Smith Youth Bike Helmet Review: Wilder Jr. and Zip Jr.

As parents who are big fans of Smith helmets, we couldn’t be more thrilled to introduce the Smith Wilder Jr. and Smith Zip Jr. – Smith’s first youth bike helmets! These kids’ lids boast the exceptional quality you’d expect from Smith, and of course feature that cool Smith styling that so many riders proudly sport.

These Smith youth bike helmets are noteworthy for many reasons – MIPS comes standard, highly-adjustable fit system, tons of vents to keep heads cool, locking side straps, and sweat-wicking pads to name a few. The only difference between the two helmets is that the Wilder Jr. has a visor, and the Zip Jr. does not.

3 year old and 12 year old wearing Smith Wilder Jr and Convoy XS

Smith Youth Bike Helmet Overview

RATING: Exceptional

MSRP$75

BEST FOR: Toddler and kid groms ready to shred

SIZE: Youth XS: 48 – 52 cm, S: 51 – 55 cm, M: 55 – 59 cm

ADJUSTMENT SYSTEM: Dial adjust

WEIGHT: 240 g (Zip Jr.), 270 g (Wilder Jr.), 300 g (Adult Convoy)

PROS:

  • Highly adjustable dial fit system can shift up or down for a more precise fit
  • MIPS brain protection system comes standard
  • Super lightweight
  • 21 vents for superior ventilation
  • Soft pads made with performance material
  • Exceptional quality
  • Flat back great for trailer use

CONS:

  • Standard buckle can pinch, but keeps costs down

Smith Youth Bike Helmets – Results of our Test Rides

Young girl riding her bike and wearing the Smith Wilder Jr kids helmet

We tested the Smith Wilder Jr., Smith Zip Jr., and Smith Convoy helmets on 12 different kids ages 1 to 14.

Style Choice: MTB Youth Helmet or Road Youth Helmet?

The Wilder Jr. and Zip Jr. differ in just one thing – a visor. The Wilder has one, the Zip doesn’t. Otherwise, these kids helmets are identical.

Young kids wearing Zip Jr and Wilder Jr Smith kids helmets

So your choice between the Wilder Jr. and the Zip Jr. is purely stylistic. If your kid is going to hit the single track and wants to sport traditional MTB styling, the Wilder Jr. is for you! If you simply don’t like the look of a visor, or have a budding road rider, get the Zip Jr.

Smith does the same with the adult versions of these helmets. The Convoy and Signal are the same helmet, and are just bigger versions of the Wilder Jr. and Zip Jr. The Convoy has a visor and is marketed as an MTB helmet. The Signal does not have a visor and is marketed as a Road helmet.

Dial-Adjust Fit System with Two Special Features

Rear dial adjust knob of Smith Youth bike helmet

The Wilder and Zip have a high-quality dial-adjust fit system with two less-common features that serve to elevate their fit system.

Cage “cup” in rear

Many dial-adjust systems are simply thick bands across the back of the helmet that tighten against the back of the skull. The very popular Giro Tremor has this type of system, with the helmet’s straps being threaded through the rear. (Image on right.)

Smith Youth Bike Helmet rear cage, vs Giro Tremor band

The Wilder Jr. and Zip Jr. have a rear cage that tightens against the back of the head when the dial is tightened. This cage cups more of the back of the head than a single band can.

How much of a better fit does this really provide? Honestly, it’s hard to say. There are many kids helmets on the market that don’t have this feature. We’ve used them for years and they’ve done a great job keeping our kids safe.

What we do know is that our high-end adult bike helmets have this same rear cage, while the entry-level adult helmets we have don’t.

Dial and Cage Can Be Shifted Up and Down

The dial and rear cage of these Smith Youth Helmets have three different height settings. The helmets come set in the middle position, but easily pop out to re-set to the highest or lowest.

Three adjustment heights of rear cage of Smith Youth bike helmet

The purpose of this adjustment is to provide a more precise placement of the cage on the occipital bone (the lowest point on the back of the skull that sticks out the most). As you can see in the image below, the placement difference between the highest and lowest setting is pretty significant. (Highest on left, lowest on right.)

