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 a variety of great features that help make this helmet so enjoyable with our reviewers. First is the easily adjustable Boa dial system. What makes the Boa dial a great feature is that as the helmet tightens, it molds to fit the shape of your head, which lends this helmet to be very comfortable to wear all day long, with no hot spots or pressure points. Another great feature is the versatile ventilation system. It gives you options on what vents you choose to open, and how much air do you want to pass through those vents. If any of those features don't quite suit your fancy, the tight construction of this helmet also helps make it an easy choice for any die-hard skier. Finally, because ultimately every ski helmet should be about protection first, the Vantage incorporates MIPS technology to manage the rotational aspect of an impact.
The only real downside to the Vantage is its expensive. 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?
Read review: Smith Vantage
Best Bang for Your Buck
Giro Nine MIPS
The Giro Nine MIPS is certainly more expensive than the Giro Ledge, it's a significantly better ski helmet and still a tremendous value. 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
Best on a Tight Budget
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 ear pieces 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. The large number of vents keep your head nice and cool on warm days. 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, it 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 of 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.
The approach taken to testing these helmets was heavy in field use. 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. 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
We assess each ski helmet on 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. 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 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.
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 chin-strap 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 are 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 feels great atop our heads from a comfort and a warmth standpoint. The Smith Vantage, Scott Symbol 2, and Giro Nine were all similarly and sufficiently warm. 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.
Helmets with open vents that don't close were a bit chillier, but most of the time, it was easy to pull up a buff on cold days and stay warm. Still, this requires bringing extras with you up the ski hill. 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 greatest flaw. Keep this in mind when choosing a helmet, and think about the environment where 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 configuration of the vents didn't work to create airflow. Additionally, many helmets these days have removable earpads. We really prefer this ability to customize.
Every helmet we tested has vents, but the vents on the Smith Maze, Pret Cynic X, 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 Giro Zone 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 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. 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. 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.
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 Nine 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 Pret Cynic X 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