The Best Mountain Bike Helmets

Mountain Bike helmet
A helmet is the most important piece of protective gear you can wear while mountain biking, so which one is right for you? To help, we researched all the top models on the market and chose a selection of the ten best to test and compare side by side. Over the course of several months, our team of expert gear testers rode extensively in each helmet, often using them back to back for comparison. Hundreds of miles were ridden in each model, and every aspect of their design and performance was scrutinized as we thoroughly examined each helmet's comfort, construction, adjustments, protective features, and ventilation. We strove not only to find out how they compare to each other, but which model is the best for your riding style, preferences, needs, and budget. This review covers half-shell helmets. 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


Review by:
Jeremy Benson and Dustin Schaad

Last Updated:
Wednesday
May 16, 2018

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Updated May 2018
This spring we added in seven new models, we discovered new award winners and developed new opinions of old favorites. We completely rearranged the podium this year with new winners across the board. The industry standard MIPS (technology to reduce rotational forces in a crash) now has two competitors: Turbine and SPIN. We tested helmets that use both. We also tested two women's specific models to find the best options for lady rippers.

Best Overall Mountain Bike Helmet


POC Tectal Race SPIN


poc tectal race spin
Editors' Choice Award

$219.95
at MooseJaw
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Impact Protection System: SPIN | Adjustable Visor: Yes
Well ventilated
Lightweight
Excellent coverage
SPIN system
Adjustable visor
Expensive
The Tectal Race SPIN wins our Editor's Choice Award for being the best helmet in our test in almost every way. Testers found this helmet to be extremely versatile with applications ranging from cross country rides to enduro racing. A purpose built trail and enduro helmet — the Tectal has best-in-test head coverage and the addition of POC's rotational impact protection system, known as SPIN, for added safety. It has a comfortable fit with a quality size adjustment system and well-designed straps, complimented by some of the best ventilation in our test selection. This lightweight helmet also has an adjustable visor and a goggle strap retention system that add to its already impressive versatility and list of features.

While it's the most expensive helmet in our review by a fair margin, our testers were enamored with the Tectal Race SPIN. This is one of the most comfortable and protective mountain bike helmets money can buy.

Read review: POC Tectal Race SPIN

Top Pick for Innovation


Leatt DBX 3.0 All Mountain


Top Pick Award

$157.95
at Amazon
See It

Impact Protection System: Turbine 360 | Adjustable Visor: Yes
Unique style
360 Turbine technology
Fidlock magnetic buckle
Expensive
Some sunglass arms contact
What separates the Leatt DBX 3.0 from the competition is their innovative features like the 360 Turbine Technology and the Fidlock magnetic buckle. Leatt's 360 Turbine system differs substantially from MIPS, the most commonly used rotational impact protection system in mountain bike helmets. Inside the helmet, there are ten small blue dials, aka Turbines, made from a material known as Armourgel, which remains soft and pliable until impact — then it hardens. Leatt uses Armourgel in other helmets as well as some of their body armor and claims the Turbine 360 system reduces rotational acceleration in addition to absorbing energy during impact. We are also fans of the magnetic Fidlock buckle because it can be used one-handed while wearing gloves. Testers also found the DBX 3.0 to provide good ventilation, back of the head coverage, and an adjustable visor for goggle compatibility.

Testers weren't in love with the helmet's straps. They met close to the ear, were tricky to adjust, and were less comfortable than the competition. Overall though, we were quite impressed with the DBX 3.0 and its unique and innovative features.

Read review: Leatt DBX 3.0

Top Pick for Women


Bell Hela Joy Ride MIPS


Bell Hela Joy Ride
Top Pick Award

$94.95
at Competitive Cyclist
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Impact Protection System: MIPS | Adjustable Visor: Yes
Affordable
Comfortable
MIPS
Great coverage
Adjustable visor
Ventilation could be improved
The Bell Hela Joy Ride MIPS is a women's specific mountain bike helmet that impressed our testers with its comfortable fit, protection, and features at a reasonable price. "Joy Ride" is the name given to Bell's collection of women's helmets that are nearly identical to their male/unisex counterparts, but with slightly different fits and color options. The Hela Joy Ride MIPS offers great coverage on both the temporal and occipital lobes and comes with a MIPS rotational impact protection system for enhanced protection. A quality size adjustment and strap system add to the helmet's comfortable fit, and an adjustable visor is compatible with goggles and adds to its versatility. Testers found the Hela Joy Ride MIPS to be suitable for virtually all riding styles, from XC to enduro, although downhillers may want to explore the full face helmet options.

