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What Are the Different Types of Powersports Helmets?

In this first in a series of articles on choosing the right powersports helmet, we discuss the six main types of helmets that exist - along with a few other important factors to consider.
What Are the Different Types of Powersports Helmets?

Within our new POWERSPORTSiD.com website, you'll find a wealth of repair parts, trick lighting options, body armor, exciting electronics, and riding gear designed around the use of motorized ATVs, UTVs, snowmobiles, and personal watercraft (jet skis). In this first in a series of articles on choosing the right powersports helmet for those toys, we'll discuss the six main types of helmets that exist. And, we'll cover compatibility between helmet types and vehicle types.

Powersports Helmets Secure Mounting Points For GoPro Cameras
Powersports helmets make secure mounting points for gopro cameras.

Many states require the use of protective helmets for drivers and passengers on snowmobiles, ATVs, and UTVs. This is done for good reason - because accidents can happen, and there are plenty of hard trees, rocks, and ground to crash into. So there's no arguing that helmets are a safety necessity for off-road land vehicles. But you may be wondering are helmets really necessary on watercraft?

Types Of Powersport Vehicles

Watercraft (Jet Skis)

Local laws may not require helmets on watercraft. Might it be because there are those who think that water creates softer landings than pavement, rocks, or other obstacles do?

We prefer to err on the side of caution, because today's jet skis and other watercraft may pack more horsepower than some cars. It's certainly possible to get off-balanced and bang your head against the handlebars on a jet ski as it is with an ATV or snowmobile. Hitting your head against the water at speed isn't fun either.

Unlike most land-based vehicles, jet skis can turn on a dime and ride off in a tangent at any time. Regardless of whether it's you or others who barrel in a zig-zag across the water, you could be at a collision risk with other watercraft (including boats) that may suddenly appear. For jet skis, we recommend off-road helmets for chin protection, or open face helmets for expert level riders.


Helmets are a necessity on snowmobiles, which can unexpectedly pitch up or sideways over snowbanks, brush, and earth. If those things don't leave you tumbling, there's always hidden ice awaiting the chance to send you sliding into the woods.

Using Helmet On Snowmobiles

When things go wrong on a snowmobile, it's easy for head impact to occur against hard obstacles or the snowmobile. We recommend protecting yourself with full face, off-road, snow, dual sport, or modular helmets on snowmobiles.

Wheeled Trail Busters

When it comes to off-roading on wheels, you've got a choice between ATVS (all-terrain vehicles) and UTVs (utility terrain vehicles). Both are similarly equipped with 4 wheels, traditional engines & drivetrains, and advanced suspension setups. However, there are differences between these two types of powersport buggies.

ATV With Motorcycle Style Seat And Handlebar Controls / UTV Has 2 Side-by-side Seats With A Traditional Car Style Steering Wheel And Throttle Controls
An ATV (left) has motorcycle style seat and handlebar controls. A UTV (right) has 2 side-by-side seats along with a traditional car style steering wheel and throttle controls.

An ATV features a centered riding position on what's basically a modified motorcycle seat. Motorcycle style handlebars provide similar steering, throttle, and brake operations. Fans of ATVs appreciate the ease with which it's possible to lean into turns and use one's body to make riding more footloose and enjoyable. When you consider that ATVs are purpose-built to bounce and jump over earth rises, getting thrown off one is almost as easy as getting thrown from a mechanical bull. For ATVs, we offer off-road, dual sport helmets, and open face helmets.

The setup of a UTV mirrors that of a car with side-by-side seating, a traditional steering wheel, and foot pedals for throttle and brakes. UTVs tend to be positioned further off the ground, with a higher center of gravity that increases rollover odds. Since UTVs often have more power than ATVs, seat belts and roll bars are mandated for safety. For UTVs, we offer full-face, off-road, dual sport, open face, and modular style helmets.

The Six Types Of Helmets

Full Face Helmets

Full face helmets are aptly named because they provide the highest level of protection around the entire head. Today's full face helmets come in a choice of stylish shapes aerodynamically engineered for various riding positions.

Full-Face Helmets By NEXX Helmets / Speed & Strength
Full-face helmets from left to right: NEXX Helmets Grand Win Full Face Helmet, Speed & Strength Fast Forward Helmet, and NEXX Helmets Devon Full Face Helmet.

Naturally, there's a wind screen visor for visibility which can flipped to an open or closed position. Full face helmets include an integrated chin bar - a real advantage that most other helmets don't offer.

Speed & Strength Cruise Missile Helmet In Detail
Some of the things you'll find on a typical full face helmet such as the Speed & Strength Cruise Missile Helmet.

Full face helmets are a great choice for high-velocity riders - so if it's speed you're after, go with one of these.

Open Face Helmets

Open face helmets have no structural chin protection and use an adjustable strap to snug them in place. Also described as "3/4th helmets", these protect the top, sides, and rear of your head, leaving your face exposed. During the right riding conditions, the open-air feeling these create can be refreshing.

Open Face Helmets With Strap
Open face helmets all feature a strap instead of a structural chin protection bar. Choices include a completely open face, removable visor, and removable face mask for air filtering.

