Is a Full Face Mountain Bike (MTB) Helmet Safer?

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If you are new to mountain biking, you may be wondering whether to get a normal open face helmet or a full-face helmet. Both types of the helmet have their merits and demerits, and it is important to choose the right. In this article, you will learn when you should wear full-face helmets. We will also compare them with open face helmets and answer some frequently asked questions.

A full-face MTB helmet is safer than a regular MTB helmet because it protects the face, chin, and jaws. In terms of the top and back of the head, both helmet types offer similar protection. However, that does not mean that you should only use a full-face helmet. Despite the level of safety, they have some downsides. You should choose a helmet according to your riding style. Extreme forms of MTB, like downhill and enduro, require you to wear full-face helmets.

 

Full face helmet

Full face helmet

When you might need a full-face helmet

Even though a full-face helmet is safer, sometimes it might be overkill. In most situations, the choice of wearing a full-face helmet is up to you. In other cases, it is pretty much mandatory to wear a full-face helmet. Here are some cases when you should opt for a full-face helmet:-

  1. High-Speed Riding: The faster you go, the harder you crash. Also, getting thrown off the bike at a high speed leaves you with very little time to react. You could easily face-plant into the ground. In this case, a full-face helmet will save your head and face from a serious injury.
  2. On Rugged Trails: Not all off-road trails are equal. Some are just flat and levels like hardpack or dirt paths. Meanwhile, some trails are full of tree trunks, protruding roots, large rocks, etc. Even a slight fall on these tracks could lead you to bust your jaws on a rock.
  3. Riding Downhill: Downhill/gravity riding is the most extreme form of mountain biking. There are plenty of chances of you losing control of the bike. If you happen to fall, the only way you’re going is over the handlebars due to the slope. This is where your face is most at risk and thus, a full-face helmet becomes a must-have.
  4. Performing High Jumps: Many dirt riders love getting airborne and performing other tricks if the terrain allows it. However, landings do not always go smoothly, and there is always the risk of a fatal injury. Therefore, a full-face helmet should be worn if you are like one of these daredevils.
  5. If You’re a Clumsy Rider: Not everyone is as skilled as professional mountain bikers. Maybe you are still an amateur, or you might just be a naturally clumsy rider. Regardless, you should stay on the safe side and go with a full-face helmet if you can.

➥ If you’re someone who likes adventures and likes venturing along challenging rugged trails, then, you ought to have a look at the full-face helmets.

Enduro riding

Enduro riding

Open face vs Full face helmets

Full Face Helmets

ProsCons
All of the head is protected, including face, jaws, and chinMore expensive
Almost no chance of accidentally swallowing insectsHeavier and bulkier, so not very comfortable
Keeps head warm in cold climatesToo hot for warm climates due to less ventilation
Might induce overconfidence in a rider and cause them to take greater risks.

Open Face Helmets

ProsCons
Lightweight and feels comfortable on the headLeaves the face, jaws, and chin exposed, so less protection

Ample ventilation for keeping head cool on hot daysMight not be suitable for riding in frigid conditions
Provides adequate protection
Easy to take on/off and carry around

Read more: Full face vs. open face MTB helmet

Most mountain bike helmets are open face helmets, also known as half shell helmets. Full face helmets are used by a rather small portion of trail riders. This is because full-face helmets are heavier and more uncomfortable to keep on for long periods of time. They also have less ventilation which can make them unbearable in really hot weather. Full face helmets are also more expensive. However, these helmets are more protective as they cover the entire head, whereas an open face helmet leaves the chin and jaws exposed. It is always recommended to wear a full-face helmet during downhill or enduro riding.

Another downside of having the front open is that sometimes you might accidentally swallow flies or other small insects. As you can imagine, that is not a pleasant experience. Nevertheless, open face helmets provide ample protection in most cases. Being comfortable is also important. If you feel too hot or fatigued, you could lose concentration. Open face helmets are light, well ventilated, and much more comfortable than a full-face helmet. As long as you are not doing anything too gnarly and stick to cross-country or regular trail riding, open face helmets are the way to go.

