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The top 10 best half shell mountain bike helmets

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

Half shell mountain bike helmets, otherwise known as open face helmets, are meant for both trail and enduro riding. Professional riders prefer road bike helmets for cross country, but obviously what you decide to wear is all up to you.

The reason these helmets are on this list is because of their Virginia Tech rating, which ranges from good, to excellent, to best-in-class. What is clear is that crash technology does add to the overall safety of the helmet. So it’s more than just marketing and sales mumbo-jumbo.

Things like Multi-directional Impact Protection or MIPS, polycarbonate shell reinforcement, and multi-density EPS liners all work in favor of the helmet maintaining its structural integrity and absorbing and dissipating impact energy.

Of course there are other things that are maybe just as important, like comfort, fit, and sweat absorption, since no rider is actively pursuing a crash test of their helmet, but is looking for quality with these other characteristics.

Let’s take a look at what made it on my list of the best half shell mountain bike helmets.

Fox Racing Dropframe Pro

Fox Racing Dropframe Pro
Fox Racing Dropframe Pro
Fox Racing Dropframe Pro
Fox Racing Dropframe Pro
Fox Racing Dropframe Pro
Fox Racing Dropframe Pro

The design of the Fox Racing Dropframe Pro is certainly unique, and a hit-or-miss design-wise depending on the person you speak to.

Design arguments aside, what you can’t deny is the added amount of crash protection you get with this helmet, there’s simply more of it.

The shell is made from a mix of thermoplastic, polycarbonate, and polyamide instead of your regular polycarbonate. The liner is a dual-density EPS for added energy absorption versus a regular EPS liner.

The helmet wraps around the ears, providing more coverage without getting in the way of your field of vision. And it also comes with the MIPS crash technology, something almost every high-end helmet currently has.

At 460 grams it’s about a hundred grams heavier than your standard open face mountain bike helmet, but that added weight is something you won’t notice while riding.

One thing to keep in mind is that the visor is fixed into place, which might impair your vision on very steep descends.

Because the helmet covers a much greater area, Fox decided to ditch the adjustment wheel normally used to create the desired fit. Instead Fox achieves a comfortable fit by providing a padding fit kit with two different sets of padding. Together with the Fidlock buckle it does a great job in keeping the helmet in place.

In terms of heat management, more coverage also means more heat buildup. If you’re using this helmet for a lot of ascending, it’s noticeably warmer. On the other hand, slow climbing is not really the intended use of this helmet.

The Fox Racing Dropframe Pro is a perfect choice for those who’re seeking for more protection, without wanting to ride with a full face helmet. And it fulfills this role outstandingly, offering better crash protection than any other standard open face mountain bike helmet.

Expert Experience

Zach Wick | Review Editor – April 23, 2020

The Dropframe is a full-coverage trail helmet that aims to please those of us who spend most of our time on high-speed, chunky, descents but still like to pedal back to the top. Billed by Fox as an enduro/trail helmet, this model provides nearly the same coverage as a full-face helmet without the chin bar. It doesn’t offer any fit adjustment other than two sets of pads with different thicknesses, however, and the sizing is a little bit on the small end when compared to the rest of the helmets in our test. After a few weeks smashing down the most technical trails, we discovered that we appreciated the extra coverage this helmet provides, but it left us wanting for better ventilation when the trail turned back uphill.

Pros and Cons

Fox Racing Mainframe Trvrs

Fox Racing Mainframe Trvrs
Fox Racing Mainframe Trvrs
Fox Racing Mainframe Trvrs
Fox Racing Mainframe Trvrs
Fox Racing Mainframe Trvrs
Fox Racing Mainframe Trvrs

The Fox Racing Mainframe Trvrs is one of the more affordable half shell mountain bike helmets with a decent Virginia Tech rating.

Crash technology does help improve both the strength of a helmet as well as its means of absorbing and redirecting impact energy. The only thing is that on average you have to pay twice the amount of money you have to pay for this helmet if you want the latest and greatest.

So what you get for a sub-100 USD price is a great-looking helmet with MIPS technology, a polyamide shell instead of polycarbonate, a fixed visor, and that’s about it. It means this helmet covers the basics for a decent price, and is a great option to obtain MIPS technology at an entry-level price.

