If you’re a fan of off-road adventures like riding dirt bikes, ATVs, or Side-by-sides, you know it can be a rough ride at times. This makes safety gear incredibly important, especially an off-road helmet.
What makes an off-road helmet good? When buying a helmet for off road vehicles, look for DOT compliance, Snell rating, a comfortable and proper fit, lightweight build, ventilation, head and face coverage, and product warranties.
All these aspects are essential when choosing a helmet that’ll last, keep you safe, and be comfortable enough to wear for a day on the trails.
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What Makes Off-Road Helmets Different?
There are many types of helmets for motorized vehicles, so it can be difficult to know what to look for. While safety is the foremost concern when choosing a helmet, sometimes the safety you need depends on what you’re going to be doing.
Naturally, the helmet that gives you the most coverage will be the safest. However, that doesn’t mean the most comfortable is the best fit for the situation.
Let’s look at the most common types of helmets and the pros and cons of using them.
As the name implies, motorcycle helmets are for motorcycle riders. They offer a lot of protection for high speed impacts, but they’re not best suited for the needs of an off-road rider. They’re bulky, heavy, and limit your range of vision—especially when inside of a vehicle.
When you’re off-roading in an overland rig, you need to be able to turn your head and look out the windows to avoid obstacles. Plus, you’re not going to be in any high-speed collisions; off-roading is typically a “slow and steady” game.
- High impact resistance
- Full head and face coverage
- Much heavier than off-road helmets, causing neck fatigue and soreness
- Less ventilation, especially at lower speeds
- Limited range of vision
Open-faced helmets cover the top, sides, and back of the head, leaving the face open. These are general motorcycle road riding.
While they offer great visibility and ventilation for off-roading, open-faced helmets are usually heavy and don’t protect your face from impact. If you hit a rock or log too hard, the steering wheel is not your friend. Face protection is always a good idea when off-roading in your overland rig.
- Less constricting than other helmets
- Lots of airflow
- Less Expensive
- Doesn’t restrict vision as much as other helmets
- Heavier than other options
- Even with optional face shields, the face, mouth, and chin are not protected in case of a crash
- More wind noise
- Known to fall off during accidents
- Bugs, debris, and the elements have easy access to your nose and mouth
Full-face helmets cover up what the open-face helmets miss. Not only do they have a built-in face shield, but they also have chin and mouth protection built into their molding.
Because of the built-in visor or face shield, they offer a limited range of vision compared to most off-road helmets. If you tend to get claustrophobic, the enclosed helmet can also feel a bit restrictive after a while.
- Covers your full head, face, mouth, and chin
- Good ventilation
- Lighter weight than motorcycle and open-face helmets
- Better range of vision than motorcycle helmets
- Less range of vision than open-face helmets
- Can feel a bit more confining due to being fully enclosed
- Slightly more challenging to get a proper fit
If you have ever watched extreme sports, you’ll probably recognize off-road helmets. They’re built with off-roading in mind and offer incredible full-head protection, ventilation, and visibility.
The only downside to off-road helmets is that they don’t come with a face shield to keep dust and dirt out of your eyes. Of course, when you’re off-roading in an overland rig, your windshield is your dust protection (unless you have a jeep), so the face protection isn’t as important. Many off-roaders solve that problem by wearing goggles.
- Covers your full head, mouth, and chin
- Great ventilation
- Has the widest field of vision
- The most lightweight of all the choices to reduce neck fatigue
- No face shield, so goggles are required to protect your eyes from dust or water
- Slightly more difficult to get a proper fit
As you can see, there’s a lot more to helmets than just appearance. Once you choose the style that works best for you, there are a few other considerations to keep in mind.
What to Look for in an Off-Road Helmet
The most important aspect of a helmet is safety. With that in mind, how can you determine safety from one brand or model to the next?
The DOT, or Department of Transportation, certification is the federal seal of approval for a helmet. This means the manufacturer has proven they meet the strict federal guidelines for safety, design, and production of their helmets.
The DOT takes random samples from the production lines and tests them for safety and functionality. If a manufacturer doesn’t meet the standards, they’re fined for each helmet that fails the tests.
To tell if a DOT stamp is real, check for the following information:
- Manufacturer’s name
- Model number or name
- “DOT” below the manufacturer’s name
- The federal regulation number, “FMVSS No. 218” centered below “DOT”
- “Certified” in the final line
Always check for the DOT stamp before buying a helmet. Under no circumstances should you buy an off-road helmet that is not certified by the DOT.
While the DOT ensures that the bare minimum of safety has been met, the Snell rating goes a step further. It’s not mandatory for helmet manufacturers to get a Snell rating, but many brands choose to earn the rating to show their dedication to safety. Some competitive events require Snell approved equipment to ensure it will hold up to the rigorous activity.
DOT compliance is a general safety rating. Snell ratings dig a little deeper and classify the overall safety of the helmet and its appropriate uses. A company can choose to take part in the Snell testing for extra bragging rights on their product.
While not an essential component to a helmet, looking cool never hurts! Many companies offer different graphics packages, and some are even customizable.
Some companies also offer scratch-resistant coating to help keep your helmet looking good even after a few bumps and bangs.
Removable and replaceable cheek pads, liners, and breathing filters are a great option for any helmet. With all the sweat and dirt involved in off-roading, it doesn’t take long for them to get a little funky.
Neck rolls that wrap around the helmet will help to eliminate wind noise, allowing you to hear what’s going on around you.
Molded goggle pads also help you keep track of your surroundings. They form around your goggles to keep them in place and make them more comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
Wearing any sort of headgear for a long amount of time is a quick lesson on why ventilation is important. Afterall, you need to breathe! So, when it comes to ventilation, the more the better. Here are a few aspects to pay attention to when choosing an off-road helmet:
- Mouth and nose filters and vents
- No-clog mouthpieces
- Forehead vents
- Interchangeable mouth guards
Chin and side vents also help to prevent your breath from fogging up your face shield or goggles, depending on the type of helmet you choose.
Face Shields and Visors
No one wants to replace an entire helmet just because their face shield is scratched up. When looking at face shields, there are a few options you don’t want to hit the trails without:
- Scratch-resistant coating
- UV protection for those sunny days
- Shield locks to prevent opening unexpectedly on bumpy rides or during a crash
- Fog-resistant coating on the inside of the shield
Between the dirt, changing lighting conditions, and the bouncy ride, off-roading can be tough on a face shield and visor. Make sure yours is up for the task.
Having your helmet fit is absolutely essential, and like most things, each manufacturer is a little different from the next. If your helmet is too small or too big, not only be uncomfortable but also unsafe.
Be sure to check the manufacturer’s sizing charts and take accurate measurements of your head. Look for a helmet that offers a snug fit and is comfortable enough to wear for long periods of time. Shake your head around a couple times to make sure you can see in all directions.
While they might not impact safety, there are a few other helmet aspects you should look for to make your off-roading more enjoyable:
- Weight – As we said before, weight is important. Look for the lightest helmet that still meets your needs. Your neck will thank you, especially for longer trail rides.
- Storage – Storage bags are always a plus for the offseason. You’re not always going to be wearing your helmet, so make sure it has somewhere to stay.
- Warranty – After a while, the glue and materials in any helmet start to break down, especially with heavy use. The typical helmet lifespan is around five years, so look for a warranty that’ll cover the entire life expectancy of your helmet.
Stay Safe, Ride On
Anyone serious about off-roading knows a helmet is essential. After all, getting back out on the trails is difficult if you’re recovering from a head injury. So, when looking for an off-road helmet, look for safety, visibility, comfort, and a product backed by quality testing.