It is more than a shiny hat

Car racing is exceptionally risky, and it is not possible to overstate the importance of buying an auto race helmet. Your head needs the protection and there’s no sanctioning body that’d make an exception to the universal rule of having a quality car-racing helmet as part of a participant’s gear. It is a non-complicated insurance policy.

That said, not every auto helmet would do. The dizzying array of crash helmets available can prove hellish when deciding on what headgear to get, especially in light of the stakes involved. This automotive helmet article helps make sense of the chaos and even goes the extra mile to recommend the best auto-racing helmets currently on the market.


1. Conquer Full Face Auto Racing Helmet

Conquer Full Face Auto Racing Helmet
Conquer Full Face Auto Racing Helmet
  • Shell Type: Fiberglass
  • Face Type: Closed (Full) Face
  • Certification: Snell SA2015
  • Number of Sizes: 4
  • Features: Fire Retardant Padding, Airflow Venting, In-Shell HANS Threaded Inserts, Kevlar Chin Strap, Removable Cheek Pads

The right brand for the right crowd

It is relatively easy to make compromises when considering regular household appliances or even a mechanical part like car LED headlights. In a bid not to go over budget, you decide the fancy, new feature on one model isn’t necessary; instead you opt for a more standard offering that gets the basics right.

With helmets, it is a different ball game. You want the best. No amount of cost savings would make up for the medical bills that you’d get for the treatment of an avoidable trauma/injury. However, the hiccup is that the top of the range helmet models from brands like Aria, Bell, Stilo, and Sparco sit comfortably in the four-figure price bracket.

They’re great for pro racers. But for the rest of us, the cost is a tough pill to swallow. This is where Conquer swoops in to save the day. No, you do not have to opt for a bottom-of-the-barrel auto helmet that’s the protective equivalent of a Tupperware bowl. Conquer’s a line of high quality car racing helmets are amazing at providing excellent protection at a fraction of the cost of a premium helmet.

A complete package

It is a difficult proposition to offer superb protection on a budget. But it is a task that Conquer excels at. The Conquer [Snell SA2015 Approved] Full Face Auto Racing Helmet is a testament to this fact.

For starters, this helmet has a solid build, but not excessive to the point that it tilts the weight scales considerably. In other words, it is lightweight, so you can use it comfortably for an extended period. It is outfitted with a fiberglass shell, a standard feature in this end of the market, and a proper choice. Its 3mm shield is flame resistant and anti-scratch.

Adding to its character are multiple slits (vents) astutely positioned around the helmet, including the rear, to facilitate airflow. On the inside, the racing helmet has sufficient fire retardant padding and Kevlar chinstrap. Crucially, the cheek pads can be removed to enable easy installation of a wired or wireless comm system.

All of this is fine and dandy, but the primary reason why the Conquer Full Face is worth buying is that it has Snell SA2015 Homologation. The very latest certification mandates the inclusion of HANS M6 threaded inserts in the shell for head restraint systems to confer maximum safety.

An obvious choice

The Conquer Full Face may not have the fanciest feature list, but it has more than enough to serve any amateur racer well, evident by the overwhelmingly positive reviews it boasts of on Amazon. Its affordability is often the nudge that pushes buyers over the ‘get it’ line, and it is anything but surprising.

It is available in three colors—gloss white, matte black, and silver. And you can choose your fit from four sizes using the clear sizing chart on its product page. You also get a nice drawstring bag accessory for storage.

Pros

  • Snell SA2015 certification with HANS inserts
  • Multiple vents for improved airflow
  • Lightweight but solid build
  • Sufficient fire retardant padding

Cons

  • None worth mentioning

2. Conquer Carbon Fiber Full Face Racing Helmet

Conquer Carbon Fiber Full Face Racing Helmet
Conquer Carbon Fiber Full Face Racing Helmet
  • Shell Type: Carbon Fiber
  • Face Type: Closed (Full) Face
  • Certification: Snell SA2015
  • Number of Sizes: 3
  • Features: Fire Retardant Padding, 10 Airflow Vents, In-Shell HANS Threaded Inserts, Kevlar Chin Strap, Removable Cheek Pads

At more than double the price of our top pick—the Conquer Full Face—the Conquer Carbon Fiber Full Face may seem expensive; but it is actually one of the more affordable carbon fiber racing helmets available. Carbon fiber helmets are held in high regard because they are much lighter, allowing for extended use on the racetrack.

