Best Ski Helmet of 2020
Best Overall Ski and Snowboard Helmet
Smith Vantage MIPS
For the sixth year in a row, the top-of-the-line Smith Vantage wins our top honors. Solid, stylish, modern, innovative, and full of protection technology, the Vantage is the finest snow sports helmet on the market. This helmet comes with various great features that help make this helmet so enjoyable with our reviewers. First is the easily adjustable Boa dial system. The Boa tightens the helmet and provides a custom fit for your head's shape, providing a pressure point free and comfortable experience. Another great feature is the versatile ventilation system. Its customizable vent system lets you pick which vents to open and how much air flows through them. If any of those features don't quite suit your fancy, this helmet's tight construction also helps make it an easy choice for any die-hard skier. The Vantage uses MIPS technology to manage rotational impact forces associated with brain injuries.
The only real downside to the Vantage is its high price. The best doesn't come cheap, but then again, when it comes to head protection, what's more important than that?
Read review: Smith Vantage
Best Bang for Your Buck
The Giro Ledge performed well 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 earpieces for warmer days on the ski hill. Its construction is solid and doesn't feel like Giro sacrificed quality for the price tag. It is also available with MIPS technology for an 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 for Warmth
Smith Quantum MIPS
The most celebrated helmet company has done it again with the Smith Quantum. Smith has once again produced a top-of-the-line helmet with all the features you'd expect from one of the nicest helmets on the market. This model feels luxuriously warm in comparison to other models. A large number of vents keep your head nice and cool on warm days, and the cozy ear covers are removable, too. Easy size adjustment using the BOA wheel, combined with MIPS technology and Koroyd construction, makes 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, comes with a magnetic buckle system, and doesn't vent quite as well as the Vantage.
Read Review: Smith Quantum
Best for Backcountry Use
Salomon MTN Lab
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 favorite models 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
Why You Should Trust Us
Sam Piper, Wes Berkshire, and Alex Bogner are the masterminds behind this review. All of these reviewers 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. 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. Alex has traveled all over the world in search of snow. Since skiing was the only thing that fueled his fire, he went to school in Vermont for Mountain Recreation Management at Lyndon State College (now Northern Vermont University). Alex usually skis about 100 days a season and has managed to ski every month of the year. With a professional background in ski patrol and ski guiding, Alex often finds himself pushing his gear to the limit. In his free time, you can find him backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering in the spring.
We tested each helmet through extensive field testing. Our testers ski as much as possible and frequently switch helmets, terrain, and conditions to ensure well-rounded information. We evaluated the comfort and warmth of each helmet with different head shapes, goggles, and temperatures. We then assessed the ventilation, weight, and overall build quality. We took them out time after time and used them ourselves, gave them to friends, and compiled all the feedback into this comprehensive review. Our goal is to help you find the perfect helmet for your needs.
Related: How We Tested Ski Helmets
Analysis and Test Results
We assess each ski helmet on comfort, warmth, and ventilation carry the most weight in our scoring matrix because they are the most functionally-important. Metrics like weight, style, and goggle compatibility, while still important, are weighted less. For more specific feedback, the individual metrics should give you a better idea of how each helmet performs in particular categories.
Related: Buying Advice for Ski Helmets
Our advice is to purchase a comfortable and reliable ski helmet that's suited to your riding style, even if you have to spend a few extra dollars. This is your head we are talking about. The appropriate helmet always ends up on your head, and the wrong one will be a burden to wear or, even worse, not worn at all. That said, we all come to the table with different budgets. In our review, the performance was generally associated with price; the most expensive models were amongst the highest performing and vice versa. However, a few walk the line and stand out for their performance and price. Protection is priority number one. If you don't need the bells and whistles of the custom togglable vents, then the Giro Ledge will do the job at a no-sweat price.
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. Ideally, a comfortable helmet should adjust easily and then be forgotten about while riding atop your head.
The Smith Vantage, Smith Quantum, Scott Symbol 2 Plus D, and Giro Zone were our highest rated helmets for comfort. All four 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 ear pads that are thick and well-padded, like mini pillows for your ears. Some of our testers did feel that the Quantum ear pads 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.
