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(The Gear Loop) - Autumn and winter is the perfect time to park the carbon road bike and dust off something that can tackle the muddy stuff

Whether you are riding a downhill bike, cross-country whip or a hardy enduro machine, you are going to need to protect your head with one of the best mountain biking helmets.

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Technology has improved at a staggering rate over previous years and open face helmets now provide exceptional protection against impacts. The introduction of MIPS, or other proprietary tech, has reduced the effect of rotational forces on the brain in the event of an accident, potentially saving wearers from life-changing injuries.

Of course, an open face lid can’t offer the same level of protection as their full-face counterparts, but often riders don’t want the claustrophobic feeling of a protruding chin guard when tackling more relaxed trails.

The best open face mountain bike helmets offer a level of comfort, temperature control and safety that is difficult to match. We’ve been testing a selection of top performers so you can make the right choice.

The best mountain bike helmets

LazerThe best mountain bike helmets: product photo 3

Lazer Jackal KinetiCore

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For

  • Proprietary safety tech
  • Lightweight lid
  • Excellent ventilation 

Against

  • It’s fairly pricey
  • Limited muted colours

Lazer recently announced that it was developing its own rotational impact protection system, designed to compete with the now ubiquitous MIPS. Here, Lazer offers KinetiCore, which consists of deformable foam blocks inside the helmet that soak up impact in the event of an accident.

It has been awarded the coveted full five stars in Virginia Tech’s helmet rating assessment and because the system is built into the very design of the Jackal, it doesn’t add the extra bulk or weight when compared to a MIPS system. It’s negligible, but every little helps, right?

The Jackal is very well conceived, with an easily adjustable peak that will happily house goggles, while brow vents increase ventilation and decrease the chance of your eyewear steaming up.

SpecializedThe best mountain bike helmets: product photo 4

Specialized Tactic

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For

  • Great fit
  • Lots of ventilation
  • Solid coverage

Against

  • Peak is fixed
  • Gets sweaty

Specialized offers its Tactic at a very reasonable price and although the Ambush 2 is now the more advanced helmet, we still like and use our Tactic on a weekly basis.

It features a MIPS system, which cranks up the safety credentials, while the coverage at the rear of the head is especially good. This feels like a helmet that was designed from day one to work on tricky and treacherous trails.

There is built-in sunglasses storage, a peak at the front (although it is fixed) and it is ANGi ready, with a fit system mount designed for easy integration with the Specialized ANGi crash sensor.

Despite the plethora of vents, we have found that heat can build up inside the lid, which isn’t so bad on cooler days but can get a bit irritating when cycling in hot conditions.

POCThe best mountain bike helmets: product photo 1

POC Tectal

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For

  • Stands out in a crowd
  • Comfortable
  • Recco reflector built-in

Against

  • There are lighter options
  • POC styling not for all

Scandinavian head safety specialists POC sure know how to make stylish products and the Tectal is the perfect embodiment of this understated cool. It’s arguably not the most advanced helmet in the POC stable, as racier versions come in even lighter, but the Tectal offers a nice blend of price and performance.

It takes inspiration from some of POC’s road riding helmets, including the aramid bridges that help keep weight down and comfort levels high. There’s a great amount of coverage and the vents are neatly placed to encourage excellent airflow. 

Bag one of these with money off the list price, which a lot of retailers offer, and it feels like a hell of a lot of helmet for the money.

GiroThe best mountain bike helmets: product photo 5

Giro Manifest MIPS

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For

  • Great ventilation
  • Comfortable fit
  • Great colour options

Against

  • Pricey at full RRP
  • Very ventilated 

Giro has turned to MIPS to provide the added rotational impact protection on this lid, which is already a very feature-rich offering for those thinking of hitting the trails or tackling a spot of enduro.

A word of warning: it is very ventilated and we found it to be one of the coolest models on test. This is fine when the sun is shining, but those riding in the depths of winter might find the heat management a little too efficient.

That said, the fit is fantastic and it’s a very comfortable lid to wear all day long. The now ubiquitous dial adjustment at the rear helps to lock in a great fit but this really is a helmet that manages to metaphorically melt away after a few minutes of use.

ScottThe best mountain bike helmets: product photo 2

Scott Stego Plus

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For

  • A handsome helmet
  • Comfortable fit
  • Safe and secure

Against

  • Heavier than some rival lids
  • Stock can be tricky to get hold of

Scott’s latest MTB helmet is absolutely jam-packed with clever little touches. There’s a neat adaptor that seamlessly integrates into the visor with a standardised mount for attaching GoPros or high intensity bike lights.

Scott’s 360 HALO fit system offers a fantastically adjustable basket that grips the head without causing hotspots, allowing the helmet to effectively float above so it almost becomes unnoticeable.

The wheel on the rotating fit system is also slightly knurled, making it easier to operate with gloved hands, while lots of small design details and stylish touches make it a great option for those who take pride in the way they look on the bike.

RibbleThe best mountain bike helmets: lifestyle photo 7

What to look for in a mountain bike helmet

Peak design

Most mountain bike lids feature peaks - or visors - that are designed to keep debris, rain, tree branches and more away from a rider’s face. 

Unlike in road cycling, where aero gains are en vogue, mountain bikers want to be more comfortable and the more upright body position allows a peak to stop debris flying into eyes and faces. Look for an adjustable visor, ideally, as this not only frees up room to stash goggles, but also allows for some movement in the angle to better improve protection.

Rotational impact 

The rotational forces on the brain during and after an impact have been heavily researched recently, with companies like MIPS investing a large amount of R&D into ways to mitigate this potentially damaging phenomenon.

The MIPS logo on a helmet means it features a Multi-directional Impact Protection System from the company, which helps dissipate these forces in the event of an accident. Some brands, like Lazer, have started developing their own tech, which allows them to seamlessly integrate it into helmet design, rather than bolting it on to existing products.

Fit and features

A twist lock adjustment system is now pretty much commonplace across all bike helmets now and it sees a plastic "basket" lightly grip the skull to keep the lid in place. This can be adjusted by some kind of dial, meaning you can make it tighter or looser when the head expands and contracts in the heat.

Other neat features to look out for is a "sunglasses garage" or a grippy surface that allows you to slide the arm of your sunglasses into the vents where they will stay put. Plus, mounts for action cameras and lights are also now becoming the norm.

Writing by Leon Poultney.