice for any die-hard skier. Although Smith isn't giving the Vantage away, if you're looking for a helmet that will perform in all conditions and environments, you'll find this well worth the price tag.
The Best Buy Award this year goes to the Giro Ledge for accomplishing good to great scores for an excellent price. Giro strikes that balance with the Ledge by creating a useful, simple, stylish ski helmet that is functional and affordable. Its contraction is solid and doesn't feel like they sacrificed quality for the price tag. It is also available with MIPS technology for an extra $20.
Fixed Open Vents
Limited Goggle Compatibility
The Smith Maze is likely the most functional and diverse helmet in our test group. Our testers found it performed really well in a multitude of conditions, from cold and snowy to warm and sunny, from sidestepping to distant terrain at the resort or strapping it to a pack for long backcountry tours. This helmet is stripped down and simple; it's got just enough features to be effective and user friendly without being busy and overbuilt. The Maze had a lot of competition during this review but came out on top for being an affordable, versatile, and most importantly, light weight lid for the all-around skier.
Tricky Size Adjustment
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Analysis and Test Results
Choosing a piece of equipment as important as a helmet can be a tall order, and these steps to understanding our review should help with the task. The perfect helmet is the one you'll wear all the time. Helmets are protective equipment, after all, and will do you no good if left sitting on the shelf. Find one that fits, doesn't cause pressure points, and is snug on your head. Do you run especially hot and need a lot of vents? Are you usually cold and looking for the warmest helmet on the market? Or does none of that matter as long as it matches your outfit?
Types of Ski and Snowboard Helmets
In our review we lumped together snowboard and ski helmets. Most design criteria, including protection and safety standards, are essentially the same for the two closely related sports. The primary difference is in style and aesthetics. These once distinct categories of accessories, as time goes on, are getting blurrier and blurrier. Even in terminology, we follow convention and refer to all gear to accompany and serve skiers and/or snowboarders as "ski gear." When we refer to "ski helmet," we mean a product designed and marketed for use on gravity powered, mechanized access, mainly resort based, skiing, snowboarding, and other similar sports.
This is the most common design, and all the products we tested fall into this category. Essentially, it covers only the hairy part of one's head. Ears and face are exposed.
Full shell designs are typically reserved for high speed alpine ski racing, and cover the entire head and ears of the wearer.
A full face design, just like it sounds, covers the head, ears, and wraps around the mouth and chin below the wearer's field of view.
Construction and design variations include the overall material composition, number, and arrangement of vents, adjustment system, goggle attachment, and fit shape and systems. Overall construction is one of two different types. Both can meet safety standards and be quite comfortable. They differ in weight, cost, style, and vent configuration.
"In-molded" models are the lightest and most expensive design. They can have more vents and can be made in more contoured shapes. An in-molded model consists of a thin polycarbonate shell (polycarbonate is a durable plastic with high impact resistance), filled uniformly and thoroughly with an expanded polystyrene (or EPS, which is a rigid and tough foam). In our test, the Smith Variance and Smith Vantage are in-molded products.
In an unfortunate twist of terminology, the other construction method is referred to as "injection molded." Injection molded models are less expensive, slightly heavier, and mainly come in more rounded, monolithic shapes. These products are made with a hard ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene - another tough and impact-resistant plastic) shell with EPS foam bonded to the inside. The Bern Team Baker represents the injection molded designs in our testing.
Regardless of which construction method was used, the manufacturer must equip the product with a fit system and retention harness. The fit system can be as simple as soft foam, or as elaborate as pulleyed cable and strap arrangements. These fit systems are used to hold the product in place and still under most conditions. The chin strap retention system will be looser, and should serve to keep it in place only in more violent falls. Read our Buying Advice article for a comprehensive discussion of fitting your snowboard or ski helmet.
