If I were to pick a single piece of football equipment to the field, I’d take a helmet.
Now, I realize that this statement is quite ridiculous – you need to have everything from knee pads to a visor. However, head protection is the most crucial thing that you need to ensure longevity in football.
If you happen to be looking for the best football helmets, I have 10 options to showcase below. I’ll go over my picks’ features, protection level, advantages, and disadvantages.
And then, to hopefully help you better understand helmets in your helmet-buying journey, I’m going to talk about the most essential features to look for in them.
With that, let’s get started without further ado!
1. Riddell Speedflex - Best Adult Helmet All In All
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First up, we have Riddell Speedflex, which I think is the all in all best adult helmet on this list. This is thanks to its superb protection at a quite budget-friendly price.
Riddell Speedflex is one of the top helmets on the Virginia Tech helmet safety ranking, with a score of 4.49 (the lower, the better) and 5 stars. Speedflex isn’t the safest helmet tested by Virginia Tech, but it’s pretty up there.
In the NFL helmet performance ranking, Speedflex is within the top 10 safest helmets as well.
To safeguard the wearer from impact, Speedflex features a polycarbonate shell. Polycarbonate tends to be very durable and effectively distributes impact to protect your head.
The PIPS (Patented Side Impact Protection) system provides defense from the sides, while the Flex System engineered into the shell, facemask, and clip further dampens shock throughout the helmet.
Speaking of the facemask, Speedflex sports the HS4 facemask with a quick-release mechanism. For added comfort, the interior liner of the Speedflex helmet conforms to the shape of the wearer’s head, while the Ratchet-Loc chin strap adjusts easily and is soft for comfort.
In the end, Speedflex certainly isn’t the safest football helmet you can find, but it’s pretty up there. If you don’t want to spend close to a grand on a helmet, Riddell Speedflex will provide an ample amount of protection for your head.
- 5 stars on the Virginia Tech safety ranking, with a score of 4.49.
- 10th safest helmet on the NFL 2020 performance ranking.
- Quick-release facemask.
- Soft and comfy chinstrap.
- The soft chin strap won’t protect the chin against hard impact.
2. Schutt F7 VTD - Best Helmet Protection On This List
Schutt F7 VTD has performed considerably better in the Virginia Tech test than Speedflex, scoring 2.54 and, of course, 5 stars. This makes F7 VTD the safest football helmet on this list.
On the NFL ranking, F7 VTD looks a bit worse, but it remains extraordinary protection-wise.
The highlight of Schutt F7 VTD is the 3D Tektonic Plate system. Tektonic Plates supplement the primary layer or TPU cushioning. Moving independently, the Tektonic Plates provide better comfort and increased protection against rotational forces.
To improve fit and stability, F7 VTD also features the Helmet Stabilization System (HSS). Wrapped in soft leather, HSS frames the wearer’s head for a more locked-in fit.
The outer shell of the F7 VTD helmet is made of tough polycarbonate as well, while the rapid-release facemask is made of titanium for lightweight strength and protection. You are also getting a hybrid chinstrap with a hard external shell and soft interior lining.
Combined, all these features make for the most protective helmet on this list.
- 5 stars on the Virginia Tech ranking and a score of 2.54.
- Protective TPU cushioning.
- Excellent comfort
- Comes with a quick-release titanium faceguard and a hybrid chinstrap.
- Nothing to complain about.
3. Schutt Vengeance Pro LTD - Best Football Helmet For Mobile Players
- TPU CUSHIONING PROTECTION: Football's most...
- SUREFIT AIR LINERS/CROWN LINERS: inflatable air...
- INTER-LINK JAW PADS: TPU Cushioning technology are...
- FLEXURAL RESISTANCE DESIGN/ENGINEERING: back shelf...
- INCLUDES: SC4 Hard Cup chinstrap, EVA Front Pad,...
The Schutt Vengeance Pro LTD helmet’s highlight is its lightness – it weighs just about 3.8 pounds, according to the Virginia Tech website.
Vengeance Pro LTD has also got a score of 5.24 and 5 stars in the Virginia Tech safety ranking. NFL’s performance test placed this helmet closer to the bottom of the list, but it’s still among the better options out there in terms of safety.
