Everyone understands that bike helmets are there to protect you if your day on the bike doesn't turn out the way you were hoping, and the best gravel bike helmets promise exactly that when you're heading off-road.
The technology of traumatic brain injury prevention is a fast-moving field and things are always improving. There's a lot more to a helmet than just protecting your brain though, and the type of biking you are doing puts different demands on the helmet you choose.
The best gravel bike helmet is arguably the hardest-working in the mix because it's got to work on the road and the trail, handle high-speed racing when aero matters, be comfortable enough for lazy day adventures through rugged terrain, and be good in mud and rain while also dealing with scorching climbs at low speed. Finding the right gravel bike helmet means a blend of style, performance and versatility that works for different situations.
To that end, we looked to find options to fit every need. They all keep you safe but they also have the features and designs that work in a variety of situations. Pair them up with the best gravel bikes and accessories like the best gravel bike shoes and you can start venturing beyond the pavement.
Keep reading to see our list of what we think are the best gravel bike helmets available right now. Or jump down below to get the answers to some of the questions you might have when you start shopping.
The best gravel bike helmets on the market today
Giro, Bell and MIPS come together to develop a unique system that manages high-speed, low-speed, and rotational impact crashes without a separate liner
Colours: 14 | Rotational Impact System: Yes | Weight: 280g (size Medium CPSC)- 260g (size Medium CE) | Sizes: Small, Medium, Large | Price: £270 / $300 / AU$532 / €285
Nothing out there can guarantee safety, and the field of head trauma protection is moving so fast that cutting edge one season is old news the next. One of the leaders in the marketplace is MIPS and the rotational impact protection that it provides.
The MIPS liner isn't always the most comfortable option though, so with this in mind MIPS, Giro, and Bell worked together to create a new system with the same end result, but without needing a separate liner. The result is a ball and socket design that splits the EPS foam liner into an inner and outer shell that fits one inside the other.
It allows for different foam densities as well as a slip plane without the need for a liner. If you prefer a road-style helmet for your gravel riding, the Giro Aether is an excellent option.
Read our in-depth opinion in our Giro Aether Spherical review.
The only helmet on the market specifically designed for rainy days
Colours: 1 | Rotational Impact System: Yes | Weight: 312g in a size medium | Sizes: SML, MED, LRG | Price: £230 / $260 / AU$481 / €258
The gear you use for gravel cycling gets destroyed in a way that is completely foreign to road cycling. Ride in the rain and it's even worse. Everything you wear comes back coated in mud and grime and after a while, it becomes a permanent part of it.
The POC Ventral Tempus SPIN exists because of a specific UCI rule but it's an excellent choice for riding far from the reach of the governing body. The glossy outer coating not only keeps you drier and warmer in bad weather but it's got less nooks and crannies for mud to accumulate.
Read our full thoughts in our POC Ventral Tempus Spin review.
ANGi crash detection and notification adds an element of safety in remote locations
Colours: 4 | Rotational Impact System: Yes | Weight: 228g size medium | Sizes: Small, Medium, Large | Price: £240 / $250 / €268 / AU$500
The focus from Specialized for the S-Works Prevail II Vent is all about heat management. The brand has worked to speed up airflow through the helmet to help keep it cool, and there's tons of ventilation plus a low weight that means less material.
It's technically a road helmet, but one advantage for gravel cyclists is the inclusion of the ANGi crash sensor. One of the biggest reasons people enjoy gravel cycling is that it gets them away from people. The side effect of that is if something were to happen, you might be on your own for a long time. With an ANGi sensor on board, as long as you've got mobile phone coverage, you get the added advantage of an automatic notification to designated emergency contacts in the event of a crash.
See how the S-Works Prevail II Vent earned its place in our review.
Unpretentious design, super light, and tons of ventilation makes for an excellent gravel helmet
Colours: 5 | Rotational Impact System: No | Weight: Weighing less than 200g in a size M (EN1078 safety standard) | Sizes: SML 50-56cm, MED 54-59cm, LRG 56-61cm | Price: £240 / $275 / AU$418 / €269
Spend all day with a heavy helmet on your head, and your neck will be begging you to take it off. The POC Ventral Lite is the solution at under 200g, and it's a helmet designed every step of the way to be as light as absolutely possible.
POC has counted every gram so meticulously that the eye glasses retention system is a sticker that you can leave off if you don't want to use it. If you are someone who regularly stores their glasses on their helmet, then place the stickers for more security. That's extreme attention to weight and that's what you get with the Ventral Lite.
Want to know more? Read our POC Ventral Lite review.
Lightweight and inexpensive with a style designed to cover all the cycling you do
Colours: 6 | Rotational Impact System: No | Weight: 271g size medium | Sizes: S, M, L | Price: £70 / $75 / AU$117 / €80
Gravel bikes make one of the best options for an everyday commuter bike. Wider tyres and an emphasis on comfort mean they can tackle the roughest pavement during the week.
Then when the weekend comes, they have the versatility to take on a group road ride or head off-road. Finding a single helmet that can follow you through all the adventures your bike can is a challenge. The MET Allroad is specifically designed for that challenge and it's both lightweight and inexpensive to boot.
There's an integrated rear light for added visibility on the road, and a visor that's easy to snap on and off depending on the ride you are tackling on a particular day.
