The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

The Best Ski and Snowboard Helmets of 2019

In style smiles and palm hits during a backcountry transition near Lake Tahoe  CA.
Thursday March 7, 2019
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We researched over 60 ski helmets, then purchased the best 12 you can buy in 2019 and put them through full and exhaustive side-by-side tests. Our experts wore these helmets in blizzards clear blue sunshine, howling winds, below zero, and warm days to confirm their limits. We checked the comfort, warmth, ventilation, weight, goggle compatibility, and style to get the best feel for how each of these helmets performs. As the options and features improve and evolve each year, the choices can easily become overwhelming. There seem to be helmets specifically designed to meet every need. Keep reading to discover which of these helmets will make the perfect fit for you.


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Awards Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award    
Price $156.00 at Backcountry
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$180.00 at Backcountry
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$149.96 at Backcountry
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$192.00 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Comfortable, warm, vents well, style pointsToasty, comfortable, really well-builtGreat interior fit, stylish look, warmCan be fit to any size goggle, modern, innovative venting systemWell made, proven over the years, good ventilation, sleek
Cons PriceyExpensive and a little heavyEar flaps can be noisyHeavy, custom-fit is back-heavyHeavy
Bottom Line Deemed best of the best by our testers, there isn't a better combination of performance available from any model we have tested at OutdoorGearLab.A top of the line helmet for the avid skier.A high-end helmet at a price that is a step down from other top models.Oakley enters the ski helmet market in their typical, innovative, Oakley style.A top scoring helmet without any major flaws.
Rating Categories Smith Vantage MIPS Smith Quantum MIPS Giro Zone MIPS Oakley Mod5 MIPS Smith Variance
Comfort (25%)
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Warmth (25%)
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Ventilation (20%)
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Goggle Compatibility (10%)
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Specs Smith Vantage MIPS Smith Quantum MIPS Giro Zone MIPS Oakley Mod5 MIPS Smith Variance
Measured Weight (in ounces) 17.7 oz 21 oz 17.9 oz 21.2 oz 19 oz
Adjustment System Boa Fit System Boa FS360 fit system In Form 2 Fit System, Vertical Tuning BOA 270 Fit System Boa Fit System
# of Vents? 18 22 14 11 18

Best Overall Ski and Snowboard Helmet


Smith Vantage MIPS


Editors' Choice Award

$156.00
(40% off)
at Backcountry
See It

85
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 9
  • Warmth - 25% 8
  • Ventilation - 20% 9
  • Weight - 10% 6
  • Goggle Compatibility - 10% 9
  • Style - 10% 9
Weight: 17.7 oz | Removable ear covers? Yes
Good, versatile fit
Cozy
Excellent venting
Expensive

For the fifth year in a row, the top-of-the-line Smith Vantage wins Editors' Choice. Solid, stylish, modern, innovative and safety rated, the Vantage is 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. The Vantage fits different shaped heads well, is comfortable all day long with no hot spots or pressure points, and is all around a super-easy helmet to wear. Finally, because ultimately any ski helmet should be about protection first, the Vantage incorporates MIPS technology to manage the rotational aspect of an impact. With all the bells and whistles of the new Quantum but slightly less weight, the Vantage will maintain our selection as Editors' Choice.

The only real downside to the Vantage is its price. The best doesn't come cheap, but then again, this is your head, and your enjoyment of skiing we're talking about; what's more important than that? Although Smith isn't exactly giving the Vantage away, if you're looking for a lid that will perform reliably in all conditions, and you consider that it's protecting your head (and what that's worth), you'll find it worth the price tag.

Read review: Smith Vantage

Best on a Tight Budget


Giro Ledge


Giro Ledge
Best Buy Award

$59.95
at Amazon
See It

66
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Warmth - 25% 5
  • Ventilation - 20% 6
  • Weight - 10% 6
  • Goggle Compatibility - 10% 7
  • Style - 10% 8
Weight: 17 oz | Removable ear covers? Yes
Reliable
Basic, but effective
Good fit
Vents can't be closed
Goggle fit issues

The Best Buy Award goes to the Giro Ledge for accomplishing good scores at an excellent price. Giro strikes this balance by creating a useful, simple, stylish ski helmet that is functional and affordable. Inspired by the skate/snowboard generation, this helmet has simple, clean lines that achieve a rugged look. The helmet is comfortable and can be adjusted in size for layering on cold days, with removable ear pieces for the hottest spring skiing. Its construction is solid and doesn't feel like Giro sacrificed quality for the price tag. It is also available with MIPS technology for additional cost.