TPU padding and a polycarbonate shell are at the basis of this helmet’s protection. TPU absorbs many shocks and requires no break-in, while the polycarbonate shell provides protection that lasts for a long time thanks to the material’s durability.
Vengeance Pro LTD also features Schutt’s SUREFIT Airliner – an inflatable liner whose purpose is to ensure a more snug, stable fit.
Unlike most helmets on this list, Vengeance Pro LTD doesn’t come with a facemask, but it does include a pretty nice chinstrap. It’s the Schutt SC4 chinstrap with a hard shell on the outside for protection and a soft liner on the inside for comfort.
The Inter-Link connection system allows you to easily swap jaw pad covers as well, while the Twist Release retainer enables you to quickly mount your faceguard onto the helmet.
As final words, if you want something that’s both light and protective, Vengeance Pro LTD is likely the best option.
- 5 stars and a score of 5.24 on the Virginia Tech safety ranking.
- Not too expensive.
- Quite light – should keep you fast on the field.
- Inflatable liner for better fit and comfort.
- Hybrid chinstrap.
- Many color options.
- Doesn’t come with a facemask.
4. Schutt Vengeance VTD II - Best Value For The Dollar In An Adult Football Helmet
- Low-profile helmet shell, which makes it...
- TPU cushioning is featured inside the helmet even...
- The liner on the helmet wraps itself around the...
- Includes standard with mechanically attached...
- Open Air flow inside the helmet is enhanced with...
Vengeance VTD II is a good option if you liked Vengeance Pro LTD’s concept but wanted something slightly cheaper. In fact, I think Vengeance VTD II offers the best value for the money among all adult helmets on this top.
Design-wise, this helmet is very similar to Pro LTD – it again has a robust polycarbonate shell, protective TPU padding, Inter-Link jaw pads, a hybrid chinstrap, and the SUREFIT air liner. However, it’s slightly less protective, having scored 7.35 in the Virginia Tech test. This was still good enough for 5 stars, though.
But if you don’t really care about the extra point or so in the Virginia Tech test, Vengeance VTD II is a noticeably better choice price-wise.
- Score of 7.35 and 5 stars on the Virginia Tech list.
- Not too pricey.
- Air liner for added comfort and snugger fit.
- Comes with a hybrid chinstrap.
- No facemask included.
5. Schutt Recruit Hybrid VTD Youth - Best Budget Youth Football Helmet
- Large standoff DNA shell with non-inflatable crown...
- Single layer TPU in the front and crown of the...
- Orange D3O foam with Energy Lock Technology in the...
- Black twist release bumper, nose bumper and rear...
- Attached DNA ROPO-YF facemask
The Schutt Recruit Hybrid VTD Youth helmet offers excellent protection at a very low price. In the Virginia Tech youth performance test, this helmet achieved a score of 3.77 and 5 stars.
The superb protection in the Recruit Hybrid VTD youth helmet is thanks to a combination of TPU and D30 foam. The D30 foam is designed to be soft and comfortable during play, but it gets hard when struck to resist and disperse force.
Outside, Recruit Hybrid VTD features a polycarbonate shell – quite an unusual sight in youth helmets. Typically, youth helmets have ABS shells, which are weaker but lighter than polycarbonate. Though this helmet isn’t that heavy (compared to others), I personally wouldn’t recommend it to players who are slow or have a weak neck.
This helmet also comes with a soft-cup chinstrap for comfort, as well as the DNA ROPO-YF facemask. The included facemask is made with running backs, wide receivers, defensive ends, and tight ends in mind.
You may replace the mask if necessary – Recruit Hybrid VTD works with Youth Flex DNA facemasks. Though if you were to do this, the helmet wouldn’t be as pocket-friendly due to added expenses.
- 5 stars and a score of 3.77 on the Virginia Tech youth ranking.
- Very inexpensive.
- Tough and protective polycarbonate shell.
- Soft-cup chinstrap.
- Comes with a carbon steel facemask.
6. Xenith Shadow XR Youth - Safest Youth Helmet Out There
- Dynamic: All Xenith helmets have a comfortable...
