Best mountain bike helmets 2023 - top-rated head protection for the trail
It almost goes without saying that if you ride off-road, it’s an extremely good idea to wear a helmet. Whatever genre of riding you enjoy, the odd crash is pretty much par for the course, and without a lid to protect your head and its precious contents, your trail riding career (along with your actual career) could well end up being a short one.
Injuries are no joke and head traumas can be some of the most serious. Having the best mountain bike helmet is an essential necessity. It is now widely known that it takes considerably less force than what was previously understood to cause a serious head injury. What may seem like the most insignificant crash, even if there is no visible damage to your helmet and your head may experience long-lasting effects and most modern helmets now incorporate some kind of rotational slip-plane liner such as Mips. But what is a Mips helmet? Well, a Mips or Multi-directional Impact Protection System is a low-friction layer located between the EPS and inner helmet liner that reduces rotational impact forces.
In this guide, we will take a look at the best mountain bike helmets for the three main genres of off-road riding; trail and cross-country mountain biking, enduro mountain biking, and full-face helmets for gravity riding, such as downhill mountain biking. Each discipline places a different demand on the type of helmet and how the balance of ventilation and weight versus the level of protection they offer.
Continue reading to learn more about our top-rated helmets for each mountain bike discipline. At the bottom, you'll find all the answers to the most frequently asked questions about how to choose the best mountain bike helmet.
Best mountain bike helmets for trail riding
- ABUS Cliffhanger MIPS helmet
- Specialized Camber helmet
- Scott Argo Plus helmet
- Troy Lee Designs A3 MIPS helmet
Specialized Tactic 4 helmet
ABUS Cliffhanger MIPS helmet
Abus has shaken up its mountain bike helmet range, bringing along some of the brand’s road helmet success to the party. The Abus Cliffhanger appears to tick all the right boxes and is a worthy consideration for anyone looking to find one of the best mountain bike helmets. The Cliffhanger is a half-shell lid with an impressive feature list and some very well-considered design cues. This helmet uses Multi-Shell In-Mould construction, Abus has kitted it with the Zoom Ace MTB adjustment system to adjust the height as well as circumference.
The coverage that the Cliffhanger offers is spot on, too. The rear portion stretches down behind the ear and the temples are well protected. These little temple drops are cut away internally too, to make enough room for even the widest of riding spectacles.
- If you like what you see with the Abus Cliffhanger MIPS helmet, read the full review
Specialized Camber helmet
Pinching the name from the brand’s budget-friendly full susser, the Specialized Camber is the entry-level lid in the brand’s recently completed helmet range. Designed to suit a range of heads thanks to an impressive range of sizes from XS to XL. The Camber brings a raft of trickle-down features from the brand’s spendier lids, to a very welcoming price point.
If you’re looking for a quality helmet on a budget, the Specialized Camber fits the bill. It’s comfortable, reasonably well-ventilated, and it looks rather slick. There's very little to complain about for the asking price. It offers value for money, a high-quality build, decent comfort and MIPS, though it is missing an adjustable visor.
- Read the full, in-depth review of the bargain-priced, feature-rich Specialized Camber helmet
- Buy now: Specialized Camber MIPS MTB Helmet from Tredz for £45
Scott Argo Plus
The Scott Argo Plus is a trail-inspired helmet decorated with impressive features in one lightweight shell. The extended head coverage and large vents offer plenty of airflow, while MIPS safety technology ensures that you'll be safe on the steeper slopes.
The dial at the back brings the internal fit system closer to your head and the side straps can be adjusted underneath the ears, and the central buckle isn't bulky or fiddly.
Even though the helmet is extremely lightweight, its shell offers extended coverage at the back and combined with Mips technology increases confidence in the steep and technical sections. The Scott Argo Plus is a lightweight shell with excellent ventilation for trail riding to cross-country loops. It offers extended protection on par with an enduro-style lid, and it's ideal for trail centres to local forest laps.
- Read our review of the Scott Argo Plus helmet to learn more about how it performed during testing
Troy Lee Designs A3 MIPS helmet
Troy Lee's helmet range has been a staple in the mountain biking world since the A1 blasted into the market back in 2013. Hailed as one of the most stylish lids you can buy, the A3 is no different. However, it builds massively upon its older sibling with a healthy line-up of super-useable features. It gets a co-moulded EPP and EPS foam specially designed to deal with both slow and high-speed impacts. There's also a B-Series MIPS rotational impact protection system that creates a 360° fit and a boost in safety. Then, there are 16 vents with channelling built into the foam's interior, a Fidlock magnetic buckle, and TLD's Sweat Glide System.
