Mountain biking is fun and exhilarating but also presents a huge risk for injury. As such, you need to have the right safety gear. Key safety gear for mountain bike riding includes a helmet.
Research shows that having the right cycling helmet can prevent injuries by up to 60%. Helmets may seem uncool or feel cumbersome to wear, but would you rather a head injury? Torn ligaments and broken bones can heal over time, but head injuries tend to be hard to recover from and in the worst scenario may be fatal. Therefore, it is paramount that you wear a helmet when riding, especially in the rough terrain associated with mountain biking, where you need a road bike helmet and protective helmet.
There are two main types of mountain bike helmets (mtb helmet): full-face and open-face. The big question is whether one is better than the other. Isn’t any bike helmet better than none? Absolutely, any wearing any helmet is better than none. However, certain types offer better protection than others, depending on your riding style and terrain.
This article will explore the difference between full-face and open-face helmets, their pros and cons, and when each type is most appropriate for a mountain biking rider. We also look at the key features to look out for in a mountain bike helmet and review some of the best open-face and full-face mountain bikes on the market.
Full-face mountain bike helmets
As the name suggests, a full face helmet covers your entire face and head. They have a high-protection rating and are best suited for an aggressive mountain biker. There are 2 main types of full-face mountain bike helmets:
Enduro full-face helmets
They are designed to compact the poor ventilation and heavy weight cons of the standard full-face mountain bike helmets. As such, enduro helmets are light and well ventilated, allowing for airflow. However, the light weight compromises the protection rating of the helmet. While an Enduro helmet might protect you from a small crash, it does not offer adequate protection for hardcore riding styles such as downhill biking and free styling.
Downhill full-face helmets
Downhill riding is one of the most aggressive and risk-prone styles of mountain biking. Consequently, you need a full-protection helmet that would offer adequate protection in the unfortunate event of a high-speed, downhill crash.
Advantages of full-face helmets
- They offer injury protection to both the face and head
- Typically, full-face mountain bike helmets come with visors which offer protection to your eyes against dust and bugs
- They keep you warm and dry even when riding in extremely cold and wet weather conditions.
Disadvantages of full-face helmets
- They are more expensive compared to open-face helmets
- They are heavy. It will take some time to get used to wearing them and even then most riders complain that they leave them feeling tired.
- They do not allow for adequate ventilation. Their full-face enclosure design does not leave enough room for air to flow in and out of the helmet.
- They have poor heat dissipation. They are not ideal for ridding styles that involve a lot of pedaling or riding in extremely hot weather.
- They can give riders a false sense of confidence. Some riders overestimate the protection the full-face helmets provide and end up being reckless. Keep in mind that while having a highly-rated helmet is better than none, it does not offer 100% protection.
Open-face mountain bike helmets
Open-face mountain bike helmets offer you substantial protection while allowing you to feel the wind on your face and breathe a little easier than if you were wearing a full-face helmet. While they cover the head, they leave part of the face open. In the event of a face down accident, you are likely to sustain major injuries when wearing this type of a helmet.
Advantages of open-face mountain bike helmets
- They are light weight
- They allow for better ventilation
- They allow for heat dissipation therefore ideal for warmer weather conditions
- They are easy to wear and remove
- They are cheaper than full-face helmets
Disadvantages of open-face mountain bike helmets
- They do not offer protection to your entire face – your teeth and chin are highly exposed
Two-in-one/convertible mountain helmets
These are the middle ground between full-face and open-face mountain bike helmets. They feature a removable chin guard that you can put on to make the helmet full-face or remove to make the helmet open-face. Convertible mountain bike helmets are versatile as they can be used for mountain biking as well as well as road biking. Although they are convenient, they do not offer full-range protection as dedicated full-face helmets do. Therefore, they are better suited for casual downhill riding or enduro riding.
Full Face or Open Face Mountain Bike Helmets: Which is Better?
Ultimately, full-face helmets offer better protection for mountain biking that open-face helmets. However, if you are trail riding or casually riding downhill, an open-face helmet will do. For longer riding trips on hot days, open-face helmets are a better fit as they offer better ventilation and heat regulation.
Mountain Bike Helmet Buying Guide
This section discusses the key features of a mountain bike helmet and factors to consider when choosing from the wide range mountain bike helmets on the market.
Must-have features of a mountain bike helmet
The best mountain bike helmets have the following features:
A detachable visor
A visor offers eye protection against extremely bright sunlight, rain, dirt, bugs, debris, or scratching by low-hanging branches. The visors on a mountain bike helmet should be easy to put away and back on for a clear trail view, like a removable visor. Visors come in different shapes, including long and narrow, while others are short and wide.
If you are keen to capture the scenes as you ride along, then a camera mount feature is a must-have on your mountain bike. Some manufactures offer an adjustable strap system while others provide a sticky mount.