- Compact: Shock absorption technology keeps...
- Protective: The Shadow XR football helmet is...
- Lightweight: Enjoy better weight distribution with...
- Cooling: Made with large vents at the front and...
If you are ready to pay for the ultimate protection in a youth helmet, Xenith Shadow XR Youth was the best option at the moment of this review’s writing. Shadow XR Youth is on the #1 spot on the Virginia Tech youth ranking, with a score of 0.62 and, needless to say, 5 stars.
Shadow XR Youth has a 4-element protection system called Energy Control Layer. Its components are as follows:
- Polymer shell that is advertised to be 10% lighter than traditional materials (though the helmet overall is over 4 pounds – quite heavy for a youth helmet). The shell is decoupled from the padding to disperse shock better.
- RHEON cells that shear to dampen rotational impact and compress to dampen linear impact.
- Internal Shock Matrix that conforms to the head with uniform pressure to provide improved protection and fit.
- Comfort pads for some extra comfort.
The hybrid chinstrap – hard on the outside and soft on the inside – is also there to preserve the beauty of your jawline and help you more securely seat the helmet on your head.
Xenith offers a few titanium facemask options for this helmet as well, but you’ll have to research facemasks if you aren’t sure what to pick.
In the end, Xenith Shadow XR Youth is your best bet if you want protection without compromises. This football helmet is a bit heavy, but if your kid has got a powerful neck, this ain’t going to stop him (or her).
- Best helmet on the Virginia Tech youth list as of this review.
- Several titanium facemask options are available.
- Sits on the head extremely snugly and comfortably.
- Hybrid chinstrap for protection and comfort.
- Rather heavy.
7. Xenith Youth X2E+ - Excellent Youth Protection That Is Easy On The Wallet
- Dynamic: All Xenith helmets are made with a...
- Compact: Athlete's heads will remain protected...
- Protective: The X2E+ football helmet is 5-Star,...
- Lightweight: Our proprietary polymer shell is 10%...
- Cooling: Made with large vents at the front and...
Xenith Youth X2E+ provides a fantastic amount of protection for its price. It occupies the #4 spot on the Virginia Tech youth helmet safety ranking (score of 2.11) while costing much less than Shadow XR Youth and other helmets in the top 5.
Xenith Youth X2E+ isn’t precisely a budget-friendly helmet, but for the buck, you will be hard-pressed to find anything better.
Youth X2E+ retains some of the features of its big brother, Shadow XR Youth. Namely, you again get the Internal Shock Matrix for a custom fit, and the hybrid chinstrap is also there. The shell in this helmet is made of ABS – a weaker but lighter material than XR’s polymer – but it is again decoupled and moves independently to dampen rotational and linear forces efficiently.
I could go on and on, covering the technological achievements of Xenith. But rather than waste words and bore you to death with fancy terms, I’ll say this – if Shadow XR Youth’s price makes your wallet twitch in horror, Youth X2E+ is a spectacular alternative.
- #4 most-protective helmet on the Virginia Tech youth list.
- Great price for the amount of provided protection.
- Very comfortable.
- Soft and protective hybrid chinstrap.
- Lighter than Shadow XR Youth but still pretty heavy.
8. Schutt Varsity AiR XP Pro VTD II - Amazing Comfort At A Low Price
- VTD TPU cushioning that has been proven to absorb...
- The graceful, fast curves of this classic helmet...
- This helmet is complete with a TPU-enhanced...
- Comes standard with 7/8" Inter-Link jaw pads
- 5 Star (Best Available Rating) in the VA Tech Star...
The Schutt AiR XP Pro VTD II offers remarkable comfort at its price point. Besides, though far from being the most advanced helmet on the list, it is packed with protective technology from Schutt.
The AiR XP Pro VTD II helmet’s highlight is the SUREFIT Air Liner – creating a tight fit, this liner makes the helmet really comfy. SUREFIT Air Liner complements the TPU padding, which is at the heart of the helmet’s protection.