There's an awful lot to like about the Troy Lee Designs A3. It retains the brand's reputation as the King of Cool and it's outstandingly comfortable. Each feature on the hat is super useful too, justifying the hefty price tag.
- If you're interested in the many features of the Troy Lee Designs A3 helmet, read our comprehensive test report.
- Buy now: Troy Lee Designs A3 MIPS helmet from Merlin Cycles for £95
Specialized Tactic 4 helmet
Specialized has redesigned the Tactic for its fourth iteration and has been developed with e-bikers, enduro riders, and hard-chargers in mind. As such, it's been built with a bunch of features with extra coverage at the rear to keep them happy and well-protected.
Features include Specialized Integrated Fit System that's designed to accommodate different head shapes. There's an occipital base adjustment to further personalize the fit, internal channelling to guide air over the head along with 4D brow cooling that provides a gap to draw air through the front, and the helmet uses MIPS Evolve with ANGI readiness, NTA 8776 certification and scoring the highest 5-Star Virginia Tech Rating.
- For the full round-up and performance details of the Specialized Tactic 4 helmet, read our detailed write-up
- Buy now: Specialized Tactic 4 MTB Cycling Helmet from Tredz for £79.99
Best mountain bike helmets for enduro riding
- Fox Dropframe Pro helmet
- Leatt MTB 4.0 Enduro V21 convertible helmet
- Lazer Jackal MIPS helmet
- Giro Tyrant Spherical Dirt helmet
- Giro switchblade MIPS helmet
Fox Dropframe Pro helmet
The Fox Dropframe Pro mountain bike helmet is definitely Pro when it comes to head protection. The extended rear coverage and ear protection are typical for a full-face lid, but an open-face? This is something out of the norm.
Thanks to the 'Airflow' design of eight big-bore vents paired with seven exhaust ports, plus the gap around the ears, ventilation is brilliant. Air will be flowing as you descend, but you will be aware you've got this on your head if there's even a glimmer of sunshine. I was glad of the moisture-wicking pads as my head increased in temperature rapidly on any incline, but this was a blatant reminder that the Dropframe Pro is purely a gravity-focussed lid.
- Our full review of the Fox Dropframe Pro helmet covers all the specifications and performance merits in detail
- Buy now: Fox Dropframe Pro helmet from Sigma Sports for £103
Leatt MTB 4.0 Enduro V21 convertible helmet
The MTB 4.0 Enduro V21 is the first convertible lid in Leatt’s strong helmet line-up. It comes packed with handy features, and the chin bar is easy to wrangle once you get the hang of it.
Other than the obvious removable chin bar, you get an awful lot of cool tech with the MTB 4.0 Enduro V21. Naturally, there’s Leatt’s own 360-Degree Turbine rotational impact reduction system, but there’s also a Fidlock enclosure, a sunglasses dock, in-moulded EPS and EPP foam, and a moisture-wicking anti-odour liner.
Along with all that, there’s a three-position adjustable visor with a breakaway function to further reduce the risks of rotational impacts, and a removable fly-net/mouthpiece in the chin bar. It also wears 18 vents. The Leatt MTB 4.0 Enduro is certified to full ASTM DH standards, and also comes with a nice bag and a pair of soft cheek pads.
- Read the complete review of the Leatt MTB 4.0 Enduro V21 convertible helmet
Lazer Jackal MIPS helmet
With the Jackal Mips, Lazer takes aim at the trail/enduro market with a design that's both impressively comfortable and very protective. It's thoughtfully designed, with a host of mod cons to please any enduro rider, although it’s a little on the portly side – and it's fairly spendy too.
The Jackal has an impressive feature list: you get a Fidlock closure, Lazer’s Active Turnfit System, a vertically adjustable head basket, grips for a goggle strap, eyewear-friendly recesses above the ears, and of course, MIPS. With its 19 vents form an inlet/outlet system, with channels inside to keep air flowing over the head.
- Make sure you read our comprehensive review of the Lazer Jackal MIPS helmet for the full lowdown
- Buy now: Lazer Jackal MIPS helmet from eBay for £140.27
Giro Tyrant Spherical Dirt Helmet
The Giro Tyrant Spherical Dirt fills the middle ground between a full-face and half-face mountain bike helmet. While it's inevitably heavier than a standard open-face lid, it offers a great deal of protection from the very low rear and its 'spherical Mips' liner.