You may require additional eye protection especially when riding in extremely dusty conditions. Your mountain bike helmet should be compatible with riding googles such that you can easily fit the straps behind you head and have the helmet hold them snugly.
Factors to consider when choosing a mountain bike helmet
Now that you know the key features to lookout for in a mountain bike helmet, below are some factors to consider to the right one from the wide variety available on the market.
The reason you want a helmet is in the first place is for protection against head injury. The best mountain bike helmets have an in-mold design that consists of a thick layer of EPS foam on the inside and an outer polycarbonate shell. Most manufacturers now incorporate a Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) which is an extra-layer of protection between the shell and inner foam layer that minimizes rotation force in the event of a crash. The helmet should also meet the various helmet safety standards.
The mountain bike should fit your head snugly without being too tight. It should be a perfect fit to your head shape. If it is too tight, it might cause headaches. Some manufacturers incorporate a fit mechanism where you can adjust the height, padding, and width of the helmet.
Most manufacturers offer different sizes of a given helmet model ranging from small to extra-large with a few having an XXL size. They provide a size chart to help you determine which size works for you.
To determine your helmet size, take a flexible tape measure and wrap it at the widest part of your head – around the forehead and over the most prominent part of the back of your head. Write down the measurement you get and compare it against the size chart of the helmet you are considering. If the measurement is between sizes, go for the next large size.
Ideally, you want a helmet that is lightweight without compromising on protection level. Generally, full-face helmets are heavier than open-face ones. You can find a relatively light full-face helmet from the variety in the market. A light helmet is particularly key when riding for long.
Breathability refers to how easy air flows within the helmet. Breathable helmets keep the temperatures cool within the helmet and absorb sweat adequately. While some mountain bike helmets have small vents, others have open air flow channels on the shell or both.
Adequate padding allows the helmet to fit comfortably on your head. Some have a foam paddings while others have gel padding or both.
5 Best mountain bike helmets
Best full-face mountain bike helmet: Demon United Podium Full Face Mountain Bike Helmet
The Demon United Podium Full Face Mountain Bike Helmet is stylish yet highly functional. Its design offers optimal protection while being well ventilated and comfortable to wear.
The adult, unisex mountain bike helmet is lightweight. Its shell is made of polycarbonate and the entire helmet weighs 2lbs, 2oz. It has 13 vents at different parts of the helmet for optimal ventilation so that you can ride even on the hot summer days. it is CPSC certified for safety and integrates MIPS brain protection.
This helmet is available in sizes small, medium large and X-large with 9 color options. it is also compatible with BMX bikes. It comes with a helmet bag and helmet liner is removable and washable.
- Stylish and sleek design
- Integrates MIPs brain protection systems
- Ideal for use in hot weather
- Available in a wide range of sizes and colors
- Comes with a helmet bag
- Smaller than usual fit
Best open-face mountain bike helmet: Bell Sixer MIPS Adult Mountain Bike Helmet
The Bell Sixer MIPS Adult Mountain Bike Helmet is designed to offer high-level protection. It has a polycarbonate shell, which is engineered using the Bell fusion in-mold method whereby the outer shell of the helmet is bonded to an eps foam liner. This prevents transfer of impact to your head in the event of a crash. Protection is further reinforced with the MIPS integrated in the helmet.
The helmet offers a comfortable fit. It has a float-fit capability that allows you to adjust the padding width, height, and tension. Its X-static and XT2 padding is made of quick-drying woven materials reinforced with silver fibers to prevent odor and bacterial. The padding also has sweat guides and no-twist tri-glides that keep moisture away from the brow pad and eyewear.
To promote air flow, the helmet has dual-flow ventilation channels that allows a seamless flow of air in and out. This constant flow also regulates temperatures preventing overheating even on hot days.
This mountain bike helmet is fitted with easy to adjust, flat fasteners. It is also has a camera mount and a visor. The camera mount is integrated in such a way that it is easy to install your camera without needing zip ties or tapes. Also, the camera mount breaks away upon impact so as to minimize injuries. On the other hand, the visor is adjustable up to 4 positions.
The helmet is available in sizes small to X-Large with 19 color options. The X-Large size has 26 helmet vents and a 4 brow ports. All the models and sizes are CPSC certified.
- High-level injury protection
- High-quality build
- Comes with a visor and camera mount
- Goggle compatible
- Gopro compatible
- Offers optimal ventilation and temperature regulation
- Comfortable, adjustable fit
- Comes in a wide range of sizes and colors
Best convertible mountain bike helmet: MET Parachute
The MET Parachute is a convertible mountain bike helmet designed to offer optimal protection for high-risk, high-speed aggressive riding. It is suitable for a wide range of mountain biking styles including enduro and trail riding.
