The Complete Go-Kart Helmet Buyer’s Guide

In motorsports, the most important piece of safety equipment is the helmet you wear, and in go-karting this is no different. Through the course of this article I’ll be looking at what features to look for in helmets, which brands to consider, and much more!

Which go-kart helmet should you buy? Without a shadow of a doubt, I would choose the Bell K1 Pro Circuit Brus Helmet for its lightweight composition and premium-grade materials. It combines maximum safety with high-quality racing innovation, making it the perfect piece of safety equipment.

My choice is determined by my history as a competitive go-kart racer of over a decade, and I understand that not everybody is in the same boat. As such, in this buyer’s guide, I’ll share my wisdom with you so you can make your own choices with ease!

What To Look For In A Helmet

As with any bit of safety gear for go-karting, you should never be choosing something for its looks and appearance alone. The primary purpose of a helmet is to protect your head from trauma should the worst happen in a collision, and as such, there’s a collection of things you need to look for above all else.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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While you can afford to get second-hand race suits and boots, you should never buy a second-hand kart helmet. This is for a variety of reasons, but first and foremost, you can never guarantee the integrity of the helmet material if it’s pre-owned. It’s also rather bad hygienically, if the worry about material integrity isn’t enough!

When purchasing a helmet, always look for a gold sticker that will be located somewhere on the side or the rear of the headpiece. The sticker isn’t always gold, per se, but it will have a section of it which reads ‘SNELL Memorial Foundation’ if it’s present. This confirms that the helmet meets SNELL regulations of safety for karting and without that sticker, you won’t be able to race.

Every SNELL sticker meets a different year of regulations and will have expiry dates. That’s right, you won’t be able to always buy a helmet that’ll last for years upon years at a time! My biggest and most important tip is to check the letter followed by the year on the SNELL approved sticker.

For example, if you find a helmet whose sticker reads K2010, it will remain legal and viable for 11 years from that printed date, meaning it will expire in 2021. That helmet might have been cheap in 2018, but the helmet would only have lasted for 3 years if you bought it then. Always try to get a helmet with a long time until expiry as you’ll get more value for money!

You should also always look for full-face helmets. Some clubs might allow the cut-away varieties for club meets and such, but for racing, these will be a huge no-no. Full-face helmets are the only ones which will receive SNELL approval anyway, so always remember to look for that sticker first and foremost.

Top Go-Kart Helmet Brands to Consider

Whether it be Alpinestar or OMP, you can always count on seeing big-name kart brands in every kart dealership or store. Similarly, there’s a collection of brands that consistently make fantastic helmets that meet SNELL regulations and revolutionize safety. Wherever possible, you should always try to grab the following brands:

  • Bell
  • RaceQuip
  • Conquer
  • Zamp
  • Arai
  • Stilo

All of these brands not only offer great safety standards in all of their products, but they also have a great range of products for all budgets and price-points.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Bell has been a mainstay brand for years in the karting sector specifically, while the other brands offer go-kart helmets as an option while making others for motorcycles and other such motorized vehicles. They’re also a good example of a brand that offers good safety gear for people with all budgets, without compromising on safety and amazing features.

Of the bunch, RaceQuip is often considered to be a budget kart brand due to the affordable prices at which they sell all of their products. In spite of the cheap prices, there’s nothing cheap about the quality! Their helmets are solid picks and they’ll all meet SNELL regulations.

I’ve heard a collective consensus on the other brands offering good choice in helmet products, but I haven’t personally owned helmets made by Conquer, Zamp, Arai and Stilo. As long as you select these well-known, tried and tested helmet brands when purchasing your first or even newest helmet, you won’t be disappointed!

Safety Standards for Go-Kart Helmets

I might sound like a broken record by now, but go-kart helmets all have to meet SNELL regulations for them to be authorized to race. These rules and regulations are designed to protect the wearer from collision damage and trauma above all else. Unlike normal motor racing, there isn’t a high fire risk and as such more of the helmet can be dedicated to protecting against trauma.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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SNELL release new helmet safety revisions and certifications every 5 years, and those helmets are then valid for 11 years. The latest certifications are from 2015, with the newest set releasing in 2020. They revise materials used and the standard for kart helmets to keep safety the top priority!

They use different classifications for race-ready helmets and these are represented by letters. The two standards that will always be accepted for kart racing, provided it’s within the validity, are SA and K. These are recognized by the IKF (International Kart Federation) as being race-ready and a must for all race series.

Another accepted classification is the M helmet, which are basically full-face motorcycle helmets. These are mostly accepted and recognized on a club level, and race authorities such as TaG or Rotax likely won’t allow the helmets to be used in their races. If you’re just attending club karting races, an M helmet will be more affordable and accessible to get.

