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The top 10 best cross country mountain bike helmets

In this article I’m going to give you a list of the best cross country mountain bike helmets.

XC racers use helmets categorized as road bike helmets. These helmets aren’t necessarily less safe. In fact, a great many have better bicycle helmet ratings. But they are less bulky and cover a smaller part of your head. They are also lighter and better ventilated in general, and some helmets have been wind-tunnel tested and offer better aerodynamics, which is of less importance with cross country riding.

What I’ve done is taken a look at what road bike helmets are currently available, what crash technology they offer, and cross-referenced them with bicycle helmet ratings like the one from Virginia Tech.

I’ve also included a number of the best-in-class open face or half shell mountain bike helmets. Basically the list you see here covers the entire range from road, gravel, XC, to trail and enduro, and depending on your personal preference you can go for a half shell or road bike version.

I was hoping to find some golden nuggets that would offer a high level of safety for a decent enough price. Unfortunately this was not the case, meaning that some of the most expensive helmets had the highest ratings.

That means for us if you value your safety when XC riding, when it comes to your helmet you have to dig fairly deep into your pocket. That being said, your head is more important than what’s in your wallet.

So let’s see what I’ve got in store for you in my overview of the best cross country mountain bike helmets.

Giro Aether Spherical

Giro Aether Spherical
Giro Aether Spherical
Giro Aether Spherical
Giro Aether Spherical
Giro Aether Spherical
Giro Aether Spherical

The Giro Aether Spherical is arguably a better value-for-money proposition than the far more expensive Aries Spherical.

That’s because it boasts the exact same crash technology in a slightly different package. MIPS Spherical crash technology to reduce rotational impact forces, a multi-density EPS liner, and a reinforced polycarbonate shell. All are the same.

The Roc Loc 5 Air fit system is also featured, ensuring a great fit of the helmet with multiple ways to adjust the padding, vertical height and circumference. To keep you cool, air is ingeniously guided along your head.

There are many colors to choose from to fit the rest of your outfit or your bike. All in all a no-brainer if you value safety and are willing to spend the money on a premium helmet such as this one.

Expert Experience

Nick BruckBauer | Contributor – October 2, 2019

The Giro Aether is a very elegant-looking helmet with a uniquely designed built-in MIPS liner, excellent ventilation, and one of the highest list prices in our lineup. Giro’s unique Spherical design houses the MIPS liner between different layers of the EPS foam shell, rather than directly against the rider’s head, allowing for the placement of internal airflow channels in the foam liner that add to the already excellent ventilation. Riders willing to shell out a bunch of cash for high-end features and a fancy design will love this model, but those looking for better value can likely find something with similar or better performance and comfort at a lower price.

Pros and Cons

Giro Aries Spherical

Giro Aries Spherical
Giro Aries Spherical
Giro Aries Spherical
Giro Aries Spherical
Giro Aries Spherical
Giro Aries Spherical

The Giro Aries Spherical is one of the safest if not the safest helmet within its category. It also has the highest suggested retail price at 300 USD. On its product page Giro boasts the helmet having the lowest Virginia Tech helmet rating (lower is better), and you have to if you charge this price.

So what exactly do you get for the money? This is one of a couple of helmets offering the MIPS Spherical technology, which reduces rotational damage with a ball-in-socket helmet setup. Furthermore the polycarbonate shell is reinforced with twin bridges on each side, alongside a roll-cage-like reinforced band. It all makes for an incredibly strong helmet that doesn’t weigh more than your average similar helmet.

It has silicon beads so sweat doesn’t drip into your eyes, or runs down your glasses, which is a feature far more useful than you might think.

The helmet is tightened on your head with the Roc Loc 5 Air fit system, something featured in all of their premium models. And something that does a great job of keeping the lightweight lid in place.

