Cycling on tough terrains and murky mountains with a gravel bike is a risk and a half. Road cyclists need helmets that are well-ventilated and feel lightweight while mountain bikers look for helmets that can withstand wear and tear.
But, what if there was a bike helmet that combined the best features of both? Meet the gravel bike helmet. It is lightweight yet sturdy, temperature-resistant yet well-ventilated – a perfect split down the middle of road and MTB helmets.
In this guide, we elaborate on the differences, help you choose the right one + review eight of the best gravel bike helmets.
The 8 Best Gravel Bike Helmets
Our Top Pick – Most Comfortable
Constructed in a high-grade polycarbonate shell, the 100% Altis gravel bike helmet is ultra-protective and the layer of high-density injection-moulded EPS foam under the PC shell allows maximum shock absorption. Fitting is perfected by the ďial adjustment and the chin strap buckles close.
The active cooling system coupled with the moisture-wicking liner keeps the head cool while riding long hours on the saddle. For enduro lovers, the Altis gravel bike helmet is equipped with an 11-point Smartshock Rotational Protective system that competes with MIPS to provide ultimate crash safety.
The 100% Altis gravel bike helmet is comfortable, lightweight and perfect for gravel bike riding.
Editor’s Choice – Most Impact Protective
With an in-moulded polycarbonate shell underlined with an EPS foam layer, the Giro Feature MTB helmet checks off all boxes for durability and crash protection. Add in MIPS and there’s not a scratch in sight or even a headache in the event of a crash.
Unlike standard MTB helmets, the Giro Fixture is equipped with 18 wind tunnel vents and an internal air channel system that keeps the head cool and sweat-free on summer days.
The Roc Loc Sport fit system positions the helmet perfectly right out of the box and the buckle chin strap holds it in place during high-speed road riding.
The Giro Fixture MIPS MTB helmet is the perfect pick for trail riders and gravel bikers.
Value Choice – Beginner Friendly
The Retrospec Rowan Dirt Cycling bike helmet is outfitted in a fully formed polycarbonate shell that is supported by an EPS foam layer to provide lightweight durability and ultimate shock absorption.
Though it is a MTB helmet, the intelligent addition of 14 vents provides optimal airflow on long enduro rides and gravel trails. For improved comfort and ease, the Retrospec Rowan is equipped with an ergonomic dial for perfect fitting and easily adjustable retention straps to hold the helmet in place.
The Retrospec Rowan dirt cycling bike helmet is one of the best picks for gravel riders looking for breathable, lightweight and sturdy helmets.
Premium Choice – Best Ventilation
Designed in a ball-and-socket style, the Giro Helios road cycling helmet is constructed in a polycarbonate shell that is in-moulded to shave off the excess weight and provide lightweight durability.
Of the few road cycling helmets, the Giro Helios is equipped with MIPS, the highest-grade safety technology so the head is protected against rotational impact forces.
The EPS liner underneath absorbs high and low speed impact forces and the 15 wind tunnel vents placed along the liner bring in cool air and remove the feeling of being ‘stuffed in’.
The Giro Helios road cycling helmet is a must-have for gravel biking, enduro and trail riding.
Recommended by Experts – Most Impact Protective
A household name among bike riders, the BELL Avenue MIPS road bike helmet is designed in the company’s exclusive fusion in-moulding polycarbonate shell that complements the MIPS equipment and saves the head from harsh impact damages.
The fitting of the helmet is improved by a no-twist tri-glide dial at the back that is comfortable, light and fits right on the fingers – even with thick winter gloves on. The retention system is one of the finest details of the helmet, it is adjustable and stays flat against the cheeks.
All 16 vents of the BELL Avenue road bike helmet are sculpted to provide ultra-cooling.
The BELL Avenue MIPS checks off all boxes for gravel biking – from lightweight durability to exceptional ventilation.
Unique Choice – Best Features
The Sena R1 smart bike helmet is constructed in an advanced polycarbonate shell underlined with an EPS foam for maximum sturdiness and crash protection.
Speaking of advanced features, the Sena R1 features built-in speakers and mic along with a group intercom so you can listen to music, podcasts or check in with your buddies while riding long hours on the saddle.
The interior padding is removable, washable and the fitting can be adjusted via a spin lock system. The nylon chinstrap clicks well and does not pick on skin or stubble.
The Sena R1 smart bike helmet is perfect for racers and long-distance enduro riders looking for an affordable but feature-fed gravel bike helmet.
Stylish Choice – Most Durable
The Smith Optics Session MTB helmet has a zonal koroyd coverage for maximum shock and energy absorption. Add to that a MIPS slip plane and the helmet is sturdier than most standard bike helmets and more impact protective.
The AirEvac ventilation system features 15 vents for cooling air flow and a moisture-wicking liner for sweat-free rides. This also keeps the three-way adjustable visor fog-free and clear.
The Smith Optics Session MIPS is great for racers and gravel riders searching for an all-in-one helmet at a great price point.
Up and Coming Choice – Most Lightweight
The KASK Protone WG11 gravel bike helmet is equipped with an in-mould PC shell that is reinforced with an internal plastic sub-structure to improve durability of the shell and enhance impact protection without compromising comfort.
CoolMax fabric lines the interior and works with several vent ports to keep the head cool and reduce heat exhaustion. The fitting automatically adjusts and personalises too. It is held in place through a leather strap.
The KASK Protone is a top-of-the-line gravel bike helmet that works well for MTB and off-road riding.
What is the Difference Between Gravel, Road Bike and Mountain Cycling Helmets?
The difference between gravel, road bike and mountain cycling helmets, in short, corresponds simply to the style of riding.
Road cyclists usually ride on paved roads for long distances as well as short commutes. They are constantly in the face of the sun, breezing through the wind and positioned slightly in an angle to reduce drag.
