Helmets come in many shapes and styles, but some are better suited for ATV riding. While some types may meet legal requirements, they might not offer sufficient protection and comfort for a full day of off-road riding.
A typical ATV helmet is a full-face motocross-style helmet with a chin guard and goggles for eye protection. Other helmets used for ATV riding include dual sport helmets with a peak and visor or motorcycle helmets with a visor. Open-face helmets are also used but don’t offer the same protection.
When deciding on the type of helmet for ATV riding, it’s crucial to understand the primary differences between the various options.
These are some of the topics we will cover in this guide:
- What are the different types of ATV helmets?
- What to look for in a good ATV helmet.
- How do you know what kind of ATV helmet you need?
- When and why do you need an ATV helmet?
- How to size an ATV helmet and how tight it should fit.
What Are the Different Types of ATV Helmets?
Most helmet manufacturers don’t make ATV-specific helmets. Designing a helmet that works optimally in all ATV riding forms would be extremely challenging.
ATVs are well known for their versatility and are used in vastly different riding applications ranging from slow-speed utility work to more extreme forms of off-road and trail riding.
Luckily, there are many helmet types to choose from, depending on your needs:
Suitability for ATV Riding
– Peak for dirt/debris protection and sun shading
– Designed for use with goggles
– Best ventilation
– Heavy-duty chin bars
– Lightweight and durable
Full-Face Motorcycle-Style Helmets
– Full-face visor
– Limited ventilation at lower speeds
– Closer chin bar
– Lightweight and durable
– May fog up more easily
Dual Sport Helmets
– Lighter than conventional motocross helmets
– Better visibility
– Visor prone to fogging and dust
– Good balance of features
Open-Face Motorcycle Helmets
– Good skull protection
– No chin guard
– Optional flip-down visor
– Excellent ventilation
– Less protection for face and jaw
Many people associate motocross-style off-road helmets with ATV helmets. A motocross helmet is the same as an ATV helmet for all practical purposes, though they may feature different graphics. These helmets are also commonly known as MX helmets, dirt bike helmets, or off-road helmets.
Motocross helmets were initially designed for off-road motorcycle riding but have become adopted as the go-to off-road helmet. They are a variation of full-face helmets with extra focus on ventilation, face protection, and eye protection in dusty environments.
Motocross helmets are the most popular alternative in the ATV industry and are likely your best option if you’re looking for a helmet that will accommodate a wide range of ATV riding needs.
Typical design features of Motocross style ATV helmets:
- They have a peak to protect from dirt and debris and help keep the sun out of your eyes.
- They are designed to be used with goggles, which are better at keeping dust and debris away from the eyes.
- They offer the best ventilation of all full-face helmets.
- They have heavy-duty chin bars with additional molding to protect your chin and jaw.
- A lightweight and durable outer shell provides excellent skull protection.
Full-Face Motorcycle-Style Helmets
Some ATV riders prefer full-face motorcycle-style helmets with a full-face visor, primarily for comfort and convenience.
They are better at keeping cold wind and rain out of your face and are quieter. On the downside, they are more likely to fog up and are not as good at keeping dust out of the rider’s eyes.
Typical design features of a full-face motorcycle helmet:
- They have a see-through visor covering the entire face.
- They do not ventilate well at lower speeds.
- The chin bar is closer to the rider’s face.
- A lightweight and durable outer shell offers excellent skull protection.
Some models offer a flip-up chin guard, known as a modular helmet. I would advise against those for active ATV riding. If you use it correctly, it is just as safe. But as you heat up and the visor begins to fog up, you may be tempted to ride with the chin bar up, exposing your face completely.
Dual Sport Helmets
Dual sport helmets are a popular crossbreed between motocross and motorcycle helmets.
Typical design features of a dual sport helmet:
- They are typically lighter than conventional motocross helmets and offer better visibility.
- They have a visor, leaving them more prone to difficulties with fogging and dust.
Open-Face Motorcycle Helmets
Open-face helmets cover the scull down past the ears to where the jaw begins but offer no protection to the jaw and nose. Half helmets, also known as bell helmets, are a variation of open-face helmets that provide even less protection as they only cover the skull above the ears.
Open-face motorcycle helmets and half helmets might meet the DOT minimum requirements but are typically not recommended for off-road riding due to their lack of face protection.
Typical design features of an open-face motorcycle helmet:
- They offer good skull protection.
- They have no chin guard.
- They may or may not come with a flip-down visor that covers the eyes.
- They provide excellent ventilation.
What to Look For in a Good ATV Helmet
What type of helmet you should choose ultimately depends on what kind of riding you’ll be doing, but here are some features and variations to consider before making your choice.
Full-Face vs. Open-Face
The most important decision when buying an ATV helmet is between a full-face or open-face helmet.
Off-road ATV riding presents different challenges and risks compared to cruising on a paved highway, and the helmet you choose must be designed to protect you from those risks.
Riding an ATV often means dealing with debris like rocks, mud, sand, and dust thrown up either by the rider in front or your own vehicle.
Trails can also have overhanging branches that may catch you off guard, and sudden stops from hitting large rocks or bumps can send you face-first into the handlebars.
Open-face helmets: These helmets weigh less and offer excellent ventilation. They protect the scull from a severe head injury but do not protect your face and jaws. To protect your eyes, you need to wear separate eye protection.
