The 5 Best Mountain Bike HelmetsPublished on 05/05/2023 · 8 min readCycling Expert Adam L. lays out the top 5 most commonly recommended mountain biking helmets by the Experts at Curated, and why you should consider them.
Photo by Tim Foster
Mountain biking is one of the most fun disciplines of cycling. It’s also one of the most dangerous! Luckily, helmets and other protective gear can keep you safe when you run into a rock, tree, or the ground. Finding the right helmet is essential to putting together a solid mountain bike kit. Here at Curated, our Cycling Experts have tested and reviewed dozens of helmet models from various brands. We’ve got riders of all styles—from cross-country to downhill—and have put our collective experience into selecting the best options in the market for all types of riders. I’ve compiled our Cycling team’s most recommended and best mountain bike helmets into an easy-to-digest list. Before diving into helmet options for different riders and price points, we'll start with some background info.
Why a Mountain Bike Helmet?
Mountain bike (MTB) helmets are similar but slightly different from road or commuter ones. They have greater coverage for the different types of falls you might take on a mountain bike and some different design features, including a brim for shade. That being said, all helmets sold in the U.S. must meet safety certifications, so a road or commuter helmet is definitely alright to wear on the trails but might not be optimal.
Here are my top three reasons to choose a mountain bike-specific helmet: 1. Better coverage: MTB helmets protect more of the head than road helmets. 2. MTB features: Increased ventilation and integrated glasses/goggles storage make these helmets more useful on trail. 3. Style: MTB helmets look better on the trail, which is a small but not unimportant reason to go with them!
Types of Mountain Bike Helmets
There are a few different categories of mountain bike helmets that are best for different riding styles. Here’s a quick overview of the major classifications:
These helmets look like standard helmets, with a bit more coverage over the ears and back of the head.
- Used for: Cross-country (XC), trail, all-mountain riding
- Benefits: Lightweight, breathable, versatile for some road or gravel riding as well
- Be Aware: No face protection
These helmets look like motorcycle or dirtbike helmets, with a chin bar that extends in front of the face to provide complete protection.
- Used for: Downhill, freeride, enduro
- Benefits: Highly protective for riding in extreme terrain and can connect with neck protectors as well
- Be Aware: Heavy and poorly ventilated for climbing-intensive riding
These helmets feature a removable chin bar and are effectively “2-in-1” for riders who like a lightweight climbing helmet or may ride more mellow trails sometimes.
- Used for: Enduro, trail, downhill
- Benefits: Removable chin bar makes climbing a breeze
- Be Aware: A bit heavier than trail helmets, less protective than true full shell helmets
A Note on MIPS
You may be familiar with MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System), a relatively recent innovation in helmets that helps reduce rotational forces in a crash. This system has been proven to reduce forces on the brain, resulting in fewer concussions. While MIPS is the best-known rotational impact protection system, some brands have also introduced their own systems, including SPIN (Shearing Pad INside) from Swedish brand POC. If you’re riding aggressively in serious terrain, some form of rotational impact is highly recommended, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be the MIPS system.
The 5 Top Mountain Bike Helmets
1. Giro Fixture MIPS
Leading off our most-recommended helmets is the Giro Fixture MIPS, a great value helmet with a mountain bike-specific design and the MIPS system, which isn’t common on helmets at this price point. The Fixture has classic half-shell features like extended occipital (back of the skull) coverage and a removable visor. Multiple vents dump heat on hot days, while Giro’s RocLoc fit system has an easy-to-adjust dial for customizing tightness.
The biggest compromise on the Fixture MIPS is that it’s only available in two sizes: standard and XL. As a result, riders with particularly small heads may have a tough time finding their ideal fit. However, the Fixture MIPS is available in several colorways to match rider style or bike aesthetics.
2. Smith Convoy MIPS
The Smith Convoy is one of our most-recommended mid-level helmets. While designated as a half-shell mountain bike helmet, it could also work fine on the bike path or with a commuter bike. In addition, you’ll notice some key MTB-specific features, including extended coverage at the rear of the head and an integrated fixed visor for shade.