Even when things are great on top of your head, a scratchy chinstrap that doesn't sit well can be a real deal-breaker. The Scott Symbol 2 Plus D was one helmet that featured a unique chinstrap that was extremely comfortable. The chinstrap is flat, soft, and wide, which was unlike any other helmet tested in this review. Specific to this helmet are the earpads. They are equipped with Scott's "360-degree Pure Sound" tech. This allows you to have improved hearing capabilities while still keeping your ears warm and toasty. We were initially skeptical but can report that this is an improvement over most ear covers that greatly muffle sound and impede hearing. We don't think it's necessarily a deal-breaking feature, though.
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.
The Giro Zone impressed us with its In Form 2 Fit System and cupped ear pads. 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 ear pads, 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 and the Scott Symbol 2 Plus D have a long oval fit, while the Salomon MTN Lab fits round, oval heads best. The Smith Vantage, along with the 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.
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, at least for early mornings or when the sun goes down. 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 is the earpieces/ear pads/ear cover/call them what you will. These hug the ears, and whether they can perform without being too tight is key. Tight ear pads cause significant discomfort after hours on the hill. Lastly, there are some helmets that just aren't padded and insulated that well, making them colder.
The warmest helmet we tested is the Smith Quantum. It has tensioned ear pads, vents that close, and is nicely padded for a snug, warm fit. It kept our heads comfortable and warm. The Smith Vantage and Scott Symbol 2 also provide plenty of warmth. The Oakley MOD 5 MIPS, while sporting very comfortable, cupped earpieces, sometimes allowed cold air to blow in. The Giro Zone is configured so that most of their vents close, but a few are fixed open, and our testers found them to be a tad drafty.
In general, open, fixed vents provide less warmth than those that open and close. If you need added warmth, use a buff or multiclava under your helmet. The Salomon MTN Lab is the most drafty helmet we tested. The impressive venting can't be closed when the temperatures drop. Its greatest asset (extreme ventilation) is also its most significant flaw. Keep this in mind when choosing a helmet, and think about the environment where you do most of your riding. Warmer climates with maritime snowpacks (most parts of the Cascades and Sierras) allow skiers to get away with less warm helmets. Colder climates with continental snowpacks (Rocky Mountains, Brooks Range) will find a warm helmet a more necessary bit of protection.
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. We skied on warm days and found that not all vents are created equal. Some of the helmets we tested look like they'll vent well, but the vents' configuration didn't work to create airflow. Additionally, many helmets these days have removable earpads. We strongly prefer this ability to customize.
Every helmet we tested has vents, but the vents on the Smith Maze, Salomon MTN Lab, and Giro Ledge are fixed open. Removable earpieces increase the ventilation potential of a helmet. Removing the earpieces is enjoyable for warmer days. Still, it is more difficult to accomplish on the mountain than simply opening vents. Every model has removable earpieces except the Giro Zone.
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, airflow was never an issue. The Smith Vantage also vented very well, with options to close all or just some vents at a time. The Smith Quantum, Sweet Protection Switcher MIPS, and Scott Symbol 2 Plus D all vented very effectively as well.
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. 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.
Related: Best Ski Jackets for Men of 2020
The lightest ski helmet we tested is the Salomon MTN Lab, with the Smith Maze and Giro Ledge also on the lighter end of things. 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 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.
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. When you work up a sweat, or it is a particularly moist day out, your goggles may fog up. Several helmets like the Scott Symbol 2 Plus D have vents in the front to help promote airflow directly onto the goggles to prevent fogging.
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 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.
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 Smith Maze 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 our tests, we found that visors were less of an issue, especially if you're mindful of keeping the goggle strap relatively low on the sides of the helmet.
Choosing a ski helmet can seem like a daunting task. Our intention with this review is to help you quickly and accurately identify the right model or models for your specific needs. Don't get distracted by fancy marketing — use our assessments and experience to guide you toward the model that helps you ski and feel like a pro.
— Sam Piper, Wes Berkshire, and Alex Bogner