Head protection is critical, so which mountain bike helmet is for you? To help out, we considered 40+ top models before extensively testing the best 8. Comparing each model side-by-side, our experts rode hundreds of miles in these products to investigate each difference in design, padding, materials, and features. We examined crucial aspects to determine which models ventilate adequately, are comfortable on jarring rides and adjust easily. We found the best helmets for a variety of riding styles, from all-day grinds to casual trail rides to enduro races, as well as contenders that will work across a wide range of mountain biking styles. This review focuses on extended coverage, half-shell helmets, but we also have a full-face Downhill Helmet review for all you downhill chargers.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated March 2018
This spring we added in five new models, new award winners and new assessments of old favorites. The podium is almost completely changed this year with new winners across the board. MIPS (technology to reduce rotation forces in a crash) now has two competitors: Turbine and SPIN. These two technologies offer new approaches to protection.
Best Overall Model
Leatt DBX 3.0 All Mountain
What separates the Leatt DBX 3.0 from the others is the 360 Turbine Technology and the Fidlock magnetic buckle. The 360 Turbine Technology differs substantially from MIPS, the most common system used in the market today. Inside the helmet, there are ten small blue dials, aka Turbines. The Armourgel makes the turbines, which remains soft and pliable until impact — then it hardens. Leatt uses Armourgel in other helmets as well as some of their body armor. Leatt claims the Turbine 360° Technology reduces rotational acceleration in addition to absorbing energy during impact. We've become fans of the magnetic Fidlock buckle because it clicks together with one hand, and it's a snap with gloved hands. Leatt listened to their athletes during the design process for the DBX 3.0, and the features like the magnetic closure and replaceable breakaway pins for the visor are additions that other brands should consider.
Comfy with style and nice visor
Impressive quality and great fit
Not compatible with all sunglasses
One negative is the side strap adjustment system. The straps are not comfortable to adjust and meet very close to the ears, even when fully extended. Of course, this is dependent on your ear or head size (helmets are very subjective). Despite the learning curve for the magnetic chin strap adjustment, it won us over. We're looking forward to what Leatt will design next to keep us safe out on the trails.
Read review: Read review: Leatt DBX 3.0
Best Bang for the Buck
The Giro Hex is our favorite moderately priced helmet. This helmet competes equally with all other brands that we tested and is 100 bucks lighter on the pocketbook. It's for all riders of all ages, won't break the bank and you'll still look as good, if not better, than riders wearing the $150 Smith Rover or $180 Troy Lee A2. We're impressed with the way this helmet fits, feels, adjusts and looks. Every lightweight, half-shell bike helmet on the market is a one-time use product. So if it has MIPS or not, you smack your helmet once, and you toss it in the trash. Remember, the EPS liner is meant to crush — it doesn't spring back into working shape again. All other helmets are equipped with MIPS or a "rotational force reducing technology" and still need to be tossed into the trash if you whack your head during a crash. As it stands, we mountain bikers live in a one-crash-and-trash-it helmet reality. Well, it's hard-throwing down more than a hundred bucks for any helmet that has to be tossed after one wreck. The Hex is the right choice given a budget, but it also kicks butt regarding fit, ventilation and overall comfort. The Giro Hex is hands down one of the most comfortable helmets in or review.
Easy to adjust to head size
Coverage extends over the back of the head
Good visor design
Cannot adjust chin strap fore and aft
One of the most noticeable design differences/comparisons to the Top Pick award winner, POC Tectal, is the full protection around the back of the head — the Giro Hex does not extend down towards the back of the neck as far as the POC Tectal. That said, the POC Tectal is almost double the price, so in our opinion, the higher cost should cover having better protection. The lightweight feel of the Giro Hex compared to say the Giro Montaro or Chronicle is relatively noticeable. Not that the Montaro or Chronicle are heavy, but when a helmet is designed with MIPS it flat out just adds a bit of weight.
