The Best Ski and Snowboard Helmet Review

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Credit: Jediah Porter
Which ski helmet should you trust to protect your valuable noggin? Through many ski runs in weather ranging from sunny to freezing, we tested six of the best on the market evaluating for fit, comfort, weather protection, and style. In this review, we break down design, manufacturing, and certification, as well as the way they interact with heads of different shapes and work for those with different needs. We found a wide range of styles and functionality, and have compiled a full review below. Read on to learn more. Also reference our Buying Advice for more tips on how to select and fit a snowsports helmet.

Read the full review below >

Review by: ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab

Top Ranked Ski Helmets Displaying 1 - 5 of 6 << Previous | View All | Next >>
Our Ranking #1 #2 #3 #4 #5
Product Name
Smith Vantage
Smith Vantage
Read the Review
Smith Variance
Smith Variance
Read the Review
Bern Baker HardHat
Bern Baker HardHat
Read the Review
Giro Seam
Giro Seam
Read the Review
POC Receptor Bug
POC Receptor Bug
Read the Review
Editors' Awards  Editors' Choice Award    Best Buy Award     
Street Price Varies $132 - $220
Compare at 5 sellers
Varies $108 - $180
Compare at 5 sellers
Varies $60 - $80
Compare at 3 sellers
Varies $80 - $125
Compare at 5 sellers
Varies $70 - $84
Compare at 2 sellers
Overall Score 
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76
Editors' Rating
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User Rating Be the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate itBe the first to rate it
Pros Warm, vents well.Warm and well made.Inexpensive and stylish.Warm, with an oval fit.Skater style with ventilation.
Cons Expensive, round fit.Non-removable ear pieces.Bold look and no safety certifications.Non-removable ear pieces.Heavy, and expensive for an injection molded helmet.
Best Uses All-around ski resort use for the dedicated user.Cold climate riding.Occasional ski resort use.Cold and stormy ski resort use.Ski resort use.
Date Reviewed Mar 18, 2014Mar 18, 2014Mar 18, 2014Mar 18, 2014Mar 18, 2014
Weighted Scores Smith Vantage Smith Variance Bern Baker HardHat Giro Seam POC Receptor Bug
Comfort - 20%
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8
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6
Weight - 10%
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Warmth - 20%
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Ventilation - 15%
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Goggle Compatibility - 10%
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Style - 25%
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Product Specs Smith Vantage Smith Variance Bern Baker HardHat Giro Seam POC Receptor Bug
Certifications ASTM F 2040, CE EN 1077 Class B ASTM F 2040, CE EN 1077 Class B None ASTM 2040, CE EN 1077 Class B EN 1077-B, ASTM 2040
Number of Sizes S, M, L S, M, L S, M, L, XL, XXL S, M, L, XL XS, S, M, L, XL, XXL
Weight (size m) 1 lb 1 oz 1 lb 3 oz 1 lb 4 oz 1 lb 2 oz 1 lb 5 oz
Available colors White, Black, Green, Red and White, Black with Rasta flag, Orange, Black, and Purple Black, White, Black with Rasta flag, Tan, Dark Grey, Navy, Blue, Red Yellow, White, Black, and various combinations of black glossy, matte, and colored accents. White, Pewter Grey, Darker Grey, Red, Darker Red, Black, Black with various printed accents, Green, Purple, Blue. White, Red, Pink, Purple, Blue, Yellow, Orange, Green, Light Blue, Black
Adjustment System Boa Boa None Giro "In-Form" wheel fit system None
# of Vents? 21 18 0 13 8
Removable Ear Covers? Yes No` Yes No Yes
Goggle Attachment? Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Visor? Built in Yes Yes Yes Optional
Audio Compatibility? Skullcandy Aftermarket Skullcandy Aftermarket No Compatible with aftermarket TuneUps audio products Compatible with the aftermarket "Communication neck roll with Beats by Dr. Dre ®" speakers and microphone
Roundness Factor Round Oval Round Oval Intermediate Oval Long Oval Intermediate Oval