MIPS technology is available in a number of the helmets we tested and seems to quickly becoming an industry standard in safety. MIPS, or Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, is an interior layer that floats freely and moves against the helmet itself. The idea is that in certain, rotational falls the helmet will slide on the MIPS layer, leaving the head stationary and thus absorbing some of the energy. A link to the MIPS website for more information and an educational video can be found here. If safety is your thing, then MIPS is another safety feature to think about when choosing your helmet.
Finally, various auxiliary features are nice. Every ski helmet should be readily compatible with the goggles you use. The shape of the forehead and cheek area, and the presence or absence of a clip on the back, dictate goggle compatibility. Many will wear a camera on their helmet. A few models come with a standard mount already in place. Additionally, many products on the market can be equipped with dedicated audio electronics. Speakers and microphones inside can allow for integration with music players and telephones. These audio kits are either included with purchase or available for aftermarket purchase.
Criteria for Evaluation
Fit and Comfort
Fit is obviously of utmost importance - without the proper fit a helmet will not be comfortable. The first step is to determine your size, and we'll walk you through the basic steps below (refer to our buying advice guide for a more detailed explanation). Sizes are divided on the traditional small, medium, large, etc. scale. Each manufacturer offers a sizing chart for their products, relying on the consumer to measure the circumference just above the ears. Next, after the relatively simple task of choosing the right size, by far the most important criteria is head shape and the molding of the product. The circumference of human heads can be lumped into three major head shapes: long oval, intermediate oval, round oval. We all have oval heads, but the degree of "oval-ness" varies from one individual to the next. To accommodate different head shapes, manufacturers make different models on different molds. Certain manufacturers are known for making designs that fit more oval heads, while others are better suited to heads on the rounder end of the continuum.
The Giro Zone has a typical long oval fit, while the Smith Variance fits round oval heads best, and took the cake in this category, scoring a near perfect 9 out of 10 (and the only 9) for comfort and fit. The Bern Team Baker best fits those in the middle of the spectrum, taking home a 4 in terms of comfort. Our Editors' Choice, the Smith Vantage, was the best helmet at fitting a multitude of different head shapes. Determine your own head shape by trying on a variety of models or by having a friend look straight down on your bare head. Our buying advice article elaborates even further on head shape. The Smith Maze, Giro Zone, POC Fornix, and Giro Ledge all scored an 8 out of 10, bringing home the bacon, ensuring that comfort was a top priority.
Helmets are, by and large, significantly warmer than wearing a hat or hood while skiing. If you haven't figured this out yet, its time to get on board! With a tight fitting goggle/helmet combo it's easy to feel completely protected from the blizzard raging outside. The main problem our testers found when faced with cold, snowy weather were with the helmets whose vents don't open and close. Vents are designed to create airflow through the helmet and when you can't close them the helmet can only be so warm. Another factor that plays significantly into warmth is how well the ear pieces hug the ear, and whether they can perform without being too tight and causing pain after hours on the hill. Lastly, there are some helmets that just aren't padded and insulated that well, making them not that warm.
The warmest helmet we tested was our Editor's Choice Smith Vantage. It has tensioned ear pieces, vents that close, and is nicely padded for a snug, warm fit. The Giro Zone and POC Fornix are configured so that most of their vents close, but a few are fixed open and our testers found them to be a touch drafty. The Smith Variance can be all sealed off to the weather but our testers found a little air leakage at their temples, regardless of which goggle they were using. Helmets with open vents we found to be a bit chillier, obviously, but most of the time – and especially with our award winning Smith Maze and Giro Ledge – it was easy to pull up a buff on cold days and stay pretty warm. The Anon Raider was the draftiest helmet we tested, scoring a 4 out of 10. Keep all this in mind when choosing a helmet and think about what kind of environment you're going to be doing most of your skiing/riding in.
If warmth is a helmet's ability to keep your head from getting cold, ventilation is just the opposite – it's the helmet's ability to cool you down. Ventilation for helmets comes in two flavors: vents, and the ability to remove the ear pieces. Vents that open and close clearly allow for the most amount of regulation, but having any vents at all will help pull air through the helmet and cool you off while you're cruising downhill. During the test we skied on warm spring days and found that not all vents are created equal. Some of the helmets we tested look like they'll vent well, but the configuration of the vents didn't actually work to create airflow. Additionally, some helmets are designed to have the ear pieces removed. This is a nice feature, but is hard to do on the fly and requires some planning ahead.