Read review: Giro Hex
Top Pick for Most Versatile
POC Tectal Race SPIN
The Tectal Race SPIN wins our Top Pick award for being the most versatile half-shell mountain bike helmet. It has some of the best head coverage of all the models tested. The full head coverage is far better than any other brand, the highly efficient ventilation design is upper tier as well, and the lightweight size adjustment system ensures a comfortable and secure fit. It offers such excellent coverage from a half shell lid on the market today that it surprisingly doesn't feel like an oversized lid. Instead, it fits nice and securely on your head. Helmet fit is subjective; our skulls don't share the same shape. So take this for what it's worth, but we found the Tectal to offer one of the more comfortable fits on the market and not far off the mark of either the Bell Stoker or Leatt DBX 3.0. Ventilation is solid. There are more airy lids out there, such as the Smith Rover, but the Tectal is upper tier here as well. We had zero issues running it on hot and sunny California days.
Needs more padding
Read review: POC Tectal Race SPIN
Notable for the Every Day Shredder
Giro Montaro MIPS
The Giro Montaro MIPS is great for both short pedals around local trails and multi-hour adventures on technical terrain. We also tested it when enduro-style riding, complete with chill climbing and blasting fast descents, and it performed well in various environments.
Visor's hinge is comfortable when wearing sunglasses
Placement of pads
Camera/light mount did not snap in as intended
The visor's hinge can be pushed high on the helmet, allowing you to slip goggles below it comfortably. The rubberized material around the rear vents helps keep the goggle bands from slipping, keeping your sunglasses secure. The Montaro is not a downhill helmet, but certain considerations make it appropriate for enduro races and rowdy descents when climbing to the top.
Read review: Giro Montaro MIPS
Analysis and Test Results
Whether you are sending your favorite jump line, racing enduro, or just rallying to the coffee shop, wearing a bike helmet is a good idea. Fortunately, their image has increased in the last 20 years, and helmets have become cool. Wearing a helmet on a bike should be as natural as clicking your seatbelt when you get in a car. All bicycle helmets are designed with the same purpose: to protect your head from impacts during a mishap.
Whether that mishap is an overshot jump or a spacey driver making a left in front of you, bike helmets work by absorbing the force of your head smashing into something. Almost all bicycle helmets on the market today are constructed of a polycarbonate shell that is injection molded with a polystyrene foam inner liner. Impacts are absorbed by the polystyrene while the polycarbonate shell acts to distribute the force over more of the foam, and it also serves to protect the foam from daily abuse. The helmet functions basically by absorbing an impact while being destroyed and should be replaced after a significant crash. Repeat: bike helmets should be replaced after a substantial impact.
To find the best deal, see our Price vs. Performance analysis above. In particular our Best Buy Giro Hex is by far the least expensive helmet we tested and yet scores pretty well.
MIPS, Turbine or SPIN: Which safety standard is the best?
MIPS used to be the only game in town when it came to reducing rotational forces in a crash. Now Leatt has introduced Turbine, and POC has SPIN. What's the difference between the technologies? MIPS uses a very thin material dedicated to slipping in a crash. Turbine and SPIN slip and are designed to absorb shock. MIPS does not absorb shock. One downside to MIPS is that it can affect the fit of the helmet. Some people notice this, most don't. So which technology is the best? The jury is still out. What is clear is that any of the three options only add 5-10% to the cost. Since the whole point of a helmet is to reduce impact forces, we recommend paying the price premium.
Comfort may be the single most important quality a helmet can have. If a helmet isn't comfortable, it will distract you from the trail and not allow you to ride at your full potential. We think the best helmets are quickly forgotten after you clip the buckle.
All of the helmets we tested use lightweight open cell foam pads covered in moisture wicking fabric to pad between the hard polystyrene foam and the rider's head. The thickness, quality, and covering of these pads play a large roll in the overall comfort of a helmet. The most comfortable helmets have well mapped out padding that covers all of the contact points between the polystyrene and the head. We also found that the helmets with denser padding were more comfortable.
All the padding we tested was covered with a wicking material, but a few had coverings that are supposed to be antimicrobial. The Bell Stoker, for example, uses X Static padding that has silver fibers incorporated into the material to prevent bacteria from growing in the padding. We think that to some degree this is a solution to a problem that doesn't exist. We don't feel that the funk is a massive problem in half-shell helmets, which usually dry out fast enough to prevent something from growing in there. Unfortunately, the same can't be said for other mountain bike gear, like shoes or knee pads, which can stay wet between uses.
