Have you ever played football without a helmet?
Well… I have and it wasn’t pretty. I took a big blindside hit and, to this day, I find myself forgetting sentences in the middle of the – what was I saying?
Seriously though, a helmet is probably the most important piece of football equipment you will ever wear. It protects that noggin of yours, and that noggin needs protecting!
So before you run off the field without any head protection (like I did) and give yourself permanent brain damage, check out this list of the safest football helmets you can purchase today.
As a rule, all of these helmets have been rated 5-stars by Virginia Tech’s STAR rating system, which analyzes helmets under scrutinous standards for their safety and security, assigning scores based on the helmet’s ability to prevent concussions.
So, without further ado, here are the nine safest football helmets…
1. Schutt F7 LTD
The Schutt F7 LTD is made of durable polycarbonate material and the shell has also been re-engineered to increase the offset in key impact areas (the front, rear and size impact zones) to improve impact absorption and performance.
Schutt calls this the Flexural Resistance shell design, which has been built into the back and temporal side wings of the F7 shell. This design improves the strength and durability of the shell while simultaneously increasing the area for TPU Cushioning.
Additionally, it further protects those high impact areas with the most advanced impact absorption material on the market.
The F7 also offers great lightweight breathability, weighing in at just 4.4 pounds with a number of ventilation holes from front to back to keep the wearer stay cool during the intensity of the game.
Moreover, the F7 is also one of the more comfortable helmets on the market. The liners inside feature a number of inflatable pods, and Schutt has re-used their patented SUREFIT airliner with an all-new Radian Diffusion System Liner to create the most comfortable inner liner ever.
Schutt didn’t stop there. The F7 also includes a Helmet Stabilization System, which, along with a more comfortable jaw pad configuration, utilizes internal and external stabilizers as well as high performance impact foam wrapped in a soft but durable leather.
This means that the padding on the inside of the F7 frames your face a bit better than some of the other helmets on this list. The F7 LTD also has a two-piece TPU pad molded to the front to add another layer of comfort and give you a secure, locked-in feeling.
2. Riddell Precision-FIT
With the Precision-FIT, Riddell has taken everything we loved about the SpeedFlex, and improved its game-changing features in measurable ways.
Let’s start with the improved sightline, which now maximizes the field of vision – allowing the player to choose according to personal preference and fit where the helmet is positioned.
Wide receivers and skill players will particularly enjoy the improved sightline, as this will help them make plays on the ball.
Moreover, Riddell has added padding to the Precision-FIT that molds and takes on each athlete’s unique head shape and size, so no inflation is needed to get that customized, comfortable fit. Additionally, the contoured padding is engineered to move as the player moves, ensuring the wearer is always as comfortable as possible.
This helmet is perfect for those looking for personalized protection, as the Precision-FIT replaces traditional fitting with energy-managing materials that contour to the wearer’s head. It was ranked highly by VA Tech and is, of course, a 5-star helmet.
Check out these other cool Riddell helmets.
3. Vicis ZERO1
The Vicis ZERO1 is a helmet that Russell Wilson and a number of high-end professional players invested in to create the safest helmet possible.
The ZERO1 aims toward that goal with multiple layers that work together to slow impact forcers. The helmet actually features a soft outer shell and an underlying layer of columns designed to mitigate collisions from multiple directions.
Unlike other helmets on this list, the ZERO1 uses a Lode shell, which absorbs impact load by locally deforming similar to a car bumper. The Lode Shell then works with an RFLC layer to reduce impact forces, leveraging principles established by automotive safety engineers and materials long-used in aerospace to withstand many impact forces.
In fact, one of the major benefits of the ZERO1, other than its 21st century innovation, is that this helmet will last you multiple seasons of play, as it is simply one of the most durable helmets out there.
The inner liner is constructed of special foams and waterproof textiles, which conform to the player’s head topography and distributes pressure uniformly around it. Best yet, there are 4 different inner liners available for you to choose from.
In laboratory testing, the ZERO1 was shown to offer players a 212 degree field of view, which nearly reaches the maximum human peripheral vision of 220 degrees. According to Vicis, this is nearly 5 degrees more than the next best helmet and 13 degrees more than other more popular traditional helmets.
It goes without saying that this is an underrated feature, especially for skill players and ball hawks, as it enables players to see the ball sooner, and therefore react sooner to make a play.
4. Riddell SpeedFlex
The PSIP features side shell extensions that combine with side liner extensions, helping reduce linear and rotational acceleration. The PSIP is important because many collisions from the side are typically blindside hits, where the player doesn’t see the hit coming and therefore cannot brace for impact.
The added protection and support in the mandible and temporal regions not only keeps the player safe, but enables him to play under their fullest capabilities.
