Whether you enjoy twisty singletrack or love nothing more than bombing your favorite downhill course, there is no more important mountain biking accessory than a helmet. Besides making you look cool, your helmet offers you valuable protection and safety.
Helmets fend off the bumps and knocks of overhanging tree branches, but more importantly, they help to keep your head intact if you should crash.
Choosing the best mountain bike helmet can be tough. There are literally hundreds of choices on the market. To help you find the right helmet for your riding style and your needs, we’ve put together our 2019 guide to the very best mountain bike helmets in 2019, including some of our favorites.
We’ve also included just about everything you need to know about mountain bike helmets – factors like safety ratings, construction, helmet types, and so much more.
Let’s get started!
Editors’ Picks for the Best Mountain Bike Helmets Across Riding Styles
XC: POC Octal X Spin — designed from the ground up to provide safety, comfort, and incredible ventilation, this XC-specific helmet is one of our favorites. The Octal X is also popular among cyclocross racers.
It is equipped with POC’s proprietary SPIN technology to reduce forces transmitted to the rider’s head in a crash. Other features include an aramid web to improve strength, sunglasses garage, and a suspension adjustment system for the perfect fit.
Enduro: Giro Switchblade MIPS — convertible for all-mountain, Enduro racing, or even downhill, this helmet is like getting two helmets in one! A removable face guard/chin bar makes it all possible. This model comes in a ton of colors and features 20 vents, the Roc Loc Air DH fit system, and an in-mold polycarbonate shell.
Oh yeah, it has MIPS for superior head protection. Basically, it’s everything you ever needed from a helmet ready to take on whatever the trails can dish out.
Downhill: Troy Lee Designs Stage — built to offer incredible protection on even the gnarliest downhill race courses and extreme conditions, the Stage is our pick for the ultimate downhill helmet. A reinforced polylite shell is filled with dual-density EPS/EPP foam for impact protection.
MIPS technology adds impressive safety for sharp-angle impacts. In fact, it meets or exceeds FIVE international safety standards. The Stage is packed with high-end features like magnetic buckles, breakaway visor hardware, and X-static interior pads to control stink.
Best Cross-Country Mountain Bike Helmet
POC Tectal — offering lightweight protection and fantastic ventilation, this helmet is ideal for aggressive trail riding. POC helmets cover more of the back of the head than typical XC-oriented lids, and this is one of the reasons we love this model so much.
The outer polycarbonate shell and EPS foam are supported by an interior grid of space-age fibers for added strength. The visor adjusts for perfect coverage and helps to scoop air into the interior of the helmet. It even comes with a Recco reflector for serious backcountry adventures.
Other Best XC Choices:
Giro Hex — available in a range of colors, this highly-ventilated helmet is a great choice that won’t break the bank. A color-matched visor, 21 vents, and Giro’s Roc Loc 5 fit system provides a lot of bang for the buck.
Fox Racing Flux Rush — multi-density EPS foam forms the cushioning inner liner and offers incredible protection against head injuries. An internal cage adds even more strength to the liner. Fox’s secure dial suspension system is easy to adjust and retains the helmet even under extreme conditions.
Kali Protectives Alchemy — with 21 vents and a rugged polycarbonate shell, the Alchemy balances incredible protection with cooling ventilation. The Micro-Fit suspension provides two height adjustments and a secure connection to the rider’s head.
Rather than MIPS, Kali developed its exclusive rotational liner system with Armourgel, providing equal or better protection in crashes than MIPS-equipped lids.
Best Enduro-Style Mountain Bike Helmet
Oakley DRT5 — splitting the difference between an XC and an Enduro helmet, the DRT5 features great ventilation and a BOA-dial fit system for comfort. The outer shell is made of a lightweight polycarbonate and is generously ventilated — perfect for blistering heat. This helmet is available in a range of colors to suit your style.
Other Best Enduro-Style Choices:
Leatt DBX 3.0 Enduro V19.1 — some riders prefer a full-face Enduro helmet, and Leatt delivers with great protection and wild style. This helmet features a ventilated face/chin guard, a large sun visor, and a ventilated polycarbonate shell. Its exclusive 360 Turbine Technology provides the rotational liner safety, similar to MIPS.
Troy Lee Designs Half Shell A1 Drone — packed with features, this helmet offers great protection and even better looks. The shell is in-molded with the EPS foam liner, which covers more of the rider’s head. The suspension/retention system is adjustable to fit perfectly, even with different sunglasses or goggles. Finally, pressurized vents evacuate hot air from inside the helmet, offering unrivaled cooling.
Giro Fixture — featuring MIPS for added safety, this Giro helmet provides great head coverage while looking stylish on or off the trail. A long visor helps to scoop cooling air into the multiple vents and shields the rider’s eyes from the sun. The Roc Loc Sport rear dial helps tailor the fit for all-day comfort, no matter where the trail takes you.
Best Downhill Mountain Bike Helmet
Troy Lee Designs D3 Carbon Jet — for absolutely no compromises whatsoever, this TLD downhillers’ helmet is made from a carbon composite weave for lightweight protection. Even the face guard is carbon composite. Titanium hardware lightens things up even more.
