Now that you’ve found the right bike or bike seat for your favorite adventure sidekick, you’ve got an equally big decision to make: buying the right helmet. There’s a lot to consider, starting with one age-old truth: The best bike helmet for kids is any helmet they’ll actually wear. That means you’ll want to bring home something that’s lightweight and fits your child comfortably, in his or her chosen color and style.
Of course, you’ll also want a helmet that’s high-quality and safety-rated, with solid coverage and the latest protective technology. The good news is that it’s hard to go wrong on the safety front: Beginning in 1999, all helmets sold in the U.S. have been legally held to the Consumer Product Safety Commission standard, which means they’ll provide similar levels of protection from impact. But some helmets do a better job of covering the back and sides of the head, or include next-level upgrades like MIPS (we demystify those benefits below). Read on for more helmet-buying advice—and a list of our favorites.
Getting the Right Fit
To find the right helmet size for your kid, wrap a string around his or her head at the forehead and then lay that string on a yardstick (or just use a cloth tape measure). Most small toddler helmets will accommodate heads around 47cm; the Giro Scamp goes all the way down to 45cm for the littlest noodles. Some helmets will also include multiple sizes of interior padding so you can get a snugger fit.
Once you’ve found the right helmet for your child’s size range, you should position it level and low on her forehead, about an inch above the eyebrows. Side straps should be adjusted to form a V just beneath her ears. The chin strap should be buckled so it’s snug beneath her chin, and only one or two fingers can fit between the strap and her chin. Press against the helmet to make sure it can’t rock forward or backward. Finally, ask your kiddo to yawn and make sure the helmet presses the top of her head when she does. You want it to feel snug, but not so tight it’s uncomfortable or creates a pressure headache.
In-Mold Versus Hardshell
In many of the reviews below you’ll notice the terms “in-mold” or “hardshell” to describe the construction of the helmet. Higher-end helmets tend to use in-mold construction, which means a polycarbonate outer shell is bonded to the protective EPS foam layer inside so that the two come together as a single piece. In hardshell construction, the EPS foam is cast separately from the outer shell and the two are then laminated together. Neither is definitively safer than the other, but in-mold helmets tend to be lighter and better-ventilated. Hardshell helmets tend to cost less and occasionally wear down more quickly because the two layers can start to separate.
What Is MIPS?
Several of the helmets we’ve included below come in MIPS and non-MIPS versions. But is MIPS worth the approximately $20 it tacks onto the price of a standard helmet? Here’s what we know: MIPS stands for “Multi-directional Impact Protection System” and consists of a low-friction layer between the helmet and head that operates like a slip plane, allowing for 10 to 15 mm of relative movement to counteract rotational forces on impact. In this way, it can reduce concussions and brain injury.
Although there’s no real-world data on the comparative safety outcomes of MIPS and non-MIPS helmets, the inventors of the technology say any helmet equipped with MIPS is at least 10 percent better at handling rotational impact than the same helmet without MIPS. Research on helmet safety, including safety ratings conducted at Virginia Tech in collaboration with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, also consistently ranks MIPS helmets highest for safety. Here’s more about the history and research behind MIPS—whether it’s overkill on your child’s helmet or worth the extra scratch is up to you.
When to Replace
You should replace your child’s helmet if it’s been in any type of crash or accident. Helmets are designed to absorb a single impact—after that the helmet’s protective features have been compromised.
How We Selected
Every helmet on this list has been thoroughly evaluated and vetted by our team of test editors. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and engineers, and use our own experience watching our kids ride (and in some cases, crash!) in these helmets to determine the best options. We evaluated them on performance, value, fit, comfort, ventilation, aerodynamics, adjustability, and aesthetics to come up with the models that best serve every budget and every kind of junior rider.
