Helmets are a very important part of safety in any competition/track car. This guide won’t give you all the answers, but hopefully it will serve to give you questions when making a purchase.
When choosing a helmet, the primary requirement is to have a suitable standard for the motorsport you are doing. This guide covers Motorsport UK authorised events, if doing a track day or other discipline I recommend you check with the organisers.
Approvals are normally affixed under the padding, inside the helmet.
The type of sticker you are looking for will normally look something like these:
There are others, please see the end of the guide for the link to the Motorsport UK regulations.
Providing your helmet has a standard that is current, your helmet is fine for use. (For example, a helmet could have the FIA 8860-2004 and SNELL SA2005 standard. They are still valid after the SNELL standard expires until the FIA standard expires)
The following helmet standards are not valid for Motorsport UK events:
SNELL SA2005 (Expired 31/12/18)
The following standards are fine for all Motorsport UK National Events (K20.3.1.):
FIA 8860-2004 (Not valid after 31.12.20)
SNELL SA2010 (Not valid after 31.12.23)
SNELL SA2015 (Not valid after 31.12.23)
SNELL SAH2010 (Not valid after 31.12.23)
Karting have separate rules, please ask for more information if you are requiring a Karting helmet.
2. Open Face vs Full Face
For open vehicles, competitors need eye protection in the form of a visor or goggles. (MSUK Requirement K11.1) Most open cockpit competitors choose a Full Face helmet. For those in a closed vehicle, the choice is personal.
If going with a Full Face helmet, you may have the choice of different visors – however they must be clear or neutral density filters. (MSUK requirement K11.3)
Open face helmets often have a Peak fitted. On some helmets, this may include a visor. Many can also be lowered slightly to allow protection from the glare of the sun.
Most customers find the open face helmets feel less claustrophobic, however they can feel to give less protection. This is your first personal choice! I have supplied Open Face helmets to competitors doing Off-Road Competition Safari’s where mud, stones, etc are being thrown at them, whilst I’ve also supplied Full Face helmets to competitors in saloon cars.
3. HANS Posts
Almost all new helmets to the current standards will come with HANS Posts fitted from the factory. These will normally be standard ones – they may need changing if you buy a Quick Release HANS device. (See my guide on HANS devices)
Some helmets come without HANS Posts fitted, but have a hole for fitting them – it is acceptable for anyone to fit posts in these helmets. If the hole is threaded, any approved posts will fit. If it is just a hole, you will need a special type of kit. Please get in touch for more information.
If you have an older helmet to the current standards, but the helmet does not have holes pre-drilled for the posts, they cannot be retro-fitted.
Where an intercom is required, it is worth considering which type you are using – this may well limit your choice of helmets. A few ranges (Eg. Turn-One) come with different options of intercom, but most only offer one option. There are a number of types of intercom on the market and many are not compatible, please see my guide on intercoms for more information.
If you are adding an intercom to a helmet, you should consider how this will be mounted. Adhesives can weaken the structure of some plastics, making the helmet unsafe. Drilling the shell of the helmet can also compromise the structure of the helmet. In general, it is easier to fit an intercom into a full-face helmet than an open face one purely because of where to mount the microphone.
One word of warning regarding intercoms that plug directly into the helmet, we have seen cracking around the plugs on a number of helmets. This is caused by competitors forgetting to disconnect the intercom when leaving the vehicle. This will invalidate any approvals on the helmet. We have even seen this on the top of the range Carbon ones!
I have purposely left this section to the end, yet it is the most important section. It is also the most personal. In my experience, every helmet manufacturer offers a different fit, even some helmets of the same design and size can differ!
More expensive helmets often offer better padding that is designed to mould to your head after use. These can be more comfortable, but only if starting from a good initial fit!
I would always advise people to go try helmets on if at all possible, and ideally buy the actual helmet that you like the most. This will allow you to compare different fits, and allows you to ensure there are no manufacturing variances.
The main things to look for when fitting a helmet are:
1 – Is the helmet too tight? You may be wearing it for some time – don’t be afraid to wear a test one for some time too to ensure it doesn’t give you a headache!
2 – Is the helmet too loose? There should be no side-to-side movement (MSUK K10.3.2b) With the head forward, and the chin strap tightened, can the helmet be removed by pulling up on the back? (MSUK K10.3.2d)
If the competitor’s cheeks are slightly squeezed together, this is often a good sign. Also, are the eyes in the recess designed for them? If they are lower than the recess, the helmet is likely to be too small.
3 – Does the helmet feel to be touching all the way round the top of the head?
4 – Does the chin-strap feel comfortable? Is it resting on the chin or the throat?
5 – Helmet weight. A lighter helmet is beneficial in the event of an accident and for long term comfort. I would avoid very heavy helmets purely for this reason. However, I find few of these around that meet current standards.
All helmets will require a Motorsport UK sticker applying. These are normally applied at scrutineering and cost £2.50. Only certain scrutineers have them.
Most scrutineers will allow you to have them stickered at the event, and if they do not have stickers with them will still allow you to compete. However, it might be worth a phone call to the scrutineer in advance of your first event… Most wouldn’t like you to post them off for a sticker applying!
I would heartily recommend buying a good quality bag for your helmet to be protected between events. Arriving at scrutineering with a dirty helmet, loose on a seat, or rolling around in the back of the car doesn’t give the best impression!
6. Personal Observations
Everything mentioned before has been very generic, my personal observations follow.
The V2 range of helmets really suit some head-shapes well. Those who have a good V2 fit will generally not fit the Bell/Sparco/Stilo/Turn-one helmets and vice-versa.
V2 helmets don’t come with intercoms as standard, but we can fit them. Please enquire about this service.
Turn-One Helmets are a very popular option for those who want a high quality helmet with a pre-fitted intercom. They suit a lot of people who don’t like the V2 range, and they are still relatively inexpensive. The one complaint I have had from some customers are they feel tight across the forehead – in this case I would recommend the Stilo Trophy helmet.
For those who want a better intercom, I would recommend the Sparco RJ-3i Helmet. These intercoms provide a better noise-cancelling than the Turn-1 Helmets as they seal around your ears better. The Sparco range has a lot of size options which can be helpful, but not all retailers will carry all sizes. The one down-side of the RJ-3i is they are a really loud intercom. As a Navigator in a car with only 1 volume control, they deafen me when the driver can hardly hear me!
For the very best intercoms, I recommend the Stilo WRC DES range. These are very expensive though.
Some people ask about balaclavas – I recommend them, and they are mandatory if you intend rallying abroad. They offer protection against fire, but also keep the helmet fresher. If you have a good fitting helmet without a balaclava, adding one later can remove any slackness which may develop as the padding is compressed. (Likewise, not all balaclavas are the same thickness.)
Finally, given the choice of Carbon helmets vs Composites; a lighter helmet will always place less strain on the neck in the event of a major accident. (Not all accidents are protected by Hans devices). However, their cost can make a major difference. Can that cost be used better elsewhere in the safety chain?
Here's a link to the 2020 regulations: www.motorsportuk.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/158-197-Section-K-Revised.pdf/