The Ledge does everything you need a helmet to do, it just lacks some of the bells and whistles of some of the more expensive models. It's basic, and there's nothing wrong with that. For the part-time skier or those just learning, the Ledge is a great way to stay protected without investing your entire paycheck into new gear.

Read review: Giro Ledge

Best Bang for Your Buck


Giro Nine MIPS


Giro Nine MIPS
Best Buy Award

$90.00
(25% off)
at Amazon
See It

73
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 7
  • Warmth - 25% 8
  • Ventilation - 20% 7
  • Weight - 10% 7
  • Goggle Compatibility - 10% 7
  • Style - 10% 7
Weight: 15.4 oz | Removable ear covers? No
Classic
Solid protection
Excellent value
Lacks bells/whistles
Could use more/larger vents

The Giro Nine MIPS also finds its way into our Best Buy category. While certainly more expensive than the Giro Ledge, it's a significantly better ski helmet and still a tremendous value. Like the Ledge, the Nine isn't going to wow you with a lot of cutting-edge features and extra add-ons. It's a helmet, plain and simple. That being said, it does the basics well and performs a clear step or two above the Ledge and not far behind top-shelf models. It's warm, it's lightweight, it's comfortable, and it comes with MIPS technology. Giro has been making the Nine for well over a decade now; if it was a junker, it would have gone off the market long ago.

The biggest complaint we can muster up about the Nine is that there isn't a lot of wow factor. Those who are impressed by things that are new and shiny might want to look elsewhere, but those who just want a helmet to get the job done and are mortified by the price point of our top-rated helmets will find satisfaction in the Giro Nine.

Read review: Giro Nine MIPS

Top Pick for Warmth


Smith Quantum MIPS


Top Pick Award

$180.00
(40% off)
at Backcountry
See It

83
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 9
  • Warmth - 25% 9
  • Ventilation - 20% 8
  • Weight - 10% 4
  • Goggle Compatibility - 10% 9
  • Style - 10% 9
Weight: 21 oz | Removable ear covers? Yes
Comfort
Great venting
Superior construction
Weighty
Pricey

The most celebrated helmet company has done it again with the Smith Quantum, gaining it a Top Pick Award for warm comfort. Smith has once again produced a top-of-the-line helmet with all the safety features and bells and whistles you'd expect from one of the nicest helmets on the market. The most vents of any helmet we reviewed keep your head nice and cool on warm days. Easy size adjustment using the BOA wheel, combined with MIPS technology and Koroyd construction, make this one of the best fitting and most protective helmets we tested.

Much like its brother, the Vantage, the Quantum doesn't come cheap, but you're buying the tricked-out Cadillac Escalade of helmets, so the quality and features certainly justify the price tag. The main differences between the Quantum and the Vantage are that the Quantum is a little heavier and doesn't vent quite as well as the Vantage. They're not drastically different, but if either of those two metrics are a big point for you, we'd recommend giving the Vantage a shot.

Read Review: Smith Quantum

Top Pick for Backcountry Use


Salomon MTN Lab


Salomon MTN Lab
Top Pick Award

$159.96
(20% off)
at Backcountry
See It

70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Comfort - 25% 6
  • Warmth - 25% 4
  • Ventilation - 20% 10
  • Weight - 10% 10
  • Goggle Compatibility - 10% 7
  • Style - 10% 8
Weight: 12.7 oz. | Removable ear cover and inner liner?: Yes
Reasonably priced
Featherweight
Vents galore
Fixed vents
Tricky size adjustment

The Salomon MTN Lab is the most backcountry-specific helmet we tested. It's a bit of a hybrid, part mountaineering helmet, part ski helmet. At 12 oz., it's easily the lightest helmet we tested and is vented to the nth degree. The MTN Lab also sports some very nice backcountry-aimed features like a headlamp retainer to keep your headlamp from slipping off during early morning skins and a removable, washable inner liner. You also get a summer version of that liner for warmer days.