Full-face helmets: These helmets extend in front of your mouth and chin, offering the best comfort and protection. A full-face helmet protects your head and face, including your eyes, nose, and jaws. Full-face helmets are widely considered the best option for off-road ATV riding.
Proper ATV operation in challenging conditions requires an active riding style that generates a lot of heat and moisture. The helmet you choose must have the best ventilation possible to prevent fogging or icing in the winter.
Goggles vs. Visor
Helmet visors protect against gravel and debris and help keep out cold weather and rain. However, they tend to fog up in challenging terrains that demand an active riding style.
Often, riders end up opening the visor for better visibility, which unfortunately leaves their eyes fully exposed.
Goggles are more of a hassle to put on and off but are not as prone to fogging up and offer excellent protection against dust. They also keep larger objects out of your eyes like a visor.
Comfortable and Removable Padding
Thick and comfortable padding causes less fatigue when wearing the helmet for extended periods.
Look for a helmet with removable padding for easy cleaning. Getting rid of sweat and mud from your previous ride is not only a matter of hygiene, but it also extends the life of your helmet.
Light Weight Construction
Most helmets are relatively lightweight, and a couple hundred grams of added weight might not sound like much. But those extra grams can make a massive difference in a crash.
Also, your neck will thank you after a full day of riding if you choose the lighter alternative.
Quality and Prize
As you’ve probably heard many times before, the helmet is not where you should save your money.
Spending those few extra dollars on a high-quality helmet makes sure it provides you with comfort and safety throughout its complete life expectancy. You’ll thank yourself later.
New vs. Used
While a used helmet might look fine, its protective properties may have become compromised. You never know whether the helmet was involved in a crash or has been dropped on the concrete, possibly reducing its efficiency drastically.
Your best bet is always to buy a new helmet over buying one secondhand.
Choose a helmet with a minimum safety rating of DOT certified (US) or ECE (Europe). Other relevant safety ratings include SNELL and ECE. A helmet can have more than one rating; with safety ratings, more is usually better.
A helmet with a genuine safety rating certification label is considered capable of protecting your head. It is certified according to the testing standard the rating is based on.
What Kind of ATV Helmet Do You Need?
So, what type of helmet should you choose? To find an answer to this question, you must carefully consider what type of riding you’ll be doing.
- Off-road: If you do any form of off-road riding or ride in challenging terrains, your best bet would be to get a motocross-style ATV helmet.
- Trail riding: If you primarily ride gentle trails and rarely break a sweat from active ATV riding, you might be just as safe but more comfortable in a full-face motorcycle helmet with a visor.
- Utility: If you’re a farmer, depending on where you live, a helmet may not be mandatory for agricultural ATV riding. Wearing a helmet can be a hassle when you’re getting on and off the ATV all day, but I’ve witnessed how severe ATV accidents can also happen at slower speeds. A full-face helmet is recommended, but even an open-face-design helmet is better than nothing.
- Sports and racing: People who are into ATV racing rarely choose anything other than a motocross-style helmet.
When and Why Do You Need an ATV Helmet?
ATV helmet laws vary from state to state and between nations, so you must know the helmet requirements for where you ride.
A helmet is your most critical piece of safety gear. It is advised that you wear a helmet any time you ride an ATV, regardless of whether it is mandatory by law.
If you’re on the fence about whether you need a helmet, here are some excellent reasons why you need an ATV helmet:
- It helps prevent injuries or death. An ATV has no protective roll cage or other features that can protect your head in the event of the ATV tipping over or if you fall off the vehicle. An ATV helmet helps prevent serious head injuries or death. Most fatal ATV accidents involve someone not wearing a helmet.
- Protects against dirt and debris. A helmet protects against flying rocks, gravel, and dirt that could cause eye damage, a chipped tooth, or other injuries.
- Reduces noise. ATVs are loud and can reach decibel levels far beyond levels of hearing damage. A full-face helmet reduces the overall noise levels in your ears by several decibels and may help prevent long-term hearing loss.
- Increases visibility. Bright-colored helmets reduce the risk of getting hit by a fellow rider or another vehicle.
- Avoid a fine or losing your license. Riding an ATV without a helmet in places where helmets are mandatory usually results in hefty fines or possibly losing your driver’s license.
- Allow you to ride for longer. Constantly being exposed to wind, noise, dirt, dust, and the weather may soon leave you exhausted and wanting to return home. With a helmet, you reduce the overall exposure, leaving you in better shape for longer and more thrilling rides.
How Should an ATV Helmet Fit?
Your ATV helmet should fit properly, or it will not provide proper protection in the event of an accident.
In general, An ATV helmet should fit your head snugly, not feel loose on your head, and be securely fastened.
Here is how to size a helmet
- Measure your head: Use a cloth tape measure. Measure around your head approximately 1cm above your ears and 2cm above your eyebrows. Ask someone to take note of the measurement for improved accuracy.
- Try on a helmet size closest to the measurement. The helmet should feel snug on your head.
- Move your head up and down and from side to side. The helmet should not shift about when you do this. You should not be able to fit a finger between the helmet and your forehead easily.
- Wiggle your head. You should feel the helmet wiggling your cheeks.
- Ask someone to turn the helmet gently from side to side. The helmet should not move on your head.
- Tighten the strap. The strap should be tight to prevent the helmet from falling off.
- If the helmet felt loose, try a smaller helmet. Making sure the helmet fits well is time well spent.