Expert Experience

Sean Leicht | Contributor – May 12, 2021

The Fox Mainframe is a solid helmet when comparing the price to the features included. Sure, there might be a few cheaper helmets on the market with similar features, but many of them look like hot garbage. The size range on the helmets make it easy to fit a plethora of head sizes, the helmet is comfortable and stylish. My only complaint is that the Mainframe runs slightly warm even though there are plenty of vents, breathability is not as good as some of the more expensive helmets on the market. Additionally, an adjustable visor would be nice but it’s not a deal breaker given the budget price point. If you are looking for an affordable, MIPS equipped helmet, the Fox Mainframe is worth taking a look at.

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

Giro Manifest Spherical

Giro Manifest Spherical
Giro Manifest Spherical
Giro Manifest Spherical
Giro Manifest Spherical
Giro Manifest Spherical
Giro Manifest Spherical

The Giro Manifest Spherical offers the airiness of a road bike helmet in an open face mountain bike helmet package.

The general notion of this helmet is that Giro played around with the design of the helmet to ensure maximum air flow. With 19 air vents it seems to do the trick creating probably the best mountain bike helmet for hot summer rides.

In terms of protection it offers the same as the already very expensive Giro Merit Spherical, but tops it off with an added ring of polycarbonate called the Auro Arch, which serves as a kind of roll-cage for your head.

So it means you also get the MIPS Air technology, the Spherical ball-and-socket setup for the EPS liner, which has a dual-density characteristic.

The Manifest is not only one of the safest helmets on the market, it’s also one of the best-ventilated. A total of 19 huge vents in a relative low-weight package ensure maximum air flow and a reduced risk of heat building up. When you don’t do prolonged stretches of slow climbing the chances of the helmet feeling hot and uncomfortable is near zero.

Does that kind of tech win awards in the safety department? Yes it does. Does that kind of tech win awards in how fast it’ll drain your wallet? It does that equally impressive, being the most expensive helmet of its specific category.

Expert Experience

Matt Miller | Managing editor – August 29, 2020

I will say that the Giro Manifest is one of the comfier helmets I’ve worn in a while. Everyone’s head is different, but the Manifest feels like it wraps around my entire head, without any noticeable pressure points. Whether this has anything to do with the use of the MIPS Spherical over the plastic liner, I can’t say for sure, but I don’t mind it on my head at all.

Other features like AURA keep the air flow up inside the helmet while ensuring a level of safety. It is hard to ignore the price tag on the Manifest, however.

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

Giro Tyrant Spherical

Giro Tyrant Spherical
Giro Tyrant Spherical
Giro Tyrant Spherical
Giro Tyrant Spherical
Giro Tyrant Spherical
Giro Tyrant Spherical

The Giro Tyrant Spherical is Giro’s single offering of a mountain bike helmet with ear protection. The brand consistently scores high rates in crash tests and this helmet is no exception.

Besides the now standard MIPS technology, it has a reinforced polycarbonate to keep the helmet structural integrity intact in case of an impact. The helmet also features dual-density EPS foam, to increase the energy absorption characteristics.

Its shape also means that besides added coverage you get added weight. The 600 grams of this helmet means it’s the heaviest open-faced helmet I know.

In terms of design the helmet obviously distinguishes itself from your average half shell mountain bike helmet. It also has a much cleaner look, especially when you go for an all black one.

Since the helmet covers a larger area of your head it’s meant for those either seeking added protection over your standard half shell, or more ventilated version of a full-face helmet.

Expert Experience

Nic Hall | Contributor – August 25, 2020

If you are looking for a unique new helmet option or want a bit more coverage without the confiement of a full face helmet, the Tyrant certainly has something to offer. It’s lighter, slimmer and more breathable than the Giro Switchblade, however it doesn’t have the ability to convert into a full face nor does it offer quite the same coverage. Granted the Switchblade is a burlier helmet and noticeably warmer. Our crew was split on the looks of the Tyrant, but we all agreed it fit and rode well. If the looks are up your alley, then we’d suggest trying one on, and if you’re looking for a retro inspired jersey to compliment your new lid, check out our Vantage Loam Wolf Jersey. Any time a company can squeeze in a bit more safety and innovation into a product with a bit of unique styling, we’re into it, so kudos to Giro for thinking outside the box, or at least recycling it.