Conquer describes the Carbon Fiber Full Face as sporting a “carbon fiber composite” shell, which implies that it isn’t entirely made of carbon fiber. This is to keep costs down as high-end carbon fiber crash helmets made entirely of carbon rarely sit in the three-figure range.

In any case, the Conquer Carbon Fiber Full Face has an outstanding build. It is sleek, expectedly lightweight, and doubles down on the aerodynamic stability improvements introduced in the Conquer Aerodynamic Vented Full Face.

In fact, its chin bar vents mirror those of the Conquer Aerodynamic Vented Full Face. However, it has more forehead and top vents with a different pattern/dispersion/arrangement. The vents permit improved air intake and heat exhaust, which contributes to increased comfort (reduced fatigue).

Beyond its carbon fiber shell and superior aerodynamic stability, it totes the standard repertoire of Conquer’s top-quality features including

  • fire retardant padding,
  • in-shell HANS M6 mounts,
  • removable cheek pads,
  • Kevlar chin strap,
  • 3mm anti-scratch and flame resistant clear shield with tear off post

And more importantly, it is Snell SA2015 certified.

The Conquer Carbon Fiber Full Face is available in four sizes and two colors—gloss white and matte black. Like with any Conquer helmet purchase, you’d get a drawstring bag for storage as well.

Pros

  • Snell SA2015 certification with HANS inserts
  • 10 vents for improved airflow
  • Remarkably lightweight
  • Sufficient fire retardant padding

Cons

  • None worth mentioning

3. Zamp FSA-3 Full Face

Zamp FSA-3 Full Face
Zamp FSA-3 Full Face
  • Shell Type: Fiberglass
  • Face Type: Closed (Full) Face
  • Certification: Snell SA2015
  • Number of Sizes: 4
  • Features: Fire Retardant Padding, Airflow Venting, In-Shell HANS Threaded Inserts, Chin Strap, Removable Cheek Pads

Conquer may be the leader in the auto helmets for amateur racers space, but Zamp is unrelenting in giving a hot chase. The FSA-3 takes on the Conquer Full Face head-on and challenges it brilliantly.

It has a fiberglass shell and familiar sleek polish. The interior padding is fire retardant and its cheek pads are removable for easy installation of comms. It is a full-face helmet, as such it has a 3mm clear shield with 12.25 inch tear off posts.

It has a diverse vent distribution—chin, scalp, and rear vents. Like the Conquer Full Face it is also Snell SA2015 certified, and so features in-shell M6 inserts. Its pricing is similar to the Conquer Full Face as well.

However, its color options are limited. Only white is available, which is a shame. Thankfully, it has a standard size selection to make finding a proper fit easy.

Pros

  • Snell SA2015 certification with HANS M6 mounts
  • Chin, scalp, and rear vents for improved airflow
  • Sufficient fire retardant padding

Cons

  • Color selection is limited

4. Conquer Open Face Auto Racing Helmet

Conquer Open Face Auto Racing Helmet
Conquer Open Face Auto Racing Helmet
  • Shell Type: Fiberglass
  • Face Type: Open Face
  • Certification: Snell SA2015
  •  Number of Sizes: 4
  •  Features: Fire Retardant Padding, Airflow Venting, In-Shell HANS Threaded Inserts, Kevlar Chin Strap, Removable Cheek Pads

If you want to shave off a little weight, feel claustrophobic in a full-face, or just prefer open face helmets (also called half helmets); the Conquer Open Face has you covered.

It shares the same design and build as our top pick, the Conquer Full Face. As you’d notice the feature summary of both helmets are identical.

The major difference of course between both is how much of your face they cover. Consequently, there are no front vents on the Conquer Open Face—not that the helmet needs them. Also, it has a bolt-on visor with sun strip in place of the shield in the Full Face.

Other than that, the fiberglass construction, SA2015 homologation, fire retardant padded lining, and removable cheek pads are the standard offerings you should get from a quality Conquer helmet worth your while. It does have a Kevlar chinstrap to ensure a secure fit and top air vents (you can’t have too many).

The icing on the cake is Conquer’s exclusive complementary drawstring bag accessory and of course the affordability of the helmet. The Conquer Open Face is the great half helmet for the money bar none. It is available in two colors—gloss white and matte black.