Side by side comparison of dial adjust cage at its highest and lowest settings

How much does this really matter? We had our 10 year old tester do a “shake test”, where you tighten the helmet, turn your head upside down, and shake your head to see if the helmet stays on your head. For this tester and his shape of head, when the helmet was set to its highest setting, the helmet came off in the shake test. At its lowest setting, it stayed firmly in place.

Whether or not this adjustment will be important for your child and their unique head shape, we can’t predict. Once again, we’re not pediatricians so it’s hard to say, but greater adjustability generally allows for a more customized fit.

One last thing we appreciate about this dial-adjust system is that it is easy to grab and tighten on your child’s head. While we also love the Giro Tremor Child (on the right below), the knob is set higher inside the helmet and is harder to wrap your fingers around. At any of the Smith’s cage height settings, the knob is easier to grab than the knob on the Tremor.

Side by side comparison of rear coverage of Smith Wilder Jr and Giro Tremor Child

Coverage – MTB Helmet or Road?

Mountain bike helmets generally have lower coverage on the sides and in the rear to cover more of the head, while road helmets don’t tend to cover as much of the sides or back of the head. Road and MTB helmets both have the same safety certification (excluding full-face helmets that are downhill certified.) In the case of Smith Youth Helmets, the MTB Wilder Jr. and the road/neighborhood Zip Jr. have identical coverage.

Whether or not there really needs to be any differences between the coverage of a mountain bike helmet and a road helmet is a hot topic for debate in the biking world. The extra coverage on the sides and backs of MTB helmets are designed for riders tackling more aggressive terrain.

These riders are more likely to fall on rocks or roots, crash at strange angles after getting air, or get flipped over the handlebars at high speeds. But can you find any scientific studies that the extra coverage actually helps? No, you can’t. In fact, many mountain bikers prefer road helmets because of their superior ventilation.

While the Wilder Jr. (and Zip Jr.) has plenty of coverage for a typical “MTB helmet”, it has slightly less coverage than Giro’s child MTB helmet, the Giro Tremor. You can see the comparison here with our 3-year-old rider with a 51.5 cm head.

On the left, the Smith helmet doesn’t come as low on the sides of the temples, or in the rear. In our opinion, this slight difference in coverage is not a reason to choose the Smith or Giro over the other.

Side by side comparison of side coverage of Smith Wilder Jr and Giro Tremor Child

Smith Wilder Jr. Less Deep Than Giro

In the images below, you can see that the Giro Tremor sits lower on our tester’s head, falling just at our tester’s eyebrows. The Smith Wilder Jr. sits just a bit higher, which is technically a better fit according to the 2-V-2 helmet fit rule. (The best fit for a helmet is to have it sitting 2-fingers-width above the eyebrows. While some helmets will sit lower, it’s possible that a “too-low” helmet would obstruct a child’s vision, especially if they are riding leaning forward.)

Side by side comparison of front coverage of Smith Wilder Jr and Giro Tremor Child

These pictures show that the Giro is a slightly deeper helmet than the Smith. This is neither good nor bad, simply a matter of best fit for your child and their unique head shape. If you know that your child’s head is average or short, the more shallow Wilder Jr. would be a better fit.

Size – Youth Small vs. Adult Small

The Smith Wilder Jr. and Zip Jr. come in just one size, for a head circumference range of 48 – 52 cm. While these helmets are Smith’s “Youth Small” size, this sizing range is really best suited for average toddlers and younger children.

If your child has a head larger than 52 cm, not to worry! The Smith Convoy is the adult version of this helmet and comes in several smaller sizes that can accommodate kids’ heads. The Adult Small size has a head circumference range of 51 – 55 cm, while the Adult Medium is 55 – 59 cm.

