Best Overall Ski and Snowboard Helmet
Smith Vantage MIPS
For the second year in a row, the top-of-the-line Smith Vantage
won Editors' Choice. Solid, stylish, modern, innovative, and safety rated, the Vantage
is the finest snow sports helmet on the market. Its easily adjustable Boa dial, adaptable ventilation system, and tight construction make it an easy choice for any die-hard skier. Although Smith isn't giving the Vantage away for free, if you're looking for a lid that will perform in all conditions, you'll find this worth the pricetag.
Best Bang for the Buck
Fixed open vents
Limited goggle compatibility
The Best Buy Award goes to the Giro Ledge
for accomplishing good-to-great scores at an excellent price. Giro strikes this balance by creating a useful, simple, stylish ski helmet that is functional and affordable. Its construction is solid and doesn't feel like they sacrificed quality for the price tag. It is also available with MIPS technology for an extra $20.
Top Pick for Backcountry Use
Smith Maze MIPS
Tricky size adjustment
The Smith Maze
is the most functional and diverse helmet in our test group. It performed well in many conditions, from cold and snowy to warm and sunny, from sidestepping for distant terrain at the resort to strapping it to a pack for long backcountry tours. This helmet is stripped down and simple; it's got enough features to be effective and user friendly without being busy and overbuilt. The Maze
had a lot of competition during this review but came out on top for its affordability, versatility, and, most importantly, its status as a lightweight lid for the all-around skier.
Analysis and Test Results
Choosing a piece of equipment as important as a helmet can be a tall order, and these steps to understanding our review should help. The perfect helmet is the one you'll wear all the time. Helmets are protective equipment, after all, and do no good if left sitting on the shelf. Find one that fits, doesn't cause pressure points, and is snug. Do you run especially hot and need a lot of vents? Are you usually cold and looking for the warmest helmet on the market? Or does none of that matter as long as it matches your outfit?
All the OutdoorGearLab award winning helmets, from left to right. Top Pick Giro Montane, Best Buy Bern Baker HardHat, and Editors Choice Smith Vantage.
Types of Ski and Snowboard Helmets
We lumped together snowboard and ski helmets, as most design criteria, including safety standards, are essentially the same for the two closely related sports. The primary difference is in style and aesthetics. As time goes on, the lines between these once-distinct categories of accessories are blurring. Even in terminology, we follow convention and refer to all gear for skiers and snowboarders as "ski gear." When we refer to "ski helmet," we mean a product designed and marketed for use on gravity powered, mechanized access, mainly resort-based skiing, snowboarding, and other similar sports.
This is the most common design, and all the products we tested fall into this category. Essentially, it covers only the hairy part of one's head. Ears and face are exposed.
This is a general purpose "half shell" design. The green portion protects from cold and impact, while the black ear covers protect only against the cold.
Full shell designs are typically reserved for high speed alpine ski racing and cover the entire head and ears of the wearer.
This product, not tested in our review, represents the Class A, full-shell style.
A full face design, just like it sounds, covers the head, ears, and wraps around the mouth and chin below the wearer's field of view.
Construction and design variations include the overall material composition, number and arrangement of vents, adjustment system, goggle attachment, and fit shape and systems. Overall construction falls in two categories. Both can meet safety standards and be comfortable. They differ in weight, cost, style, and vent configuration.
"In-molded" models are the lightest and most expensive design. They can have more vents and can be made in more contoured shapes. An in-molded model consists of a thin polycarbonate (a durable plastic with high impact resistance) shell, filled uniformly and thoroughly with an expanded polystyrene (or EPS, which is a rigid and tough foam). In our test, the Smith Variance
and Smith Vantage
are in-molded products.
In an unfortunate twist of terminology, the other construction method is referred to as "injection molded." Injection molded models are less expensive, slightly heavier, and mainly come in more rounded, monolithic shapes. These products are made with a hard ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, another impact-resistant plastic) shell with EPS foam bonded to the inside. The Bern Team Baker
represents the injection molded designs in our testing.
Two different ski helmet construction methods. On the left is the Giro Seam made with in-molded technology, while the POC Receptor Bug on the right is classic injection-molded style.