Of course, the MTN Lab does have its drawbacks. It's certainly not a perfect helmet for all situations. All that ventilation? It's a bit of a one-way street. While most of our other top picks can open and close their vents, the Salomon does not. That means that when it's cold or stormy, you're likely to be a little chilly. Of course, if you're huffing and puffing up a skin track, you might not mind. For downhill travel on those chilly days, we'd recommend a skull cap of some sort. All told, while it does have its drawbacks and it is not a quiver-of-one product, the MTN Lab is more suited for backcountry skiers than any of the other helmets we tested.

Read Review: Salomon MTN Lab


A group of ski and snowboard helmets we purchased  ready for a day of testing
A group of ski and snowboard helmets we purchased, ready for a day of testing

Why You Should Trust Us


Sam Piper and Wes Berkshire are the masterminds behind this review. Both come to the table with a wealth of ski and snowboard experience, among other types. An avid skier, Wes spends 150+ days a year outside using and testing gear. Additionally, he is an English teacher and has worked in journalism, with a BS in journalism from the University of Colorado at Boulder. Sam brings a wealth of emergency services experience and training, having worked for Denali Rescue and as a ski patroller. He holds certifications in Avalanche Level II, swift water rescue, and Wilderness EMT-B.

The approach taken to testing these helmets was heavy on field use. We looked at how comfortable and warm they were, how well they ventilated, weight, fit and compatibility with different goggles, and style. We took them out time after time and used them ourselves, gave them to friends, and compiled all the feedback into the comprehensive review right here. Hopefully our efforts pay off in you the reader finding the best helmet available for your needs.

Related: How We Tested Ski Helmets


Analysis and Test Results


Every season we re-test our award winners, retest updated models, and bring in a fresh crop of new helmets to keep our selection fresh and to provide you with the best, and most thorough analysis of your ski helmet options. Our testers spend multiple days on multiple different hills, in every weather imaginable. We ski in bounds, out of bounds (well, backcountry, back off ski patrol), in powder, on hardpack. Each helmet we review has seen bright sunny days, howling wind, socked-in storm days, and every other conceivable condition in between.

Related: Buying Advice for Ski Helmets

We rate each ski helmet in six, weighted metrics on a scale from 1-10. Comfort, warmth, and ventilation carry the most weight because they are the most functionally-important. Metrics like weight, style, and goggle compatibility, while still important, are weighted less. Each product's individual metric scores are then tallied into a total score from 1-100 that we use to compare all helmets on a more holistic scale. For general purposes, the overall score will tell you what we think about a helmet with regard to its peers. For more specific feedback, the individual metrics should give you a better idea of how each helmet performs in particular categories. If one of our metrics is significantly more important to you, look for that individual score and check how it compares against other helmets to make a more informed buying decision.

Sunny day on the slopes with some models from Smith  Bern  and Giro.
Sunny day on the slopes with some models from Smith, Bern, and Giro.

Value


Our advice is not to skimp here on such an important protection item. This means buying not just the most reliable ski helmet that you can, but also one that's comfortable and well suited to your riding; that way it'll be a pleasure to wear and always end up on your head. That said, we all come to the table with different budgets. The helmets we looked at fall along the line between expensive/high performing, and cheap/lower performing pretty tightly. There are, however, a few that edge ahead. If you can't afford all the bells and whistles, the Giro Ledge will do the job at a no-sweat price). For a more refined lid, the Smith Vantage MIPS will serve you well if you can put down the big money for one of the best ones out there.


Comfort


Anything that rides on your head needs to be comfortable. If not, you might not want to wear it, which isn't ideal for a product designed to protect your head. If it is comfortable, you're much more likely to wear it. The interior of the helmet, its padding, shape, and overall fit come into play here. Even when things are great on top of your head, a scratchy chin-strap that doesn't sit well can be a real deal-breaker. While parts of this metric are subjective to each rider, we shared these helmets around with lots of friends and colleagues to gauge the general comfort consensus.


The Right Fit
The fit is probably the most important factor in purchasing a helmet. A helmet that doesn't fit properly is likely to be uncomfortable, and more importantly, can compromise your protection. Head over to our Buying Advice guide for a more detailed explanation on how to match some armor to your dome.