Best of all, this model includes MIPS technology for added safety on odd-angle impacts. The helmet includes two adjustable visors, and boasts an innovative venting system to channel cool air around the rider’s head.
The price tag may be a bit steep, but for the ultimate in downhill riding safety and style, the D3 Carbon Jet is hard to beat.
Other Best Downhill Helmet Choices:
Bell Super 3R — from one of the most recognized names in bike helmets comes the Super 3R, built for aggressive trail conditions. It is equipped with MIPS. The removable chin bar offers versatility; use it when extreme conditions are expected, or take it off for all-mountain and Enduro-style riding.
The adjustable visor and air scoops channel air into the interior of the helmet. X-static interior head and face pads control nasties, keeping your helmet from stinking after a long day on the trail. It even has a breakaway action camera mount!
Fox Racing Proframe — with so many colors to choose from, it’s easy to match your helmet to your personal style. But good looks isn’t the only feature that helps this helmet stand out: it is one of the lightest DH helmets available.
Big intake and exhaust ports help keep you cool, and the magnetic Fidlock buckle can be worked even with gloves on. The antimicrobial liner helps keep your helmet fresh and stink-free.
Demon United Podium — need a DH helmet but don’t have unlimited funds? The Podium is just the ticket. It features great protection and ventilation, especially for a full-face model. The removable liner is washable to help keep your lid from stinking the place up. An adjustable visor and suspension dial in the perfect fit for any wearer. This helmet comes with goggles in your choice of three colors.
Best Budget-Friendly Mountain Bike Helmet
Not everyone is willing or able to shell out hundreds of dollars on a new bike helmet. Luckily, there are quite a few models on the market that are easy on the wallet, yet don’t skimp on features. Our favorite budget-friendly lid is the:
Team Obsidian Airflow — for right around $60, you get a lot of helmet. It features in-mold construction with reinforcements on the inside of the helmet, a removable visor, and a dial fit system for comfort and ease of adjustment. 22 vents provide incredible cooling for the helmet’s interior. EPS foam provides the impact protection you need to keep you safe out on the trails.
Other Budget-Friendly Choices:
Anatomy of a Mountain Bike Helmet
Bicycle helmets are designed from the ground up to provide impact protection for your head in crashes. Mountain bike helmets may include protection for your face (in full-face models for dirt jumping and downhilling), and they also tend to cover more of your head than a road-oriented bike helmet. Every mountain bike helmet is made up of three major parts:
The shell – made from plastics like ABS, polycarbonate, or carbon fiber, the shell is the first layer of head protection and keeps the rest of the helmet’s components together.
The liner – this part is the core of protection, providing deceleration and cushioning for your head (and the brain inside it). Helmet liners are typically made of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam or similar foams.
The suspension – consisting of straps, buckles, sliders, and bands, this collection of bits helps secure the helmet to the rider’s head. Mountain bike suspension systems usually offer a pretty good range of adjustment to dial in the fit.
Most helmet manufacturers also include accessories like removable visors, interior pads, and other features to give you the best comfort and utility.
Downhill, Enduro, and XC – Oh My!
If you’re a mountain biker, you probably know that there are a ton of different disciplines within our sport. This can include downhilling, cross-country racing, Enduro events, dirt jumping, pump track racing, and even bikepacking or backcountry adventuring. So, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that there can be different mountain bike helmets for different off-road uses.
Back in the day, a bike helmet was, well, just a bike helmet. If you rode on-road or off, chances are you used roughly the same helmet, and they were all pretty basic. Today, mountain bike helmets cover more of your noggin.
Enduro-style helmets provide more coverage for the back and lower part of your head. Downhill helmets typically have full face guards, and so do some Enduro-style helmets. Some might even have convertible systems with a removable face guard for when you need that extra protection.
Helmets for riding XC might look a lot like a road helmet, but even they tend to be better at covering more of your head. There is no one perfect solution to finding the ideal helmet for your riding style – but a great tip is to ask your riding pals what they prefer.
Choosing the Right Mountain Bike Helmet Size
When shopping for the best mountain bike helmets on the market, you may find that not all helmets fit alike. A helmet from your favorite brand in your size – for example, a large — might be very different from the large-size models from other brands.
Read the helmet product descriptions for details on the size to fit your head before you drop your hard-earned coin on a purchase. Here are some tips to help you find the right size for your needs:
- Most bike helmet makers have a fit guide based on measurements around your head. Helmet sizes usually fit within a range.
- Helmets come with adjustable suspension systems like sliders and dials to get that perfect fit. Don’t forget to try them out when you’re trying on a new helmet.
- Don’t try to get a poor-fitting helmet to work better by putting in a ton of removable pads, which usually come with most helmets. These pads are for adding comfort, not for making the helmet fit.
- Riders with big heads might have to shop around…your massive pumpkin may not fit most helmets on the market, but a few makers offer XL and XXL sizes.
Safety Certifications for Mountain Bike Helmets
Every mountain bike helmet is required to pass minimum safety standards. In the United States, every helmet sold since 1999 must be certified by the Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC), and there will be a sticker showing this certification.
