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Kids and Toddler Bike Helmets: How to Choose
From Size and Fit to Safety Technology, We Guide You Through the Features that Really Matter
Each year in the United States, about half a million kids are seriously injured in bicycle-related accidents. In most cases, a properly fitted helmet could have eliminated or minimized head injuries sustained during the accident. Unfortunately, many parents underestimate the importance of helmet fit and other safety features, and too often shop by color or style. That’s where we come in! We’re here to help you get informed and find the best and safest helmet for your child. The 8 main features to look for when shopping for a kid’s helmet are: 1) size, 2) use, 3) adjustability, 4) construction, 5) buckle type, 6) visors, 7) MIPS safety technology and 8) CPSC/ASTM certifications.
To see a comparison chart of our top ranked helmets, visit Child’s Helmets Comparisons Charts.
How do you fit a bike helmet for a child?
Helmets are generally not “one-size-fits-all”, but fit a range of head circumferences. In order to ensure the best fit, you must measure your child’s head prior to purchasing a helmet. To measure your child’s head, use a soft tape measure and measure the circumference of their head one inch above their eyebrows (the thickest part of their head). Find a helmet that includes this number in its size range.
If you are unable to measure your child’s head, use the 50th percentile head circumference chart below as a rough estimation.
Once I have the right size helmet, how should it actually fit on my child’s head?
Adjusting your child’s helmet to ensure a proper fit is just as essential as making sure your child is wearing one. A poorly adjusted helmet can fall off or move around, greatly reducing the helmet’s ability to offer protection during a crash. Helmets should be placed squarely on top of the head (not tilting forward or back) and remain in place when a child shakes his head.
Here’s a checklist for a good fit:
- If your child’s eyebrows shift from side-to-side when rotating the helmet on their head, the helmet is generally a good fit. If the helmet easily slides around the top of their head, it is either too big or not properly adjusted.
- The bottom of the helmet shouldn’t be more than two finger widths above a child’s eyebrows.
- The chin strap should be loose enough under the chin to allow the child to easily get the helmet on and off, but tight enough that the chin straps become tight on the chin when the mouth is fully opened.
- Lastly, the chin strap plastic slider (which holds the two straps together) should be directly below the ear.
Read the section Adjustability below for more about the features that allow you to properly adjust your child’s helmet.
Standard Bike Helmets vs. Multi-Sport Skater Style
Skater-style and standard bicycle helmets each have their pros and cons. Traditional bicycle helmets are lighter, have more vents and are more adjustable, but are not dual-certified and can be harder to fit odd-shaped heads. Skater-style helmets are generally heavy, lack a visor, have less vents and are less likely to have dial-in adjustments, but they also offer more coverage, can be dual-certified and tend to fit odd-sized heads better.
Toddler Helmets: Flat Back for Trailers and Child Bike Seats
If you plan on riding with your kids in a trailer or bike seat, a helmet with a flat, smooth back will help to prevent it from sliding forward during a ride. The Baby Nutty, Lazer Bob and Specialized Small Fry Toddler are certified for ages 1+ and have a flattened back to prevent a child’s head from being pushed forward in a trailer or seat.
Helmets with Flat Backs for Child Bike Seat or Trailer Use
Helmet Internal Adjust Systems
To provide a proper fit, many helmets have an internal plastic cage that can adjust to fit the head of the child. Some helmets, generally lower-end, offer no internal adjust systems. Since the head shapes of children vary greatly, internal adjust systems allow the helmet to conform to heads of all sizes, helping the helmet stay in place and better protect the child. Various types of internal adjust systems are available on child and youth helmets.
Traditional Dial-Adjust: The most common adjust system is a dial located in the back of the helmet. By turning the dial, the internal cage adjusts to fit a child’s head. Helmets are limited in the amount they can adjust, so it is still vital to purchase the correct size. Traditional dial-adjust systems can be found on most high-end helmets, including all high-end Giro and Bell helmets, as well as Nutcase and Melon (shown above).
Pads Width Adjust: Most skater-style helmets and low-end bicycle style helmets do not come with an adjustment system, but rather different pads of varying thickness. Prior to wearing the helmet, parents are required to insert the thickness of pad necessary to achieve a snug fit. Unfortunately, many parents fail to adjust the helmet, thereby leading to a poorly fit helmet that rarely stays in place. Furthermore, re-adjusting the pads as a child grows is rarely taken into consideration or the thinner sized pads are lost, and as a result, pad-adjusted helmets can be more challenging to fit correctly. The Giro Dime, shown above, is one of the few pad-adjusted helmets that we recommend.
Lazer Self-Adjust: Lazer’s unique Autofit system automatically adjusts to fit the wearer’s head. The system adjusts via a tension wire, encased in plastic housing, that allow the internal cage to stretch to fit a child’s head. Always producing a proper fit, the Autofit system is ideal as it ensures that a child’s helmet is properly fitted, even when the child puts it on themselves. The Lazer Nut’z and P’Nut both have the Autofit system.
In addition to the internal-adjust system of a helmet, the chin strap and strap sliders play an important role in keeping a helmet squarely on a child’s head. To prevent the helmet from tilting forward or back, the chin straps on a helmet should come to a “V” right below the child’s ear. Plastic sliders hold the straps together, allowing them to continue together to the buckle. If not properly placed below the ear, the helmet is much more likely to fall forward or back on a child’s head.