The helmet also has a polycarbonate shell and a traditional standoff. If you didn’t know, the standoff is the space between the helmet shell and the player’s head. Generally, the larger the standoff, the more padding can be stuffed into the helmet, increasing protection.
Due to its traditional standoff, AiR XP Pro VTD II isn’t as protective as high-standoff helmets. However, the lower standoff makes the helmet more low-profile.
AiR XP Pro VTD II scored 6.98 in the Virginia Tech test – not the best on my list, but still enough for 5 stars. In the 2020 NFL helmet performance test, this football helmet also occupied the #7 spot – very respectable.
For further improved comfort and protection, this helmet also has a hybrid chinstrap, Inter-Link jaw pads, and the convenient Twist Release faceguard retainer system.
- 5 stars and a score of 6.98 on Virginia Tech.
- Excellent performance results according to the NFL.
- Spectacular value for the money.
- Classical, low-profile shape.
- Wonderful comfort.
- Not as protective as high-standoff helmets.
- No facemask included.
9. Schutt Vengeance A3 Youth - Best Budget Youth Helmet If You Want To Bring Along Your Facemask
- A sleeker re-designed Vengeance helmet shell that...
- Reducing a helmet’s weight is an important...
- With non-inflatable Comfort Liners inside the...
- A wide variety of a position-specific.
- FACEGUARD NOT INCLUDED
The Schutt Vengeance A3 is yet another wonderful option for the young player. Vengeance A3 is inexpensive yet offers excellent protection and comfort. But unlike our budget pick – Schutt Recruit Hybrid VTD – it doesn’t include a facemask, so you won’t be wasting any money on it if you already have one.
This helmet scored an excellent 4.37 and 5 stars on the youth Virginia Tech protection test. Like most other Schutt helmets, Vengeance A3 has an ABS shell and TPU padding for protection. And even though A3 doesn’t have inflatable liners, the TPU outer skin provides a wealth of cushioning.
Finally, in terms of comfort and convenience, A3 is pretty comparable to AiR XP Pro VTD II – it again has the Twist Release retainer, the Inter-Link jaw pad system, and includes a soft-cup chinstrap. A3’s shell is fairly low-profile too.
- Virginia Tech score of 4.37 (5 stars).
- Very pocket-friendly.
- Comfy soft-cup chin pad.
- Low-profile shell.
- Doesn’t come with a facemask.
10. Schutt Vengeance A11 Youth - Best Value In A Youth Helmet
- TPU cushioning protection is football's most...
- Non-inflatable liners throughout the entire helmet...
- Flexural resistance engineering improves the...
- Raised brow design enhances performance by...
- Includes helmet and jaw pads only; Facemask is NOT...
And as the last pick on my list is Schutt Vengeance A11 Youth. This basically is a slightly more protective version of A3 – it has scored 3.3 in the Virginia Tech test. As such, I think it boasts the best value for the buck among the reviewed youth helmets.
In terms of technology, there isn’t much new to mention except for the polycarbonate shell. A11 features familiar tech like the Inter-Link jaw pads, a soft-cup chin strap, the Twist Release retainer, and TPU padding.
So if you think that A3 isn’t enough for your kid’s football needs, Vengeance A11 would be a wonderful upgrade.
- A score of 3.3 and 5 stars on the Virginia Tech youth ranking.
- Very attractive price.
- Soft-cup chin strap included.
- Compact-profile design.
- Doesn’t come with a facemask.
The Only Buying Guide You’ll Ever Need
You should carefully research football helmets before taking money out of your pocket.
In my buyer’s guide, I’ll explain some of the helmet basics. However, bear in mind that the guide is somewhat general – helmet manufacturers often employ unique solutions in their helmets to increase protection. If you do come across proprietary tech, try to google it.
Virginia Tech safety rating
The Virginia Tech football helmet safety rating is an excellent way of assessing helmet safety at a glance. Virginia Tech has rankings for varsity/adult and youth football helmets. Not all football helmets in existence can be found there, but it does list the more famous models.
To test helmets’ safety, Virginia Tech uses a pendulum impactor to hit each helmet at four locations and three velocities. The STAR rating is then calculated based on several factors – most notably, linear acceleration and rotational acceleration from impact. Helmets that have lower acceleration upon impact protect the player better.