Our only real complaint about the Hela Joy Ride MIPS was the ventilation, which worked okay but didn't quite perform as well as some of the competition. Otherwise, it was mostly gold stars for this affordable and comfortable women's all-mountain helmet.

Read review: Bell Hela Joy Ride MIPS

Best Bang for the Buck


Giro Hex


Giro Hex
Best Buy Award

$79.95
at Amazon
See It

Impact Protection System: No | Adjustable Visor: Yes
Inexpensive
Lightweight
Comfortable
Well ventilated
No MIPS
Less coverage than the competition.
The Giro Hex is our favorite moderately priced helmet and winner of our Best Buy Award. This incredibly lightweight helmet is competitive with the other models tested for a fraction of the cost. Our testers were impressed with the way this helmet fits, feels, adjusts, and looks. It has a comfortable fit due to its excellent size adjustment system and proved to be very well ventilated with a whopping 21 vents that provide great airflow. The Giro Hex is hands down one of the most comfortable helmets in our review. We feel is a great option for riders on a budget.

Our primary gripes with the Hex are its limited coverage and lack of a rotational impact protection system, like MIPS. Of course, that's why it's as affordable as it is.

Read review: Giro Hex

Notable for the Every Day Rider


Giro Montaro MIPS


Giro Montaro MIPS

$104.96
at Competitive Cyclist
See It


Impact Protection System: MIPS | Adjustable Visor: Yes
Versatile
Adjustable visor
MIPS
Reasonably priced
Padding placement
Heaviest in the test
Camera/light mount did not snap in as intended
We found the Giro Montaro MIPS to be great for everything from short pedals around the backyard to multi-hour adventures on technical terrain. Versatility is the Montaro's strong suit. It has an easy-going style that makes it fit in on any kind of ride and an adjustable visor for compatibility with goggles. It also offers good head coverage and the added protection of the MIPS system.

There was nothing mind-blowing about the Montaro MIPS, but it provided good performance, fit, ventilation, and features, at a relatively reasonable price.

Read review: Giro Montaro MIPS

select up to 5 products
Score Product Price Our Take
82
$220
Editors' Choice Award
One of the top models in the fleet, the Tectal Race offers efficient ventilation and the best comfort in the fleet.
77
$170
Top Pick Award
Innovative design features and good all around performance made the Leatt DBX 3.0 stand out.
76
$95
Top Pick Award
The Hela Joy Ride MIPS is a versatile women's helmet with great coverage and comfortable fit.
76
$150
The Rover is an all-arounder that encompasses all riding abilities.
73
$175
The A2 is a improved and revised version of the super popular A1.
69
$80
Best Buy Award
The Hex is wallet-friendly and a high scorer across the boards, earning it our Best Bang for the Buck.
66
$150
The Montaro has all the great features you'd expect to find in a high end helmet.
66
$100
The women's specific Coveta MIPS is a quality helmet with MIPS protection at a reasonable price, but sits high on the head and provides less coverage.
63
$95
The Stoker is an exceptional, wallet-friendly model in every way.
60
$100
As the name indicates, it features a MIPS liner, as well as a Roc Loc 5 fit system, comes in multiple colors, and retails for just 100 bucks.

Analysis and Test Results


Anytime you're riding a bike, wearing a helmet is a good idea. The fit, style, comfort, and protection of helmets have improved dramatically over the past few decades, and donning a helmet to go out on a mountain bike ride has become as natural as buckling your seatbelt. That's a good thing because they are the single most important piece of protective gear you can wear.

