Our Guide to Helmets

Adult or youth helmet (premium)

Our mission is to get people outdoors. Since most people aren't enthusiasts who venture outside regularly, you can buy or rent helmets. Specifically, about our helmet rentals:

  • We rent helmets that are higher end than those rented elsewhere, but still offer competitive pricing
  • We offer a rent-to-buy program so you don't have to worry about losing money from renting
  • Our self-service allows you to hire helmets whenever is convenient for you

Core function: We believe you should always wear a helmet if your activity has one. Remember, even if you're confident in your abilities, there may be crowds of other people less skilled than you. Combined with speed, and this can be dangerous. For example, even average skiers can reach speeds up to 60mph going downhill (97kmh), over 3 times faster that the top range of average commute speeds on a bike & as fast as highway speeds for vehicles (at least you need a license to drive)!

Do you really need it?

An activity-specific helmet is recommended wherever available. If you're trying an activity for the first time, renting a helmet is really important to ensure you have a safe experience .

For more info, read our 'what you really need' protip

What we carry

Snow helmet Higher end
Model Giro Battle helmet Smith Holt helmet Smith Vantage helmet
Giro Surface or Battle Smith Holt Smith Vantage

Buy

MSRP with tax

$60-80
value
$66 youth
$76 adult
$282
Rent $10+
Online rental Catalog name Adult or youth helmet (premium)
Usable for snowsports
Usable for biking
MIPS
See What to use & how to choose section
General Notes
  • We choose what we carry based on extensive research on what's the best value to our customers (e.g., price given performance & durability features) across all the top brands. We specifically do not carry every brand & model; for details on why we do/don't carry certain items in the following What To Use & How To Choose section
  • Buy prices a grayed out box indicates we don't sell it (we may only rent helmets of this model)
  • Rent prices are the starting prices; enter trip dates on our Catalog to get exact prices (based on total trip length, not per day!). We also don't charge sales tax, an automatic savings of almost 10%!

When you hire helmets online, you can select from available options or we'll pick out something for you. You can also write-in any preferences on the last page of checkout. This section describes the majority of our models & options, but sometimes we carry others.

Sex-specific

It is still a general convention in the industry that if not specified, an item is either unisex or designed for a male fit. But in our experience, personal preference & body type can often be much more important than generalized differences across sexes. Whenever considering sex-specific gear, compare carefully, including trying to rent helmets of different types for various trips to find the best value for you (be mindful that women-specific items may be more expensive).

For this item, we do NOT carry women-specific inventory.


What to use & how to choose

Sometimes it's easy to get lost in all the hype of something new (over-spending often happens on features). Our guide focuses on the fundamental factors you should always keep in mind (thus, this short list is similar across all items). Then only at the end do we have some questions to get you thinking about other minor features. Also take advantage of renting helmets to try out what works for you!

We highly recommend reviewing Type or Style first, where we review what you can use to address the Core function--a regular item you have at home may work! The other factors are secondary & depend strongly on the Type or Style you've picked; in fact, for other factors data charts are generally only for a specific Type or Style that we carry (e.g., as a gear shop, would be outdoor-specific products).

We've organized the most commonly used items people use to address the Core function below, with example images, characteristics, features, etc.

Choosing the right helmet is very similar to choosing outdoor clothing in the sense that there are many types of helmets for different outdoor activities that share a lot of fundamental characteristics (e.g., foam protection technology).

Unlike with clothes however, there are certification standards for each type of helmet, based on activity, to ensure safety. Helmets are tested rigorously given the conditions of that sport (e.g., speed of impact, type of impact, temperature, underwater vs dry land, etc.). There are a few helmets that are certified to be used for multiple activities (generally some combination of the first 4 activities below), but none that can be used across the spectrum (we don't even cover all possible outdoor activities below!). We recommend only using a helmet for the activity for which it's certified. If, for example, you have a biking helmet you love, and are going skiing for the first time, you should get a new helmet! Although you can try renting a ski helmet first, instead of buying upfront.

Minor point: for some people, a helmet is a fashion item, and they don't want to wear a helmet that's a different shape than the norm. This would be another reason to get the helmet for the specific activity for which it's intended!

Skateboarding or skating Biking Skiing or snowboarding Climbing or mountaineering Whitewater rafting or kayaking
Example images Skate helmet Bike helmet Ski helmet Climbing helmet Whitewater helmet
Where is the coverage focused?
Foam may be more thick in these areas
Generally a bike helmet is OK but you do want a style that covers the back of the head more Focus is on the sides of the head & front; back may be less covered, depending on style Focus is on the sides of the head & back Focus is on the top of the head, back of the head may be less covered Full head focus (imagine rolling in a river!)
How many impacts can a helmet take before needing replacement? One & done*
Helmet designed to resist a single high velocity impact, foam will in many cases crush or crack
Multiple impact
Helmet designed to resist multiple, but less forceful collisions (e.g., falling rocks or smacking on rock)
How open is it?
Helmets have ventilation holes** to help you thermoregulate. Sometimes these vents can be adjusted to be opened or closed. Other times they're fixed. We generally describe how open a helmet can be
More closed Most open
Very high exertion activity
More closed
Cold weather activity
More open
Can be either warm or cold weather activity
Most closed
Helps keep out water
Other feature differences
These influence design/ shape & price
N/A
  • Sun visor
  • Aerodynamic shape
  • May be lightweight
  • Goggle compatibility
  • Ear muffs + insulation liner
  • Varied ventilation & insulation features (can climb in warm or cold weather)
  • Floats