Expert Experience

Suvi Loponen | Technical writer – July 07, 2023

The Giro Aries Spherical is the company’s latest pro-level helmet, featuring its Spherical Technology system, a unique ball-and-socket design that adds more safety on top of Mips. As well as ranking as one of the safest helmets out there, the Aries is also one of the lightest helmets on the market, and the abundant vents definitely make it one of the coolest I’ve used. It does, however, come at a high price.

Pros and Cons

Giro Merit Spherical

Giro Merit Spherical
Giro Merit Spherical
Giro Merit Spherical
Giro Merit Spherical
Giro Merit Spherical
Giro Merit Spherical

The Giro Merit Spherical offers superb crash protection in a fantastic open face mountain bike helmet.

There are multiple crash technologies ensuring this helmet sits at the top of the range in terms of protecting. As do many other helmets it offers MIPS technology. The Merit uses MIPS Air which is the lightest variant.

Furthermore it offers Spherical technology, commonly referred to as a ball-and-socket setup where the inside of the helmet can move independent from its outer shell. A dual-density EPS liner is the last piece of tech to ensure maximum crash protection.

The entire package is still very light at 360 grams. Other great features are the bolt-on adjustable visor and the multi-point Roc Loc adjustment system.

The only downside I can think of is that you have to pay a lot of money for all that tech.

Expert Experience

Robin Weaver | Technical editor-in-chief – June 1, 2022

I’m a big fan of the new Merit helmet. Okay, it might not be quite as airy as the pricier Manifest, and doesn’t feature all the same bells and whistles either, but that’s fine by me because it’s still a top performer that’s supremely comfortable. It’s also light and airy enough to leave on all day. The price is still high, but there’s a lot of safety tech here, which feels like a plus to have – if you can afford it.

Pros and Cons

Troy Lee Designs A2

Troy Lee Designs A2
Troy Lee Designs A2
Troy Lee Designs A2
Troy Lee Designs A2
Troy Lee Designs A2
Troy Lee Designs A2

The Troy Lee Designs A2 is one of the most affordable, high quality, open-faced mountain bike helmets worth your money.

It offers superb comfort and fit, with an anti-bacterial X-Static Pure Silver padding. The padding sits within a dual-density EPS liner. The polycarbonate shell wraps around the edges to further protect the rather delicate EPS.

The decade-old design has been updated to feature the MIPS technology. Safety is further enhanced with the bolt-on breakaway visor, and 3-point fit system.

Part of the popularity of the A2 can be attributed to the comfort it provides. Both with the excellent fit and its ability to keep your head cool when you try and get the most out of your ride. 2 vents on the side extend far into the front. Together with elongated vents on top they suck in cool air, which can exit through a number of vents located at the back.

It’s a great looking helmet, available in many colors, with a perfect track record in crash protection, for a price below many of the top-of-the-line offerings from its competitors. An unbeatable proposition when it comes to mountain bike helmets.

Expert Experience

Will Brett-Atkin | Contributor – August 31, 2020

The A2 helmet has plenty of airflow and boasts 25% more than the Troy Lee A1 helmet. However, I wouldn’t say it’s an industry leader as I do find I sweat more with this helmet than I have with others on the market.

In summary, the Troy Lee A2 Mips mountain bike helmet is a great look, extremely comfortable helmet that offers industry-leading protection. However, it is an expensive lid and with only a small amount of peak adjustment, it is hard to store your goggles enduro style.

Pros and Cons

Lazer G1 MIPS

Lazer G1 MIPS
Lazer G1 MIPS
Lazer G1 MIPS
Lazer G1 MIPS
Lazer G1 MIPS
Lazer G1 MIPS

The Lazer G1 MIPS is marketed as one of the lightest helmets in its category. And to be fair it is.

Yet I want to put the 235 grams of this helmet in perspective, because the average road bike helmet weighs 280 grams. That’s 45 grams heavier and something you will not notice while riding.

On the other hand, things like ventilation and fit are far more important things with respect to comfort than a couple of grams less. And luckily this helmet performs exceptionally well in that area. You get 2 different sets of padding to fully customize the fit.