There are several other U.S. and international safety standards, including:
Snell Memorial Foundation (Snell) Certification – an independent testing organization, Snell used to be considered the top of the heap when it came to helmet safety. Helmets meeting their B-90A standards are common; Snell B-95 certification is more stringent.
American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) Certification – ASTM certification requires several drop and penetration tests under the ASTM F1447 standard. For downhill mountain biking helmets, a more rigorous ASTM F1952 standard is applied, ensuring greater protection for your head.
European Committee for Standardization (CEN) Certification – established in 1997, the EN-1078 standard governs certification for all bike helmets sold throughout Europe. Helmets sold in the U.S. may also be certified under this standard.
What the Heck is MIPS?
A mountain bike helmet’s job is to protect your head in a crash. Helmets do a pretty good job of this, but not all crashes are the same. Helmet safety tests involve dropping calibrated weights from pre-determined heights to measure impact protection.
These tests don’t take into account any crash situations where the helmet might strike the ground at a sharp angle however. Enter MIPS, an acronym you may have run across when shopping for the best mountain bike helmets on the market.
Developed in Sweden, MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) is a technology that allows the helmet’s outer shell and inner foam liner to rotate against one another. In theory, this provides enhanced protection to the rider’s head, especially in slower-speed crashes or impacts occurring at sharp angles, which may result in the helmet being torqued around.
MIPS lets the foam liner move around, cushioning the rider’s head and protecting it from many more impact types than traditional helmets.
Helmets with MIPS are usually identified by a bright yellow interior connecting the liner to the inner surfaces of the outer shell. Helmets with this technology used to be fairly rare, but MIPS has taken the industry by storm, and now it can be found in helmets across price points.
Numerous manufacturers have developed their own MIPS-like systems, too, with the goal of adding another level of protection for riders wearing helmets equipped with these technologies.
Care and Feeding of Your New Mountain Bike Helmet
Let’s get something clear right from the start: you don’t actually feed your helmet; it’s just an expression. You DO have to care for it, though – when you buy the best mountain bike helmets on the market, you’re shelling out considerable funds, so it makes sense to give your investment the care it deserves.
Here are some tips for caring for that shiny new helmet of yours…think of them as DOs and DON’Ts:
- DO wash your helmet after a particularly dirty, dusty, or muddy ride. A gentle spray with the garden hose will get off most of the gunk and help wash away any sweat or goo inside the helmet.
- DON’T use harsh cleaners on your helmet. If your helmet is really grimy, a bit of dish soap and a soft brush or sponge is all you need to get the grime off. Avoid any cleaners that are abrasive or have solvents in them, and also avoid scrubber pads that can damage the shell of the helmet.
- DO remove the inner pads from time to time and wash them. C’mon, dude, those things start to stink after a while! The pads are usually held in place with hook-and-loop material. Pop them out, give them a rinse in the sink, or put them inside a mesh bag and run them through the washing machine.
- DON’T try to modify your helmet in any way, including the inner liner, the suspension, or the shell. Drilling holes in your helmet for an action camera mount is a bad idea; use adhesive tape pads instead.
- DO give your helmet a good look-over from time to time, preferably after every ride. Look for any cracks or dents in the outer shell and interior foam. Don’t worry about scratches unless they are deep or gouged out. Check the suspension straps for fraying, too.
- DON’T leave your helmet in a hot car. High heat for long periods of time can damage the shell and protective liner foam.
- DO store your helmet in a cool, dry place. Some helmets even come with a storage back to keep it from getting banged up or scratched.
When Should I Replace My Helmet?
Mountain bike helmets see a ton of abuse during their lifetimes. Your helmet may get bounced around on the way to the trailhead, or it may come into contact with tree branches or the ground in crashes.
The fact of the matter is this: bike helmets don’t last forever, and they do need to be replaced to make sure you’re getting the best protection.
How do you know when it’s time to replace your mountain bike helmet? Here are some signs that it’s time to set aside funds to buy a new one:
- Large dents, cracks, or deep gouges in the outer shell
- Torn or frayed straps
- Broken sliders or buckles
- Cracks in the inner foam, or missing chunks of foam from the interior
- A history of crashes
It’s this last sign that you should really be concerned about. Helmet foams are designed to absorb and redirect impact forces, and most helmet foams only have the cushioning to handle one or two hard impacts.
Even if the foam doesn’t look different after a crash, its internal structure has changed, compressing some of the “squish” that keeps your brain safe. In simple terms, your helmet might no longer be able to protect you in the next crash you experience.
Each manufacturer has its own guidelines on helmet replacement. Some helmet makers even provide riders with generous crash-replacement policies. Hang onto the little information book that comes with your helmet for all the details you’ll need.
Hit Those Trails!
We hope you have found our guide to the very best mountain bike helmets in 2019 useful and informative. Our goal is to make you a smarter shopper, giving you the details you need to choose the best mountain bike helmet for your own riding preferences, style, and need for safety.
Armed with this Buyer’s Guide, there’s only one thing left to do: put your helmet on and hit those trails, wherever they may take you!