Pros

  • Snell SA2015 certification with HANS inserts
  • Top exhaust vents
  • Sufficient fire retardant padding

Cons

  • None worth mentioning

5. RaceQuip PRO15 Full Face Helmet

RaceQuip PRO15 Full Face Helmet
RaceQuip PRO15 Full Face Helmet
  • Shell Type: Fiberglass
  • Face Type: Closed (Full) Face
  •  Certification: Snell SA2015
  • Number of Sizes: 8
  • Features: Fire Retardant Padding, Airflow Venting, Chin Spoiler/Duckbill, In-Shell HANS Threaded Inserts, Kevlar Chin Strap

Conquer may be at the top of the hill…for now: but there are contenders vying for the throne. RaceQuip is one of the frontrunners. And while its OF15 Open Face makes a good case against the Conquer Open Face, the PRO15 Full Face isn’t elaborately convincing as the ideal alternative to our top pick the Conquer Full Face. It’s why it is this far down our list.

That said, it does have a couple of things going for it and definitely deserves to be considered as it is also a quality helmet at a relatively affordable price.

For starters, its stylish aero design with a medium-sized duckbill (to help reduce lift when racing at high speed) actually competes with the design of the more expensive Conquer Aerodynamic Vented Full Face rather than the standard Conquer Full Face. It is as functional as it is aesthetic and is one of several quality features.

It has a distortion-free 3mm polycarbonate low fog shield, silicone eyeport gasket for a tight shield seal, an aluminum pivot kit with adjustable friction lock and tear-off posts that can adjusted to up to eight positions, and of course it has exhaust vents at the top and back of the shell for improved airflow.

On the inside, it sports an expanded polystyrene liner with comfort fit blended Nomex interior; a Kevlar chin strap to secure the helmet to your head (you don’t want the helmet flying off should the worst happen); and as part of the requirements for its Snell SA2015 rating, it has HANS/HNR M6 threaded inserts in the shell.

Make no mistake; this is a remarkable package for its price. Available color choices are—flat black, gloss steel, gloss black, and gloss white. It’s selection of eight sizes is the most expansive of any helmet reviewed in this guide. Thus unlike the OF15, RaceQuip went to town in the variation department with the PRO15.

Compared to the Conquer Full Face, the PRO15 does have the better aero design and better color & size collection. However, the Conquer Full Face has a better network of vents, is noticeably cheaper, and there’s that drawstring bag accessory which is nice to have.

If the aero design of the PRO15 is proving to be a good enough reason to ignore the Conquer Full Face pros, the Conquer Aerodynamic Vented Full Face offers a comparable aerodynamic design with chin bar vents (and the drawstring bag accessory) and still is cheaper than the RaceQuip PRO15.

Nonetheless, if color and size choice is a big deal to you, then the PRO15 is hard to beat.

Pros

  • Snell SA2015 certification with HANS inserts
  • Medium-sized duckbill/chin spoiler
  • Sufficient fire retardant padding
  • Excellent color and size choices

Cons

  • Only top and back vents; no chin vents

6. Bell K.1 Pro Automotive Racing Helmet

  • Shell Type: Composite
  • Face Type: Closed (Full) Face
  • Certification: Snell SA2015
  • Number of Sizes: 4
  • Features: Fire Retardant Padding, Airflow Venting, Chin Gurney/Duckbill, Integrated Channels for Microphone Systems Installation, In-Shell HANS Threaded Inserts, Kevlar Chin Strap

Bell?! Yes, we know. They’re pricey for amateur racers and the K.1 Pro isn’t as affordable as the other helmets (barring the carbon fiber helmets) in this list. However, it gets a recommendation because for a reasonable price you get a better shell, Bell’s iconic design and build quality, and premium features.

First off, the K.1 Pro is outfitted with aero design, but with Bell’s characteristic aggressive styling. At its price point and per the brand name, this is to be expected. Complementing the aerodynamic modeling with astute curves is the noticeable duckbill to improve stability during high-speed racing.

That said, the primary reason why the K.1 Pro pops up on this list is its composite shell. A composite shell is a complex build that uses a variety of fiberglass, carbon fiber, and in some cases Kevlar; rather than one material all through. As a result the K.1 Pro is appreciably lighter than the fiberglass helmets on this list and comparable in weight to the carbon race helmets—Conquer Carbon Fiber Full Face and Zamp RZ-44C Air Carbon.