It offers excellent coverage around the skull due to that 'full cut', far more than a regular open face does, which Giro says 'further enhances its protective capability.' As the shell extends down to cover the ears, there's more coverage at the temples, too, as with a full face lid.
The Giro Tyrant can get a little hot compared to proper half-face lids but it's comfy, but it's great in winter and a particularly good choice for downhill laps on e-bikes, where the weight and heat retention are much smaller problems.
- Read our review of the Giro Tyrant Spherical Dirt helmet to learn more about how it performed during thorough testing
- Buy now: Giro Tyrant Spherical Dirt helmet from eBay for £99.69
Giro Switchblade MIPS MTB Helmet
The Switchblade is designed with enduro racing and technical descents in mind, built to offer the ultimate protection combined with the removable chin piece to allow more airflow when you need it. It is certified to the following standards: CPSC, EN-1078 and ASTM-1952-DH with and without the chin bar, the lid is tested at higher impact levels than regular lids and needs to offer more coverage to pass this test. It’s also got MIPS designed to dissipate rotational forces in crashes.
Ventilation-wise, there are 20 vents in total, but even without the chin bar fitted, it's not as well-ventilated as a regular open-face helmet. That said, it does pretty well considering its purpose.
- If you want to learn more about the Giro Switchblade MIPS helmet, take a look at the complete review
- Buy now: Giro Switchblade MIPS MTB Helmet from eBay for £174.95
Best mountain bike helmets with full-face protection
- Specialized Gambit helmet
- Smith Mainline helmet
- IXS Trigger FF helmet
- 100% Trajecta helmet
- Troy Lee Designs Stage helmet
Specialized Gambit helmet
The Specialized Gambit is designed to be the lightest DH-certified full-face helmet on the market. As such, Specialized has given it a carbon-fibre shell that’s combined with a polycarbonate backing and five pieces of targeted density foam to keep the weight low.
The Gambit is packed with premium features such as the brand’s Integrated Fit System that’s said to accommodate variations in head shape and occipital base, alongside the MIPS SL cradle to minimise rotational impacts.
If you're looking for a super lightweight full-face helmet with DH certification, open-face-like adjustment, and mega airflow, the Gambit firmly fits the bill.
- Read the complete review of the Specialized Gambit helmet
- Buy now: Specialized Gambit helmet from Cycle Store for £219.10
Smith Mainline helmet
The Mainline is Smiths' first entry into the full-face helmet market. While it is expensive, it can definitely earn its keep – it’s supremely comfortable and it fits the bill for an enduro-focused full face almost perfectly. It has both the MIPS and Koroyd rotational-impact protection systems for impressive safety, though the Koroyd does somewhat restrict airflow.
That said, it is pricey but Smith Optics has done an excellent job with the Mainline. It’s thoughtfully ergonomic and super comfortable. The only real downsides are that it would be breezier if the Koroyd wasn’t there – if potentially less protective and that some riders might prefer a Fidlock closure to the classic and more fiddly D-rings.
- Read our full review of the Smith Mainline helmet for more information on its features and how it performed on test
- Buy now: Smith Mainline helmet from Pro Bike Kit for £221.99
IXS Trigger FF helmet
The IXS Trigger FF is built using a 'unibody' in-moulded EPS, which fuses everything together so there are no weak points or seams. The chin guard is internally braced by the (also fused-in) skeleton that IXS call X-Frame. Keeping the lid secure is the ever-popular Fidlock closure, paired with a flexible open-face style retention system that has three levels of vertical adjustment as well as the usual twisty tightening function.
If you’re looking for full-face protection that’s equally as happy during an enduro as it is on a chilled mooch with your mates, the IXS Trigger FF ticks all the boxes. It’s light and comfortable enough to keep you happy yet well-protected.
- Make sure you read our comprehensive review of the IXS Trigger FF helmet for all the details
- Buy now: IXS Trigger FF helmet from Wiggle for £119.99
100% Trajecta helmet
The 100% Trajecta features a multi-point adjustable visor, and a metal D-ring closure and is certified to downhill full-face standards, despite the 24 large vents that make this considerably more pleasant to pedal in than a regular full-face. It's even got an own-brand version of MIPS beneath its antimicrobial liner.
Although it's pricey, the rotational impact protection system is flimsy and it's best for round-shaped heads. If you’re looking for a helmet that offers meaningful protection while staying comfy, light and cool enough for all-day rides, the 100% Trajecta confidently ticks all the boxes.
