Brimmed or Brimless: Which is Safer?

Much of the talk in the development of equine helmets centers around the rollout of MIPS technology. But there is another consideration when evaluating helmet safety: namely, should you go brimmed or brimless?

In eventing, the helmet of choice is typically a jockey skull cap. This design has no built-in brim. Instead, helmet covers are available in either traditional black, or with a variety of colors. But for eventers, the skull cap is more than just a fashion statement. Since 2015, British Eventing has banned fixed brim (peaked) helmets for cross country, only permitting helmets with:

  • No peak, peak type extensions or noticeable protuberances above the eyes (or to the front) and has an even, elliptical or rounded shape.
  • A smooth or slightly abrasive surface.
  • A removable cover containing the peak, should one be required.

The rule was amended in 2016 so that helmets with small peaks that are smooth and rounded are now also permitted in British Eventing cross-country competitions, after independent “expert” advice concluded they would pose no additional safety risk.

This GPA helmet is more in line with what you’ll see in the show ring.

In hunters, jumpers, foxhunting, and lower level dressage (let’s leave the discussion of tophats for another day), helmets with brims are still overwhelmingly used. I can’t think of any time I’ve seen a skull cap other than on someone who events.

So why are brimless helmets safer?

First, let me say that wearing an approved helmet that fits goes a long way to keeping you safe. Now, let’s talk about why brimless helmets may improve on that. There has been no conclusive research, but the thoughts behind using a brimless helmet are that the brim becomes a point of pressure that could create a point of concussion on your forehead. Without the brim, if you land on your face, you likely break your nose but the pressure is more distributed across the front of your forehead, compared to with a brim. Additionally, a brim can become a lever that exacerbates the force of bend on your spine/neck.

Different Standards Require Different Performance

At this point, it’s important to understand how the different international standards may impact the performance of the helmet you choose to buy. levels of All PAS 015:2011 helmets are tested for the brim/peak to absorb the impact & energy of a fall, not act as a fulcrum. Helmets tested only to ASTM F1163 do not test the brim for energy absorption. The newest standard, SNELL E2001, is a higher performance standard which includes all aspects of ASTM and PAS 015 but with a sharper horseshoe anvil (to replicate a horse kick or impact with a sharp surface), higher impacts and an additional hemispherical anvil to represent an uneven but not sharp surface such as a tree, fence or cobbled surface. Understanding the differences in these standards can help you choose a helmet that will offer you the best protection.

If Skull Caps are Safer, Why Doesn’t Everyone Wear One?

Of course, not everyone wears a helmet, so as stated earlier, putting a well-fitted helmet on that meets safety certifications, is the first step. But the skull cap has not been adopted by other disciplines because they are typically hotter, heavier and people find them unflattering. My own opinion is that no helmets are flattering, but many people are super concerned about how they think their helmets look and they tend to go with designs they perceive to be sleeker or more fashionable.

The Charles Owen MS1 was the first skull cap on the market to incorporate MIPS

Up until recently, skullcaps that incorporated MIPS technology also were not available. Luckily, that’s changed and you can now choose between the Charles Owen MS1 Pro, the Champion Revolve X-Air, and the Champion Revolve Ventair. Certainly more manufacturers will follow suit.

I haven’t owned a skull cap for many years. I did wear one foxhunting (with a black velvet cover) for a few years but eventually replaced it with a more formal velvet-covered helmet. For the last two seasons, I’ve chosen to wear my Trauma Void MIPS helmet, and have seen many people in the hunt field with them. However, when I next need a new helmet, I may reconsider one of the new MIPS skullcaps. Or at least make sure my helmet is SNELL certified with a brim that will not act as a fulcrum. You can never be too safe.

What type of helmet do you wear? And would you consider a skull cap?

One thought on “Brimmed or Brimless: Which is Safer?

  1. Maybe I’m missing it, but what is MIPS? I prefer a helmet with a brim, but that’s because due to the configuration of my eyes, (they bug out) I have to have some shade over them. I don’t like wearing sunglasses while riding in a helmet, for that matter, I don’t like handling horses while wearing sunglasses, because we do an awful lot of communication with our animals through our eyes. If I don’t have that shade over my eyes, I’m squinting and half blinded by the sun.

    I used to have a skull cap, when I worked at the track, it was required…imagine that, that was more years than I care to think about and even then they were concerned with safety.
    I didn’t like the skull cap due to the reasons in my first paragraph.

    That being said, I do think brimless are probably safer…but only a little. Many years ago when i was riding motorcycles (always with a helmet) a study was done and found that the full face helmets (meaning, it has a hefty “bar” crossing your face below your nose) were no more safe than the ones with just the flip down clear plastic visor. While the face was unprotected in a non full helmet, the ones with the bar were found to be dangerous in that, if you face planted after a fall and during the skid (I cringe just thinking about it) the bar would catch on gravel, etc and snap one’s neck. (your post says fulcrum and that’s a good word to use).

    In addition, motorcycle helmets (Bell being the biggest) have a tag in the inner cavity that says the helmet is not to be expected to fully protect your head if you fall going faster than FIVE miles per hour. five miles an hour on a motorcycle is not easily done, at least by me.
    The manufacturers also say that if you drop the helmet, throw it away, all warranties (if there are any) are voided.
    I don’t know a soul who’s not dropped a helmet.

    Is this a diatribe against wearing a helmet? Oh hell no. I was routinely teased by other bikers for wearing a helmet (before my state made it mandatory) for being a chicken, and I’d put my fists in my armpits and cluck. Damn right I’m chicken. I’ve got only one brain and only one spinal cord, and they’re pretty important for doing things like living.

    I never get on a horse without a helmet and have a reputation for reminding those that don’t that a helmet is not a bad idea. SOme just wave me off, those being western riders, usually. No matter, it’s their head, not mine.

    And I don’t ride motorcycles anymore. If you think drivers are morons and insane these days, try riding a motorcycle in amongst them. It scared me off bikes for ever.

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