Its design incorporates a detachable chin guard that allows you to switch between full-face and open-face. This helmet is superlight (weighs 700g) such that you can wear it for long without feeling tired.
MET applies the advanced fit system on the parachute for a comfortable fit. Its safety T retention adjustable cradle hugs the head without any hotspots. The cheek parts fit closely to jaw without being too tight.
It is well-ventilated. It has large vents that allows seamless flow of air in and out of the helmet. The padding on this helmet is made of polyurethane material, which offers a soft feel on your head. It has contact points with large cradle surface for increased comfort, a light sensibility, and breathability. The front pad is made of the MET dual gel which does not absorb sweat. Furthermore, the dual gel is more durable than foam pads.
This helmet is compatible with goggles as it comes with a strap retainer at the back. It also has a MOPOV mount, which is compatible with most types of helmet cameras. In addition, it has an adjustable visor.
- High quality build
- Sleek, stylish, compact design
- High safety standards
- Comfortable fit
- Breathable and well-ventilated
- Suitable for long rides in hot weather
- Some people find that the visor does not open wide enough
This open-face mountain bike helmet is well-built, lightweight, and offers a high level of protection. The New York designed helmet worn the 2018 Red Dot Design Award for its sleek, matte design.
It has a unique 50% foldable style for easy storage in your bag. It is built with a durable ABS shell that is lightweight. It also has a EPS core that has a high impact-absorbing capacity. It is comfortable to wear and the right size fits snugly on the head. It also has streamlined vents for optimal air circulation. it has a dial fit system, extra padding and adjustable straps that allows you to adjust it to fit just right.
This helmet meets and exceeds the US CPSC and European EN1078 safety standards. The manufacture offers a 100% satisfaction guarantee whereby you can return for exchange or refund. It is available in small and medium size, in three color options (matte white, matte black, and matte yellow).
- Foldable for portability and easy storage
- Award-winning matte design
- Meets the required safety standards
- Lightweight (400g)
- Well-ventilated and breathable
- Comfortable, adjustable fit
- Satisfaction guarantee
- Limited size options
This O’Neal full-face mountain bike helmet is designed for Enduro and downhill riding. It is lightweight and durable.
It is made with an ABS shell. It has multiple air vents for optimal heat regulation and ventilation. It is fitted with a Fidlock magnetic buckle for a hassle-free, single-handed fastening and release. The inner liner is removable. It has a high sweat-absorption capacity and is easy to wash. This helmet meets and exceed the EN1078 safety standards. It is available in sizes small to X-Large with 3 color options.
- High-quality build
- Offers optimal ventilation and heat dissipation
- Easy to clean
- Available in a wide range of colors and sizes
- None so far
When choosing between full-face and open-face mountain bike helmets, first consider your style of riding. Aggressive styles such as freeriding, dirt jumping, and downhill riding require higher level of protection in which case full-face helmets are the best option. Although open-face helmets do not fully protect you face, you could wear them for casual low-risk rides, when riding for long periods, or if riding in warm or hot weather conditions. A convertible mountain biking helmet enables you to switch from full-face to open-face helmet by simply removing or replacing the chin guard.
Go for a mountain bike helmet that has visors, eyewear compatibility, and camera mounting options. The helmet should also be adequately padded, well fitting, with a high protection rating that exceeds the set safety standards for mountain bike helmets.
Mountain Bike Helmets FAQ
Can I wear any helmet for mountain bike riding?
Cycling experts recommend that you only wear specially mountain bike helmets for mountain biking. This is because other types of helmets may not meet the required safety standards.
For instance, road bike helmets are not suitable as mountain bike helmets. They have a lower protection rating therefore will not offer you adequate head injury protection in the event of a crash. On the other hand, while motocross helmets have a higher protection rating they are not suitable for mountain bike riding either. A mountain bike helmet is designed to take up impact and bend or crash but motocross helmets stay intact which may transmit the impact to your head.
When should you replace your mountain bike helmet
Mountain bike helmets have a finite shelf-life. While there is no clear-cut timeline for when you should replace your mountain bike helmets, most have done their lifetime within 2-3 years. The length of the helmet warranty may also be an indicator of its lifespan.
If you get into a crash, it is important you replace the helmet. Typically, helmets are designed to offer protection for only one crash. Even seemingly small crashes could have had an impact on the shell and foam compromising the protection capability of the helmet.
Regularly inspect your mountain bike helmet for signs of wear and tear. These include a crack on the shell, tears in the inner lining, or a broken visor. If you notice any signs of deterioration, it is time for replacement.
With that said, technology is continuously advancing, and mountain bike helmet technology is advancing too. As a result, manufacturers are constantly releasing newer models of helmets on the market. If you are keen to keep up with the evolving technology, then you might want to upgrade your helmet with a newer model.
Last Updated on May 29, 2023 by Danijel Cakalic