The POC Tectal Race SPIN is a fantastic helmet with great coverage  comfort  performance  and features.
The POC Tectal Race SPIN is a fantastic helmet with great coverage, comfort, performance, and features.

Ideally, you never crash, but accidents can and do happen. If or when you eventually crash, your helmet is designed to absorb the brunt of the impact and protect your skull and the brain inside of it from damage. In general, modern bicycle helmets are constructed with an EPS foam (or polystyrene) liner that is molded inside of a more durable polycarbonate (plastic) shell. The polystyrene absorbs an impact while the polycarbonate shell distributes the force over a larger area. An impact typically results in a crushing or cracking of the helmet, as opposed to your skull, and all helmets should be replaced after a significant impact.

These helmets have varying levels of coverage, ventilation, adjustments, and features that all affect their level of comfort and protection while riding. We rated each using predetermined metrics of comfort, adjustments, weight, ventilation, features, and durability. The combined totals from these ratings led us to our best overall and top pick award winners. Read on to find out more about our mountain bike helmet test.

Value


To find the best deal, see our Price vs. Performance analysis below. Hover your cursor over the dots to find out how each model ranked on this chart. Notice that our Best Buy Giro Hex is the least expensive helmet we tested and still scores pretty well from a performance standpoint.


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 that provides a slip plane in a crash. Turbine and SPIN also are intended to slip is a similar way while also providing some shock absorption. MIPS does not provide any shock absorption and it can affect the fit of the helmet. Some people notice this, although most don't. So which technology is the best? The jury is still out. What is clear is that any of the three options usually only add 5-10% to the cost. Since the whole point of a helmet is to reduce impact forces, we recommend paying the premium price.

The yellow MIPS (left) in the Troy Lee A1 and the blue SPIN in the POC Tectal Race SPIN. The MIPS is a shinny plastic surface. POC bakes the SPIN tech into the blue pads.
The yellow MIPS (left) in the Troy Lee A1 and the blue SPIN in the POC Tectal Race SPIN. The MIPS is a shinny plastic surface. POC bakes the SPIN tech into the blue pads.

Comfort


Comfort is among the most important aspects of a helmet. The more comfortable your helmet is, the less distracting it is, allowing you to devote all of your attention to the trail ahead of you. The less you notice them, the better. We feel the best helmets are the ones that you completely forget about after you put them on.


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 role in the overall comfort of a helmet. The most comfortable helmets have well-designed padding that covers all of the contact points between the polystyrene and the head. We also found that the helmets with slightly denser padding were more comfortable.

All the padding we tested was covered with a wicking material, but a few had coverings that are intended to be anti-microbial. 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, but treatments like these can't really hurt either.

Adjustable features like the retention system and chin straps also play a role in how the helmet fits and its level of comfort. How well a helmet's ventilation system works is another aspect we considered when rating their comfort.

The most comfortable helmets in our test were the POC Tectal Race SPIN, as well as the Leatt DBX 3.0 All-Mountain, which both somehow seemed to fit like a glove on everybody who tested them. The Troy Lee A2 MIPS and the Bell Hela Joy Ride also scored well here by managing to make helmets that provide more coverage than traditional shapes while still offering an impressively comfortable fit.

The Bell Hela Joy Ride MIPS has great coverage and comfortable fit.
The Bell Hela Joy Ride MIPS has great coverage and comfortable fit.

Adjustments


We rated the adjustable features on the helmets in our test selection based on their ease of use, functionality, and whether or not they enhance the helmet's performance. The adjustable features of mountain bike helmets are generally the retention system/fit adjustment, the straps, and the visor.


Most mountain bike helmets have a retention system, sometimes called a fit or size adjustment, used to adjust the fit perfectly to the user's head. These are typically in the form of a two-sided plastic band in the back of the helmet with a dial in the middle that adjusts the tension of the band against the underside of your occipital lobe, the back of the skull.

