football helmet
buying guide
  • Why wear a football helmet?
  • Measuring yourself for a helmet
  • FAQ from parents about football helmets

It's finally football season again, which means it's time to show off your skills on the gridiron. Before you ever step foot on the field to make a catch and score a touchdown, though, you need to ensure that you're wearing the proper equipment.

One of the most important tools you can have on the field is a high-quality, durable football helmet. Designed specifically to handle hard hits, football helmets are critical in attempting to keep your head safe from injury. This is especially important for younger kids who are just getting the hang of the sport and may be more susceptible to getting hurt. As long as you buy the right helmet for your little player, they can stay safe guarded during every play.

Not sure which helmet is the best fit? Keep reading to figure out the right design, features and helmet accessories to help you or your kid perform and stay protected.

pro tip: Keep in mind that individual leagues may have different rules and regulations regarding which football helmets you can wear. Check the regulations with your coach, league or team before buying.

Why Wear a Football Helmet?

There are several clear and proven benefits to wearing a strong helmet during practices and games. The most important factor is that football helmets can protect you against extremely hard hits and head injuries. Whether you're running, tackling or recovering a fumble, your helmet is your best defense against injury during every aspect of the game.

The Anatomy of a Football Helmet

The Shell

The exterior of the helmet is known as the shell. The best features include:

  • - A durable, supportive design and structure
  • - An ABS plastic or alloy construction
  • - Ventilation systems for increased airflow and comfort

The Padding

This layer is crucial in keeping your head as safe as possible. The interior padding in a football helmet is generally designed out of Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU), mixture between hard plastic and soft silicone, or dual-compression TPU to create soft, supportive and durable protection. Helmet padding is designed to absorb the ultimate amount of impact, allowing you to make every move with confidence.

When you place your helmet on your head, there shouldn't be any space between your temple and the helmet. In fact, there shouldn't be any movement at all when it's on.

The best features of helmet padding include:

  • - Excellent shock absorption
  • - Comfortable protection
  • - A snug, adjustable fit
  • - Either pre-sized or inflatable padding

Some football helmets even offer inflatable pads, rather than the fixed, pre-sized padding you typically see. These inflatable options are designed to fill with air to create a more-snug, customized fit between the shell, padding and your head. That way, you'll have better support and protection during every tackle. If you choose a helmet with inflatable pads, be sure to buy an inflator pump to properly adjust the fit every time you gear up.

pro tip: For the best cushioning on the market, choose a helmet with TPU cushioning. This material holds up better than foam and is virtually indestructible. Even better, TPU cushioning is anti-bacterial and anti-fungal so you can use this helmet for many practices and game days to come.

The Facemask

You can choose a helmet that already includes a facemask or buy one separately. Designed out of either carbon steel or stainless steel, facemasks are lightweight while providing strong protection. While the helmet itself protects your child's skull, the facemask works to protect important facial features, including their eyes, nose and mouth. The facemask style you need depends on the position you play.

Find a facemask that works for you and your position:

  • - Quarterbacks, Defensive Backs and Wide Receivers: Oral protection only. These players need a complete view of the field in front of them, so it's important that they don't have too many pieces blocking their vision. Find a facemask equipped with oral protection and a wide area to help them scan the field.
  • - Running Backs and Tight Ends: Jaw and oral protection. These masks offer more protection during blocks and hits. Some even feature vertical bars on the outside of each eye area to keep tackler's from accidentally reaching in and poking your little player's eyes during plays.
  • - Receivers: Nose and oral protection. Like defensive backs and quarterbacks, all receivers require a clear field of vision while they play. However, they need the extra protection for their noses for the times they need to block or are tackled when trying to carve up the defense.
  • - Linemen: Nose, jaw and oral protection. Linemen are known for taking constant, hard hits. Since their hands are always on chests, shoulders, necks and faces, it's essential that they get all the facial protection they need to stay supported on the field.
  • - Other Players: Eyeglass and oral protection. For players who experience consistent, hard contact, they should keep their eyes and mouth safe from injury.

pro tip: Buy a quick-release face guard system to easily detach your facemask in the event of an emergency. Most facemasks today include this smart feature to help ensure that you can get to your player in the event that they're injured on the field.

The Accessories

Along with these basic helmet features, you can also pick up helmet accessories to boost your performance on the field. Check with your coach or your local league to determine if you're required or need special permission to wear these accessories on the field:

  • - Mouth Guards: Protect your mouth and teeth during injury.
  • - Chin Straps: Offers comfort and a snug, secure fit of your helmet.
  • - Eye Shields and Visors: Add extra eye protection without obstructing your vision.

Measuring Yourself for a Helmet

Making sure your helmet is the right size is absolutely crucial to your game performance and safety. If it's too heavy, for instance, your helmet can slow you down and actually put stress and strain on your neck muscles.

To find out which helmet is right for you, grab a measuring tape and a friend. Then, follow these easy steps:

1- Have your friend place the measuring tape about 1 inch above your eyebrows and wrap it fully around your head.
2- To get an accurate measurement, make sure that you're measuring the widest circumference of your skull.
3- Record the circumference in both inches and centimeters.
4- Refer to the size chart below to find out which helmet size will most likely fit you the best.