Regardless of the construction method used, manufacturers must equip products with a fit system and retention harness. The fit system can be as simple as soft foam, or as elaborate as pulleyed cable and strap arrangements. These fit systems are used to hold the product still and in place under most conditions. The chin strap retention system will be looser, and should serve to keep the helmet in place only in more violent falls. Read our Buying Advice
article for a comprehensive discussion of fitting your snowboard or ski helmet.
MIPS technology is available in a number of the helmets we tested and is quickly becoming an industry standard in safety. MIPS, or Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, is an interior layer that floats freely and moves against the helmet itself. In certain rotational falls, the helmet will slide on the MIPS layer, leaving the head stationary and thus allowing it to absorb more energy. A link to the MIPS website for more information and an educational video can be found here
. If safety is your thing, then MIPS is another feature to think about when choosing your helmet.
Finally, every helmet should be readily compatible with your goggles. The shape of the forehead and cheek area and the presence or absence of a clip on the back dictate goggle compatibility. Also, various auxiliary features are nice. Many will wear a camera on their helmet. A few models come with a standard mount already in place. Additionally, many products on the market can be equipped with audio electronics. Speakers and microphones inside allow for integration with music players and telephones. These audio kits are either included with purchase or available for aftermarket purchase.
Clean lines, matching colors, big smiles. Look good, ski good. Style rules.
Criteria for Evaluation
The table below outlines how well each ski helmet in our review scored in Overall Performance. Each individual scoring metric is expounded upon further under their respective headings below.
Fit and Comfort
Fit is of utmost importance - without the proper fit, a helmet will not be comfortable. We'll walk you through the basic steps for sizing your helmet below (and you can refer to our buying advice guide for a more detailed explanation). Sizes are divided on a small, medium, large, etc. scale. Each manufacturer offers a sizing chart for their products that relies on you to measure head circumference just above the ears. After the relatively simple task of choosing your size, by far the most important criteria is head shape and the molding of the product. The shape of human heads can be lumped into three major head shapes: long oval, intermediate oval, round oval. We all have oval heads, but the degree of "oval-ness" varies from one individual to the next. To accommodate different head shapes, manufacturers make different models in different molds. Certain manufacturers are known for making designs that fit more oval heads, while others are better suited to heads on the rounder end of the continuum.
The Giro Zone has a typical long oval fit
, while the Smith Variance
fits round oval heads best. It took the cake in this category, scoring the only nine for comfort and fit. The Bern Team Baker
best fits those in the middle of the spectrum, taking home a four in terms of comfort. Our Editors' Choice, the Smith Vantage
, was the best helmet at fitting a multitude of different head shapes. Determine your own head shape by trying on a variety of models or by having a friend look straight down on your bare head. Our buying advice article elaborates further on head shape. The Smith Maze
, Giro Zone
, POC Fornix
, and Giro Ledge
all scored eight out of 10, bringing home the bacon, ensuring that comfort was a top priority.
The Anon Raider is the heaviest and bulkiest helmet we tested.
Helmets are, by and large, warmer than wearing a hat or hood while skiing. If you haven't figured this out yet, it's time to get on board! With a tight fitting goggle/helmet combo, it's easy to feel completely protected from the raging blizzard. The main problem our testers found when faced with cold, snowy weather was helmets whose vents didn't close. Vents are designed to create airflow through the helmet, and when you can't close them, the helmet can only be so warm. Another factor that plays into warmth is how well the ear pieces hug the ear and whether they can perform without being too tight, causing pain after hours on the hill. Lastly, there are some helmets that just aren't padded and insulated that well, making them cold.
The warmest helmet we tested was our Editor's Choice Smith Vantage
. It has tensioned ear pieces, vents that close, and is nicely padded for a snug, warm fit. The Giro Zone
and POC Fornix
are configured so that most of their vents close, but a few are fixed open, and our testers found them to be drafty. The Smith Variance
can be sealed off to the weather, but our testers found a little air leakage at their temples, regardless of which goggle they were using. Helmets with open vents were a bit chillier, obviously, but most of the time — and especially with our award winning Smith Maze
and Giro Ledge
— it was easy to pull up a buff on cold days and stay warm. The Anon Raider
was the most drafty helmet we tested, scoring a four out of 10. Keep this in mind when choosing a helmet, and think about the environment you're going to be doing most of your skiing/riding in.
Open vents, close-able vents, few vents, the most vents. Ventilation can make or break skiing on a warm day.
