Like riding, helmets are all about feel. It’s about how a helmet feels on your head, how you feel when you look at yourself in the mirror when wearing it, and how you feel when you shell out the dollars for your purchase. And, like feel, it’s a very personal thing. Not every helmet is suited to every rider.
When you go looking for a helmet, the first thing to do is be sure it’s certified by the SEI as meeting the ASTM standard for safety. There will be a tag in the helmet stating that. All other helmets are simply apparel and not at all protective.
Next, decide how much money you want to spend and the style you need. Then go try a bunch on. Caution: If you don’t want to spend $150 for a helmet, don’t waste your time trying one on. The pricier helmets definitely give you a cushier feel.
When you try on a helmet, be sure it fits snugly and sits level on your head (you should be able to see your eyebrows move up and down if you wiggle the helmet while it’s on your head). It shouldn’t tilt up or down. Secure the chinstrap correctly, not hanging loosely. Wear your hair the way you normally do when you ride, and keep the helmet on your head for more than just a few minutes. It should become less noticeable, if it’s fitting comfortably.
The Charles Owen, LAS, Lami-Cell and the Troxel Grand Prix Classic helmets are sized in hat-size increments, such as 7 1/8”. This means you choose the exact helmet size that fits your head best. Bear in mind that if you change your hair style or add a headband or ear warmer, you may well change the fit of that helmet. You could find yourself needing one helmet for wearing your hair up and another for wearing it down.
Other helmets are sized as small, medium or large. These helmets have fitting-adjustment devices, either in the form of a dial, a push lever, a padding system or a combination. We especially like the Troxel Flip-Fold Headliner padding system, which is easy to increase or decrease padding and accommodate different head shapes well. You can adjust the fit at the sides, front or back. It’s also removable and washable, and replacements are available for $9.95.
With both sizing systems, it’s important to realize that a head measurement is only a reference to size. The shape of your head is important, too. Two people can both measure 7” but wear two differently sized helmets due to their head shape. That’s one of the reasons it’s tough — but not impossible — to order a helmet via the Internet or a catalog. That 7” in the Charles Owen may feel totally different than a 7” LAS, let alone a helmet marked S-M-L.
There’s sometimes variation in shape among the same brand helmets. But that’s good, really, so that if you have your heart set on a Troxel, you should find one that works for you. Frankly, as a manufacturer, Troxel goes overboard in helmet choices. They even offer two different adjustment choices, both that come with the Flip-Fold insert system.
The Troxel GPS III is a tensioning mechanism you push or pull apart for a close fit. This style comfortably accommodates long hair styles and pony tails. We found it difficult to adjust while on our head and found ourselves taking it off and on again to adjust properly. However, it’s comfortable once it’s set.
The Troxel GPS II is a soft-touch dial system, which allows the rider to tighten or loosen the fit with one hand. We found it easier to use, but it’s not quite as comfortable as the slide, and it doesn’t work well with a pony tail. If you like the dial system, try the Aegis helmets from Devon-Aire. Their dial system was a bit more comfortable and just as easy to use.
Helmet harnesses are made of web or web with a leather or microfiber-padded covering. They all adjust at the chin area, and many have side slides/guides for adjusting the position of the harness to accommodate ear comfort.
We prefer helmets without an excess of harness at the chin area. Most of the Troxels had ample amounts of webbing. You can cut the extra off, of course, but you must be careful to not destroy the security gripping system through the straps and glides.
Some Troxel helmets come with the harness sitting inside the adjustment system, closer to your head, while others were fixed so they were set between the adjustment system and the outside of the hat. We found the latter system resulted in fewer tangled harnesses, but otherwise once the hat was in place we barely felt a difference.
Choosing a style is fun, but you can spend a lot of bucks for fancy designs. But remember that you don’t have to. In fact, one manufacturer told us they believe the most frequent buying mistake, after fitting errors, is choosing a brand or look based upon whatever is the current fad. It’s important to 1) Buy a helmet that fits your individual head, and 2) Choose the style that fits your discipline.
The trend in jumper, hunter and dressage show rings is still predominantly classic black, whether it’s velvet, velveteen, microfiber or a combination. You may also see some brown or navy blue helmets and a few adornments, but the overall look remains conservative and elegant.
A skullcap is the choice for cross-country, with a helmet cover to match your riding apparel.
For schooling, the door is wide open. You can get a Western motif, like the Troxel Sierra or Cheyenne, or a Troxel Antiquus (horse head) design, such as on the Troxel Legacy. And color options are numerous. Note: All Troxel helmets are designed so they can be used with a helmet cover, so if you prefer a bright schooling helmet, but sometimes need a dark helmet, they may be the answer.
Ventilation is vital, because riding can be hard work and you’ll sweat. Nearly every helmet in the trial has vents of some type to help airflow within the helmet.
Some are clearly visible (and we prefer they have some type of cover over them to keep debris out), while others are discrete, like the Phantom F low Ventilation system on the Troxel Grand Prix Classic.
The Lami-Cell has visible vents, while the LAS Lyra 06 and Evolution helmets have invisible vents and a CoolMax lining, which will help wick away moisture and keep you cooler. Of course, show helmets tend to be ”warmer” than those for schooling and have smaller venting systems.
Weight is a concern with helmets, and you can feel a difference. However, we weighed each helmet in our trial and found barely a six-ounce difference in weight between the heaviest and the lightest. According to the scale we used, the lightest helmets were the Charles Owen GR8 and the LAS Tierra.
Our top choices for a show helmet are the Lami-Cell Competitor, the LAS Agua, the Charles Owen GR8, and the Troxel Reliance. All are comfortable, lightweight choices that look snazzy. We loved the Charles Owen GR8’s sleek styling and lightweight feel. For a top-of-the-line type helmet, you won’t go wrong. The Lami-Cell Competitor gives almost instant comfort, excellent venting, stain-resistant fabric and a modern design, earning our show helmet Best Buy.
For schooling helmets, the favorites were the LAS Tierra, the Devon-Aire Ussepa, the Troxel Spirit and the Tipperary Sportage Plus. The Tipperary Sportage Plus has the sportiest look of all the helmets in our trial with lots of venting. Plus it has a wicking liner and removable pad for cleaning. However, the available adjustment systems on other helmets were easier to use than the Tipperary’s foam-insert system.
The LAS Tierra is comfortable, lightweight, versatile and has removable padding. It’s also suitability to many hair styles, and you can put a cover over the cap if needed, making it our top schooling helmet choice.
The Devon-Aire Ussepa handily earns schooling helmet Best Buy.