Helmet Size Hat Size Head Circumference
Extra-Extra Small 6 - 6 1/4 19-19.5"
Extra Small 6 3/8 - 6 1/2 20-20.5"
Small 6 5/8 - 6 3/4 20.75-21.25"
Medium 6 7/8 - 7 22.25-23.75"
Large 6 7/8 - 7 22.25-23.75"
Extra-Large 7 3/8 - 7 1/2 23-23.5"


Helmet Size Hat Size Head Circumference
Small 6 - 6 1/2 19-20.5"
Medium 6 1/2 - 7 20.5-22"
Large 7 - 7 1/2 22-23.5"
Extra-Large 7 1/2 - 8 23.5-25"
pro tip: Use the sizing charts above as a general guide, but keep in mind that sizes can vary depending on brand and manufacturer. We recommend stopping by your local Academy store to try on a few helmets and get the proper, snug fit.

A properly fitting helmet will:

  • - Have no space between your temples and helmet padding.
  • - Have no space between your jaw and the helmet's jaw pads.
  • - Stay in place when you move your head.
  • - Sit properly on your forehead to give you a clear view.

If there is a bit of space between you and the helmet, look for a better fit. You don't want to risk having the helmet fall off on the field, potentially causing an injury. As long as the helmet provides the right amount of protection and support with the right fit, your athlete will stay protected while they play their favorite sport.

pro tip: The jaw pads are the only removable pads in the helmet. Once you find the right helmet for your head circumference, you can adjust the size of your jaw pads, up or down, to finish with the proper fit.

FAQ from Parents About Football Helmets

1- How do I put on my child's helmet?

Properly fitting football gear can make the difference between injury and protection. To make sure you get your child's helmet on correctly, follow these simple steps:

  • - Hold the helmet with the front facing your chest.
  • - Place your thumbs over the bottom of the jaw pads and your index fingers in the ear holes.
  • - Pull the helmet down into position.
  • - Make sure the facemask is about two finger-widths from the tip of your athlete's nose. If it's any closer, your athlete could be at risk for injury during hard hits. If it's further away, they could be injured by another player's hands or fingers coming through the mask.
  • - Ensure the chinstrap is fully tightened. The cup should fit snugly against your athlete's chin. If the chinstrap isn't properly secured, your athlete may run the risk of having his helmet knocked off while they play.
  • - Move the helmet until it is centered over your athlete's ears.
  • - If the helmet is the right fit, it should sit about one to one and a half inches above the eyebrows.

To check that the helmet is secure, try these tips:

  • - Hold the facemask and slide the helmet back and forth. If it slides over the eyes or high above the forehead, it's either not properly secure or it's too big.
  • - Press the top of the helmet. If it shifts down a lot, the helmet is too large. If it pops up after you press down, it may be too small.
  • - Have your child move their head around. If the helmet is secure, it should move along with your child without shifting around on his head.

2- At what age should my child upgrade to an adult sized helmet?

Typically, players will upgrade to an adult sized helmet between 12 and 14 years old, or when they enter middle school.

3- Other than size, is there a difference between adult and children's football helmets?

Children's football helmets are typically designed out of Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) plastic. They are durable enough to handle the hits and tackles that young children can make, but not the skill or power of a stronger adult player. That's why adult football helmets are usually created with a stronger, heavy-duty Polycarbonate material to offer greater impact force. If your child is going to play with stronger, older kids, they most likely need the strength and durability of an adult helmet.

4- Which helmet is right for my child's age and skill level?

The youngest children require the most basic protection, since they typically don't hit or tackle as hard as older kids. Find lightweight, affordable youth helmets for kids who are five to ten years old. Then, as they get older and make a stronger impact, they'll need a helmet that can continue to protect them. Once your child reaches middle school, they may require an adult helmet designed with a heavy-duty material.

5- How can I clean my child's helmet?

Bacteria, sweat, dirt and grass stains all make your helmet grimy in a short amount of time. To clean it in between practices and big game days, grab the following items:

  • - Microfiber cloths
  • - Gentle cleaners, like mild dishwashing soap
  • - Disinfectant spray
pro tip: Avoid using harsh chemicals like bleach or ammonia to clean the helmet, as these can cause permanent damage and irritate your athlete's skin.

Cleaning the Outside of the Helmet

Usually, the helmet's exterior just needs a quick wipe down to clean off the dirt. Grab a cloth and your gentle cleaner and start cleaning. Once you're finished, dry it off with another cloth, and you're done.

Cleaning the Inside of the Helmet

The interior of the helmet is a different story. Sweat and bacteria shouldn't have a chance to build up. Grab a damp cloth and rub the cleanser over all the interior pads. Try to get in between them to get any sweat that's stuck there. Next, wipe the area down with a cloth dipped in warm water to completely remove the soap. Finally, spray the entire interior down with disinfectant. Leave it sitting upright until it is completely dry.

pro tip: Keep your helmet out of the sun or high heat while it dries to avoid degrading the pads.

If you're starting football for the first time this season or just need a few new supplies and accessories to stay safe, don't forget to check out our Football Cleats and Accessories Buying Guide and our Football Shoulder Pads Buying Guide to make sure you find the proper fit for all the gear you need from Academy.

This guide is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for consulting with your physicians, coaches, trainers, equipment managers and/or other professionals for specific advice tailored to your need and situation. No protective equipment can totally eliminate the inherent physical risks of football. In no event shall Academy Sports + Outdoors be liable for direct, indirect, punitive, incidental, special, consequential damages, or any damages whatsoever arising out of or in any way connected with the use of or performance of information, products, services or reliance on the contents of this guide. The use of this guide is subject to the Terms and Conditions of Website Use that can be found here.