3-Year-Old in Smith Wilder Jr. and 12-Year-Old in Smith Convoy Small

3 year old hugging 12 year old wearing Smith Wilder Jr and Convoy XS

One big caveat here… we tried the Smith Convoy Small (51 – 55 cm) on 9 different kids ages 3 to 14. We found that the helmet was a good fit for our kid testers with heads ranging from 52 – 54 cm, but it was a little too loose on our 3 year old with a 51.5 cm head, and our 10-year-old with a 51.8 cm head.

The Wilder and Zip Jr. were both a great fit for our 3-year-old with a 51.5 cm head, but were a bit tight at the temples for our small-headed 10-year-old with a head circumference of almost 52 cm.

Our 10-year-old was significantly more comfortable in the Convoy Small size, but we needed to add a bit thicker padding to get the helmet to fit snuggly. Below you can see how the Wilder Jr. and Convoy (S) compare on his almost 52 cm head.

Side by side comparison of 10 year old wearing Smith Wilder Jr kids helmet and the Smith Convoy Small helmet

Additionally, here’s a comparison of how the Smith Wilder Jr. (blue helmet) and Smith Convoy (white helmet) fit on our 3-year-old. Her 51.5 cm head is at the high end for the Wilder Jr. but at the low end of the range for the Convoy (S).

Side by side comparison of a 3 year old wearing the Smith Wilder Jr. and the Smith Convoy in small.

We have the dial-adjust tightened down as far as possible on the Convoy, even though its minimum size range is 51 cm. As mentioned above, the Convoy S was a little too loose for her head, and we recommend it for kids with at least a 52 cm head circumference.

Narrow Size Range – Good or Bad?

With a size range of 48 – 52 cm, the Zip and Wilder Jr. (and larger Convoy helmets) have just a 4 cm range of adjustability, which is a bit narrow for youth helmets. Given that kids heads can grow so quickly at this age, many parents look for a wide range so they won’t have to buy a new helmet for several years. It’s pretty standard for youth helmets to have a sizing range of 7 cm!

That said, a 4 cm range is quite common for toddler helmets, and we honestly prefer it for toddler and youth helmets. While you may have to buy a new helmet in two years instead of three or four, what you sacrifice in cost you’ll probably gain in a better fit.

Through our years of testing, we’ve found that for helmets with wide sizing ranges, the highest and lowest ends of that range aren’t as great a fit. (We are generalizing, clearly we haven’t tested every helmet with every head!) When a helmet has a smaller range, the entire helmet can be more precisely built for a head that falls in that size range.

As a comparison, the very popular Giro Tremor Child has a 7 cm head circumference range, from 47 – 54 cm. Now look at how that helmet fits our 2 year old tester with a 48 cm head compared to the Smith Zip Jr (4 cm range 48 – 52 cm.)

Side by side comparison of 2 year old wearing Smith Zip Jr and the Giro Tremor Child

While both of these helmets are lightweight and protect his head, we prefer the Smith Zip Jr. because it has less of a bobble-head effect on him, and doesn’t sit so low on his eyebrows.

Lightweight

The Smith Zip Jr. weighs in at just 240 g, while the Wilder Jr.’s visor adds a bit of weight for a total of 270 g. For reference, the Tremor Child with MIPS weighs in at 276 g. Anything in this weight range is considered very lightweight.

By comparison, the dual-certified Nutcase Little Nutty MIPS skater-style helmet weighs a whopping 460 g!

Pads – Sealed and Sweat-Wicking

As you should expect in a high-end kids helmet, these Smith youth bike helmets feature high-quality, sealed, performance material padding.

Internal padding of Smith Wilder Jr.

Side Straps with Locking Strap Adjusters

The Smith Wilder Jr. and Zip Jr. have locking side strap sliders. Because they lock in place, you have to adjust them much less often.

The side straps are threaded through these sliders and then adjusted so that the straps form a “V” beneath a child’s ear. This helps to keep the helmet centered on a child’s head.

Strap slider locked and unlocked on Smith Wilder Jr

Most plastic sliders don’t have a locking mechanism and slide down frequently. Especially on cheap helmets, these looser sliders are a huge contributor to poorly-fitted helmets. Given the overall quality and price of Smith helmets, these locking sliders are a small, helpful, and expected upgrade.