Many open face helmets include a removable visor, and some even include a removable face mask for air filtering at higher speeds. Because open face helmets don't protect your chin and lack the ability to shield your nose and mouth from water, snow, or mud, we recommend them only for lower-speed operation.

Modular Helmets

Modular helmets also cover the entire head, but they feature a chin bar section that pivots up on a hinge. So, with a quick flip, what's essentially a full face helmet transforms into an open-face helmet. This setup is extremely convenient for taking a quick break to catch your breath, enjoy some refreshments, or make a phone call. When it comes to shapes, some modular helmets are designed for lower speeds and upright seating, while others feature aerodynamic shapes geared for motion.

Scorpionexo Solid Adventure Touring Modular Helmet In Closed And Open Positions
Here, the ScorpionExo Solid Adventure Touring Modular Helmet is shown in the closed and open positions.

Because of the separate hinged chin section, modular helmets cannot approach the one-piece crash protection of full face helmets. Additionally, hinge mechanism components which allow chin sections to pivot open and closed need to be sturdy – so they tend to increase the overall helmet weight.

Off-Road Helmets

Off-road helmets (also described as "dirt bike" helmets) are geared for rough-and-tumble use on snowmobiles, ATVs, UTVs, and personal watercraft.

NEXX Helmets Rok’On Off-Road Helmet / Answer Racing AR-3 Haze Dirt Bike Helmet
The NEXX Helmets Rok’On Off-Road Helmet (left) and Answer Racing AR-3 Haze Dirt Bike Helmet are just a couple of stylish off-road helmets we offer.

In particular, these are lightweight and designed for maximum ventilation so the user can breathe easily. During the hot months when powersports activities typically occur, their reduced insulation also reduces temperatures inside the helmet. Those who appreciate a lightweight helmet for any type of extreme activities should consider off-road helmets.

While off-road helmets protect the chin, they typically have an open face that does not come with a wind visor. Instead, they are meant to be used with goggles for easy removal and cleaning when dirt or mud covers everything.

Off-Road Helmet With Sun Peak

Since it's hard to avoid extreme up and down angles while doing any kind of powersport activity, off-road helmets greatly benefit from "sun peak" attachments which effectively keep glare out of the eyes. They can also protect your face from being blasted by dirt, snow, or “rooster tails” kicked up by other powersports vehicles directly in front of you.

Rooster Tail Kickup
On land, snow, or water, you’re subject to “rooster tail” kickup from other riders traveling in front of you. Sun peaks on off-road helmets can block a lot of this spray.

The lighter weight and lower insulation of off-road helmets means you'll also hear the most outside noise. This can be a plus at lower speeds over uneven terrain when sounds underfoot are helpful in gauging ground condition and traction levels. But if you're traveling at higher speeds, wind and noise levels can become extremely unpleasant. Note that at higher speeds, larger sun peaks found on off-road helmets would also catch enough aerodynamic force to continuously push your head up and back.

Dual Sport Helmets

Dual Sport helmets were born of the desire to take good characteristics of off-road helmets and modify them for use at some degree of speed. As a result, they'll have better levels of ventilation than your standard enclosed helmet - even featuring wind screens that flip up for goggle use. Dual sport helmets will also feature small, permanently-integrated chin bars.

Nolan Helmets EVO Solid Dual Sport Helmet / Shoei Hornet X2 Helmet / GMAX Vertical Adventure Helmet
The Nolan Helmets EVO Solid Dual Sport Helmet (left), Shoei Hornet X2 Helmet, and the GMAX Vertical Adventure Helmet (right) are all “dual sport” helmets.

These also feature more insulation for sound muffling and warmth than off-road helmets - but not as much as full face helmets. As such, dual sport helmets are suitable for snowmobiles, ATVs, and UTVs. To reduce sun glare, dual sports are equipped with sun peaks that aren't as subject to aerodynamic lift.

Snow Helmets

Zoan Helmets Blade Sv Solid Full Face Snow Helmet / Kimpex Usa Solid Snow Modular Helmet
The Zoan Helmets Blade SV Solid Full Face Snow Helmet (full face, left) and the Kimpex USA Solid Snow Modular Helmet (modular, right).

The main reason snow helmets exist is to provide maximum warmth and defogging ability in cold temperature settings. Outwardly, they resemble either full face (one-piece) or modular (chin section flip-up) configurations. Since good ventilation is essential, many snow helmets feature adjustable vents with a larger wide-open flow. Look for breath guards as well.

Snow Helmets Visors Types Table

Snow helmets are equipped with two types of visors to reduce fogging on the inside of the visor surface. One is a double-pane visor. The other type is electrically heated by a cord that plugs directly into an outlet on the snowmobile. Double pane visors work well to reduce fog - but if you need the most effective defrosting, nothing beats electric visors. You'll see these available in the Product Options fields, or you can use check boxes for Double Lens or Electric Lens to narrow your search accordingly.

Powersports Helmets Variety

Be sure to narrow your search by using our menu selection icons (pictured above) at the top of the Helmets page. Our website makes it easy to browse through the selections, eventually funneling down your choices to the style and type that best suits your needs.

Should you still have questions, call us! Our phone lines are open seven days a week, staffed by knowledgeable enthusiasts like you. We're happy to help!

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