Still on the exterior, it is evident that Bell devoted requisite time to the ventilation system of the K.1 Pro Automotive. Its direct flow vents are pedantically dispersed at the chin, top, and back of the helmet. In total, the K.1 Pro sports 10 intake and exhaust (extraction vents). In addition, it has a clear 0.2 mm intake vent and can support a top forced air option (you’d have to buy the required gear separately).

Between the chin and top vents is the standard size Eyeport 287 3mm SRV clear shield. Furthermore, a hollow synthetic rubber gasket seal prevents air, dirt, and water from entering the helmet’s interior.

The exquisite interior mainly comprises a multi-piece, multi-density custom bead absorbing liner that offers adequate protection for both low and high velocity impact. The padding is also comfy to provide outstanding fit and durable performance (partly thanks to its Comfort-Plus FR fabric).

But there’s more. The Bell K.1 Pro Automotive helmet offers integrated channels with multiple options for installing or integrating radio microphone systems. This feature is underrated. As is expected, the K.1 Pro is Snell SA2015 certified and sure has M6 terminal hardware (inserts) for head and neck restraint devices.

While the SA2015 homologation is to be expected, the inclusion of a drawstring helmet bag accessory is a pleasant surprise. For what it’s worth, the drawstring bag is a thoughtful addition from a recognizable, premium brand that could afford to leave it out and the exclusion wouldn’t negatively affect their bottom line.

The K.1 Pro is available in three colors—matte black, white, and the cool circuit red. Like Conquer’s offerings, you have four size selections.

In summary, for a feature list this long and significant, the Bell K.1 Pro Automotive is a remarkable buy and solid insurance if the price tag is not prohibitive to you.

Pros

  • Snell SA2015 certification with HANS inserts
  • Lighter composite shell
  • Effective duckbill/chin gurney
  • Sufficient fire retardant padding and excellent ventilation

Cons

  • None worth mentioning

7. HJC AR-10 III

AR-10 III
AR-10 III
  • Shell Type: Fiberglass Composite
  • Face Type: Closed (Full) Face
  • Certification: Snell SA2015
  • Number of Sizes: 6
  • Features: Fire Retardant Padding, Airflow Venting, Duckbill, In-Shell HANS Threaded Inserts, Kevlar Chin Strap

The AR-10 III is the follow up to the HJC AR-10 II, which had its success if only measured. The AR10 II is still a decent option to buy if you’re looking to save a few bucks, but the difference in price (compared to the AR10 III) is practically negligible in light of the SA2015 homologation (the AR10 II is SA2010 certified).

Beyond the newer Snell certification, denoting safer use, the HJC AR-10 III offers a couple of relevant upgrades that unequivocally justifies the modest price increase. The upgrade that’d stick out is the redesigned Advanced Channeling Ventilation (ACV) system.

The revamped ACV system is not an under-the-hood improvement, as you’d notice the two columns of dual front vents on first glance. They’re more pronounced than the AR10 II front vents, and evidently help provide superior ventilation. Additionally, the ACV system comprises two sets of tri vents and rear exhaust ports.

Another welcome addition included in the shell upgrade is a duckbill for improved stability. The eye port is larger for better visibility. HJC retained the fiberglass composite shell, which may seem like a misnomer at first but implies that it isn’t entirely made of fiberglass. It is closer to the Bell K.1 Pro than the Conquer Full Face, and consequently sits halfway between both helmets in the cost department.

On the inside, there’s the standard fire resistant lining, but it’s also moisture-wicking and made of carbon. A premium feature that certainly played into the price is the support for ear cups (you’d have to buy them separately) for improved noise cancelation (reducing outside noise levels) and/or to adapt speakers for radio use.

Since it is Snell SA2015 rated, it has inbuilt M6 terminals for head and neck restraints. The HJC AR-1O III is available in rubbertone black and white. You get to choose from a generous array of six sizes.

By and large, the pricing is fairly justifiable when you take its excellent design, ventilation, performance, and features into account. But for all the commendable upgrades, it is a letdown that HJC retired the removable and washable liner found in the HJC AR-10 II.