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review


  • Review Photos
  • Editors' Choice Winners
  • All Reviewed Products
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Smith Vantage
$220
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89
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Bern Baker HardHat
$99
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Giro Montane
$130
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Smith Variance
$180
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POC Receptor Bug
$130
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Giro Seam
$160
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Selecting the Right Product
Your choice of a ski or snowboard helmet is a high-stakes proposition that we break down into simple steps to help you navigate. First of all, a helmet is safety equipment. Careful selection, wear, and care of one is crucial in order to reap the protective benefits. Secondly, a helmet is a rigid, intimate, close-fitting piece of equipment. Our heads are sensitive to pressure, fit, heat, and cold. Finally, aesthetics matter. The ski helmet you choose must be secure and well-designed, while fitting comfortably and assisting in climate control under a variety of conditions. It must accomplish all this while complementing your outfit(s), style, and color scheme.
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Mother and son skiing and testing at Mammoth Mountain. There is a style and fit for everyone in our list of tested products.
Credit: Becky Porter

Types of Ski and Snowboard Helmets
In our review we lumped together ski and snowboard 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 helmet designed and marketed for use on gravity powered, mechanized access, mainly resort based, skiing, snowboarding, and other similar sports.

Half Shell
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.

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This is a general purpose "half shell" design. The green portion protects from cold and impact, while the black ear covers protect only against the cold.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Full Shell
Full shell designs are typically reserved for high speed alpine ski racing, and cover the entire head and ears of the wearer.

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This product, not tested in our review, represents the Class A, Full-shell style.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Full Face
A full face design, just like it sounds, cover the head, ears, and wrap around the mouth and chin below the wearer's field of view.

Helmet Construction
A helmet's 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" helmets are the lightest and most expensive design. They can have more vents and can be made in more contoured shapes. An in-molded helmet consists of a thin polycarbonate (Polycarbonate is a durable plastic with high impact resistance) shell filled uniformly and thoroughly with an expanded polystyrene (Or EPS. EPS is a rigid and tough foam). In our test, the Smith Variance, Smith Vantage, Giro Seam, and Giro Montane are in-molded products.

In an unfortunate twist of terminology, the other construction method is referred to as "injection molded." Injection molded helmets are less expensive, slightly heavier, and mainly come in more rounded, monolithic shapes. These helmets are made with a hard ABS (Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene is another tough and impact-resistant plastic) shell with EPS foam bonded to the inside. The Bern Baker HardHat and the POC Receptor BUG represent injection molded helmets in our testing.

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Two different construction methods. On the left is the Giro Seam made with in-molded technology, while the POC Receptor Bug on the right is classic injection-molded style.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Regardless of which construction method was used, the manufacturer must equip the ski helmet 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 helmet in place and still under most conditions. The chin strap retention system on the helmet 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 equipment.

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
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Fit is king. Most of your experience with a helmet will be in its fit and comfort. A poor fit can be drafty, uncomfortable, or even worse, cause a headache and nausea. Our buying advice provides a step-by-step breakdown of how to assure a perfect fit.
Credit: Meagan Buck

Fit and Comfort
Comfort is almost purely a function of fit. 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 helmets, 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 helmet. 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, helmet 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 Seam has a typical long oval fit, while the Smith Variance fits round oval heads best. The Bern Baker HardHat best fits those in the middle of the spectrum. 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.

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This is a great helmet and goggle combination, but both are too big for the wearer.
Credit: Becky Porter

Weight and Bulk
To some degree, greater weight and bulk mean greater protection. However, extra weight also normally equates to less comfortable and less fashionable. Between the two different construction methods, in-molding makes for lower profile products, while injection molded products are bulkier and at least slightly heavier. Our tested products vary slightly in weight, but for the most part they all weigh right around one pound.

Warmth
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Protecting the user's head from injury as well as wind and cold. Most people face cold conditions far more frequently than they do impacts. Keeping your head warm is important.
Credit: Scott Weaver

If you have not worn a helmet yet while skiing, you will be impressed by how warm it will keep you. All that foam, fully cradling the head, is warmer than virtually any common hat and hood combination. Joined with a pair of well-fitting goggles, a helmeted skier can feel virtually invincible under their lid. In order to keep that warm air in, the helmet must be airtight. To be airtight, there must be no holes in the shell, or the helmet must have plugs or blocks for the vents. Of the products in our test, the Giro Seam is the only one that leaks air through the vents. The "half shell" modelss we tested all leave the ears free of rigid coverage. However, all of them also have soft ear covers for warmth. The integrity of these ear covers has by far the greatest impact on relative insulation value. Loose, floppy ear covers are virtually useless, while thick, slightly tensioned ones enhance the full insulation value. Warmer ear covers are more difficult to hear through. This is an inherent, inescapable tradeoff. The Smith Variance has by far the best ear covers. They are gently sprung in, wrapping the user's ears in warm, muffling comfort. We found this product to be the winner in the warmth category with the Smith Vantage coming in a close second.

