Full Face vs Open Face helmet MTB

You just got your mountain bike and are ready to get out on the trails and start a new adventure. Before you do so, invest in some safety gear. 

Things like knee and elbow pads are great, but the helmet is the most important bit of gear. 

Flesh wounds and broken bones are painful, but they eventually heal. Damage to the skull and particularly the brain can be extremely dangerous. In many cases, the injury can be permanent; in a worst-case scenario, it could even be fatal. 

The debate about getting a full-face mountain bike helmet vs. an open one depends on several factors. It all boils down to whether you should get a full-face vs. open-face helmet MTB. Here is everything you need to know to make a decision. 

Full Face MTB Helmets

As the name suggests, these helmets cover your entire skull, ears, and face. Some have a slightly pointy edge on the front, like a cap, while others are round on all sides. 

There are lots of variations to these kinds of helmets depending on what they are designed for. The pros and cons for each different type remain nearly the same. The main things to consider about the full-face helmet include:


  • It gives you much better coverage for your head, face, ears, and neck. 
  • They are generally more shock resistant and have more cushioning to help prevent injuries as they are designed to handle the high-speed impact. 
  • Some also have tinted visors which can be extremely helpful in protecting your eyes from direct sunlight and bright lights. You can also get clear visors in many models. 
  • While riding, they protect your face and mouth from dust, debris, and bugs. 
  • These are extremely helpful in cold environments. 
red and black full face mtb helmet


  • Breathing in full-face helmets with visors that close completely shut can be a little challenging. Get helmets with a chin guard that are open around the face area to solve this problem. 
  • They can be uncomfortable in hot weather. 
  • Well-ventilated full-face helmets tend to be pricey. 
  • They can be challenging for people with claustrophobia. 
  • It’s harder to pack and carry around a full-face helmet. 

Related post: Is Mountain Biking dangerous?

Open Face MTB Helmets

Open-face helmets, also known as half-shell helmets, are a popular choice for riders that don’t ride at very high speeds and cycle in a relatively safe environment. 

These helmets are also commonly used in other sports, such as skateboarding, horseback riding, and rock climbing. 


  • Breathable, easy to wear, and very comfortable. Even people who aren’t used to wearing helmets won’t struggle to adjust as it only covers your skull and doesn’t have an uncomfortable fit. 
  • They are small and can easily fit in a backpack or can be stored in a carrier on a cycle. 
  • They are versatile and can be used for any activity requiring a helmet. 
  • Much more affordable than full-face helmets. 
wall of open face mtb helmets


  • Some hard trails require a full-face helmet, so these can be limited in what you can do with them. 
  • They offer limited protection, exposing your face, chin, ears, and neck. 
  • They aren’t designed to be as shock-absorbing as full-face helmets, so the shell and the helmet don’t provide the same level of protection overall. 

Suggested: Can you add fat tires to any bike?

Full Face vs. Open Face MTB Helmets 

Full FaceOpen Face 
Comfortable NoYes
All-Year UseYesNo
Available In Different Materials YesYes
Complete ProtectionYesNo
Road Legal YesYes
Full face vs Open face mtb helmet comparison

Related: MTB vs Road helmets

Things To Consider When Choosing an MTB Helmet

When choosing between a full-face vs. open-face helmet MTB, these are a few factors to consider. 

Outer Shell

When buying a helmet, you want it to provide as much safety as possible. The outer shell is the first area of the helmet that will come into contact with the ground or anything else you collide with. 

The outer shell can be made from a few different materials. These include carbon fiber, polycarbonate, and Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS). 

man riding bike with full face mtb helmet

High-end helmets use carbon fiber, much lighter and far more durable. You’ll find polycarbonate and ABS used on all entry-level to mid-tier helmets. However, ABS and polycarbonate also offer excellent safety if used properly. 