Anything above that level will come with higher scrutiny, so make sure to do your research and check what SNELL classifications are accepted in the race series you want to enter!

The actual rule pertaining to helmets in races, as dictated by the IKF, is as follows:

105.1.6.1 Head Gear: Full coverage (full face) helmets designed for competitive motorsports use are mandatory and must comply with one of the following:

 

Snell Foundation Specifications Legal Until
CMS 2007 (youth helmet) 12/20/2019
CMR 2007 (youth helmet) 12/20/2019
M 2010 12/20/2021
(Not approved for Champ Karts)
SA/K 2010 12/20/2021
CM 2016 12/20/2026
K 2015 12/20/2026
M 2015 12/20/2026
(Not approved for Champ Karts)
SA 2015 12/20/2026

 

Note: All models of Snell 2000 and 2005 Helmets are no longer legal; source

Recent Improvements To Go-Kart Helmet Technology

Safety is an ever-improving entity in all motorsports, not just go-karting! We want to keep finding new, exciting ways to make our gear more competitive and safer wherever possible, and helmets are no exception to this rule.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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The typical blueprint for designing and making a go-kart helmet has been set in stone for some time now, since the introduction of the IKF requiring a specific set of regulations to be met in the helmets of its racers. Along came SNELL, and ever since, helmets have been subjected to tests in order to ensure these same standards are met.

Of all the recent innovations, I’ve found a few which are really compelling and have revolutionized previous materials used, testing methods or other features you can find in a helmet. These are:

  • Carbon Fiber Shell: Pretty much every new helmet over a certain price point will feature carbon fiber; a lightweight and remarkably tough material. It’s fantastic for competitive racers out there who want to keep the weight of their gear low, without compromising on safety!
  • Intake and Extraction Channels: When I was racing, helmets had typical air vents to stop visor fogging and that was about it. If you were concerned about visibility, you’d have to keep the bottom of your visor open and it wasn’t very practical! Now, most helmets you can buy from the past couple of years will feature various intake and extraction channels to direct air in multiple ways. It’ll stop visor fogging and maximize airflow within the helmet.
  • Customizable Interior: One of my biggest gripes with helmet shopping was, first and foremost, the fit. Different manufacturers will have varied sizings available and it becomes tricky to find the best fit without trying every helmet on, and even then, there might be too much space or not enough… but only a little bit. Not enough to justify a smaller or larger size. Now, helmets have in-built removable cheek pads and different density foams that can be switched out for maximum comfort and the best possible fit!

Fitting And Maintenance

So, now you know about what to look for in terms of safety, what features are available out there, and all sorts of other info about helmets, you’ll want to get one fitted and bought. Oh, and learn about how to take care of it, of course!

 

 
 
 
 
 
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When buying a helmet, always try to first visit a store which stocks them so you can try them on with a balaclava (for hygiene reasons). Like I said before, helmet sizes vary slightly per manufacturer, so fitting a Bell size M helmet doesn’t mean it’s the same as a Conquer brand. Even if you try on helmets to find your size and then order online, it’s really important to get that time trying on first.

As for how the fit should feel, you need the helmet to fit snugly on your head. You shouldn’t be able to twist or turn it much, but at the same time, it shouldn’t be uncomfortably tight on your face or head. There are face padding inserts that can be removed if you’re between helmet sizes (one’s a touch too small but the other is way too big), so remember that if you’re unsure of a fit.

In terms of maintaining your helmet, there are a few absolute musts if you want it to: a). last longer than a couple of years and b). keep its protective integrity. First and foremost, don’t ever drop your helmet! Even small bumps can weaken the inner shell, so aside from general accidents, don’t go showing off how strong your helmet is by dropping it…!

Secondly, keep it clean and store it/ carry it properly. Most helmets will come with helmet bags designed to protect and transport them, and you can easily buy one online if yours doesn’t. Even if you’re at home, leaving it on top of a workbench or other such surface can result in it being knocked off, so put it on a stable shelf inside of its bag just in case.

And lastly, always keep a spare visor lens! This is important for a few reasons, chief among them being you need to have a replacement if your visor cracks. It’s also handy to have a slightly shaded visor for sunny conditions, and as such, it’s nice to have a choice between different lenses.

Final Thoughts

It goes without saying that helmets are the most important bit of safety gear you’ll be buying, so it’s just as important to remember this guide when doing so! Knowledge is power and it’ll save you from buying a helmet that can’t be used for karting, that’s for sure.

Always remember that safety comes before visuals, look out for the latest SNELL regs and you’ll be a learned helmet-buying pro in no time!