Unlike your classic dial at the base of your skull you actually modify the fit with a wheel on top of the helmet. This non-indexed dial draws the helmet tight around your head around the entirety of its circumference.

Although it does a fantastic job of creating a superb fit, the two strings underneath the helmet look rather delicate. And I’m familiar with fit systems breaking with helmets being stuffed into bags. So that’s something you might want to keep in mind if you’re not the type of person who’s really careful with her/his material.

In terms of safety it offers MIPS technology and sits just behind Giro’s Aries Spherical, so its most important feature is taken care of. And a helmet cover is included to marginally increase aerodynamic properties or protect you from the rain.

Expert Experience

Brandon Bilyeu | Professional cyclist – January 13, 2020

The marketing of this helmet as superlight might only appeal to a small subset of cyclists, but the reality is that this is a great, no compromises helmet that just happens to be lightweight too. The Lazer G1 shines in fit, comfort, and ventilation. Extra safety is available with the MIPS version and extra aero performance with the Aeroshell. It is by no means cheap, but for a top of the line helmet in today’s market it is a relative value.

Pros and Cons

Lazer Sphere MIPS

Lazer Sphere MIPS
Lazer Sphere MIPS
Lazer Sphere MIPS
Lazer Sphere MIPS
Lazer Sphere MIPS
Lazer Sphere MIPS

The Lazer Sphere MIPS is an excellent choice if you want a helmet with a proven track record in safety without paying an absurd price.

When looking at the catalog of helmet manufacturers you can see an exponential increase in price to obtain the latest technology or the lightest variants. The Lazer Sphere MIPS is an excellent example of this, where a decent price get’s you all the latest bells and whistles in a slightly heavier package than Lazer’s top dog.

MIPS technology, the ARS fit system with the non-indexed dial on top of the helmet, and a weight of 280 grams, which is the exact average for road bike helmets all make for a great package.

Expert Experience

Steve Williams | Product reviewer – March 10, 2021

Despite a terrible first impression, I ended up really liking this helmet, because I simply don’t notice it when I’m riding – yet the safety features promise benefits I hopefully will notice if I crash. It’s not the lightest, coolest or sexiest helmet you can buy, but it’s a very comfortable, stable and reassuring one indeed.

Pros and Cons

Bell Z20 MIPS

Bell Z20 MIPS
Bell Z20 MIPS
Bell Z20 MIPS
Bell Z20 MIPS
Bell Z20 MIPS
fallback

The Bell Z20 MIPS is a helmet that offers excellent crash protection with a great fit.

At 310 grams it’s not exactly a lightweight. On the other hand, they’ve included the latest MIPS Evolve crash technology with multi-density EPS liner.

The Float Fit Race fit system allows for multiple ways to get to the ultimate fit for your head, cleverly integrating it with the MIPS technology. Both the vertical height, circumference, and even padding width is adjustable.

Furthermore the EPS liner has a multi-density structure, which allows for progressively stronger impact absorption.

A great helmet, with a great overall value.

Expert Experience

Nick BruckBauer | Contributor – May 7, 2020

The Bell Z20 MIPS stands out from the pack with its class-leading comfort and ventilation that comes in a modern and stylish package, earning it one of our highest honors. With a MIPS liner that is built into the adjustable headband retention system, and the perfect location and amount of padding, the Z20 is one of the most comfortable helmets in our lineup. The numerous large vents provide excellent ventilation, and the modern, sleek design completes the high-end look. The Z20 is ideal for any type of road cyclist looking for the ultimate in protection, comfort, ventilation, and style.

Pros and Cons

Fox Racing Speedframe Pro

Fox Racing Speedframe Pro
Fox Racing Speedframe Pro
Fox Racing Speedframe Pro
Fox Racing Speedframe Pro
Fox Racing Speedframe Pro
Fox Racing Speedframe Pro

The Fox Racing Speedframe is the same helmet as the Pro version in everything but a small number of features.