Ventilation
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Sure, skiing and snowboarding happen in cold climates. But it isn't always super chilly. Your clothing and accessories, as a collection, must be adaptable to warmer spring conditions also. A well vented product helps in optimizing comfort.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Ventilation in helmets is the opposite of warmth. Ventilation value is a function of holes in the shell, as well as the modular nature of the ear pieces. The Bern Baker HardHat for instance, offers no holes in the shell, but the ear pieces can be removed. In many ways, this makes for a greater differential in ventilation comfort than holes in the main construction. In other words, removable ear pieces are far more effective at venting than any number of holes in the shell, though a wearer is more likely to open the vents on the top than remove ear pieces between runs. In our test, the Bern, POC, Smith Vantage, and Giro Montane all have removable ear covers, while all the in-molded helmets, plus the POC, have vents that can be opened or closed as needed. We found the Smith Vantage to provide the best and easiest to use ventilation of all the products we tested.

Goggle Compatibility

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The back of the Editors' Choice Smith Vantage and an unknown model showing two different goggle attachment methods.
Credit: Becky Porter

Goggle compatibility is critical. A poorly linked combination will allow sun, wind, and cold snow to hit the vulnerable forehead. Little is more uncomfortable than the "ice cream headache" from cold air hitting this "gaper gap." We scored these models based on the ease of finding an acceptable goggle combination through a test of the top goggles on the market. The easiest to match a pair of goggles to is the Editors' Choice Smith Vantage, plus the Giro Seam.

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This gear combination shows classic "gaper gap". This sliver of exposed forehead skin will be difficult to keep warm in this combo. Aim for a more snug, seamless fit between these two pieces of equipment.
Credit: Jediah Porter

Style
Style is personal, but crucial. If you don't look good, you won't wear your helmet and if you don't wear it, you won't be protected. Injection-molded models bring a more traditional, skater-style look while the in-molded models look more racer or even like bicycle designs. Helmets, like ski pants, are being made in a whole host of bright and exciting colors. Just like ski pants, you will likely own one helmet and multiple jackets. If seeking out a color other than black or white, consider that your ski helmet may have to work with multiple jackets. For some reason, we think visors on ski helmets look cool. They also complicate goggle usage, so consider compatibility while you lust over the motocross look of a visored helmet.

Editors' Choice award: Smith Vantage
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Editors Choice Smith Vantage.
Credit: Jediah Porter
The Smith Vantage is a top-of-the line product from a company with a deep heritage of protective gear. The Vantage is solid, comfortable, warm, with effective and versatile venting. The price tag is not low, but the performance and comfort on a dedicated user will more than justify the investment. The look is modern and sophisticated without being pretentious. Smith has their products certified for safety, as do most manufacturers. The Vantage was an easy selection for our Editors' Choice award.

Best Buy Award: Bern Baker HardHat
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Best Buy winner Bern Baker HardHat
Credit: Jediah Porter
For our Best Buy award, we look for a product that combines average to above average performance scores with below average price. At the lowest price in our test, with an overall objective score that is just greater than the mean score, the Bern Baker HardHat was an easy choice. Interestingly, the Bern is the only product in our test without safety certification, but this may not be a problem for you or other users. Read our full review and our Buying Advice Article for further elaboration. In short, the Bern is a well-designed, durable piece of equipment at an excellent price.

Top Pick Award for Backcountry Use: Giro Montane
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Top Pick Giro Montane
Credit: Becky Porter
The Giro Montane is the most unique product in our test. Helmets, because of certification and ergonomic limitations, are a pretty monochromatic field. Little actual variation exists between one product and the next. In order to stand out for specialized application, we looked to fairly subtle differences. With lightweight, removable ear pieces and a clever backpack attachment method, the Montane stands out for its applicability to more adventurous skiing and snowboarding such as backcountry tours. Its overall function is also adequate, if not excellent in some categories. The helmet vents well and, when matched with appropriate goggles, protects from all but the bitterest cold. Less insulation is okay in the backcountry. Even when going downhill, you will be working harder than you would at the ski area. Lesser insulation value in the Giro Montane is actually a plus for this particular application.

Jediah Porter
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