Other features include easy eyewear integration (the helmet is designed to hold sunglasses on sweaty climbs securely) and Smith’s AirEvac Vent system, which keeps riders cool on hot days. Adjustment is handled by Smith’s proprietary VaporFit Dial adjustment, which fine-tunes the helmet sizing and increases comfort. Finally, the MIPS system is integrated to provide rotational impact protection too.
3. Smith Engage MIPS
We’ll stick with Smith for our next recommendation, representing a step up in their lineup. The Engage MIPS shares several features with the Convoy MIPS, including the MIPS liner, VaporFit, and AirEvac, but it also has some upgrades. It uses a higher-end shell construction, a nicer visor that can snap up and out of the way, and higher-quality pads with an antimicrobial treatment. It also works with goggles, which is a nice benefit for enduro or downhill-style riders. There’s also extended temple coverage to provide maximum protection for a half-shell helmet.
The Engage is actually my personal helmet for trail rides. One of my favorite aspects of Smith Helmets is that they’re available in extended sizes. Unlike many brands, they make a true XL size that fits large circumference heads. The larger size includes larger straps for a comfortable fit on bigger heads. Additionally, the Engage has an interesting two-tone design and is available in some unusual and stylish colorways. Looks aren’t everything regarding a helmet, but a good-looking helmet encourages riders always to wear it on the bike!
4. POC Kortal Race MIPS
The POC Kortal Race MIPS is a high-end helmet that’s highly recommended and has some advanced features that set it apart from cheaper options. First, it checks the standard boxes, including extended head coverage (occipital and temporal), an adjustable visor, and an integrated MIPS System.
However, it’s also certified for eBike use and has a POC-exclusive breakaway peak construction that is designed to break and absorb impact force in the event of a severe crash. It’s also built with a RECCO reflector, which allows Search and Rescue to locate you more easily in the event of a serious crash. Of course, you’d hope never to use that feature, but it’s certainly nice to have in an emergency. The Race designation signifies this Kortal is built with higher-end materials, which save a bit of weight over the standard model and is still a good option for less serious riders.
There’s also plenty of ventilation for dumping sweat on hot-weather rides and glasses and goggle integration. The Kortal Race MIPS is a good choice for aggressive all-mountain style riders who need a high-performance helmet. It’s available in three sizes as well as four color choices, POC’s colorways are a bit more muted than what some other brands offer.
5. Smith Mainline MIPS
Smith has been a frequent presence in our most recommended guide, and this Utah-based brand also makes a fantastic full-face helmet that our experts really like: the Mainline MIPS. The Mainline is this guide's heaviest, burliest, and most protective helmet. It’s the best choice for aggressive, fast downhill, freeride, and enduro riders needing maximum protection. Even if you’re a beginner or intermediate rider on lift-accessed terrain, the superior protection of Mainline MIPS makes it a good choice. While it’s not a cheap helmet, it’s certainly cheaper than medical care should you land a hard fall on your face!
The Mainline MIPS provides full head and face protection but has a relatively lightweight design with ample ventilation. Smith has achieved this by including ample vents and using Koroyd material, a Smith invention of rigid hollow tubes that simultaneously provide impact protection and airflow. The combination of Koroyd and MIPS provides serious protection required by serious downhill riding. There’s also an antimicrobial liner to combat stink after a sweaty ride and a D Ring chin strap for securing the helmet.
The Mainline MIPS is also designed to integrate with Smith goggles seamlessly. The visor flips up for easy goggle storage while riding the chairlift, and while the Mainline MIPS is optimized for Smith goggles, it will play nice with eyewear from other brands too. Finally, it can also be equipped with a camera mount to GoPro record your sweet downhill runs!
While it’s fun to pick, choose, and obsess over various bike components, there’s no part more important than your helmet. Protecting your head can make the difference between a minor crash and a life-changing event on the bike, and the right helmet should be comfortable, protective, and stylish so you’re excited to put it on before you ride!