Every helmet we tested, with the exception of the Bern Team Baker, has vents, but only the Giro Zone, the Smith Vantage, Smith Variance, and the POC Fornix have the ability to open and close said vents. Removing the ear pieces of a helmet – which you can do on the on the Smith Maze, Giro Ledge, Bern Team Baker and Anon Raider – is nice on a hot spring day but is much harder to do then opening vents when you're out on the mountain. We found that the Smith Vantage vented the best among the group, but the Smith Variance, POC Fornix and Giro Zone were close runners up. For having only nine vents, the Smith Maze, our award winner for all around overall value, created airflow and vented well while skiing.
Weight and Bulk
All of the helmets we tested are safety rated, and there's no saying that a heavier, bulkier helmet means a safer helmet. In fact, there is an argument to be made that the more weight you're carrying on your head increases the chance of whiplash neck injuries during a crash. That said, finding a helmet that works for you and wearing it all the time is the safest option. In-molded helmets are usually lighter and lower profile, while injection-molded tend to be a bit heavier and bulkier. One aspect of each helmet that our reviewers took into consideration is how well they fit under the hood of a ski jacket. On the stormiest winter days it can be nice to pull a hood up over your helmet and have the zipper be able to zip all the way to the top of the jacket for full battle mode. Of course, this can depend not only on the helmet you choose but also the ski jacket you wear. See our Best Ski Jacket review for further counsel.
If weight is really important to you, keep an eye on the scores for each helmet in this category. The lightest helmet in our review was the Smith Maze, while the heaviest was the Anon Raider. We found that some of the slimmer helmets, such as the Giro Zone and Smith Vantage, performed slightly better under a hood than bulkier helmets such as the Anon Raider or the Giro Ledge.
The only thing more important than getting a helmet that fits is getting goggles that create a tight seal against the helmet. A combination that leaves a gap is going to create space for freezing air to blast against your forehead, and no surprise – that's the worst. The other aspect of this integration is the problem of having too little space between the bridge of the nose and the brim of the helmet, which can force the goggles down onto the nose, which is no good.
The Smith Vantage, Smith Maze and Giro Zone seem to fit the widest variety of goggles. They all managed to create a good goggle/helmet seal without compromising the space between the bridge of the nose and the brim of the helmet. They all also managed to create a good seal between goggle and helmet at the temples of the user.
Style, like fit, is crucial to your use of the helmet you purchase. If you don't like the way it looks, you might not end up wearing it, and that does no good at all! That said, style is an entirely subjective category so as long as you like the look of the helmet you choose, that's all that matters.
As we've mentioned above, the in-molded helmets tend to be a little sleeker in shape, like the Smith Vantage or the Giro Zone, while the injection-molded models have more of a classic, skate-inspired look, such as the Anon Raider or Giro Ledge. Many of these helmets come in an array of colors, making it easy to pair with your outfit on the slopes, and some come in two-tone, which can help match more outfits. We've never been a huge fan of visors as they complicate putting your goggles up onto the brim of your helmet, but through this test we found that to be less of an issue, especially if you're mindful of keeping the goggle strap relatively low on the sides of the helmet.
Choosing a helmet can seem like a daunting task, but if you start with the basics you probably won't go wrong – and the basics start with comfort. Find a helmet that fits your head; trying them on before you purchase is pretty crucial. Think about how important ventilation (or lack thereof) is to you, think about what pairs of goggles you own and which helmets might fit your needs. If you can fit these criteria and find a helmet in a style you like, you'll wear it a lot, which is the main idea. Read our individual helmet reviews to get a better idea about which helmet might meet your needs and refer to our buying advice for additional advice.
— Sam Piper
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