➥ If you’re still in a dilemma, we suggest you have a look as to why you should be wearing a full-face helmet.

Full face vs open face helmet

Full face vs open face helmet

Convertible Helmets

If you are someone who likes to switch between cross-country and downhill riding from time to time, then you will require the properties of both a full face and an open face helmet. Instead of buying two helmets, you have the option to get a helmet with a removable chin guard. These convertible helmets offer the best of both worlds. With these helmets, you can easily take off the chin guard and convert it to a regular open face MTB helmet. When locked in, the chin guard stays firmly attached and the helmet looks just like a full-face helmet.

Convertible helmet

Helmet with removable chin guard

Helmet Fit

No matter how much of your face a helmet covers, it won’t provide adequate protection without the right fit. This is especially true if the helmet is too loose. When the helmet is too tight, it can get really unpleasant to wear it, especially a full-face helmet. To choose the proper helmet size, you must first measure your own head circumference. This can be easily done using a tape measure and wrapping it around your head about an inch above the eyebrows. Now you can compare that with the size chart given by manufacturers and pick the right size.

Another thing to keep in mind is the shape. Some heads are spherical while other heads are more oblong shaped. The shape is not given for helmets. However, you can simply try them on before purchasing and see which one feels the most comfortable. After buying, make sure to properly dial in the fit using the retention system and secure the straps.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. When should I replace my helmet?

Ans.: You should always replace a helmet immediately after a crash. Bike helmets are designed to take only one major blow. After that, the structural integrity becomes much lower, even if it seems just fine from the outside. The EPS foam lining gets compressed on impact and it does not spring back, so further impacts are not absorbed. If you are lucky enough to not experience an accident, you should replace your helmet every 5 years or so. Time and the elements slowly deteriorate the helmet materials, making it less safe. Always handle your helmet with care. Small hits and bumps can add up to decrease the helmet’s effectiveness.

Q2. How to choose a helmet?

Ans.: The first thing you need to think about before choosing a helmet is what kind of riding you will be doing. There are different helmets for road cycling, mountain biking, commuting, etc. Even within each category, there are often multiple subdisciplines. For example, a downhill helmet and a cross-country helmet are very different, even though both are forms of mountain biking. After that, you need to get the fit right. Otherwise, the helmet won’t provide effective protection. Make sure to look at the size chart to compare with your head size before buying. Finally, ensure that the helmet is certified according to CPSC or CE safety standards. Other features are up to your personal preference.

Q3. Can I use a motorcycle helmet for MTB?

Ans.: Yes, you can. However, a motorcycle helmet is designed to offer a much higher level of protection. These helmets are quite heavy and offer little to no ventilation. Therefore, it would be very uncomfortable to use one for mountain biking. You will be better protected, but the extra weight and heat will cause you to fatigue faster.

Q4. Does a full-face helmet break your neck?

Ans.: This is a common misconception that amateur riders face. A full-face helmet does not break your neck. In reality, relevant studies have shown that neck injuries are more likely to occur if the rider is not wearing a helmet. You can add further protection for your neck by wearing a neck brace as many professional downhillers do.

Conclusion

In conclusion, full face mountain bike helmets are safer than open face helmets. But they are not suitable in all situations. Always use a full-face helmet if you are doing downhill, enduro racing, or dirt jumping. For other forms of MTB, the choice is up to you. If you need both an open face and a full-face helmet, then you can choose to buy a convertible helmet instead.

My name is Dion Lewis. I’ve been cycling since my childhood. When I was in high school, I started racing in our local competitions. In my college life, I took a part-time job in a bicycle shop and I learned how to repair and maintain bicycles professionally. Though I love racing, mountain biking is another thing I do frequently. My friends, neighbors, and colleagues treat me as an avid rider and take my suggestions while they plan for a new bike or bike gear.

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