The most comfortable helmets in our test were the POC Tectal, as well as the Leatt DBX 3.0, which somehow seemed to fit like a glove on everybody who tried it. Troy Lee managed to sculpt a helmet that provides more coverage than traditional shapes but was free from pressure points by covering all of the contact points between the head and foam with dense padding with a smooth covering.
One key component of a good product is the retention system, which typically consists of a semi-rigid plastic band at the rear of the helmet.
This band is tightened against the lower part of the occipital lobe and forces the front of the head into the brow area of the helmet for a secure fit. The majority of the models we tested use wheels to tighten the band. The size and shape of these wheels vary considerably. Our favorite wheel was found on the Giro Hex which uses a small but pronounced wheel to adjust rear retention band tension. We also really like the wheels found on the Troy Lee A2 and all of the Bell helmets in this test.
We greatly prefer click wheels that can be adjusted easily with one hand. Some may see the lack of a wheel as a way to save weight, but consider that our three lightest helmets all have quality wheels.
Another simple adjustment that is important to us is the fore/aft adjustment of the harness yoke. We find that this adjustment is key to getting the chin strap tight enough to keep the helmet stay put in a crash, but not make the wearer feel like they are being choked when the helmet is buckled. All helmets tested use locking hardware to secure the straps in place.
Our test helmets varied in weight from 9.5 to 14.07 ounces. The heaviest helmet in this comparison is the Giro Montaro MIPS. The lightest helmet in our review is the Giro Hex.
If you are an ounce-counting cross-country rider, you may want to consider a road cycling helmet. We recently tested eight of the best models on the market and found that on average they are a few ounces lighter than most mountain-specific lids. A good deal of the weight savings is through the lack of a visor, but one look at the cross-country mountain bike World Cup field will show you that you can do without it on race day.
We found that the perceived weight of a helmet has as much to do with how well a helmet fit as with the actual weight on the scale. The Troy Lee A1, for instance, was one helmet that felt considerably lighter than what the scale showed, due to its awesome fit.
Interestingly, our testers found how well a helmet vents isn't directly related to how many vents it has.
The size and shape of vents are also important. That said, the best in this test was the Giro Hex, and it has a whopping 21 vents. The Hex is the helmet we want to be wearing when cranking uphill in the sun.
The feature shared by all of the helmets we tested, and one of the things that we feel separates mountain helmets from road helmets, is a visor.
Visors serve as eye protection from sun, mud, and rain. They varied in size and shape as well as in attachment method. Our testers prefer visors that are secured in place by thumbscrews rather than snaps. The Giro Chronicle, Giro Montaro, TLD A2, POC Tectal and Leatt DBX 3.0 all have thumb screws to prevent the visor from rattling around while mowing through chop. The rest of the helmets we tested use plastic snaps to secure the visor to the helmet, which results in a less than optimum attachment and limits adjustment possibilities.
Our favorite visor is the one found on the Giro Montaro because of the large size, but mostly due to its ability to flip up far enough to be completely out of view and to accommodate goggles on the front of the helmet.
Our durability score was not a measure of crash resistance, but rather a measure of how well helmets hold up to day-to-day wear and tear. All of the helmets we tested are designed to protect the head through partial destruction of the helmet during a crash and should be replaced after a significant impact.
Helmets that have outer shells that wrap entirely around the lower edge of the delicate polystyrene foam had better resistance to dings and dents from daily use. The POC Tectal, Troy Lee A2, and Leatt DBX 3.0 all share this quality. The Smith Rover and Giro Chronicle have a shell that comes close to adequately protecting the bottom edge of the polystyrene, though it doesn't quite provide full foam coverage.
If you are a conservative rider and never crash, you may want a helmet that scores high in our day-to-day durability test since you will get a lot more out of it than a rider who spends more time eating dirt.
There are many different types of bicycle helmets, just as there are an array of needs for the many different types of cyclists. The helmets in this review are specific to mountain biking. If you are still unsure of what the differences are between a mountain bike helmet, a road bike helmet, or a downhill helmet, we highly recommend you read our Buying Advice article, which explains the differences in depth and describes when is appropriate to wear each style. It also gives some tips on what qualities to look for in each type of helmet. We hope that our analyses in this review have helped to guide you when choosing a helmet for your mountain biking needs.
— Dustin Schaad
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for more info.