The Smith Vantage, Smith Quantum, and Giro Zone were our highest rated helmets for comfort. All three have a solid, well-built feel to them that leaves you feeling well-protected straight away. The Vantage and Quantum, both made by Smith, share some traits that add to their comfort. They both sport the Boa Fit wheel for smooth and effective personalizing of the interior fit, and earflaps that are thick and well-padded, like mini pillows for your ears. Some of our testers did feel that the Quantum earflaps were a little too snug and left some residual soreness after a long, full day on the hill. The Quantum does, however, offer a sweat-wicking, anti-bacterial liner, which will keep your head dry and the smell-factor down.

The Giro Zone impressed us with its In Form 2 Fit System and cupped earflaps. The In Form System is similar to Smith's Boa Fit in that it's essentially an adjustable wheel at the back of the helmet that will snug up the interior fit to more accurately fit your head. While many of these systems seem to feel like they really only operate from the back of the helmet, the Giro Zone felt like it was snugging our heads all the way around, kind of a nice feel. As for the earflaps, the Zone has more of a cupped design, meaning that, while still very well padded, your ear had a little better place to fit rather than just being mushed into the padding like most helmets. We did find that the cupped design added a little bit of wind noise at high speeds, but from a comfort standpoint, they were great.

The Giro Zone has a typical long oval fit, while the Smith Variance and Salomon MTN Lab fit round oval heads best. The Bern Team Baker best fits those in the middle of the spectrum. Our Editors' Choice, the Smith Vantage, along with the Top Pick Smith Quantum, were the best ski helmets at fitting a multitude of different head shapes. Determine your 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 further on head shape.

The Zone MIPS is one of our top-rated helmets for comfort.
The Zone MIPS is one of our top-rated helmets for comfort.

Warmth


Ski helmets are, by and large, warmer than wearing a hat or hood while skiing. If you haven't figured this out yet, it's time to get on board! With a tight-fitting goggle/helmet combo, it's easy to feel completely protected from the raging blizzard. Unless you happen to ski in a place where it doesn't get cold, which would be weird, you're probably going to want your helmet to be warm. We found the biggest aspect affecting warmth to be the helmets that have vents that you can't close. Whether you wear a beanie under your helmet or not, having cold air flowing through at all times can be pretty chilly. Another factor that plays into warmth are the earpieces/ear flaps/ear cover/call them what you will. These hug the ears and whether they can perform without being too tight is key, which causes pain after hours on the hill. Lastly, there are some helmets that just aren't padded and insulated that well, making them cold.


The warmest helmet we tested was our Editors' Choice Smith Vantage. It has tensioned ear flaps, vents that close, and is nicely padded for a snug, warm fit. On the other end of the spectrum, the Atomic Nomad LF has ear flaps that didn't hug our ears, allowing cold air to blow in. The Oakley MOD 5 MIPS, while sporting very comfortable, cupped earpieces, has much the same problem. 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 tad drafty. The Smith Variance can be 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 were a bit chillier, 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 warm. The Salomon MTN Lab is the most drafty helmet we tested. The impressive venting can't be closed when the temperatures drop. It's greatest asset (extreme ventilation) is also its greatest flaw. Keep this in mind when choosing a helmet, and think about the environment where do most of your riding.

The Oakley MOD 5 has two  strategically-placed vents in the back of the helmet  afterburner style  to allow warm air to vent out  without letting as much wind-fed air in.
The Oakley MOD 5 has two, strategically-placed vents in the back of the helmet, afterburner style, to allow warm air to vent out, without letting as much wind-fed air in.

Ventilation


If warmth is a ski 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 and reduce head sweat. Ventilation for helmets come in two flavors: vents, and the ability to remove the earpieces. Vents that open and close allow for the most regulation, but having any vents at all will help pull air through the helmet, cooling you off while you're cruising downhill. 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 work to create airflow. Additionally, some helmets are designed to have the earpieces removed. This is a nice feature, but is hard to do on the fly and requires some planning, like in your warm car.


Every helmet we tested, with the exception of the Bern Team Baker, has vents, but the vents on the Smith Maze, Salomon MTN Lab, and Giro Ledge are fixed open. Removing the earpieces of a helmet, which you can do on all models we tested excluding the POC Fornix and the Giro Nine, is nice on a hot day, but is much harder to do than opening vents when you're out on the mountain.

