What’s the most important piece of mountain biking gear? Let’s get straight to the point — it’s a helmet, and any other answer is wrong. Whether cruising or shredding, every rider needs to keep their noggin safe when they hit the trails … Uh, I mean ride. That’s why a good helmet should be the first purchase after (or even before) a new mountain bike.
Good mountain bike helmets provide extra coverage on the back and sides of your head and enough ventilation to keep you cool on slow off-road climbs. Many use MIPS or similar technology to reduce the force of rotational impacts and prevent concussions. If you’re picking out your first mountain bike helmet, or looking for the perfect upgrade, here are some of our favorites.
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Best beginner MTB helmets
Though you shouldn’t skimp on protecting your head, affordable entry-level helmets are better than ever. Many of the features from high-end helmets trickle down to entry-level ones, and they provide the protection and comfort you need to get out and explore without breaking the bank.
7idp is best known for its ultra-comfy knee pads, but it has applied its protection expertise to helmets too. The M5 keeps costs down by only using two shell sizes, Small/Medium and Large/X-Large, so if you’re worried about it looking like Toad from Super Mario, consider upgrading to something sleeker. But for the low-low price of $60, the M5 is hard to ignore.
Fox Racing Mainframe
The Mainframe is Fox Racing's most affordable trail helmet but it doesn’t skimp on protection with a MIPS liner for better protection. It’s got big vents for more airflow and a moisture-wicking liner to help control sweat. The Mainframe is the perfect lid for new riders but it has the fit and looks to satisfy experienced shredders too.
The Axion uses a unibody shell that provides extended coverage around the temples and at the back of the head. POC’s SPIN system provides lightweight rotational protection integrated into the pads. A patented, adjustable breakaway visor enhances neck safety during a crash. The Axion is well-ventilated and light, making it one of the best entry-level helmets available.
Best trail MTB helmets
Maybe you’re looking for a helmet upgrade, or you just want to wear the best of the best. Higher-end mountain bike helmets are lighter, more comfortable, and better ventilated. They often offer better protection, more features, and nicer finishes too. These helmets are worth considering if you’re planning to hit the trails regularly.
Lazer Jackal KinetiCore
The Jackal uses KinetiCore, Lazer’s own rotational impact protection technology which, unlike MIPS, is fully integrated into the helmet foam. This reduces weight and increases ventilation, while still scoring a 5-star protection rating from Virginia Tech. It has plenty of mountain bike-friendly features too like brow vents to control sweat dripping off your forehead and an accessory mount for a GoPro.
Fox Racing Speedframe Pro
Fox’s Racing’s flagship Speedframe Pro was designed with input from its deep roster of pro mountain bikers. It earned a 5-star protection rating from Virginia Tech thanks to tech like MIPS and Fox Racing's Varizorb dual-density EPS liner. Varizorb provides improved protection by spreading impact forces across a wider area. Antimicrobial pads to ward off stink and a nifty magnetic Fidlock SNAP helmet buckle make taking it on and off a breeze.
The Kortal is POC’s latest flagship trail helmet. It uses a well-ventilated unibody shell like all of POC’s helmets but takes safety a step further. It has been certified for use with e-bikes, passing the Dutch NTA8776 standard, which tests helmets at higher impact speeds. In a crash, the patented breakaway visor will snap away from the helmet to prevent neck injuries. The visor also pivots high enough to store goggles and your sunglasses in the lower vents.
Oakley collaborated with 4x World Champion Downhill racer Greg Minnaar to craft the DRT5. Its standout feature is exactly what you’d expect from the eyewear experts at Oakley — an integrated eyewear dock that securely stows sunglasses. This makes it easier to deal with hot and sweaty climbs or changing light conditions. It also has a silicone “sweat gutter” in the brow pad that directs sweat away from your sunglasses.
Best enduro & full-face MTB helmets
If you’re racing against the clock, riding lift-access bike parks, or just pushing the limits on gnarly trails, you need a three-quarter or full-face helmet that provides more coverage and protection. When the trail points downhill, enduro and downhill helmets like these provide a boatload of extra confidence so you can ride your best.
Fox Racing Dropframe Pro
Open-face three-quarter helmets like the Dropframe provide the most coverage short of a full-face. It has a 5-star safety rating thanks to MIPS and the Varizorb EPS liner, but provides even more protection by extending the shell farther down the back of the head and around the ears. Eight “Big Bore” vents and seven exhaust vents keep you cool, making the Dropframe ideal for riders who need to crawl up tough climbs to reach the good downhill tracks.
The POC Otocon is a highly ventilated full-face helmet made specifically for the demands of enduro racing. More vents throughout the shell and chin bar direct air through the helmet to keep you comfortable on the hottest days. Removable cheek pads and a removable grill over the mouth allow you to add even more ventilation if you need to climb. Also, you won’t have to immediately bin your helmet after a crash since the Otocon uses a multi-impact EPP liner.
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You don’t need the most expensive helmet to have fun on the trails. The key is to make sure that your helmet fits and is a pleasure to wear. You can’t go wrong with any of the above helmet choices, but if you shop elsewhere, I recommend everyone from beginner to experienced mountain bikers to expect to spend around $80-150 for a high-quality helmet. In this price range, you will get a helmet that should last for several seasons with all the features and protection you need.