With the weather warming up and (socially distanced) outdoor activities increasing in popularity, now is a good time to get your kid a new bike helmet — or reassess the one they already have. “A lot of people don’t realize that if [a helmet’s] already received impact, it should be transitioned out,” explains Dr. Kristin Ernest, assistant professor of pediatric sports medicine at Texas Children’s Hospital, The Woodlands. Thankfully, there’s not a lot you need to know when shopping for a kid’s helmet: Since 1999, the law requires that all helmets sold in the U.S. market meet the Consumer Product Safety Commission standard. Because of this, “impact protection is probably going to be roughly similar for almost all of them,” says Randy Swart, executive director of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute.
While that does mean spending more won’t get you a safer helmet, our experts say that what a little more money does get you — some combination of lightness, breathability, ease of buckling, good fit, and style — can actually be the most important factors when choosing a helmet. “It’s a whole lot easier to get kids to wear a helmet if they like it,” says Swart. John Watson, owner of the influential cycling blog The Radavist, recommends letting your child help pick the helmet since they tend to know exactly what they want — usually “bright colors and little characters,” he says. Plus, as Dr. Chris G. Koutures, pediatric and sports medicine specialist at ActiveKidMD, points out, “brighter colors are easier for drivers to see.”
As you’re looking for helmets, you’ll see that some have Multi-directional Impact Protective System technology. MIPS is a girdle-style liner inside the helmet that’s designed to reduce rotational force and allow for more play on impact, thus reducing other possible injuries like whiplash. Its effectiveness is a subject of some debate in the cycling world, however: The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute has no official opinion on it since “there’s no real proof from the field that it actually does any good,” says Swart, “but it probably won’t do any harm.” A lot of helmets come in both MIPS and non-MIPS versions (the MIPS version typically costs about $20 more), and many experts, including Kyle Kelly of Golden Saddle Cyclery in Los Angeles, are “all for it if it makes a helmet more comfortable.”
To help narrow down your search for the best bike helmet for your toddler or older child, we spoke with seven bike shop owners, doctors, and other experts. Here are their picks.
Best overall kids helmet
You can’t go ten feet down a bike path without someone singing the praises of the Giro Scamp. “When Giro came out with the Scamp helmet, it was like a sea change,” says Watson. Lightweight, well-ventilated, and comfortable, the Scamp has a pinch-proof buckle and a wheel that allows you to dial in the perfect fit. Also, it comes in lots of cool colors and patterns, and its flat back makes it more comfortable when riding in bike seats. “We sell a ton of these,” Kelly says.
Best overall kids MIPS helmet
Most durable helmet for kids
“Kids are hard on helmets,” says Dean Mullin, co-owner of Clever Cycles in Portland, Oregon. “They take them off and drop them right where they are,” an action that he says can eventually compromise the foam. That’s why he recommends the Nutcase Little Nutty, which has a thick plastic shell to help protect the foam from all those little drops, and is constructed with a technology similar to what’s used in some football helmets. The Little Nutty also has a pinch-proof magnetic buckle, a detachable visor, 11 vents for maximum air flow, 360-degree reflectivity, and both a spin-dial fit system as well as three sets of foam pads for extra customization. “Plus, they have awesome graphics,” he says. This special-edition chalkboard helmet comes with a box of chalk for personalization.
Best-fitting helmet for kids
Both Watson and Mullin like the Lazer Gekko. It’s a very adult-looking MIPS helmet that’s probably the easiest to fit of any helmet available. “It has a nice, spring-loaded fit system that holds the head nicely every time, [so there’s] no need to use a manual adjuster,” Mullin says. Also, its side buckle prevents neck pinching, “which little kids find really annoying,” says Swark.
Best helmet for toddlers
It can be hard to find helmets that fit toddlers’ smaller heads, but the Lazer Lil’ Gekko should. It has MIPS, and the same, easy-to-use spring-loaded fit technology as the Lazer Gekko above. Plus, like it’s bigger cousin, it has a flat back for bike seats, and it’s light and well-ventilated.
Best multi-use helmet for kids
“Other than a car or bus, anytime kids are on something with wheels, they need to wear a helmet,” says Koutures. Mullin is a fan of the Nutcase Street helmet because, along with being super-durable, it’s also certified for biking, scooting, and skating. Typical skater-style helmets are designed to protect from multiple falls, making them prohibitively hot and often too heavy for some kids, but the Nutcase Street has 11 vents to keep little shredders’ heads cool. Like the Little Nutty, it has a magnetic buckle, detachable visor, that pro-football-helmet technology, 360-degree reflectivity, lots of pads, and spin-dial fitting.
Best helmet for Frozen fans
If the only way your kid will wear a helmet is if it’s Frozen related, or if your young Frozen fan needs to go outside and do something active, consider the Bell Frozen 3-D Helmet. It’s reflective, has a pinch-proof buckle, is easy to adjust, and has 12 vents to keep out the heat.