STAR values are then converted into stars as follows:
STAR value (adult)
STAR value (youth)
Number of stars
0 – 10
0 – 5
10 – 20
5 – 10
20 – 30
10 – 15
30 – 40
15 – 20
40 – 50
20 – 25
Helmets with a high STAR score have worse protection, and vice versa. Pay attention to both the star rating (5 is best) and the safety score (lower is better).
This was a really high-level explanation of the methodology. For the full testing methodology, check here for varsity/adult helmets and here for youth helmets if you are interested.
Not that you need to understand the tests – you could always just have a glance at a helmet’s star rating to assess its protection. But I feel that you should still have an overview.
Compliance with NFL performance requirements
Aside from the Virginia Tech ranking, professional players should check NFL-approved helmets. This is to make sure that you don’t waste money on a helmet that isn’t even allowed on the field.
The NFL periodically tests helmet safety and updates its list of prohibited and cleared football helmets. As of this review’s writing, there were 13 prohibited helmet models:
- LIGHT LS1 Composite (LS1-CV).
- Rawlings Impulse.
- Rawlings Impulse+.
- Rawlings Tachyon.
- Rawlings Quantum.
- Rawlings Quantum+.
- Riddell VSR-4.
- Schutt Air Advantage.
- Schutt Air XP.
- Schutt AIR XP Pro.
- Schutt Vengeance Z10 (204100).
- SG Varsity.
- SG 2.0.
These helmets will most likely be fine outside of the NFL, but you should make sure with your league or college – perhaps they follow NFL recommendations well.
The NFL also requires that helmets be NOCSAE-certified and be less than ten years old.
Compliance aside, the NFL performance ranking allows you to compare the protection level of different helmet models. The ranking is more or less in tune with the Virginia Tech ranking, but it may provide you with a slightly different insight into helmet protection.
Football helmet shells are generally made from either ABS (acrylonitrile-butadiene-styrene) plastic or polycarbonate alloy. Typically, ABS is found in youth helmets, whereas polycarbonate is a frequent sight in adult models.
Polycarbonate is the stronger material of the two. It withstands heavy impact much better, distributes shock more efficiently, and lasts much longer than ABS. On the other hand, it’s heavy.
ABS is light but not as protective or as tough as polycarbonate. However, because young players often have weak neck muscles and don’t hit each other as hard as adults, ABS is the optimal shell material for the youth.
Adults should not wear ABS helmets because they will not provide adequate protection. On the other hand, young players could wear polycarbonate helmets if they can handle the heavier weight.
Generally, players start using polycarbonate helmets at the age of 14. Use this number as a rule of thumb if you are shopping for a youth football helmet.
When it comes to cushioning, TPU (thermoplastic urethane) foam is the most advanced material found in football helmets. It absorbs much of the impact, is very durable, does not require break-in like regular foam, and is resistant to bacterial and fungal growth.
Some helmets – mostly cheaper ones – have vinyl nitrite foam instead. This material provides a decent amount of protection, but it can’t boast the benefits of TPU. If you can afford a helmet with TPU cushioning, go for it.
Your football helmet needs to sit snugly against your head. In other words, it should be stable. Manufacturers employ a wide range of tricks to improve helmet stability.
Many football helmets have jaw stabilizers to keep the helmet from moving on your head.
Some helmet models also have air liners – inflatable liners designed to improve the fit and stability on the wearer’s head. AIr liners aren’t a must-have but are a nice feature if you want a nice custom-like fit.
The standoff is the space between the helmet and the head of the player. The larger the standoff, the more padding can be added to the helmet for protection. Large-standoff shells are, therefore, better at preventing injury.
However, large-standoff helmets are heavier and bulkier than their traditional-standoff counterparts. This means you will need to choose between added protection or added mobility on the field. You’ll have to figure out which is right for you on your own.
If you don’t have a facemask, then you may want to get a helmet that includes one. Most helmets do come with a facemask, but some don’t.
If you have a compatible facemask that you really like or are looking to buy a specific facemask model, then a helmet without a facemask is a good choice. But do make sure that the facemask you get after the fact will work with your football helmet.