The Speedframe Pro is one of the best helmets in terms of safety, and the standard Speedframe inherits many of its safety features except for the multi-density EPS liner.

The helmet is known for having an excellent fit, and you can fit a pair of goggles underneath the 3-point adjustable visor, as well as stash your glasses.

A good fit without pressure points, and a huge number strategically placed vents funneling air into and over your scalp keeps the heat buildup at bay. The air flow is especially noticeable when you pick up speed.

To keep the price down when compared to the Pro version, there’s a cheaper liner and the Fidlock snap buckle is missing from the straps, in an otherwise similar 360 degrees fit system.

It’s a great-looking mountain bike helmet, available in many colors and 3 sizes to choose from.

Expert Experience

Drew Rohde | Editor in Chief – August 25, 2020

If you are in the market for a lightweight trail helmet, the Fox Speedframe should be on your list. At 394 grams, this helmet offers a more aggressive and stylish look than other XC-lids on the market with some nice coverage and a comfortable fit. Features like a Fidlock Snap buckle, MIPS protection and removable XT2 liner pads further add to the value you get from the Speedframe helmet. In all honesty, I always thought of Fox as more of a marketing and lifestyle brand than a protection brand, but they have really stepped up their helmet game in recent years. I have total faith in the Fox Speedframe and although I hope to never need to test the Varisorb EPS’s protective qualities, I’m sure it will do its job when I need it to.

Pros and Cons

POC Octal MIPS

POC Octal MIPS
POC Octal MIPS
POC Octal MIPS
POC Octal MIPS
POC Octal MIPS
POC Octal MIPS

I will not hide the fact that I’m a fan of the Swedish brand, and with the POC Octal MIPS they’ve created another fantastic-looking product to their already impressive lineup.

Always striving to cram their products with the best technology the Octal MIPS features the Integra version of this crash technology, which means the slip plane is customized to the specifics of this helmet. The helmet has a unibody build for enhanced structural integrity in case of a crash.

It’s touted as being extremely lightweight, with a stripped down EPS liner and fit system, but it isn’t really. 270 grams sits just below the average for a premium bike helmet such as this one, and if you really want the lightest helmet you have to look somewhere else.

Personally, I feel again that this helmet is the best-looking of the whole bunch, but am acutely aware of the subjectivity of that statement. And I have read a number of comments from people being less favorable about its above-average width. Nonetheless is the craftsmanship of this helmet undeniable, and it has a safety rating to match.

Expert Experience

Nick BruckBauer | Contributor – May 7, 2020

The POC Octal is a well-built, extremely lightweight helmet with excellent ventilation that has a very distinct Swedish design. This lid provides solid crash protection with its thick EPS foam liner, but falls short of our top awards with lower rankings in our comfort and adjustability metrics with minimal padding and a simple and lightweight adjustment system. While there are other helmets out there with more creature comforts and better adjustability to fit a wider range of heads, riders looking for extreme ventilation in a lightweight package with a classic Swedish design will appreciate the Octal.

Pros and Cons

POC Tectal Race SPIN

POC Tectal Race SPIN
POC Tectal Race SPIN
POC Tectal Race SPIN
POC Tectal Race SPIN
fallback
fallback

The POC Tectal Race SPIN is a fantastic-looking half shell mountain bike helmet featuring the SPIN crash technology.

SPIN is POC’s proprietary crash technology and is an abbreviation of “Shearing Pad INside”. Its goal is the same as MIPS, with rotational forces being dissipated by using silicone bladders in the liner.

The SPIN technology in combination with the unibody EPS structure, and aramid puncture-resistant reinforcement makes for an excellent impact-resistant helmet.

I believe that because of its proprietary nature POC decided to ditch SPIN in favor of MIPS in their recent lineup, for what is probably a marketing and sales reason. Because SPIN proved to be an excellent approach to increase a rider’s safety with respect to the helmet.