- Our full review of the 100% Trajecta helmet covers all the specifications in detail
- Buy now: 100% Trajecta helmet from Merlin Cycles for £154.00
Troy Lee Designs Stage helmet
Troy Lee Design's Stage helmet is a breezy full-face lid that offers excellent protection and comfort while also looking pretty sharp. It's still not as cool to be in as an open lid on a hot day, but for racing or riding that requires more protection, it's the next best thing, assuming your pockets are deep enough.
The Stage is one of the latest generations of full-face lids that are designed to be pedalled in, rather than being cut out for full-on gravity madness. That means it's peppered with a lot more ventilation - 25 vents in all.
Overall, It offers a lot of protection, delivers excellent comfort and about as much ventilation as you could hope for from a full-face lid.
- Read our review of Troy Lee Design's Stage helmet
- Buy now: Troy Lee Designs Stage MIPS Full Face MTB Helmet from Merlin Cycles for £130
How to choose the best mountain bike helmet
When it comes to mountain biking, head protection is a mandatory requirement. The best mountain bike helmets are now lighter and cooler and are designed to meet the demands of each mountain biking genre. Ultimately, the type of helmet will be determined by how frequently you intend to push your riding limits while riding off-road trails. The more technical the trails the more protection and the more pedalling uphill the greater the need for the best venting performance.
Fortunately, these days we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to effective, good-looking helmets to suit almost every budget. Helmets are packed with advanced technology features that tend to offer better safety, comfort and durability the more you spend, but you can get a well-appointed lid from around the £50 price mark.
While pricier models tend to have additional safety features, on a basic level all helmets work in the same way. A hard, thin (usually plastic) moulded outer shell serves to spread the force of an impact as broadly as it can. This force is then absorbed by a softer and much thicker inner layer (usually expanded polystyrene – aka EPS), which hopefully results in as little of the impact as possible being transmitted to your head.
We recommend that you try before you buy, as there is no point in having a helmet packed with technology and modern safety features if it doesn't fit your head properly.
What type of helmet do I need for mountain biking?
The type of helmet you buy, whether it's half-shell or full-face, can largely be determined by your riding discipline. Cross-country mountain biking helmets are often similar to road cycling designs as they share the highest design priority of the best ventilation, this will allow riders to push themselves to their physical limit without the risk of overheating. This means less coverage and bigger vents. The shell focuses its protection on the area of the head above the ears and will usually not have a peak.
For helmets best suited for mountain bike trail riding you can expect an increased level of head coverage when compared to a cross-country helmet - particularly to the rear in order to protect the base of your skull - plus an adjustable peak, smaller vents and a noticeable increase in weight. A good balance of protection, weight and venting makes trail helmets solid all-around performers. The phrase ‘trail’ is a fairly big catchall that can cover anything from gnarly cross-country to light enduro, so there’s a wide spectrum of trail helmets available as a result.
Enduro helmets take head protection to the next level when compared to trail or all-mountain cousins. If you are riding or racing more extreme trails often associated with the enduro scene you will want an increase in head protection amongst other body armour. Enduro trails are often ridden blind, with little or no chance to assess trail obstacles before hitting them at pace. An increase in coverage will result in slightly more weight and less airflow than trail cross-country models but you can expect more confidence when riding in the bigger mountains with technical trails. On certain models, you will also find additional features such as ear protection and on-helmet goggle parking. Convertible designs with removable chin bars or fixed chin bars with large vents to aid breathing are now common in this category.
The best full-face MTB helmets are designed to offer the highest level of protection for downhill mountain biking. Technical disciplines often result in you taking risks at speed to find the smallest fraction of time-saving and warrant the most head protection. Taking cues from motorcycle helmet designs, the modern full-face MTB lids have wide openings, goggle compatibility and certified levels of protection. Like downhill bikes, these helmets are not made for pedalling uphill, so expect minimal venting and comparatively hefty weight, they also have a fixed chin-bar and are designed for use with goggles.
Price is often a major factor when choosing a new helmet. Entry-level helmets (£30 to £60) tend to have a smaller area of outer shell protecting the inner layer, less adjustment to the helmet’s fit and are bulkier overall. Mid-priced models (£60 to £120) have a higher quality, larger shell to better protect you and the helmet from damage, decent levels of fit adjustment on one or more planes and a more compact shape. Pricier helmets (upwards of £120) usually come with extra safety features such as MIPS (see our jargon buster below) and reinforced internal construction, multi-plane fit adjustment via a quality retention device and are as lightweight as possible. Getting a proper fit is crucial when choosing a new helmet, so always try before you buy.