Smith Trace MIPS
An innovative design sees Koroyd replacing foam for lightweight impact protection
Colours: 15 | Rotational Impact System: Yes | Weight: 280g size medium | Sizes: Small, Medium, Large | Price: £210 / $250 / AU$388 / €249
Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam is what most bike helmets use for the bulk of their construction. It's also old technology. Koroyd is a company and technology that aims to one-up the old with something new.
Take a bunch of plastic straws in a bundle and look at the side and you'll have an idea of what Koroyd looks like. In an accident the cells crumple and absorb impact. There's more air and less material so Smith is able to create a lighter helmet with no compromise.
It's not the lightest helmet out there but at 280 grams it's very light for an aero-optimised MIPS helmet.
Bontrager Blaze WaveCel Mountain Bike Helmet
Wavecel integrates both rotational impact and impact protection into the shell of the helmet
Colours: 7 | Rotational Impact System: Yes | Weight: 392g size small | Sizes: Small 51-57cm, Medium 54-60cm, Large 59-63cm | Price: £199.99 / $299.99 / AU$300 / €161
Bontrager describes WaveCel as "a collapsible cellular structure that lines the inside of the helmet." It's another replacement for the expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam and it does share some visual similarities to Koroyd, but works a little bit differently.
While the Smith implementation of Koroyd continues to rely on a separate rotational impact system, Bontrager is able to handle rotational impact with WaveCel. That means there's less complexity on the inside of the helmet.
Consider the Blaze WaveCel mountain bike helmet to be a representation of the technology from Bontrager. It's offered in road bike helmets as well, but if you want the higher coverage that comes with choosing a mountain bike helmet, the Blaze is for you.
How to choose the best gravel bike helmet
What is MIPS and do I need it?
MIPS stands for "Multi-directional Impact Protection System" and it's actually a brand name, not a type of technology. The point of it is to allow your head to move inside the helmet when you experience an impact that's off-centre. There are other brands with different technologies - such as WaveCel from Bontrager - that provide a similar benefit and there's no clear winner in the field.
There's also no outright technological winner when it comes to keeping you safe. Rotational impact technology is just one strategy that's showing promise in the field of traumatic brain injuries as they relate to bicycle accidents. There does seem to be some consensus forming around the benefit of rotational impact, but nothing is absolute. All bike helmets receive government certification where they sell that stipulates a minimum level of protection. Beyond that minimum, brands are free to provide as much safety as possible and rotational impact technology is a strategy.
While nothing is for sure it does make sense to choose an option with some kind of rotational impact technology. In the past there was a price premium and limited choices for a helmet with the technology. In today's market there are options at every price point and in every style, so there's no reason not to look for it. Occasionally there’s a compelling reason to choose a helmet without the technology but in general it’s worth searching out. The worst-case scenario is that it helps less than currently believed. Even if that's the case though, it doesn't hurt anything to have it.
Visor or no visor?
Road bike helmets don't have visors, mountain bike helmets normally do. Where does that leave gravel bike helmets? Finding the answer involves an investigation into why some helmets have them and some don't.
Traditional road bike geometry puts the rider in a low and stretched out position. When low over the front of a bike, any protrusion above your eyes makes it difficult to see the road ahead. Simply put, a visor would get in the way. At the same time, road cycling has roots in going fast; aerodynamics are an important consideration and a visor isn't aerodynamically efficient.
Mountain bikes on the other hand have a very different focus and design. Stability is more important than aerodynamics, and the rider position is more upright. There's no need to look up from a tucked position past a visor, so without that drawback, advantages such as sun shielding, protection from branches, and keeping your face out of the dirt are well worth it.
On top of the very real reasons for different types of helmets there is also an element of style. Road cycling and mountain biking have developed a different style over time. If you like following the trends then it makes sense to choose a helmet with a style that matches the type of riding you are doing.
Do I really need a new helmet?
If you have either a road bike helmet or a mountain bike helmet, it will work to protect you on a gravel bike, so the short answer is no, you don't need a new helmet.
However, just as many other aspects of the cycling industry, there are fashion trends afoot and you may still desire a different helmet for your gravel bike. If you want to start with what you have while you find your style, there's no harm in doing so. Outside of style, mountain bike helmets do have more coverage around the back of the head, so if your gravel cycling starts to resemble mountain biking with drop bars, then you might want to look for something more MTB-inspired.
It's also worth considering if the helmet you have needs to be replaced. While there's no hard and fast rule, different testing and certification bodies recommend lifespans ranging from 5-10 years. Manufacturers tend to be even more conservative with a three-year replacement recommendation.
If the retention system starts to degrade, then replace the helmet. If the helmet begins to fade from the sun, it's probably time to replace it too. That's not just because of cosmetic change, but if you consider the fact that the majority of it is made from foam, and it's being constantly exposed to sunlight and sweat over however many years, it's going to degrade and no longer provide the protection you need.
Above all else if you experience an accident, a bad fall, or simply drop the helmet, then replace it, because helmets are single-use devices and its structural integrity will now be in question.
Josh hails from the Pacific Northwest of the United States but would prefer riding through the desert than the rain. He will happily talk for hours about the minute details of cycling tech but also has an understanding that most people just want things to work. He is a road cyclist at heart and doesn't care much if those roads are paved, dirt, or digital. Although he rarely races, if you ask him to ride from sunrise to sunset the answer is probably yes.
Weight: 137 lb.
Rides: Look 795 Blade RS, Cannondale Topstone Lefty, Cannondale CAAD9, Priority Continuum Onyx
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