—BEST FOR FULL HEAD COVERAGE—
Woom Kids Helmet
After rejecting several heavier models from competitors, my toddler loves the lightweight, ventilated fit—and let’s be honest, bright purple color—of the Woom Kids helmet. Woom makes bikes and gear specifically for kids’ proportions instead of just scaling down adult designs, and this helmet is the perfect example—it’s got extended coverage and protection where kids need it most, like at the back of the head and forehead, which includes a flexible, attached visor. The outer shell is made of a lightweight in-mold polycarbonate with an EPS foam inner shell. The magnetic closure system, situated on the side instead of directly under the chin, is one of the easiest I’ve used and is buffered by soft padding to prevent pinching. The helmet comes in three sizes, with enough interchangeable padding to help you dial in a cozy fit. Weight: 295g (S)
―BEST SKATE STYLE―
Giro Dime MIPS
We included the Giro Quarter MIPS (the adult version of this lid) in our overall helmet roundup. This kids’ version offers the same protection as that one. It has an ABS outer layer over an inner EPS foam layer. The hard plastic outer shell and urethane edge bumper protects the foam against everyday knocks, so you don’t need to handle this helmet as delicately as a lightweight model. The MIPS liner is nicely integrated and should help in some impacts, and the padding is comfortable. With just eight small vents, airflow is minimal. While that might not agree with most adults, kids are pretty resilient to too-hot and too-cold temps, especially when they’re having fun. Fit is Giro’s typical slightly oval shape, with only the padding to fine-tune it—there’s no fit system here. But the overall skate-style look of this lid means more kids will be more likely to wear it.
—BEST FOR STYLISH BABIES—
Nutcase Baby Nutty MIPS
Most bike-addicted parents want to ride with their kids as soon as they safely can. This adorable helmet—which is technically designed and certified for babies one year of age and older but fit my 10-month-old—helps you start them as early as you see fit (be advised that the AAP recommends you wait until after they turn one and have the neck strength to support a helmet). The Baby Nutty bike helmet is available in just one tiny size (47 to 50cm) but comes with two sets of pads so you can get a closer fit. It’s made from an in-mold EPS foam with a polycarbonate shell that’s lighter than Nutcase’s harder-shell Little Nutty, which is for heads too big for the Baby model. An adjustable strap with a magnetic buckle system is easy to close under a wiggly chin. Find it in both MIPS and non-MIPS versions, and lots of toddler-approved theme patterns like “Baby Shark.” Weight: 329g (XXS MIPS)
―SIMPLE AND STYLISH―
Banwood Classic Helmet
This sweet and simple mini-lid comes in nine solid colors and three patterns—Stripes, Birds, and Bugs, for an extra $10—to please every kid and match everything. The matte-finish helmets are made with an ABS outer shell and have an inner foam lining for comfort. Dialing in fit is made easy with an adjustable chin strap and a dual fit system in the back. Minimalist vents grace the front, back, and top. Sorry, Mom and Dad, this subtle and stylish helmet is not made in your size. In fact, it’s available in one size only that fits heads 50 to 54cm (typically ages 3 to 7). Weight: 338 to 358g
—BEST FOR A CUSTOM FIT—
Lazer Lil’ Gekko
Available in MIPS and non-MIPS versions and two size models—the Lil’ Gekko (46 to 50cm heads) and the Gekko (50 to 56cm heads)—Lazer’s helmet for kiddos is distinguished primarily by its fit adjustment system. When you place the helmet on your kid’s head, an internal cage held together by tension wire expands to fit snugly for near-custom comfort. The vertical height can also be adjusted so that kids with long or short foreheads can get the right level of protection needed. Made of in-mold EPS foam and polycarbonate, the helmet is durable and high-quality, with added coverage at the sides and back of the head and an included visor. There are generous ventilation panels all over the helmet, so overheating isn’t an issue. And as a bonus, the helmet comes with a removable USB-chargeable LED taillight for safety. Weight: 300g (Gekko, non-MIPS)
—BEST FOR THE SMALLEST HEADS—
The Scamp is for kids whose parents took one look at their newborns in the hospital and immediately imagined all the family bike adventures that lay in store. That’s because the XS fits the smallest-sized noggins of any brand we’re aware of—from 45 to 49cm—so your nugget will be safe to ride sooner. Built with in-mold construction and a polycarbonate shell over an EPS liner, the helmet is lightweight, well-ventilated, and compact while still offering plenty of protection. It has a convenient design for babies and toddlers in particular, with no excess bulk at the back of the head to push against a trailer or bike seat. The helmet tightens with a dial-adjust system, and clicks to buckle under the chin with the help of a pinch guard. It comes in both MIPS and non-MIPS versions, and two sizes (XS and S) to fit kids up to about age 5, with heads up to 53cm. (Check out the also great Giro Tremor for older kids.) Weight: 251g (MIPS and non-MIPS)
—BEST FOR LITTLE SHREDDERS—
Troy Lee A1 Kids
The best thing about this high-quality MIPS helmet is that your kiddo will actually be excited to wear it on the trail, thanks to a comfortable fit and cool, pro-level design that replicates the adult version. Designed to be relatively light without sacrificing protection, the A1 is built with in-mold construction and an EPS foam impact liner inside a reinforced shell. Sixteen big cutouts keep the helmet from feeling too hot, while a removable, washable, quick-dry liner absorbs sweat. The helmet tightens down through a dial-adjust system so you can get a good fit that includes solid coverage at the back of the head, plus a breakaway sun visor up front. The A1 is available in five sizes to fit heads from 19 to 24.8 inches. Weight: unknown
Our budget pick for toddlers and preschoolers is this super-lightweight helmet from Joovy, a company that specializes in kids products and not specifically bike gear. The Noodle comes in two sizes and works well for kids aged 1 to 4, with head sizes between 18.5 and 22 inches. Built with hardshell construction, Joovy’s helmet has more exposed foam than the others we’ve recommended here, which means it’s potentially less durable over time. It’s also slightly more bulky, particularly at the back of the head where it runs the risk of pushing against a trailer or bike seat. But for the price, the helmet is light and comfortable, with lots of surprisingly high-quality features. It tightens down using an adjustable dial system, and includes a pinch guard around the buckle strap. Fourteen big cutouts keep a tiny head cool, as does a soft, sweat-wicking pad inside the helmet that’s easy to remove and wash. The helmet comes in seven colors. Weight: 224g
—BEST FOR YEAR-ROUND COMMUTES—
Bern Nino or Nina Jr.
