When choosing a helmet for ATV riding, it’s quite easy to get lost in the jungle of different helmets. You can start by choosing between an ATV /motocross-style helmet or a motorcycle-style helmet to narrow down your options.

To make this decision, you need to know what actually separates the two styles of helmets. Most importantly, what are the practical differences in use?

At first glance, they both seem like they will do the job just fine. A helmet is a helmet, right? Well, there are some key differences you should know about, so you don’t end up getting a helmet that doesn’t suit your needs. In some important areas, ATV riding differs a lot from motorcycle riding.

As soon as you’ve learned the difference between the two and what features separate them, it should become much easier to choose a helmet that fits your riding style.

Most helmets that are marketed as ATV helmets are, in reality, just ordinary motocross helmets. These feature great ventilation, a strong chin guard, and a large face opening to be used with off-road goggles. They are great for more aggressive off-road ATV riding. On the other hand, motorcycle helmets feature a full face visor, great aerodynamics, and are generally more quiet and comfortable. This style of helmet is good for casual trail riding, as well as highway use.

Chin and jaw guard

ATV and MX helmets generally feature a very rigid structure in the chin guard, protecting the chin and jaw from injury. This will come in handy when you plant your face on the handlebars after a jump or land face first in the dirt after being thrown off the bike.

Although this may sound brutal, the time will come where you appreciate the protection this guard gives you. This is especially true if you are into some more aggressive style ATV.

Motorcycle helmets also have a chin guard; however, it’s not as beefy as the one you’ll find on ATV helmets.

The distinctive huge ventilation you’ll find in the chin guard on ATV helmets also separates the two. More on that later.

Mud and dust protection, full-face visor vs. goggles

When you are into more aggressive ATV riding where dirt and dust are constantly flying everywhere, you face many of the same challenges as motocross riders do.

In riding scenarios like this, a flip-up style full-face shield that you find on motorcycle helmets is basically no good.

It will quickly become impossible to see through it because of dust getting both on the outside and inside the chield. Nothing is preventing the dust from getting inside the helmet from underneath.

On the other hand, on ATV /MX helmets, you have a large opening to accommodate riding goggles, which works a lot better in dusty conditions than a full face street helmet.

The goggles are designed to give a tight fit on your face, making it much less likely that dust will get into your eyes.

My trusty 509 sinister goggles.

It’s worth noting that the opening on most motorcycle helmets will not allow for using goggles.

Airflow, preventing sweat and fog

Much better ventilation is probably the main advantage of ATV /MX helmets has over a full-face motorcycle helmet.

Try some challenging off-road riding or some laps around the racing track on a hot summer’s day. Riding where you need to actively use your body all the time, giving a hefty full-body workout.

Trust me; you will need all the ventilation you can get to keep the sweat out of your eyes and your sight from fogging up.

The ATV /MX helmet has huge vents all over, including one in the chin guard to allow as much cool air as possible to enter.

Nolan N53 ATV / MX helmet

Motorcycle helmets are also vented, but they simply cannot scoop in the amount of air you need to keep cool.

They also have the disadvantage of breathing directly onto the inside of the visor, fogging them up when you get hot.

To keep the visor fog-free when riding actively, you need to keep it halfway open to let in enough air. This, however, beats the purpose of having a screen to protect your eyes from dirt.

As for where on ATV /MX helmets, the goggles’ area is well ventilated, and vents on the goggles themselves. This helps a lot to prevent them from fogging up.

Aerodynamics

The motorcycle helmet is specifically made to handle high speeds of up to 200mph or even higher. At speeds like this, the helmet’s aerodynamics is crucial to keep your head stable without straining your neck muscles.

The surface needs to be as smooth as possible, and this is where the full face visor comes to shine.

Schuberth C4 Motorcycle helmet

The peak and the large face opening make the aerodynamics on ATV /MX style helmets pretty bad and makes riding at speeds over 70mph quite the challenge.

But for most ATVs however, this is rarely the case. At speeds under 60-70mph, the helmet’s aerodynamics is less important, and the ATV /MX helmet works very well.

Noise

Motorcycle helmets are often made with comfort in mind. Especially at higher speeds, wind noise can be quite noticeable on an ATV /MX helmet.

The aerodynamic and fully enclosed design of the motorcycle helmet, on the other hand, will, in most cases, do a much better job of keeping things quiet.

Many dirtbike riders and ATV racers prefer to hear where their opponent is located when they ride side by side. That’s why you on some ATV /MX helmets will actually find they’ve put vents on the sides to let the sound in. This feature is useless if you use the helmet on the highway at high speed, as the wind noise will be unbearable.