If warmth is a helmet's ability to keep your head from getting cold, ventilation is just the opposite — it's the helmet's ability to cool you down. Ventilation for helmets comes in two flavors: vents, and the ability to remove the ear pieces. Vents that open and close allow for the most regulation, but having any vents at all will help pull air through the helmet, cooling you off while you're cruising downhill. We skied on warm spring days and found that not all vents are created equal. Some of the helmets we tested look like they'll vent well, but the configuration of the vents didn't actually work to create airflow. Additionally, some helmets are designed to have the ear pieces removed. This is a nice feature, but is hard to do on the fly and requires some planning.
Every helmet we tested, with the exception of the Bern Team Baker
, has vents, but only the Giro Zone
, the Smith Vantage
, Smith Variance
, and the POC Fornix
have the ability to open and close vents. Removing the ear pieces of a helmet, which you can do on the on the Smith Maze
, Giro Ledge
, Bern Team Baker
and Anon Raider
, is nice on a hot day but is much harder to do than opening vents when you're out on the mountain. We found that the Smith Vantage
vented the best, but the Smith Variance
, POC Fornix
and Giro Zone
were close runners up. For having only nine vents, the Smith Maze
, our award winner for all-around value, created airflow and vented well.
The dreaded Gaper Gap... Goggle compatibility NOT working.
Weight and Bulk
All of the helmets we tested are safety rated. There's no saying that a heavier, bulkier helmet means a safer helmet. In fact, you can argue that the more weight you're carrying on your head, the higher chance you'll have of whiplash neck injuries. That said, finding a helmet that works for you and wearing it all the time is the safest option. In-molded helmets are usually lighter and lower profile, while injection-molded models tend to be heavier and bulkier. One aspect of each helmet that our reviewers took into consideration is how well they fit under the hood of a ski jacket. On the stormiest winter days, it is nice to pull a hood up over your helmet and zip it all the way to the top of the jacket for full battle mode. Of course, this can depend not only on the helmet you choose but also the ski jacket you wear. See our Best Ski Jacket
review for further counsel.
If weight is really important to you, keep an eye on the scores for each helmet in this category. The lightest helmet in our review was the Smith Maze
, while the heaviest was the Anon Raider
. We found that some of the slimmer helmets, such as the Giro Zone
and Smith Vantage
, performed better under a hood than bulkier helmets like the Anon Raider
or the Giro Ledge
Helmets should keep you warm on even the coldest, stormiest days.
The only thing more important than getting a helmet that fits is getting goggles that create a tight seal against the helmet. Leaving a gap is going to create space for freezing air to blast against your forehead, and no surprise, that's the worst. The other aspect of this integration is the problem of having too little space between the bridge of the nose and the brim of the helmet, which can force the goggles down onto the nose.
The Smith Vantage
, Smith Maze
and Giro Zone
seem to fit the widest variety of goggles. They all managed to create a good goggle/helmet seal without compromising the space between the bridge of the nose and the brim of the helmet. They all also managed to create a good seal between goggle and helmet at the user's temples.
Style, like fit, is crucial to your helmet purchase. If you don't like the way it looks, you might not end up wearing it, and that does no good at all! Style is an entirely subjective category, so as long as you like the look of the helmet you choose, that's all that matters.
As we've mentioned above, in-molded helmets tend to be sleeker in shape, like the Smith Vantage
or the Giro Zone
, while the injection-molded models have more of a classic, skate-inspired look, such as the Anon Raider
or Giro Ledge
. Many of these helmets come in an array of colors, making it easy to pair with your outfit on the slopes, and some are two-tone, which can help match more outfits. We've never been a huge fan of visors, as they complicate putting goggles up onto the brim of your helmet, but through this test, we found that to be less of an issue, especially if you're mindful of keeping the goggle strap relatively low on the sides of the helmet.
Choosing a helmet can seem like a daunting task, but if you start with the basics, you probably won't go wrong, and the basics start with comfort. Find a helmet that fits your head; trying them on before you purchase can be crucial. Think about how important ventilation (or lack thereof) is to you; think about the goggles you own and which helmets might fit your needs. If you can fit these criteria and find a helmet in a style you like, you'll wear it a lot, which is the main idea. Read our individual helmet reviews to get a better idea about what helmet meets your needs, and refer to our buying advice
for additional information.