Riddell has also ensured that the SpeedFlex is one of the most comfortable helmets to wear, outfitting the helmet with FlexLiner, a top-quality lining that improves helmet stability and provides additional comfort.
The FlexLiner is an integral part of Riddell’s innovative Flex System, which engineers “give” into the helmet, so that the helmet recoils with the player’s head when taking a hit.
Protection is further buffed by the Composite Energy Management padding system, which helps absorb impact and allows the pads on the inside of the helmet to retain their position and durability.
The SpeedFlex also has five inflation locations so that you can pump the helmet to conform to various head sizes for the most optimal and secure fit. All these features come together to provide a solid, comfortable and secure helmet.
The 2019 version of the Riddell SpeedFlex ranked highly under the NFLPA’s laboratory testing, coming in at 8th best helmet overall.
5. LIGHT Varsity Football Helmet
The first thing you’re likely to notice is just how light these LIGHT helmets are, weighing in between 2.8 and 3.1 pounds. This weight is owed to the fact that the LIGHT designers replaced all cheap and heavy metals with materials that the military and professional auto racing teams use for their helmets.
What you have in the LIGHT Varsity helmet is a helmet crafted only from superior materials and high-tech construction – something players will immediately notice as their helmets absorb hits, helping them walk off the field with fewer headaches.
New wearers will also be surprised to notice how less the strain on their necks they carry, as LIGHT helmets feel significantly lighter.
Moreover, a cool and cost-saving feature from the LIGHT Varsity helmet is the ability to resize it even within the existing shell. This means that you’ll be able to re-use the helmet, even as you grow over the years.
It’s not really surprising that the LIGHT varsity helmet is one of the top helmets on VA Tech’s helmet ratings list.
6. Xenith Shadow
The Xenith Shadow features a completely innovative polymer shell that increases energy absorption and durability.
Shock Bonnet technology in the shell allows shock absorbers inside the helmet to move independently from the shell, making the Xenith Shadow one of the best helmets at protecting players from blindside hits.
Inside the shell is an integrated occipital and jaw padding that conforms to the player’s head, giving you a secured and locked-in fit. Moreover, the 3DX Chin Cup adapts to your face shape to give you a comfortable, customizable fit that will last all season.
The shock absorbers alone make this one of the top helmets on VA Tech’s list, but it also doesn’t hurt that the internal padding is incredibly comfortable and the weight distribution in the helmet helps it feel weightless.
Bonus points go to Xenith for designing such a cool-looking helmet, as well.
7. Xenith Epic+
Xenith takes its patented shock technology and makes it epic with the Epic Shock multi-stage absorbers, which work together to counteract the force of linear and rotational impacts.
Like in the Xenith Shadow, the Epic+ has a bonnet that decouples from the helmet, which enables the head to move independently from the shell.
This gives the head some flexibility and some movement when taking on an impact, and it prevents “snapping” of the neck, which can so often cause concussions.
More shock absorbing technology makes its way into this helmet with the Aware Flow, which increases the helmet’s resistance to impact by lightening the load of the hit.
On the inside, a combination of Adaptive Head Protection System and FitBand – a band that cinches to the head – provide a custom fit without the need for air pumps. Moreover, the occipital bone is covered thanks to a high-density foam pad that conforms to the occipital area.
Lastly, XRD and VN comfort pads provide additional comfort on the inside of the helmet, as well as resistance to high-velocity impacts.
8. Schutt Vengeance Z10 LTD
The latest in Schutt’s popular line, the Vengeance Z10 features a lower profile shell that sits closer to the player’s face and a completely innovative helmet stabilization system for advanced safety.
The helmet features a unique Z10 titanium faceguard, which is 60% lighter than the average faceguard but is just as durable. The SC4 Hard Cup Chin Strap further adds durability, offering full round protection and a locked-in fit.
SUREFIT airliner and a single-layer of mechanically attached TPU make the Vengeance Z10 a comfortable but sturdy helmet, with options to customize the fit if the player so chooses.
Moreover, the Vengeance Z10 features an external cheek stabilizer that increases the strength of the ear flaps.
Schutt has worked hard to ensure that the Vengeance Z10 LTD is one of the most protective helmets on the market, and this is reflected in a 5-star VA Tech rating, ranking high alongside the Xenith Shadow and LIGHT helmet.
9. Schutt AiR XP Pro VTD II
The Schutt AiR XP Pro has the most advanced TPU cushioning ever designed by Schutt, and SUREFIT airliner makes a return to this helmet as well.
You’ll find the SUREFIT airliner along the back and sides of the helmet, giving the helmet a soft pillow-like feel as you wear it. There’s more comfortable support in the soft chin strap and inter-link jaw pads, which can be replaced if you need a more secure fit.
Polycarbonate material is used in this shell, balancing the lightweight fit of the helmet with a durable outer shell that will disperse the oncoming effects of impacts.