One pro tip about the side straps: Hold onto the top of the helmet and hold the straps out to the sides when putting the helmet on your child. If you don’t, the straps are likely to get twisted. The first few times I put this helmet on our tester’s head, when I went to buckle the straps I noticed the strap was twisted in the back and had to take the helmet off and start over.

This was really the only thing that annoyed me about an otherwise superior helmet, and once I was aware of the simple solve, it became a non-issue.

Buckle – Smith Wilder and Zip Jr. Feature Basic Buckle

Many higher-end helmets are moving to magnetic buckles that help prevent pinching. The Smith youth bike helmets only feature standard buckles. That said, Smith’s two primary competitors (Giro Tremor and Troy Lee Designs A1), have standard buckles as well.

Standard Buckle of Smith Zip Jr.

Visor Stays in Place Well

A visor is available on the Wilder Jr. and Convoy, but not the Zip Jr. It attaches very securely at the sides and does not come off easily. While primarily stylistic, the visor also provides some shade from the sun.

Front visor of Smith Wilder Jr.

Because the visor and body of the helmet aren’t one integrated piece, the visor could snap off in the event of a high-impact crash. Young kids often crash face first. We’ve seen the safety value of integrated visors on many occasions, taking the brunt of the crash and keeping a child’s face from scraping or hitting the ground.

While the Smith’s removable visor is pretty securely connected to the helmet and could take some of the initial impact of a crash, there’s also a chance that it would simply snap off. That said, we don’t know of a mountain bike kids helmet that has a truly integrated visor.

Ventilation – Exceptional Airflow

With 20 strategically placed vents, the Smith youth bike helmets are some of the best ventilated helmets that we’ve seen. 20 vents is a lot, plus the vents are all a pretty good size. If you live in a hot area, the Wilder Jr. or Zip Jr. are an excellent choice.

Although we did not test these helmets with goggles or glasses, the ventilation system was designed to prevent fogging eyewear.

MIPS Safety Technology Comes Standard

Every Wilder Jr. and Zip Jr. helmet comes standard with MIPS safety technology. In the image below, you can see the black plastic MIPS caging that can shift along the inside of the helmet due to the flexible yellow MIPS anchors.

MIPS anchors inside Smith youth bike helmet

This rotating MIPS cage reduces the rotational forces that reach the brain upon an angled impact of the helmet to the ground. This mitigates the risk for minor and severe brain injuries.

Many helmet manufacturers have incorporated MIPS as an additional safety layer in their helmets. Many scientists back the science behind MIPS. But there are also detractors that say MIPS doesn’t really help.

Is MIPS in a helmet worth the extra cost? Quite likely, but there’s currently no standardized testing process to prove this one way or another.

Smith Wilder Jr. and Zip Jr. Bottom Line

Child riding through skatepark wearing the Smith Wilder Jr kids bike helmet

The Smith Wilder Jr. and Zip Jr. are easily some of the most exceptional kids bike helmets on the market. Their most similar competitor, the Giro Scamp and Giro Tremor, are also some of our favorites, so which one should YOU get?

For a baby or very young toddler, we almost always prefer the very slim profile Giro Scamp. For an older toddler or pre-schooler, we found the Smith kids helmets to offer more coverage than the Giro Scamp, and to offer a better fit than the more bulky Giro Tremor Child.

For kids with a 52 cm head or larger, the choice between a Giro Tremor Youth and the Smith Convoy S is really more stylistic than anything.

To view an a full selection of helmets, check out our 10 Best Kids Helmets page.

FTC Disclosure: Affiliate links are included in this review.  No monetary compensation was provided for this review.  The product reviewed was purchased by Two Wheeling Tots and not supplied by the manufacturer. All opinions and images are that of Two Wheeling Tots LLC.  All content and images are copyrighted and should not be used or replicated in any way. View our Terms of Use.

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