Pros

  • Snell SA2015 certification with HANS inserts
  • Lightweight fiberglass composite shell
  • Effective duckbill
  • Sufficient fire retardant padding and excellent ventilation

Cons

  • Non-removable liner

Racing Auto Helmets Buyer’s Guide

An Introduction to Auto Racing Helmets

Unless you’re a pro racer, intend to pursue a career in motorsports, or have a fairly higher budget than the average hobbyist racer; chances are that you view ultra-high-end carbon fiber helmets that routinely cross into four-figure territory as luxury purchases.

Thing is, even though these premium helmets are out of your reach, you still need quality head gear not only for protection but to get in a race (all self-respecting racings orgs mandate the use of helmets). Thankfully, there is a budding segment of solidly built and rigorously tested helmets with excellent protection, and almost as importantly, wouldn’t burn a hole in your pocket.

The best part is that these affordable headgears also undergo and pass the same tests leading to certification that the big boys have to pass as well. The big boys sure have exciting bells and whistles, but for amateur racers, the best auto racing helmets for their specific needs aren’t the most expensive.

Pricing isn’t the be all and end all

Yes, it’s one of the big factors that’d influence your choice. But it’s only one spoke in the wheel. As such, the sticker [price] shouldn’t preoccupy your thoughts that you lose sight of all the other things that matter, including features, fit, safety certification, and more.

We’ll get to these other factors in a jiffy. Before that though, we should address a few things.

A crash helmet is more than a protection for your head

It’s the most obvious purpose obviously, but it also important to protect your face and its several critical organs from impact (debris crashing into the face during an accident is not a possibility that exists solely in the realm of fiction) and fire (famed F1 driver Niki Lauda experienced this first hand). There’s a reason why all Snell certified helmets have fireproof lining.

This is often the consideration that seals many a racer’s closed vs open helmet debate in favor of closed (full face) helmets.


Auto helmets vs Motorcycle helmets

Maybe you have a motorcycle helmet and you’re thinking, well it fits, what say I use it for auto racing. You’d want to hold that thought. We know motorcycle helmets are comparatively less expensive, have a fundamentally similar purpose, and aren’t impossible to use in car racing (plus you’ll probably be getting more out of your money’s worth).

However, for all of those pros, there are very important cons that are indisputably dealbreakers.

  • Auto crash helmets have a narrower field of view. The first reason is that it doesn’t substantially affect performance negatively. But more importantly, it allows for better head protection than is possible with a motorcycle helmet.
  • As mentioned earlier, all certified car helmets (and most in general) have fire retardant padding to protect the wearer against burns. Motorcycle helmets do not have such concerns and aren’t big on fireproofing as a result.
  • Following on from the two drawbacks above, it is unsurprising then that auto helmets and motorcycle helmets are put through different tests for different certifications.

For instance, Snell offers the ‘SA’ class certification for auto racing helmets and the ‘M’ class certification for helmets. In a similar vein, the DOT decal is almost an exclusive preserve of motorcycle helmets. Using several of the auto racing helmets (even those in our list above) on public roads is illegal.

Should I replace my existing helmet?

The Snell rating is most common certification manufacturers aim to get for auto racing helmets that cater to amateur racers. Snell updates the standards every five years, and most sanctioning bodies permit the use of helmets that meet the penultimate standard. For instance, if SA2015 is the latest standard, helmets with SA2010 certification often also get the green light.

This may give the impression of car racing helmets being long serving gear. However, this isn’t accurate. It may have a long, years-long shelf life; but after you put down money on it and put it into active use, the clock starts ticking. The primal things to note include:

  1. An auto helmet is a single-use product. Put simply, if a helmet sustains any damage, it MUST be put out of commission. By design, helmets are equipped offer protection from a single impact. One crucial component of this design is that the lining is deliberately designed to collapse and slow the head during a crash—a one-time only trick.

As such, even a drop from any height above 18 inches necessitates a replacement. A dropped helmet may not show visible signs of damage, but its structural integrity may have been dented. You certainly do not want to find out if it’s still intact when you need it the most.

  1. Wear and tear associated with active use is a major concern. A drop isn’t the only factor that may weaken the protective ability of an auto helmet. Degradation is natural. Accordingly, perspiration, ozone, sunlight, light knocks and bumps all take their toll on the inner liner and shell of an auto helmet.

With time it’d become necessary to get a replacement even before a new standard is ratified. The recommended duration of use of an auto helmet on a regular basis is 2-3 years. The recommended duration of use of an auto helmet for more than 12 times a year is 1 year.