This adjustment tightens to hug the head snugly for a secure fit. All the models we tested have a small wheel that tightens or loosens the retention system evenly on both sides. The size and shape of these wheels vary considerably, as does their ease of use. All of the adjustment systems worked pretty well, but our favorite was on the POC Tectal Race SPIN, which uses a large and especially easy to adjust dial. We also really like the adjustment dials found on the Troy Lee A2 MIPS and the Leatt DBX 3.0.

The Tectal Race SPIN is fully featured  with a Recco reflector  easy to use size adjustment  and goggle clip all visible in the picture.
The Tectal Race SPIN is fully featured, with a Recco reflector, easy to use size adjustment, and goggle clip all visible in the picture.

Another important fit adjustment is the chin strap, including the two yokes by the ears. This adjustment is important to the user's comfort and keeps the helmet secure in the event of a crash. It is necessary to get the chin strap tight enough to stay on your head, but not so tight that it's uncomfortable. The yoke shape controls the strap position by your ears. We prefer it if the straps do not make contact with the ears for comfort's sake. Our favorite strap system is that found on the POC Tectal Race SPIN, with a Y-shaped strap splitter that keeps them away from your ears.

The strap design on the POC Tectal Race SPIN is the best we've ever seen.
The strap design on the POC Tectal Race SPIN is the best we've ever seen.

Weight


Our test helmets varied in weight from 9.54 to 14.09 ounces. The heaviest helmet in our selection is the Giro Montaro MIPS, and the lightest helmet is the Giro Hex. The differences in weight are really quite small, generally not even noticeable, so we rated this metric less heavily than some of the others.


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 A2, for instance, was one helmet that felt considerably lighter than what the scale showed due to its awesome fit.

Ventilation


We rated each helmet's ventilation based on how well it worked in real-world riding situations. Interestingly, our testers found that ventilation performance isn't directly related to how many vents a helmet has.


The size and shape of the vents are just as important and the quantity. 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. Some of the other well-ventilated helmets in our test were the Smith Rover MIPS and the Troy Lee A2 MIPS.

Good ventilation isn't just the number of vents  the size and placement are also very important.
Good ventilation isn't just the number of vents, the size and placement are also very important.

Features


All of the mountain bike helmets we tested have features that enhance the fit, protection, and user's comfort. One of the primary features of all the helmets in our test is the visor. It's the feature that sets mountain helmets apart from road helmets. Every model we tested has one, but they are not created equal.


The primary function of a visor is to shield your eyes from the sun, but they also serve as protection from rain and can help to deflect lighter inconsequential trailside obstacles. They vary in size and shape as well as in attachment method and adjustability. Some visors are adjustable and can be pushed up to accommodate goggles. Others are static and are fixed in the down position. Testers prefer adjustable visors for their versatility and the ability to use goggles with a helmet.

Our favorite visors are those found on the Giro Montaro and on the Bell Hela Joy Ride because of the large size, but mostly due to their ability to flip up far enough to be completely out of view and accommodate goggles on the front of the helmet.

Bell Hela Joy Ride MIPS
Bell Hela Joy Ride MIPS

Protective features are another thing that we took into consideration. Many modern helmets come with a rotational impact protection system, and there are now more options than ever before. MIPS was the first on the market and is found inside the shells of many brands' helmets, but now POC has created their SPIN system and Leatt uses their own Turbine 360 Technology. All of these systems operate on the same basic premise, and we feel they add a measure of safety. The price of these systems has also come down over the years, and we feel that it is worth the added expense.

Durability


Our durability score was not a measure of crash resistance, but rather a measure of how well a helmet holds up to daily 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. Beyond that, they should provide a responsible user with years of trouble-free use.


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, Bell Hela Joy Ride, 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. We also observed how all the moving parts held up to heavy use and how the outer shells and inner padding wore over time.

POC Tectal
TRoy Lee A2
Leatt DBX 3.0

Conclusion


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 aerodynamic road bike helmet, or a burly downhill option, we highly recommend you read our Buying Advice, which explains the differences in depth and describes when it is appropriate to wear each style. It also gives some tips on what qualities to look for in each type of helmet.
Jeremy Benson and Dustin Schaad

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