If you do want a helmet AND a facemask, know that facemasks are available in many designs:
- Only oral protection. This design is ideal for quarterbacks, defensive backs, and wide receivers since it offers the best vision.
- Jaw and oral protection. Providing more protection for hitting and blocking, these facemasks are ideal for running backs and tight ends.
- Nose & oral protection. This design offers a good balance between safety and vision for running backs and receivers.
- Nose, jaw, and oral protection. This style works great for linemen who are often hit hard.
- Eyeglass and oral protection. Great for linemen and other players who often encounter hard contact.
As you might have guessed, protection and vision are competing qualities in football helmets. You can’t have both, so you will need to decide which is more important for you. Which to choose depends on your position and your playstyle – if you get hit very often, then don’t sacrifice protection for vision.
Helmet chinstraps can be soft or hard.
Soft chinstraps are comfier, but they don’t provide as much protection as hard straps. Hard straps are, in contrast, bulky, not very comfortable, but very protective.
Some helmets have combo chinstraps – a soft chinstrap with a hard shell on top. Such designs allow you to enjoy the benefits of both worlds. If you can, I strongly recommend that you get a helmet with such a combo chinstrap.
Size & fit
Fit is crucial – if you pick the size wrongly, you will be nullifying all the fancy tech the manufacturer has employed to protect the insides of your head.
Your helmet should not shift around when worn. If it does happen, you won’t be getting the protection levels you’ve paid for. The helmet should be snug but not skull-crushingly tight. When the chinstrap is in place, the helmet should not slide around, and you should not be able to take it off.
Aside from that, the helmet should be sitting about 1 inch above your eyebrows – for comfort and visibility.
Finally, when pressing down on the helmet, the athlete should feel pressure on their crown, not their brows.
Follow size charts provided by the helmet manufacturer. Note that football helmet brands may measure their helmets differently, so sizes aren’t necessarily consistent between brands.
Weight is really important to consider as well. Helmets typically weigh between 3 and 5 pounds, depending on the amount of padding, shell material, the facemask, or whatnot.
Generally, better-protected helmets are heavier. Furthermore, a heavy helmet may make you slower or strain your neck muscles (the latter mattering for young players).
You’ll have to find the right balance between protection and weight yourself. If you want protection, you better train your neck muscles and try to get quicker on the field to compensate for any slowdown caused by a heavier helmet.
Is Football Safe Without Helmets?
It’s no secret that football is a violent game laden with injuries.
Hits to the head lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease found in military veterans, athletes, and other individuals who experience head trauma repetitively. The development of CTE is associated with mental degradation.
One study found that 223 of the 266 deceased football players whose brains were examined had CTE. With every year of tackle football, the risk of CTE increases by 30% and doubles every 2.6 years.
Head protection, therefore, is crucial in football. And some helmets protect better than others – the Riddell Revolution helmet, for example, was shown to reduce the risk of concussion by 54% compared to Riddell VSR4.
But interestingly, some have proposed to ban football helmets altogether. If this were to happen, players most likely would become less reckless, which would perhaps lead to reduced injury rates in football. Without helmets, player behavior and game rules would change as well.
Would all this actually translate to an increase in safety, however?
Well, studies have shown that rugby – which is played without helmets – is no less dangerous than American football, or perhaps even more dangerous.
An extensive study, conducted by an Auckland University of Technology group between 1975 and 2005, found out that rugby incidents resulted in 4.6 catastrophic injuries (resulting in death or paralysis) for every 100,000 players worldwide (other than in England). For American football, the rate was 1.0.
So despite all the arguments of rugby proponents that the more restrictive rules make the sport less hazardous, it appears that American football is actually safer – thanks to its protective equipment.
That was my football helmets review! Hopefully, you have a better understanding of football helmets now.
As a quick tip – check out Virginia Tech or/and NFL safety rankings. These will allow you to evaluate a helmet’s safety quickly. Don’t buy a crappy helmet – invest as much money as you can in quality protection to keep your head and brain healthy.
As parting words, do you have experience with any of the featured helmets? If you do, share with us in the comments!