Automotive Racing Helmet Ratings

Auto race helmets come in different models manufactured by an extensive array of makers, with diverse materials, configurations, build quality, design, venting, features, and what not. Every brand will tote its products as sufficiently protective, but it’s not smart to rely exclusively on a manufacturer’s marketing tidbits.

That’s where helmet ratings, also called homologation and certification, come in. The body responsible for dishing out a critically acclaimed helmet certification will aggregate the minimum protection standards that must be adhered to strictly. In addition, the body will run the tests to confirm that manufacturers interested in getting a certification follow the standards satisfactorily.

It is noteworthy that high-end helmets often go over and beyond in the protection department; thus contributing to their higher cost. In effect, while budget helmet makers are content with meeting the Snell safety standards (which is okay and sufficient) and leaving it at that, the premium makers meet the standards and push the envelope further for considerably better protection and associated peace of mind.

That said, in car racing, the three major organizations that set and administer periodically updated safety standards for helmets are the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), SFI Foundation, and the Snell Memorial Foundation. All three organizations issue standards for the various types of racing helmets—open face, full face, rally, and karting.

The SFI and Snell also set standards for motorcycle helmets (which almost always also satisfy the DOT standards set back in 1966).

However, the most popular in the states is the Snell certification. While the others set standards for a wide range of auto racing gear, Snell only certifies auto-racing helmets.

FIA certification

The FIA is popular the world over for being the governing body for many high-profile racing events and a frontrunner in promoting road safety around the world. One such high-profile racing event is the Formula 1. The FIA rating is prominent in Europe, but many sanctioning bodies in the Americas will accept FIA rated helmets.

FIA helmets are typically pro-level racing helmets with complementary high cost. For instance, the FIA 8860 mandates the use of carbon fiber shells or similar material, which pretty much eliminates budget fiberglass helmets.

The FIA helmets homologation naming convention is not very intuitive. If you’re in the market for a FIA rated helmet, confirm the specific rating allowed by the prevailing sanctioning body. In the 2010’s, the existent FIA certifications are FIA Standards 8858-2010, 8860-2010, and 8859-2015.

SFI certification

The SFI Foundation like the FIA set specifications for several racing gear. In fact, in the U.S., it is the de facto standard for most auto racing safety equipment. Helmets are an exception to the rule though, although several sanctioning bodies now accept SFI rated helmets. Since 2013, the encompassing SFI spec for auto helmets is the SFI Spec 31.1.

The SFI Spec 24.1 is for youth full-face helmets, while the SFI Spec 41.1 is for motorcycle helmets. It is important to note that unlike FIA and Snell, the SFI Foundation does not independently test before or randomly re-test helmets after they receive certification. Rather, the SFI gives manufacturers the free rein to use the SFI label based on test results provided by the manufacturers.

Snell certification

The Snell Memorial Foundation has only one area of specialization, setting standards for and certifying helmets. They’ve been doing so since 1957 and now certify helmets for several use-cases from auto racing to horseback riding. Little wonder why the Snell auto racing helmet standard is the most widely adopted in the US.

Currently, Snell sets standards for:

  • Auto racing helmets; SA[Year] certification (for example SA2010 or SA2015 certification)
  • Kart racing helmets; K[Year] certification
  • Motorcycle helmets; M[Year] certification—all M rated helmets also satisfy the DOT rating standard
  • Elite auto racing helmets; EA[Year] certification
  • Children motorsports helmets; CM[Year] certification
  • Horseback riding helmets; E[Year] certification

In general, Snell SA (Special Application) standards are good for 10 years (although they’re revised in five-year intervals). You’d need to confirm from your rulebook if that’s the case with your motorsports sanctioning body.

Sometimes, certain hybrid standards are released to meet individual Snell SA and FIA specs. This is possible as the automotive racing helmet specs of the three bodies are largely similar. Hybrid standards include the SAH (satisfies the SA2010 and FIA8858 specs) and the Snell FIA CM[H/S/R].

In any case, Snell SA rated helmets are the most common and supported certified auto-racing helmets for amateur racers, reason why our list is entirely populated by SA certified helmets. It’d take a while for EA rated helmets to be widely available and longer for affordable variants to pop on the scene. They’re for pro racers after all.