As a minimum, ensure the helmet you choose conforms to a European safety standard - denoted by BSEN, followed by a number (usually found on a sticker inside the helmet). Also keep an eye out for helmets passed with a Snell Foundation B90 rating, as this is a superior standard again.
Is Mips worth it?
What even is Mips? Well, it stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. A Mips-equipped helmet has an additional internal low-friction slip-plate which can help reduce the rotational forces that occur in certain impacts being transmitted to your brain. This is a type of spherical helmet technology that is licensed to an ever-increasing number of brands and is featured in premium helmets for every discipline of cycling.
Trek's in-house apparel brand uses a honeycomb design called WaveCel and Leatt has developed and adopted its own 360 Turbine system. Each system works in a similar way to the Mips design. It's difficult to ascertain whether any one system is better than the next; however spherical helmet technologies are trickling down to cheaper models so they are now available to more riders boosting head protection safety.
How should a mountain bike helmet fit?
While a helmet might feature a dozen impressively advanced features, if it doesn't fit you correctly you run the risk that it will move in a crash and not provide the level of protection that it has been intended to give. A helmet's fit should be secure and comfortable without any pressure points. Most modern helmets feature adjustable cradle or retention systems to easily tweak the size of the band that holds the helmet on your head. There are often adjustable foam inserts to tailor the fit around your head. It doesn't end there; thin straps with multiple adjustments to improve the fit and rider comfort.
We can't stress enough that the most important thing is to get one that fits you properly and is comfortable. All manufacturers provide a size guide on their website but it often doesn't account for the shape of your head and hair. We recommend that you head to your local bike shop to try on a number of different helmets from different brands. There are differences in shapes between manufacturers and some shapes will fit some heads more comfortably and without trying it's impossible to know which will suit you.
Does an MTB helmet need a peak?
Also known as a visor. A peak helps keep the sun out of your eyes. Ideally, it should be adjustable enough so that it doesn't impede your field of view while doing so. Many trail and enduro lids also give enough clearance to allow goggles to be stowed under the peak when not in use. Many helmet peaks have been designed to fold back or detach in a crash to reduce the risk of neck injuries if the peak digs into the ground.
If you have seen or are considering buying a helmet design that is missing a peak it is most likely been intended for road and XC use. These genres tend to prioritise ventilation and the lightest weight possible and a peak is one way to save a few grams so choose to do without one.
How often should I replace my mountain bike helmet?
An effort to regularly clean and inspect for any damage to the helmet in any area including the strap, shell, liner or foam is always highly recommended.
The frequency with which your helmet should be replaced will depend on usage. How often you use it will make a huge difference to its wear, both visibly and hidden; the more the helmet is used, the more it will deteriorate.
Even with no impacts, there is a constant knocking and pressing of the EPS as the helmet is stored, dropped and placed on hard surfaces. These continual tiny impacts over time may reduce efficacy, and the EPS will gradually lose its volume making it less able to deal with the energy in the unfortunate event of a significant impact.
So there is no one rule that works work here, but as a guide, some brands advise that you replace your helmet every three years even if it has suffered from no visible damage from a crash or not. Over time, things such as solvents, chemicals even from hair products and cosmetics as well as environmental exposure can all contribute to degrading the performance of the helmet. As head protection technology is constantly evolving, it is wise to consider a replacement helmet to ensure your vitals are protected by the latest features, technology and ever-improving designs.
If your helmet has been involved in any form of a crash it must be replaced in order for it to do its job and dissipate the energy from an impact and potentially save your life the next time it is called upon.
If any exposed EPS, the strap or liner is starting to look chipped or worn. If the polycarbonate shell shows dents and if a single small piece from even the edge of the helmet is missing then it should not be used and must be replaced. There may be hidden damage to the construction of the helmet. Look inside the vents for any cracks or splitting in the EPS. Also if the polycarbonate shell is separating from the EPS that means it's time to change, too.
Many helmet manufacturers offer discounted crash replacement schemes so it makes good sense to err on the side of caution when it comes to something as important as head protection.
Is ventilation important?
If you are pushing your limits smashing pedals on your way up a climb you will understandably start to get hot and perspire. Ventilation within a helmet is designed to draw cool air into your head, pass around your head and cool you before then forcing the warmer air trapped out the back through a series of exhaust vents. Naturally, some helmets offer better ventilation than others so it comes down to personal preference as well as the mountain bike riding you prefer.