So, road bike helmets are designed to be well-ventilated and aerodynamic which allows cyclists to gain speed and race against the wind. However, they do not offer much head coverage which risks crash protection. Road bike helmets have a higher peak (no visor) which shields them from the sun.
Mountain cyclists, on the contrary, ride on rough terrains and pebbly trails so MTB helmets are mostly outfitted with a removable chin bar to offer full face protection and high-grade safety technologies to protect against injuries. They do have a visor attached but compromise on the ventilation.
Gravel riders are a mix of the two, they ride enduro on a drop-bar bike but on unpaved roads and prefer off-road riding over mountain biking. So, gravel bike helmets are incredibly sturdy and aerodynamic. They are lightweight, well-ventilated and work well for high-speed road riding.
How to Choose the Best Gravel Bike Helmet?
Gravel bike helmets are fairly new at the market and most of them are still sold under the umbrella of road and mountain cycling. So, to help you sift through the endless choices and find the perfect one, we’ve enlisted all the factors to consider:
When gravel riding, check out the map of your route. Are you going to travel high-speed on washed out roads or slowly ride off-road on your drop-bar bike for long hours?
Since road bike helmets are more aero in shape, you’ll find the perfect match for high-speed gravel riding under this category. Just make sure it offers great impact protection.
On the other hand, for off-roading, you might find MTB helmets more suited for your gravel bike. They are sturdy and considerably impact protective. When choosing one, ensure it is well-ventilated so every ride is a breeze on the road.
As with every bike helmet, perfect fitting is one way to ensure the head is protected against injuries. The gravel bike helmet you choose should have a dial fit adjustment system to loosen or tighten the rear cage and personalise the fitting.
Make sure to appropriately size the circumference of your head, match it with the company-provided chart and then customise as needed. If you’re in between sizes and have a narrower head, size down. If you have a rounder head shape, size up.
The gravel bike helmet, when fitted right, will not wobble around at high speed or leave red marks and hot spots on the head.
Since bike helmets are usually half-shell helmets, the neck and chin are exposed to gravel rashes and injuries. To protect against harsh impacts, most gravel bike helmets (especially MTB) are equipped with MIPS technology which uses a slip-plane to disperse rotational impact forces upon a crash.
This way the brain is protected from soft tissue damage and there’s not a scratch in sight when the rider gets up. MIPS has revolutionised the biking world and there’s no safety technology better than it.
MIPS-integrated gravel bike helmets do promote a mushroom-head style, though.
To keep the helmet in place, two straps are provided at the side with triangular webbing at the ear and buckled under the chin. Such retention systems, also known as a closure system, are usually plastic buckles.
They are convenient to use with thick winter gloves and resistant to wear and tear. For further ease, you can look for a magnetic buckle system called Fidlock. It clicks into place with one hand, does not pinch the skin but may catch on to stubble. Fidlock retention systems are also a bit pricey.
For gravel bike helmets, either one would work well.
Gravel riding can be quite fickle, one minute you’re riding off-road the next minute you’re on tarmac. Sometimes the weather may be unpleasant too.
To make sure you’re not stuck on the drop-bar bike risking an accident, find a gravel bike helmet that has a visor attached – especially if you’re narrowing down helmets made for road biking.
Another feature that helps riders is a light mount. It provides a hands-free option to improve lighting conditions and be visible to other riders on the road.
Such add-ons aren’t necessary but nice to have on hand just in case a situation arises.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is a gravel bike helmet necessary?
Yes, gravel bike helmets are perfect for off road and adventure riding. They are an incredible upgrade of the traditional road and mountain cycling helmets but if you already have either one of them, then a gravel bike helmet isn’t needed.
Should I size up or down in bike helmets?
If you’re in between sizes, it’s recommended to go for the smaller one and see if it fits right after removing the back pad or turning the dial fit adjustment system. If it’s causing a headache, size up and add extra padding inside until it is snug against your head.
How long do bike helmets last?
According to SNELL and CPSC, a bike helmet lasts up to five years after which it should be replaced. However, if the bike helmet has been involved in an accident, get a new one before planning the next ride. This is because minor bumps can compromise the protective cage of the helmet – better to be safe than sorry.
Are MIPS bike helmets worth it?
Absolutely, MIPS is one of the highest-grade safety technologies available for helmets. It not only protects the head from feeling the hit, it also distributes the impact rotational forces away from the head. No scratches or headaches.
Why do KASK helmets not have MIPS protection?
Instead of MIPS protection, KASK uses trademark safety technologies that keep the helmet’s frame from disintegrating into pieces in an accident. This helps keep the rider’s head safe from gravel rash, headaches and neck strain. Excluding MIPS also means riders can avoid the mushroom-head look.
How do I know if my bike helmet is too small?
Generally, a bike helmet should feel snug but lightweight. If it’s causing a headache or red spots all around the forehead and back, the bike helmet is too small. Turn the dial at the back until it is loose enough to barely fit two fingers at the crown but tight enough to stay in place while you’re pedalling.
Will a new helmet loosen up?
Most bike helmets are good to fit right out of the box and do not have a significant break-in period. If the bike helmet does seem to be a bit loose after 24 hours, simply turn the dial at the back and adjust the fitting. If you’re in between sizes, go up a size and then customise accordingly.
How tight should the bike helmet strap be?
The chin strap of a bike helmet should be tight enough to hold the helmet in place while you’re pedalling against the wind but loose enough that it doesn’t pick on the skin or stubble.
If you’re planning an off-road ride down a pebbly terrain or a hike up in the mountains to catch the sunrise, pick one of the eight gravel bike helmets reviewed above – keep in mind the factors to prioritise, and zoom down the dangerous path feeling safe and sound.