Important Buying Considerations for Car Racing Helmets

Fit

The certification and quality of a helmet will be moot in an accident if the helmet doesn’t stay on your head. You want to use a helmet that fits your head snugly. You should feel like the helmet evenly exerts pressure (feel firm contact with the helmet) around your head and cheeks.

It should not be too loose that it’d wobble or move significantly in any plane (twist considerably to either side, move back and forth, or up and down) while you’re strapped; and not too tight that you feel your head is being mushed.

An easy way to verify the fit is snug is to stick your fingers between your head and the inside of the helmet. Your fingers shouldn’t be able to extend far in.

Comfort

It is easy for snug to turn out to be too tight, and you don’t want to race wearing a crash helmet that you can’t wait to take off. When trying a helmet, keep it on for at least 10 minutes to make sure you can use it over an extended period.

You should note any uncomfortable pressure points, often against your jaw. You shouldn’t experience distracting discomfort or pain while it’s on: it’s meant to protect you not impair your performance.

Sizing

How do you select a helmet that’d fit? By using the manufacturer’s sizing chart. Like with shoes, sizing charts are not universal and even differ between manufacturers. Brands also have different number of size categories, from 4 all the way to 8 (or more).

That said, each brand would have a sizing chart on its Amazon product page. Here’s that of our top pick – the Conquer Full Face.

How to measure your head to fit a helmet

As you’d notice, the measurement you want to take is your head circumference. You only need a fabric (or flexible) tape measure. Simply measure the circumference at approximately one inch above your eyebrows in front whilst ensuring the tape is level.

You should measure several times and use the largest measurement you got. Furthermore, if you’d race wearing a balaclava with your helmet, take the measurement while wearing a balaclava.

If you need a helping hand, go for it. You can ask a friend, but typically it’s a DIY. The sizing chart would have measurements in inches and centimeters; you can use either.

If the sizing is right but the helmet wouldn’t fit, you should trying removing the cheek pads (if it’s detachable). If the helmet fits comfortably on your head, the sizing is correct, but you’d have to change the thickness of the cheek pads.

Shell type: Fiberglass vs Carbon Fiber vs Composite

As is usual with most products out there, the performing materials are the most coveted, and the most expensive. With helmets, the most coveted shell material is carbon fiber.

The composite material is a step down that seeks to bring some of the benefits of carbon to a more affordable price range. Fiberglass is the entry-level, cost-effective option that’s actually best suited for amateur racers.

Most helmets on this list are in fact fiberglass helmets and they offer sufficient protection. However, as is expected, it isn’t the greatest quality helmet shell material available. It is only good enough. It is heavier—an inconvenience if you’d be racing for a long time; it is less penetration-resistant—when compared to the two other materials; and as already mentioned, it is affordable.

Quite often, price is the deciding factor for amateur racers when choosing shell type; which almost always places a fiberglass auto helmet as the top choice. There’s little reason to go up if racing is a hobby you engage in periodically. Composite helmets represent a step-up if you’re concerned about weight and don’t mind shelling a few hundreds more.

That said, a new crop of carbon fiber helmets are emerging from the budget brands that aren’t really in the thousand-dollar range. These helmets aren’t as fully-featured as their high-end counterparts. They’re essentially entry-level helmets with a carbon shell rather than fiberglass shell, reason for their lower price tags.

Four-figure carbon helmets are state-of-the-art with better ventilation, fit, better than required safety, amongst others. As a result, the carbon shell is part of a premium package rather than the headline feature.

Nonetheless, if you drive formula or prototype cars, where exposure to debris is more pronounced, it may be worth making the investment in a carbon fiber helmet you can afford.

Type of helmet: Open Face or Close Face

In the first sub-section of this guide, we briefly discussed the closed vs open face helmet decision and unequivocally recommended the close (full) face option. In virtually every scenario we can imagine, it comes off as the safest bet.

On track day in an open-cockpit car, you’re simply asking for a doctor’s visit if you go with open face car helmets. That’s not to say, open face helmets don’t have their merits. With an open face head gear, visibility is better and you hear more, which makes for a good combo in rally racing.

In a nutshell, for single-seater, open wheel racing (including karting) where debris is a real concern, get a closed face; for saloon or GT cars and rallying, you may opt for an open face.