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent
= we sell

We carry helmets originally designed & certified for skiing & snowboarding (so it has that full-back shape), but with removable ear muffs to transform it to a certified biking & skating helmet

*Skateboarding or skating helmets may be be multiple impact resistant, but there are actually no specific certification standards & many people use a bike-certified helmet, which is one & done

**Vents are also placed differently (generally not in major coverage areas). For example, for climbing where falling rocks are a concern, vents are usually on the sides. For snowsports, vents are usually on the top

Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS)

There are different characteristics in terms of the protective material (e.g., foam), the shell, how the protective material & shell are bound together, or whether or not a helmet uses the third party MIPS technology. MIPS is the only aspect we'll discuss, because it's prevalent in the market (people are generally less interested in the other protective characteristics).

MIPS helps reduce the impact to your head from rotational forces. Imagine running then diving into the ground suddenly. After your head hits the ground, the rest of your body will likely continue to twist over so that you do a pseudo front flip (thus, rotational forces). When this happens, the brain also rotates, which is bad.

When a normal helmet hits the ground, it, like your body, continues to rotate over, so still bad. MIPS is an independent liner in the helmet that acts like a suspension system to hold your head still while the helmet rotates.

MIPS technology
Image source here

If you don't go very often, of course you're going to want to spend less money, but this often means real trade-offs in terms of the experience that you will have with the gear. Even if you do go often & are ready to invest in quality gear, having the upfront funds can be hard!

Now, it may seem like this price & quality trade-off is disappearing, because you can find a cheap version of almost anything for tens of dollars that still has good reviews (assuming the reviews are real). So you might be thinking: I'll just buy something cheap, and because the price is so low it doesn't matter if it's less featured or heavier or whatever compared to something higher end. When that breaks, I'll buy something cheap again, and so on. Just remember:

  • Many reviews are written after only a trial use or first use: We've seen entire review videos of gear done at home, which is very different than actually being outdoors! And reviews after the first use don't tell you about dudrability at all
  • You're headed outdoors to relax and enjoy life! Saving money only to have a trip ruined due to quality issues will feel terrible. Our program to rent helmets is designed to help you avoid this trade-off: you get to rent high end, quality helmets for around the same price as buying cheap ones (sometimes even for less!)

For this item specifically, the price vs. quality trade-off issues center around performance & durability.

Snow helmets Lower end Higher end
Entry level Mid range Best in class
Price $20-50 $50-100 $100-200 $200-300
Performance differences
We'll call out the price points at which certain features discussed in this guide are likely to appear, then persist through higher end models
N/A; baseline Adjustable ventilation MIPS. BOA fit system (see Size & Fit section) No dramatically new features
Each feature gets 'more advanced', e.g., the number of vents, the fit system & how much adjustable control you have, the type of material & construction methods. We haven't discussed these since few people would be interested
Durability differences Less durable More durable
Can refer to durability of chinstrap, insulation liner, ear muff, etc., as well as how prone shell is to scratching

Why we do/don't carry it

= we rent
= we sell

Our mission is to increase access to gear & we are proud to be the only company to rent as well as sell this type

Methodology notes on prices shown on this page

Youth Adult
Small Medium Small Medium Large
Example size range in circumference of head 48-53cm 53-58cm 54-56cm 56-58cm 58-60cm

Sizing headwear isn't as predominant as clothing, so few people know their sizing very well. We carry youth & adult unisex sizes (women-specific ones on average are smaller). Head shape also matters, and different manufacturers do tend to cater to different shapes, however there is no way to account for this in sizing. We encourage you to try on multiple helmets or hire ski helmets to experiment over a real trip!

Many helmets can also be adjusted with a dial toward the back, the most advanced of these is the BOA fit system (like MIPS, it's a proprietary third party technology, for how it works click here). Other helmets may use an elastic one-size-fits-all liner on the inside. We carry both types.

Here's how to check for fit:

Helmet fit
Image source here; Click to see full size

Usage tips

How to know if your goggles & helmet fit well together

Goggle fit
Image source here

Generally, within a given brand, helmets & goggles are designed to fit well together. If you have a mismatch, maybe our rental helmets can help you align the brands for a good fit, check the What We Carry section for an overview of our brands.


Maintenance tips

Repairing

If a helmet's goggle clip or retainer, or ear muffs or internal comfort liner comes off, you may be able to get a replacement from the manufacturer. If the buckle for the chinstrap comes off, you may be able to find a replacement at a fabric store. Especially for one & done type helmets, do not attempt a repair after a severe impact! Retire the helmet!

We have a general protip on how to store & maintain gear that we highly recommend reviewing as well. If you send us video or a good photo series, we may be able to help you evaluate your repair needs.


The exact numbers (e.g., weights, dimensions, prices, etc.) used were updated as of September 2019 .