Sun protection

Some motorcycle helmets have a flip-down style tinted visor for keeping the sun out of your eyes.

The Schuberth features a practical sun flip-down visor.

On the other hand, ATV /MX helmets do not have this feature but rather a slightly adjustable beak to give your eyes shade.

Design and looks

The distinctive chin guard and sun visor are design elements that will quickly tell that you’re dealing with an ATV /MX helmet. The full face shield and smooth aerodynamic design will be key design features to look for on motorcycle helmets.

And then you have the actual graphics and colors on the helmets. ATV /MX helmets are often (but definitely not always) worn by younger riders.

A quick look at the huge range of available models will tell you that cool graphics are essential in this game. Standing out from the crowd is a must.

Some motorcycle helmets come with impressive designs also, but if you plan on using the helmet in traffic, you’re better off looking for high visibility alternative.

Motorcycles are small and can easily be overlooked by cars and trucks. Choosing a yellow, red or white helmet should give the other driver a much better chance of spotting you before it’s too late.

Impact protection

Keep in mind that motorcycle helmets are designed with high-speed impacts in mind. ATV /MX helmets are generally not.

However, that’s not to say you won’t find ATV /MX helmets with just as good protection as motorcycle helmets.

In any case, you should always make sure the helmet you get is tested and approved for the highest safety standards.

Weight

Low weight on helmets is important because of two things.

If you ride all day, let’s say on a bumpy ATV track, the extra grams of a heavy helmet will feel like extra kilos at the end of the day. Any helmet over 1650 grams is no good for this purpose.

And if you end up in an accident, any extra weight will increase the risk of hurting your neck.

Generally, I would want a lighter helmet for ATV riding because of all of the bumps and shaking off-road riding will give.

Protection from rain, cold, and snow

When riding in the cold rain, or especially in the winter, a full face shield will do a much better job of keeping your face protected. Again, comfort is what it’s all about when going for long rides on the highway, so that a motorcycle helmet would be your best choice.

The ATV /MX helmet just can’t keep the water out of your face. Riding down the highway a rainy day with a dirtbike helmet is nothing short of a nightmare.

Or, if you are out winter riding, you can get frostbite on your cheeks or nose faster than you can say “brrr” if you are not well protected. Keeping the cold from hitting your bare skin is essential.

Full face shielded helmets does a much better job on this. For this purpose, you can actually get a double-paned visor to install in your motorcycle helmet to prevent fogging.

But you can also get special winterized ATV /snowmobile helmets that use goggles but have extra inserts to keep you warm. These are best when your winter riding is active and sweaty – the most demanding challenge a helmet will have to face.

You can also get special full-face shielded winter helmets with added insulation and a breathing tube or facemask to isolate the hot moist, exhaled air to prevent fogging or icing.

Cleanability

ATV racing and dirtbike riding involve a very active riding style with many body movements on the bike. Often you ride in the blistering heat as well. So sweat will occur, no matter what.
Then you have the dust, dirt, and mud getting into every little corner of the helmet.

That’s why you won’t find an ATV /MX helmet today without an easily removable inner lining that can be washed when necessary.

You will find this feature on more and more motorcycle helmets as well. This is quite convenient for hygienic reasons.

But when out riding on the highway, you don’t run the same risk of potentially having to trash the helmet after soaking it in sweat and mud. That’s why the feature of easy cleaning is so important on ATV /MX helmets.

Which helmet style to use for different types of ATV riding?

So now you know what separates the two types of helmets. To sum things up, I’ll talk about what helmet fits best for different ATV ridings situations.

Sport, off-road, dune riding, and mudding

For any off-road applications, the ATV /MX style helmet is what you want. Good ventilation, good protection, and the ability to use goggles are key features to look for.

If you only want to get one helmet for all of your ATV ridings, this is the type to get.

Recreational trail riding

For those times comfort is more important than dirt handling abilities, you may want to choose something in the lines of a motorcycle-style helmet.

This gives you better protection against the elements, reduces sound, and you should have no issues with overheating as long as you stay on the trail.

Utility work and hunting

For this type of riding, I prefer using an ATV /MX helmet but skip the goggles. This gives you great protection, but also lots of ventilation and good visibility.

I recommend this over using a so-called “open face helmet” with no chin guard. While these are still better than nothing, they lack essential facial protection from branches, flying debris, or sudden stops, face first.

In my opinion, these only belong in old motorcycle movies.

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I'm an ATV and offroad-enthusiast, an engineer, a farmer, and an avid home-mechanic. I'm also the owner and editor of BoostATV.com. If you have any questions or suggestions regarding this article, please feel free to contact me.