Pros and Cons

Giro Women's Merit Spherical

Giro Women's Merit Spherical
Giro Women's Merit Spherical
Giro Women's Merit Spherical
Giro Women's Merit Spherical
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The Giro Women’s Merit Spherical is, as the name implies, exactly the same as the standard Merit, yet offers a range of colors Giro calls the “women’s series”.

As they state themselves on the sales page, there’s no anatomical difference between women and men’s heads.

Pros and Cons

POC Tectal Race SPIN

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

Troy Lee Designs A1

Troy Lee Designs A1
Troy Lee Designs A1
Troy Lee Designs A1
Troy Lee Designs A1
Troy Lee Designs A1
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The Troy Lee Designs A1 takes everything from its more premium brother the A2, but is offered with a standard EPS liner instead.

Furthermore it comes with a regular padding not the X-Static one.

This shaves a couple of dollars from the price, which means you still get a great-fitting, comfortable helmet that excels in the area it should excel in, which is safety and crash protection.

Expert Experience

Alissa B | Site Owner – January 11, 2023

The A1 Classic MIPS helmet combines confidence-inspiring extended coverage and MIPS technology, well-designed features, and all-day comfort in a quality helmet that’s durable enough for the long haul. I’ve put mine through the wringer with 9000 miles including extra-long days, extreme heat and cold, and months of non-stop daily wear. I’m still happy to put it on for my next ride, whether that’s at my local trails or across a faraway country.

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

Specifications half shell mountain bike helmets

Name
Price
Technology
Shell
Liner
Visor
Fit
weight (gr)
eyewear port
rating
Fox Racing Dropframe Pro
200 USD
MIPS
thermoplastic
polycarbonate
polyamide
dual density EPS
integrated
custom padding w. Fidlock buckle
460
8.85
Giro Merit Spherical
220 USD
MIPS Air/Spherical/Hardbody
polycarbonate
dual density EPS
bolt-on adjustable
Roc Loc 5 Air
360
yes
9.90
Giro Women’s 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
Fox Racing Speedframe Pro
190 USD
MIPS
polycarbonate
dual density EPS
3-position adjustable
360° Fit System w. Fidlock buckle
380
yes
10.84
Giro Tyrant Spherical
160 USD
MIPS/Spherical/Hardbody
polycarbonate
dual density EPS
bolt-on adjustable
Roc Loc 5 Air
600
yes
11.22
Troy Lee Designs A1
145 USD
MIPS
polycarbonate
EPS
bolt-on breakaway
3-point dial fit
393
yes
11.65
POC Tectal Race SPIN
230 EUR
SPIN/Aramid bridge/Unibody
polycarbonate
EPS
adjustable
368
11.67
Giro Manifest Spherical
260 USD
MIPS/Spherical/Hardbody/Aura Arch
polycarbonate
dual density EPS
bolt-on adjustable
Roc Loc 5 Trail w. Fidlock buckle
340
yes
12.20
Fox Racing Mainframe Trvrs
90 USD
MIPS
nylon
polyamide
polycarbonate
EPS
integrated
390
13.37

Sources

Zach Wick, Fox Racing Dropframe Review, Outdoorgearlab, April 23, 2020
Sean Leicht, Fox Racing Mainframe MIPS Helmet Review, The Loam Wolf, May 12, 2021
Drew Rohde, Fox Speedframe Pro Helmet Review, The Loam Wolf, August 25, 2020
Robin Weaver, Giro Merit Spherical helmet review, Bikeradar, June 1, 2022
Nic Hall, Giro Tyrant MIPS Helmet Review, The Loam Wolf, August 25, 2020
Alex Evans, POC Tectal Race SPIN NFC helmet review, Bikeradar, September 17, 2020
Will Brett-Atkin, Troy Lee Designs MIPS A2 Review, One Track Mind Magazine, August 31, 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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