Locking sliders found on many high-end brands, such as the Lazer Nut’z (shown below), lock into place, helping to maintain the proper “V” below the ear. Most helmets, however, to not have locking sliders, which requires the chin straps to continually be adjusted. This is especially problematic with standard (non-angled) sliders as they easily slip out of place, especially when kids carry their helmets by the chin strap.
There are two main types of helmet construction – in-mold and hardshell. Both types of construction provide adequate protection in a crash but vary in durability, the number of vents, and style. The main difference between the two types is how the outer plastic protective shell is adhered to the foam core of the helmet.
In-Mold: The outer plastic shell and the inner foam core are fused together with in-mold helmets. The fusing process allows for more vents and typically provides for lighter overall weight. The outer plastic shell of the helmet will never crack or come off as it is fused to the foam core. Due to their thinner plastic shell, in-mold helmets cannot be certified for skateboard use by ASTM standards. As a result, essentially all higher-end traditional bike helmets are built with in-mold construction, while very few skater-style helmets are. Melon helmets, however, are made with in-mold construction, which is why they are lighter than most skate helmets and why they are not certified for skateboard use in the US.
Hardshell: There are two main types of hardshell helmets – skater-style and lower-end bicycle helmets. On skater-style helmets, a thick plastic shell is glued to the foam core of the helmet. The thick shell allows for increased durability, multiple impacts for skateboarders, and is required for ASTM skateboarding certification. On lower-end hardshell helmets, a thin plastic shell is taped onto the foam core. These thin shells easily warp, crack, come off, and offer little durability.
5. Buckle Type
A buckle may not seem like a big deal, but kids that get pinched while trying to fasten a helmet are hesitant to wear them, often leading to unwanted battles with parents. To prevent pinching, several different companies have developed “pinch-free” buckles. Standard non-pinch buckles consist of a plastic guard underneath the buckle. More advanced systems include the magnetic Fidlock® buckles found on Lazer, Nutcase and Melon helmets as well as Uvex’s unique ratcheting buckle.
Keeping the sun out of kids’ eyes will certainly make for a more appealing ride. Most traditional bike helmets have built-in or clip-on visors while most skater-style helmets have no visor. Built-in visors are common on pre-school helmets as they provide much-needed protection to the face in the event of a face plant (Giro Rodeo shown below). Helmets for youth generally have snap-on visors that are merely for looks and/or limited sun protection (Giro Raze shown below). A few skater-style helmets, such as Nutcase, offer small visors.
MIPS is an additional safety feature offered on several high-end helmets. MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System and allows the energy from the crash impact to be absorbed by the helmet regardless of what direction the impact is coming from. Studies have shown that MIPS can decrease brain injury by 30%. The system consists of a non-obstrusive inner plastic cage that is attached to the foam core with flexible rubber anchors. Upon impact, the anchors stretch, allowing the foam core to rotate around the child’s head. MIPS is available on the Lazer P’Nut and Nutz and the Giro Scamp (Toddler), Dime (youth skater-style) and Raze (youth bike).
8. CSPC/ASTM Safety Certifications
All helmets sold in the US must comply with CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) standards and be labeled with a sticker. All bike helmets sold in the US are therefore “safe” in terms of providing protection, but only if they are properly fitted and adjusted to a child’s head. Higher-end helmets tend to offer a better fit and stay in place more securely than low-end helmets, which is why we believe they usually offer better overall protection.
Helmets are certified for specific sports and should only be used for those activities. All helmets that are CPSC certified for kids biking are also certified for in-line skating and scooters (including low-speed, motor assisted). BMX riding and downhill mountain biking require a separate level of certification beyond the standard CPSC kid’s biking certificate. All certified helmets are required to be labeled with a CPSC sticker. The CPSC does not have a standard sticker, so they vary from helmet to helmet.
CPSC AGE CERTIFICATIONS
For babies, toddlers, kids, and youth, CPSC certifies helmets for biking in two age categories – ages 1+ (Persons Age 1 and Older) and 5+ (Persons Age 5 and Older).
1+ Certifications are for really small toddler/ 12mo+ baby helmets (16 CFR 1203). They offer more coverage than the 5+ helmets, but generally max out at 50 cm head circumference and are too small for many toddlers and pre-schoolers.
5+ Certification: The classification for “Persons Age 5 and Older” is confusing. Many 3 and 4 year-olds’ (and some 2 year-olds’!) heads are too big for the 1+ classification helmets and must use a 5+ certified helmet. This is normal and completely safe. There is not an age-based certification level above 5+. As a result, the 5+ certification will apply for all youth helmets as well.
ASTM certification is for helmets used for skateboarding and trick roller skating. Skateboarders crash more often and in different ways, so different safety standards are required than for biking. In Europe, the EN standard is used instead of the ASTM standard for skate certification. The EN standard is NOT as rigorous as the ASTM. There are several European brand helmets sold in the US as “dual-certified” as they meet the EN standard, but they do NOT meet the more rigourous ASTM standard in the US. When shopping for a helmet to be used as a bike helmet and a skateboard helmet, be sure it is CSPC certified as well as ASTM certified for skateboarding. BMX and downhill mountain biking have additional ASTM (International Safety Standards) they must meet in order to be sold specifically as such. Additional information about CPSC standards can be found here.
What helmet will work best for my child?
Now that you know what to look for, check out our Helmet Comparison Charts for help finding the best helmet for your child and your budget.
If you’re in a hurry, we’ve narrowed down our favorites on our Top 7 Kids’ Bike Helmets page.
By: Natalie Martins
Last Updated: January 21, 2017