It is what it is, and it does mean that excellent can probably be had for less than its initial suggested retail price of 230 euros.

Expert Experience

Alex Evans | Senior technical editor – September 17, 2020

I found the helmet really comfortable with a host of glasses from different brands and neither the glasses nor helmet needed adjusting once they were set. The lid worked best with POC’s Crave glasses, of course.

It also felt impressively light on my head, despite the plethora of features. The padding absorbed sweat well and remained comfortable and soft against my head once it was saturated. It also appeared to dry quickly once the excess moisture was squeezed out.

Pros and Cons

Specifications cross country mountain bike helmets

Name
Price
Technology
Shell
Liner
Visor
Fit
weight (gr)
eyewear port
rating
Giro Aether Spherical
225 USD
MIPS Air/Spherical/Aura II
polycarbonate
Progressive Layering 3-layer EPS
none
Roc Loc 5 Air
280
yes
12.51
Giro Aries Spherical
300 USD
MIPS Air/Spherical/Aura II
polycarbonate
Progressive Layering 3-layer EPS
none
Roc Loc 5 Air
275
yes
8.4
Giro Merit Spherical
220 USD
MIPS Air/Spherical/Hardbody
polycarbonate
dual density EPS
bolt-on adjustable
Roc Loc 5 Air
360
yes
9.90
Troy Lee Designs A2
170 USD
MIPS
polycarbonate
dual density EPS
bolt-on breakaway
3-point dial fit
350
yes
9.99
Lazer G1 MIPS
250 USD
MIPS
polycarbonate
EPS
none
ARS
235
9.23
Lazer Sphere MIPS
160 USD
MIPS
polycarbonate
EPS
none
ARS
280
10.23
Bell Z20 MIPS
200 USD
MIPS Evolve
polycarbonate
Progressive Layering 3-layer EPS
none
Float Fit Race
310
11.23
Fox Racing Speedframe Pro
190 USD
MIPS
polycarbonate
dual density EPS
3-position adjustable
360° Fit System w. Fidlock buckle
380
yes
10.84
POC Octal MIPS
200 EUR
MIPS Integra/Unibody
polycarbonate
EPS
none
lightweight system
270
yes
10.59
POC Tectal Race SPIN
230 EUR
SPIN/Aramid bridge/Unibody
polycarbonate
EPS
adjustable
368
11.67

Sources

Nick BruckBauer, Giro Aether MIPS Review, Outdoorgearlab, October 2, 2019
Suvi Loponen, Giro Aries Spherical Helmet, Road.cc, July 07, 2023
Robin Weaver, Giro Merit Spherical helmet review, Bikeradar, June 1, 2022
Will Brett-Atkin, Troy Lee Designs MIPS A2 Review, One Track Mind Magazine, August 31, 2020
Brandon Bilyeu, Lazer G1 Helmet Review, Road Bike Rider, January 13, 2020
Steve Williams, Lazer Sphere MIPS helmet, Road.cc, March 10, 2021
Nick BruckBauer, Bell Z20 MIPS Review, Outdoorgearlab, May 7, 2020
Drew Rohde, Fox Speedframe Pro Helmet Review, The Loam Wolf, August 25, 2020
Nick BruckBauer, POC Octal Review, Outdoorgearlab, May 7, 2020
Alex Evans, POC Tectal Race SPIN NFC helmet review, Bikeradar, September 17, 2020
bio vanseijen

Johan van Seijen

Founder Restoration.bike

Johan van Seijen is the founder of restoration.bike. His cycling career has seen him at the starting line of classics such as the Amstel Gold Race and Liege Bastogne Liege. Realizing his racing capacity would fall short of what was needed he obtained a MS from the University of Amsterdam in engineering. His love for cycling changed into riding in an amateur capacity with his local cycling club TFC Weesp as a roadie and supporting MTB Noordwest as a mountain biker. He repairs, restores, and builds bicycles and shares his knowledge on YouTube, Facebook and this website. 

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