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4 Types Of Football Helmets that Increase Field Safety

WriterAubrey McShan
15 min read
Young boy wearing a red jersey and navy blue football pants runs across the field holding a football during a game

Are there actually different types of football helmets? Despite what you may think, subtle differences do set football helmets apart. Both new and seasoned players can benefit from learning them!

Football helmets enhance a player’s head safety on the field. In this guide, you’ll learn all about choosing the right type of football helmet so you can stay safer on the field during practice and games.

Key Takeaways

Types of Football Helmets Explained

Football helmets are classified by size, type of padding, faceguard design, and a variety of other criteria. There are some helmets marketed for specific positions. But you can typically use any helmet that fits correctly and meets league and safety standards.

  • Youth Helmets: Youth helmets are usually constructed with lighter ABS material that isn’t as heavy as the polycarbonate used for adults. They also come in a wider range of sizes.

  • Adult Helmets: Adult helmets are built with heavy-duty polycarbonate material to withstand the harder hits that come with higher levels of play.

  • Type of Padding: Helmets can use traditional pre-sized foam padding, inflatable air liner padding for a more custom fit, or a combination of both.

  • Brands/Manufacturers: Certain well-known football brands offer a variety of helmets that provide durable protection, comfort, and dependable performance.

Expert Tip:

Helmet standards are set by the National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment (NOCSAE).

Youth Helmets

No matter your age, you must protect your head when playing football. There isn’t a definitive age barrier between youth and adult helmets; however, most size up from a youth to an adult helmet around 12 or 13 years old.

  • The main differences between the two helmet categories are the material of the shell and the size.

  • Kids do not require lightweight helmets durable enough to endure tough hits from others. That’s why helmet manufacturers use ABS plastic for youth helmet shells.

Adult Helmets

By high school, players should wear adult football helmets to stay as protected as possible from harder hits and tackles.

  • Adult helmets feature heavy-duty polycarbonate shells that are heavier and more durable than ABS shells — offering greater protection against impact and helmet-to-helmet contact.

  • These helmets are more expensive than youth helmets. However, players committed to the game for the long term will see a good return on their investment.

Type of Football Helmet Padding

Various types of padding are used to cushion the inside of a football helmet: soft foam padding, TPU foam, vinyl nitrile foam, expanded polypropylene foam, inflatable padding, gel-filled padding, and MIPS system. Whatever type you choose, the helmet and padding should fit correctly.

  • There should be no space between your temple and the helmet.

  • Ensure there isn’t any space between the jaw and the helmet.

  • It also shouldn’t move or shift when worn.

Swipe Right Icon
Football Helmet Padding Types Guide
Type of Padding Advantages Considerations Best For Description
Foam Padding
  • Absorbs impact well
  • Affordable
  • May not fit snugly
  • Can degrade over time
Casual and recreational players. Traditional, dense foam padding.
Vinyl-Dipped Foam Pads
  • Durable and higher density
  • Withstands high wear
  • Comfort varies
  • Less effective impact dispersion
Frequent players in high-contact positions. Stiff, foam pads coated with vinyl.
EPP Foam
  • Lightweight
  • Good impact absorption
  • Fit may not be customized
  • Less effective in severe impacts
Casual and recreational players. Multi-impact foam slowly recovers its shape and most of its impact protection after a crash.
Inflatable Padding
  • Custom fit
  • Enhanced comfort
  • Needs occasional adjustment
  • Potential for puncture or leakage
Professional players seeking optimal fit. Air-filled pockets that can be adjusted with an air pump.
Gel-Filled Padding
  • Spreads impact
  • Very comfortable
  • Helps protect against concussions
  • Can be less breathable
  • Can be heavier than other types
Players seeking comfort and broad impact distribution. Pads filled with gel.
TPU Cushioning
  • Durable, performs consistently
  • Multiple impact resistance
  • More expensive
  • Some find it less comfortable
Professional players, those playing in varying temperatures. Open-air sides and woven channels allow for air circulation.
MIPS System
  • Reduces rotational forces
  • Mimics natural brain protection
  • Increases cost
  • Not a replacement for padding, just an addition
Players in high-impact positions, professionals. Technology to reduce rotational forces from impacts.

Expert Tip:

The effectiveness of a helmet depends on the proper size, fit, and usage. Always follow the manufacturer's instructions for fitting and maintaining your football helmet.

Top Football Helmet Brands

Riddell is among the most trusted football helmet brands! While many brands manufacture football helmets with different models and features, opt for a helmet from a well-known, established football brand for the most enhanced comfort and protection.

Riddell makes helmets in both youth and adult sizes. Until 2014, they were the official helmet of the NFL. Both college and professional players choose them for their durable protection and comfortable design.

The Riddell Youth SpeedFlex Football Helmet will help protect your child’s head when they play football. This helmet features a Flex System that helps reduce the force of impact. The Tru-Curve liner system and 4-point inflation system offer enhanced comfort and protection.

  • ABS plastic shell provides lightweight protection
  • Flex System is built into the shell, face mask, and face mask attachment system to decrease the impact force
  • Tru-Curve liner system and 4-point inflation system protect the head with customizable comfort
  • Patented Side Impact Protection (PSIP) helps reduce force from side impacts
  • Ratchet-Loc retention system keeps helmet secure
  • HS4 face mask with an all-points quick-release attachment system protects the face

The Riddell Youth Speed ICON Football Helmet will help your child enjoy the game while staying protected. This helmet has a lightweight ABS shell with an HS4 face mask and Patented Side Impact Protection (PSIP) to keep your child’s head safe from impact. The Comfort Overliner provides comfortable wear throughout the game.

  • ABS plastic shell offers lightweight protection
  • Air Fit liner and Comfort Overliner offer comfort and breathability
  • Patented Side Impact Protection (PSIP) helps increase protection against side impacts
  • HS4 face mask helps protects the face
  • Quick-change liner attachment system allows for easy switching of the liner

Parts of a Football Helmet

Parts of a football helmet

Understanding the key components of a football helmet is crucial for player safety. The shell distributes impact, the facemask shields the face, and the chin strap secures the helmet. Padding offers comfort and shock absorption, while optional features like face shields and ventilation enhance protection and comfort.

Let's explore these components in more detail:

  • Shell: Outer layer is made of tough plastic (polycarbonate) to distribute impact forces, reducing the risk of severe head injuries

  • Facemask: Grid-like structure with metal bars or composite materials to protect the face from direct impact and potential facial injuries

  • Chin Strap: Nylon or polypropylene strap fastened beneath the chin to secure the helmet

  • Padding: Foam or foam-air bladder combination lining for comfort, support, and absorption of impact forces

  • Ventilation System: Strategically placed vents or channels to enhance air circulation, keeping the player cool and comfortable during intense physical activity

  • Face Shield or Visor (optional): Clear polycarbonate shield attached to the facemask, providing additional protection for the eyes against debris and inadvertent contact

Have Fun Out There!

Head out on the field and play your heart out safely! You can shop our adult and youth-sized football helmets in-store or online at You’ll find the best one for all the players in your family. For more help, take a look at our football helmet buying guide and find a size chart and more.