The Salomon MTN Lab has vents for days.
The Salomon MTN Lab has vents for days.

The Salomon MTN Lab is easily the most vented helmet we tested. With huge, subdivided vents running the length of both sides of the helmet, air-flow was never an issue. Of our top picks, the Smith Vantage also vented very well, with options to close all or just some vents at a time, and the Smith Quantum rivaled it. The Smith Variance, POC Fornix and Giro Zone were close runners-up.

Weight


All of the helmets we tested are safety rated. That means they've passed rigorous testing and met thorough standards to ensure that they will keep your noggin as protected as possible as you zoom downhill. There's no truth to the idea that a heavier, bulkier helmet means a safer helmet. In fact, you can argue that the more weight you're carrying on your head, the higher chance you'll have of whiplash neck injuries. That said, finding a helmet that works for you and wearing it all the time is the most ideal option, and helping you do that is our aim here. In-molded helmets are usually lighter and lower profile, while injection-molded models tend to be heavier and bulkier. We evaluated how well they fit under the hood of a ski jacket. On the stormiest winter days, it is nice to pull a hood up over your helmet and zip it 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 there.


The lightest ski helmet we tested is the Salomon MTN Lab, with the Smith Maze, POC Fornix, Giro Nine, and Bern Team Baker also on the lighter end of things. The heaviest is the Atomic Nomad LF. We found that some of the slimmer helmets, such as the Giro Zone and Smith Vantage, performed better under a hood than bulkier helmets like the Atomic Nomad LF or the Oakley MOD 5 MIPS. One last thing to note is that some of the nicer ski helmets we tested were also the heavier ones. Models like the Smith Quantum, although a little on the heavy side, come with all the bells and whistles that make helmets super desirable. For some of our testers, and we'd imagine some of our readers, the extra few ounces are worth it.

The Giro Zone  for being one of our higher-rated helmets  was surprisingly lightweight.
The Giro Zone, for being one of our higher-rated helmets, was surprisingly lightweight.

Goggle Compatibility


Your helmet and goggles should work in tandem, creating a tight seal against the helmet. Don't forget to overlook the importance of avoiding the dreaded gaper gap between the top of your goggles and the bottom rim of your helmet. Leaving 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.


The Smith Vantage, Smith Maze, Giro Zone, and Oakley MOD5 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 form a good seal between goggle and helmet at the user's temples.

The dreaded Gaper Gap... Goggle compatibility NOT working.
The dreaded Gaper Gap... Goggle compatibility NOT working.

The modular design of the Oakley MOD5 might appeal to you, especially if you employ a rotation of goggles for your skiing needs or you can't try before you buy. It comes with two brims of different sizes to adjust to fit multiple goggle frame sizes. It takes a screwdriver and a few minutes, so this isn't an on-the-hill kind of exchange, but doing it at home is relatively easy.

Oakley's Modular Brim System.
Oakley's Modular Brim System.

Style


Style, like the fit, is crucial to your ski helmet purchase. If you don't like the way it looks, you might not end up wearing it, and that does no good at all! Style is an entirely subjective category — so as long as you like the look of the helmet you choose, that's all that matters. We did go to the effort of asking our ski partners and friends their general opinions on each model.


As we've mentioned above, in-molded helmets tend to be 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 POC Fornix 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 are two-tone, which can help match more outfits. Helmets with visors can complicate putting goggles up onto the brim of your helmet. However, through this test, visors were less of an issue, especially if you're mindful of keeping the goggle strap relatively low on the sides of the helmet. We also found that a few of our top models, like the Oakley MOD 5 MIPS, had venting built into the underside of the visor, to encourage airflow up through your goggles, thus combatting foggy lenses.

Look good  feel good  keep that helmet on your head.
Look good, feel good, keep that helmet on your head.

Conclusion


Choosing a ski 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 buy can be crucial. Think about how important ventilation (or lack thereof) is to you; think about the 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. Also, we recommend strongly considering a model with a built-in rotational impact protection system, like MIPS. Read our individual helmet reviews to get a better idea of what helmet meets your needs.


Sam Piper and Wes Berkshire