This helmet is the gold standard for helmets on the market today, with Schutt known to deliver top-of-the-line protection in a super comfortable and lightweight helmet.
Different Types of Football Helmets
The gridiron is a high-impact place, where collisions are likely to occur on almost every single play. Helmets help mitigate the impact of blows to the head, concordantly reducing the risk of concussions or other debilitating damage to the teeth, jaw, or brain.
No two helmets are made the same, with different helmets varying around size, player type, style, facemask design, and individual position. That is why it is crucial that you do proper research before purchasing a helmet, as you don’t want to be stuck with the wrong kind.
For example, the player type depends on the player’s age, skill level, and playstyle, including position. As a receiver, you’re likely to invest in a light helmet that is good at protecting against rotational forces, while providing an excellent field of vision. That’s because receivers need to actually see the ball to make a play, and while they’re focused on that, they don’t want to receive a big blindside hit.
You’ll also need to factor in style, which really depends on personal taste. This can include decals, colors, and equipment options. Facemask designs depend on the position you play. For instance, a defensive lineman is more likely to play with a large, protective facemask to prevent the dangers of oncoming collisions, which are an every play reality for those big guys.
Also, as long as you’re keeping to the name brands (Xenith, Riddell, Schutt) you should be fine, but keep in mind that the helmet you are considering has been approved by NOCSCE (National operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment), as they hold helmet manufacturers to a standard of safety that is of utmost importance to preventing injuries to the head.
How to Size a Helmet
To know if a helmet fits properly, first measure the circumference of the athlete’s forehead, cross-referencing with the manufacturer’s sizing chart for the most appropriate fit.
Then, try the helmet on with wet hair to mimic game conditions. This will allow the wearer to feel if the helmet fits snug but comfortably.
Pull the chin strap around, noting whether the strap latches easily, or whether the strap is being used to tighten the helmet. In the case of the latter, an adjustment will have to be made, as the chin strap should only latch, never tighten.
Lastly, tug at the helmet from side to side and up and down to ensure the helmet is not loose. Have a second party apply pressure to the crown of the helmet.
If pressure is felt as evenly distributed, the helmet fits properly. If pressure localizes in the back or the front, the helmet is still too loose.
For younger players it is best to choose a youth football helmet for a better fit.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
This is a difficult question to answer matter-of-factly, because the truth is that we still do not fully understand concussions and their causes, and no two concussions are alike.
There are several extraneous factors that can increase the risk of concussions and which have nothing to do with football: whether the player slept well the night before, or is adequately hydrated, or has a well-fitted helmet.
However, there is substantial data which shows that linear and rotational accelerations of the head during an impact are highly correlated with concussions, so helmets like the SpeedFlex, which actively seek to mitigate linear and rotational accelerations, should be high on this list.
Objectively speaking, the Schutt F7 LTD is the highest-ranking helmet on VA Tech’s STAR list, with a score of 0.75. That means you can expect 0.75 concussions during the course of the season while wearing this helmet.
Of course, this number can be widely variable, depending on your style of play. If you’re a kamikaze Brian Dawkins type of player, you may suffer more. If you’re a receiver that doesn’t run over the middle, you may have less.
In principle, football helmets should be replaced no later than 10 years from the date of manufacture.
In practice, many helmets will need to be replaced sooner, depending on wear and tear and how often you recondition your helmet. Which brings us to…
Yes, helmets should be reconditioned at least every two years for 10 years, according to the National Athletic Equipment Reconditioners Association (NAERA).
Many manufacturers, like Riddell and LIGHT, will recondition your helmet for you, so long as the helmet does not have any significant damage such as hairline cracks or defective interior components.
There is no hard and fast rule about how often helmets need to be replaced and repainted, as the general consensus is that helmets need to be replaced or repainted “as needed”.
After a game, always check your helmet for cracks and imperfections that could lead to failure. If you have the ability and skills, polish your helmet and do a paint touch up if needed as well.
If you are interested about other football helmets types, check out our college football helmet review.
It is difficult to recommend the best helmet on this list, as all of these are top of the line on the market today and there is so much personal taste that factors into picking the right helmet for YOU.
However, at the end of the day, safety is the most important thing when it comes to a helmet, and on those grounds, we can’t see how you can go wrong with the Schutt F7 LTD, which has the highest safety score in the history of safety scores.
With that being said, if you pick any helmet on this list, you are more than likely set for the upcoming season, and you’ll immediately notice the many features and benefits that all of these amazing helmets have under their hard, usually polycarbonate shell.
- Riddell Precision-FIT Brochure. Retrieved from http://precisionfit.riddell.com/wp-content/uploads/files/Riddell_Precision_Fit_Brochure.pdf
- VICIS ZERO1 Football Helmet. Retrieved from https://www.vicis.com/zero1