The Nino and Nina Jr. have three big strengths to set them apart from competitors—they’re stylish, they’re certified for both bike and snow use, and they’re sold at a stellar price. The helmet is designed with a ZipMold construction that fuses liquid foam to a lightweight PVC shell, which gives it a low-profile, close-to-the-head fit that’s much stronger and more durable than the helmet’s light weight would suggest. It also covers more of your kid’s head than many competitors, though at a cost of less ventilation around the sides and back of the helmet. A flippable sun visor adds some sun protection and (and just looks cool); if you want to use the helmet for winter sports, you can opt to purchase Bern’s fleece winter liner with ear flaps and trade it out. The Velcro adjustment system is slightly less convenient than the dial-adjust style used by other brands, but it works well enough. Overall, this helmet is a great choice for kids who want to ride year-round. Weight: 323g
—BEST FOR OLDER KIDS—
Bell Sidetrack II MIPS
The Sidetrack II is a mountain biking–style helmet well-suited for kids who ride on their own. Like its predecessor, the O.G. Sidetrack, it has good coverage at the back of the head, where it adjusts via a dial system that tightens down a plastic cage. Testers have found that it’s a bit hard to access the dial on the smaller-sized helmets, such as on the Toddler model, but it’s easy enough to loosen or snug on the “Child” and “Youth” sizes. The helmet is made with durable, high-quality in-mold construction and a polycarbonate shell over EPS foam. Well-designed for summer riding, it’s got 14 big vents for plenty of ventilation; soft, moisture-wicking pads for a comfortable fit; and smooth, flat straps that won’t chafe against sweaty skin. Like many of the options here, you can find it in both MIPS and non-MIPS versions. Weight: 320g (Youth)
—BEST FOR TINY TRAILER RIDERS—
Specialized Mio MIPS
The Specialized Mio MIPS has a flattened shape at the back of the helmet, so babies and toddlers riding in trailers or bike seats won’t feel like it’s pushing their head forward. It’s also just an overall high-quality helmet with a few bonus features you don’t usually see on a toddler helmet. The Mio has in-mold construction, a magnetic buckle with pinch protection, plenty of ventilation cut-outs, an integrated visor, and even MIPs. It tightens at the back of the head with an easy-to-reach adjustable dial, and has a fixed plastic slider design at the side straps that holds a snug fit in place so you don’t have to keep readjusting. It comes in one size that fits 46 to 51cm heads, best for kids up to about age three. Weight: 290g
—BEST FOR SPOTTING YOUR KID FROM ACROSS THE BMX PARK—
POC POCito Crane
Available in hi-viz orange, pink, blue, and yellow, the POCito Crane will help your little shredder stand out in a pack—while providing full side and back of head coverage in case of a crash. The helmet is built with in-mold construction that fuses two layers of EPS foam to a burly polystyrene shell. The fit is easy to adjust with a slider at the back, and the chin straps have the standard V tightening system and buckle. It’s one of the heavier helmets in our roundup, but it sits comfortably enough that the weight doesn’t feel like an issue. It’s also better ventilated than a lot of helmets with a similar shell design. Overall, the POCito Crane is a solid, high-quality helmet that brings adult-level technology and a little street style to your kid’s ride. It’s available in two sizes to fit heads from 51 to 58cm. Weight: 350g
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