Build or Construction

Before you put down money on a crash headgear, confirm it satisfies these bullet points:

  • Field of vision is wide enough
  • It has a fire-retardant internal lining
  • It has threaded inserts (restraint systems) to limit head movement during impact
  • The face shield material allows that’s adequately transparent for optimum visibility while being tough (impact-resistant).

The typical material used is 3mm thick polycarbonate, which in addition to aforementioned properties also offers scratch resistance and ultra-violet light screening.

  • It offers suitable ventilation

All Snell SA2015 automotive racing helmets satisfy the first four points. Ventilation is more of a case-by-case basis. Most affordable helmets offer a decent array of slits scattered on the chin, front, top, and even rear of the helmet.

Still, remember that fire-retardant internal lining? It is a must-have feature, but it has a drawback. It’d trap heat and cause some level of discomfort as well as affect your ability to breathe. For this reason, if you’d race for long stretches, you absolutely want to get a helmet with a fresh-air system.

Else, you could run risk of having low oxygen levels that’d speed up driver exhaustion, which would in turn impede your performance. Endurance racers would find driver air systems useful.

As a side, but sometimes relevant note, you may want to check out the aerodynamics of a helmet. The top three aerodynamic factors to consider are the shape, lines and curves, and the presence (or absence) of a chin bar or spoiler.

A spoiler prevents your helmet from lifting at high speed: However, spoilers are available as aftermarket buys, as such it’s not typically a make or break feature.

Cost

An accurate answer to the “how much should I spend on a helmet” question is how much is your head worth? Nevertheless, you likely have a budget and may not really need a top-shelf model.

The good news is you don’t need to spend a ton to get a quality and certified car racing helmet. You can seamlessly get by with one of our low-priced Snell SA2015 certified helmet for most amateur competitions.

You’d only have to spend more if you’re particular about certain features. Say lighter weight, better (forced air) ventilation, integrated radio headset, better sound and noise reduction, or even better interior. An amateur racer wouldn’t always need any of these features, but if you’re upgrading they’re worth a shot and you should reasonably expect your spend to increase as well.

FAQs

Q: How often does Snell update its certifications?

A: Every FIVE (5) years. However, the general rule of thumb is for sanctioning bodies to permit the use of helmets that satisfy the current or penultimate certification standards. That leaves enough wiggle room to get more out of your helmet, and not have limited choices.

Although, when possible do well to get a helmet that carries the current certification. The price difference is relatively small, and so there’s no point penny-pinching.

Q: Does the type of replacement shield matter?

A: To a good degree, yes. Clear shields work fine and are perfect for nighttime sessions. Mirror shields are typically for aesthetic value. Yellow and amber tinted shields are usable in low-light situations; say during dawn/dusk racing or overcast/rainy days.

If you’re going with tinted shields, note the tint level. Tint is inversely proportional to glare—more tint means less glare. However, loss of visual acuity is a concern if you get a shield that’s too dark for the prevalent condition.

Q: What is the best way to care for the face shield?

A: Use a clean, soft rag and a mild soapy solution (preferably spray it on the shield). You may also opt for lens cleaner and purpose-built cleaning cloths formulated for coated lenses. You can get them at camera shops, most drugstores, or optometrists. Wipe don’t scrub.

Do not use paper towels, solvents, thinners, plastic polishes, or similar harsh chemicals. The iridium, chrome, “Blue Blocker” and other reflective coatings don’t play nice with regularly household window cleaners.

Q: What are the potential issues with painting a helmet?

A: Not much really. Manufacturers would rather you didn’t, but you are at liberty to touch it up if you so desire. Endeavor to have a pro do the painting though, and do not forget to try the helmet and concede to keeping it before giving it a paint job.

Conclusion

In the market for a crash headgear that’d do for most amateur racers, then you should get our top pick the Conquer Full Face. Zamp’s FSA-3 Full Face gives it a good run, however, making for a decent alternative. As you’d guess from their names, they’re both closed face helmets. As such, if you want an open face helmet, you should look no further than the Conquer Open Face.

All three are fiberglass helmets, which is okay for many racers; but if you want something lighter, the composite Bell K.1 Pro Automotive and the carbon fiber Conquer Carbon Fiber Full Face helmets are right up your alley. Don’t balk at the price either, that’s the best you can get for the feature set on offer.

All helmets recommended are SA2015 certified by the Snell Memorial Foundation, so your sanctioning body should accept them without hassle.