Full-Face Vs Open-Face Mountain Bike Helmets

Wearing a helmet while cycling is a good start, however, wearing the right helmet is essential. No matter how uncool you think they look, helmets can really save your life. Research studies show that bicycle helmets can reduce the risk of serious head injury by up to 60%.

Falling from your bike is not uncommon, and while broken bones or torn ligaments are easy to fix, your head and your brain are so fragile that you need the right protection to avoid any possible complications.

The choice between a Full-Face or Open-Face Mountain Bike Helmet will be determined by your particular style of riding. If you’re a hardcore rider who likes rough trails and flying downhill at speed, then you ought to be wearing a Full-Face helmet for added protection.

However, with all the different options out there, it can be challenging to find a helmet suited for you and your individual needs. Are all helmets equally protective? What kind of helmet should I wear?

While there are several types of helmets, suitable for different disciplines and riding styles, one of the biggest differences is the one between full-face and open-face helmets.

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mountain bike rider in blue jacket cornering sharply on dirt trail

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If you are not sure which one is best for you or if you feel confused, don’t despair! In this essential guide, we aim to help you understand the differences between full-face and open-face mountain bike helmets, including their pros and cons, to make it easier for you to determine the kind of protection you need to increase your safety.

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What Type Of Cycling Do You Do?

Before getting into the specifications of the two different types of the helmet so that you can pick one, you should define the kind of cyclist you are. Do you tend to cycle on the road or flat country trails, or are you more geared toward fast-paced mountain biking? Do you like speeding downhill? Each one will require different protection levels.

mountain biker in the air on rocky terrain
Photo by Carter Moorse on Unsplash

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Full-Face Helmets

Full-faced helmets offer you the kind of protection you need when you are a hardcore mountain biker, speeding downhill or pushing yourself to the limits. They protect your entire head, chin, and face. However, because of the heightened protection, it might feel a little cumbersome, which might cause you to feel uncomfortable during and after the ride.

But this is just a little compromise that you have to deal with for the sake of your safety. The sooner you start with a full-face helmet, the sooner you will get used to it.

When you are worried about hitting your face, go for such helmets. But most importantly, you should use full-face helmets if you like to go downhill fast. Falling from such rides will most likely end up with you hitting your face and a full-face helmet can help you prevent serious complications.

If you are a versatile cyclist, you might want to consider going for a “convertible helmet“. These kinds of helmets can convert from a full-face to an open-face thanks to the removable chin bar. This allows you to get the protection and comfort you need, depending on your riding situation at the time.

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Watch the video below, “Full Face vs Half Lid for Trail Rides” to see a rider crash into a tree at medium pace, and see the damage done to his full-face helmet. Imagine if he had been wearing an open-face helmet.

Courtesy MTB Telly on Youtube


The biggest benefit when using a full-face helmet is the protection it provides. By wearing them, you’ll be guaranteed higher levels of protection than with open-face helmets. The hard shell will ensure your brain, chin, teeth, and face won’t suffer from major injuries if you fall.

Also, maybe less important, but still worth mentioning, because your mouth is protected, you won’t swallow those annoying flies so easily when riding.

  • Full protection: mouth, chin, and teeth completely covered.
  • No insects swallowed during the ride!

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Of course, even full-face helmets come with their drawbacks. First of all, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling overconfident, but you have to remember that even wearing such a highly protective helmet does not make you invincible. Be careful all the time, and do not lose focus unnecessarily, to avoid preventable accidents and reduce your risks.

Additionally, another drawback of full-faced helmets is that they can be more expensive than other kinds of helmets, but I found a really great one that is inexpensive on Amazon. Depending on the price, you might even find some helmets that are more comfortable, less bulky, but that still guarantee maximum protection.

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Another thing to consider is that full-face helmets can get hot, because of the reduced ventilation. You can solve the problem maintaining speed, but that can also be dangerous. You will need to get used to using them, as they are bulkier and heavier than open-faced helmets.

  • There is a danger of taking greater risk.
  • These helmets can be more expensive.
  • Not so comfortable, bulky and heavy.
  • Reduced ventilation.

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mountain biker wearing full face helmet flies over jump in desert
Image by David Mark from Pixabay

Open-Face Helmets

As the name suggests, open face helmets only cover your head, leaving your face exposed.

Also called half-shell, they are suited for cyclists that ride on the road, or that perform less aggressive cross-country and trail riding. There are different types of open-face helmets, depending on the specialty you tend to perform and aimed at protecting you best in each situation.

To give you a better idea, here’s a comparison between open-face helmets for road biking and those specifically designed for mountain biking.