The foam sits between the outer shell and the innermost layer of the helmet, covering the most space in the helmet. Most helmets are made with Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam—some high-end or specialized helmets are made with Expanded Polypropylene (EPP)

Both materials are good. The main difference is that EPP is slightly softer than EPS which means it is a bit better at absorbing bumps and hits. 

Inner Liner

The inner liner is the area in contact with your head and is the innermost layer of the helmet. In good quality helmets, the inner lining will have enough cushioning to make it comfortable but not so much that you get sweaty. 

Quality helmets will also have ridges and patterns that promote ventilation and are designed in a way that complements the design of the helmet’s exterior to promote ventilation. 

mtb helmet showing orange and grey inner lining
The orange part is the inner lining

Modern helmets also have an inner lining with anti-rotational systems such as MIPS. These anti-rotational systems are designed to improve the protection the helmet provides. 

Helmets with MIPS technology commonly have a small yellow dot on the outside. 


You will find helmets in fixed sizes such as small, medium, and large. However, some helmets will also offer additional adjustability to help make the helmet fit better. 

You might be between a medium and a large size, so having that extra bit of adjustment helps you get the perfect fit. 

This is important not only for comfort but for safety. Ideally, the helmet should fit snugly around your head. If it is loose or too tight, this will compromise how efficiently the helmet can protect you. 


You will wear a helmet for the entire exercise duration, so you must be comfortable. 

biker wearing comfortable open face mtb helmet while biking

The lowest-priced helmets compromise comfort, making it difficult to wear them for extended periods. Try out a few different helmets, and don’t be afraid to spend a bit more to get something you wouldn’t mind continuously wearing for several hours. 


A big part of comfort is ventilation. This is even more important if you’re in a warm climate, but even in cold climates, you need good ventilation. 

It can be very uncomfortable when your body starts to sweat and all that moisture builds up in your helmet. 

Quality helmets will have “sweat channeling systems,” which help move the sweat to the side of your head rather than down your forehead and into your eyes. 


You can get visors on both open-face helmets and full-face helmets. Visors come in many tints, and you can change the kind of visor you have if you don’t like the color. 

This is a very useful feature to have to protect against bright light. It’s a lot easier to have a tinted visor on the helmet rather than having to wear sunglasses inside your helmet. 

Related post: Why do MTB helmets have visors?

Safety – MIPS Helmet Rating

When you buy a new helmet, you will come across several products that are ‘MIPS Rated’ or ‘MIPS Compliant.’ This is the Multi-directional Impact Protection (MIPS) technology used in the helmet. 

It is a very thin layer on the helmet’s inner lining, which can move 10-15mm in any direction. It behaves much like the cerebrospinal fluid in the skull that helps protect the brain from sudden jerks and dampens the impact of the brain against the skull. 

The MIPS technology is developed by MIPS AB, the initial technology designer. This feature is adopted by many manufacturers and is a good feature to have. 

Related: Fat bike vs MTB

Full Face Vs. Open Face: Which One Is Best for You?

Safety first sign

Deciding between a full face vs. open face helmet MTB comes down to how you intend on using the helmet and what you are most comfortable using. 

If you plan on doing a lot of high-speed runs down rough tracks or going out and exploring off-road trails, then a full-face helmet will be your best bet. If you’re going to stay mostly on city roads and maybe explore a local trail now and then, an open-face helmet will be a suitable choice. 

If you want the highest level of protection, there is nothing better than a full-face helmet. An open-face helmet will do the trick if you’re looking for comfort and convenience. 

A good helmet will mix the right protection and fit with your needed options and accessories. For instance, if you’re going to be cycling at night, a torch helmet will be helpful. 

Final Thoughts

Like shoes, finding the right helmet requires you to try it on. 

Visiting a local store and trying on a few different types will give you a better idea of what to look for. Even if you intend to buy online, it helps to get hands-on experience at a local store. 

Consider the helmet an investment in your safety, so don’t be afraid to spend a bit more. Adjust your budget accordingly to get a helmet that will give you the kind of protection you need.