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While similar to road bike helmets, open face mountain bike helmets are bulkier, especially in the back, to protect your head from possible backward falls. Still, they are very light and aerodynamic.

Some models also present visors to shield your eyes from the rain or sun. Because the mountain bike riding position is more upright, that doesn’t present any problems to vision. Road helmets lack visors for this reason. Additionally, the texture of a mountain bike open face helmet will be rougher and flatter, while road helmets tend to be glossy, meaning that the helmet will slide over the pavement, reducing the risk of bad injuries.

Most riders tend to prefer open-face helmets as they are considered to be much more comfortable compared to full-face ones. Also, they are better suited in hotter climates thanks to the venting holes. However, keep in mind that not all open-face helmets are the same.

When you decide to go for the cheaper options, you might have to deal with uncomfortable and not-so protective helmets. Before making a purchase, make sure you assess the trade-offs between price, performance, and quality.

All in all, these helmets are good if you are more of a casual rider, but they do offer less protection. If you are a cyclist who tends to push the limits, then you had better go for a full-face helmet.

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Open-faced helmets offer you the benefit of offering you adequate protection while ensuring proper ventilation and not compromising on comfort. If you ride in warmer climates or do not take too many risks, they can be a good option for you.

  • Lightweight.
  • They offer proper ventilation.
  • Great for warmer climates.
  • Adequate protection.
  • Easy to carry around and take off.

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The biggest problem of open-faced helmets is that they do not protect your face and are not suitable for hardcore cyclists. If you are a casual rider who tends to go for easier trails, that should not be a problem. It is up to you to consider the benefits and drawbacks and choose the appropriate helmet for you.

  • They do not protect your face: teeth and chin highly exposed.

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Helmets With A Removable Chin Guard

You could always go for the best of both worlds by getting an MTB helmet with a removable chin bar. This allows you to remove the chin bar when you need endurance riding uphill, then replace the chin bar for added safety when doing the downhill run. See our article ‘Best Mountain Bike Helmet With Removable Chin Guard‘ for recommendations.

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The Bottom Line

While wearing a helmet should not be an option for every cyclist, the choice on the kind of helmet you should be wearing ultimately comes down to your personal preferences and it will be your decision. There are several factors that can affect your final choice, including your riding style and your abilities, but also the money you are willing to invest.

mountain bike rider in rocky country looking behind him

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What Kind of Rider Are You?

Before getting into the specifications of the two different types of helmet so that you can pick one, you should define how will you use your helmet. This article is aimed at mountain bikers, which is why we focused on those two kinds of helmets. But depending on how rough are the terrains you tend to cycle on and whether you like speeding downhill, you’ll need a different type of helmet.

Indeed, each riding style will require different protection levels and you should be equipped with the right protection. Consider your style, the types of trails you cycle on, your skills and abilities to make your final decision.

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How To Choose A Helmet?

When purchasing a helmet, make sure you choose one that is properly certified and made of high-quality materials designed for protection. Sometimes, it is good to invest a bit more for your safety.

You should make sure your helmet fits you, which is why you should try on multiple helmets before making your purchase. A correctly fitting helmet is probably the single most important aspect of helmet safety. Be sure to read our article ‘How To Know Your Helmet Size‘ to be sure you buy the right size.

Don’t worry too much about looking unstylish or feeling a bit uncomfortable at the beginning. At the end of the day, what is most valuable is your health and your safety. As the saying goes, “better to be safe than sorry”. If you want to feel safer, go for a full-face helmet. If you are more of a laid-back kind of rider, you can be good with an open-face helmet.

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How Often Should You Change It?

If you have not suffered impacts, your helmet can be good for up to 5 years. However, if you wear it frequently, chances are that the sun and sweat will weaken your helmet quicker. Then you should replace your helmet more often.

If you do fall, it is better to replace your helmet immediately, no matter the severity of your impact. By doing so, you’ll ensure optimal protection at any time.

Don’t Forget To Be Careful

While adequate protection is essential, it is also important to point out that wearing the right helmet, even with maximum protection does not guarantee you invincibility. That means that you will still need to be careful, ride to your ability, keep your focus and take the right precautions during the ride.

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Peter Durward

Born into a family of keen cyclists, Peter has been cycling all his life. In his early teens, he turned his focus to mountain biking to feed his love of the adrenaline rush that came with it. Peter cycles daily to his inner city office job, but for longer trips turns to his Ducati Monster 1200. Peter works in digital marketing trend analysis which he assures us is 'fascinating but without the rush'. He still enjoys mountain biking as do his two kids. Peter likes to share his experiences with mountain biking and motorcycles in his periodic writing pursuits.

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