How to Choose and Fit Football Helmets

Football players walking across a football field

Preventing concussions is one of the most important aspects of football safety. With all of the advances that are being made in football helmets and in the science of measuring the long-term consequences of brain injury, it’s worth checking up on the facts yearly. Wearing the right helmet – age, weight, size, and fit – will go a long way to keeping the injuries minimal, and a player’s performance at their peak.

Youth vs. Adult Helmets

Young boy wearing football helmet
  1. Youth Helmets – Made of lightweight ABS plastic construction, youth helmets are able to withstand collisions at the level of force young players are capable of. Their prices are often cheaper than adult helmets. Check your local league for requirements, here are some general ideas:
    1. Ages 5-10 (Youth League) and 10-14 (Middle School)
    2. Youth players rarely tackle each other, so they can use lighter equipment.
    3. Polycarbonate helmets are often forbidden in youth leagues, as they can cause more damage to opposing players when collision occurs.
    4. Some middle school players have a skill level or physical growth that may need the protection of an adult helmet, especially by the time they are 13-14 years old. Switching to an adult helmet will help them adapt to heavier protection.
  2. Adult Helmets – Polycarbonate construction, strong, durable – designed to take the highest levels of collision between players. Adult helmets are made to withstand helmet on helmet impacts in a way that youth helmets are not.
    1. Ages 13 + (Middle School, High School, College)
    2. By high school, all players must wear heavier adult helmets. In high school, college play and beyond, the hits are stronger and tackling more advanced.
    3. Adult helmets are often higher in price than youth helmets, so be aware of the effect on your equipment budget.

How to Measure Your Head

Graphic of head measuring
  1. Always bring the athlete with you to the store when buying a helmet for the first time, or upgrading a helmet that has grown too small.
  2. When measuring a head, wrap a measuring tape levelly from front to back just above the eyebrows and ears.  You may also use a piece of string, which you can then measure with a ruler or yardstick. Do not use a metal tape measure.

From brand to brand, helmet sizes and fits will vary. Check the manufacturer’s instructions on fit and sizing charts.

Rawlingss LogoRiddell LogoSchutt LogoXenith Logo

How to Fit Your Helmet

Video of fitting a helmet

There are a lot of parts and pieces to making sure a football helmet fits right. Take a look at this video for a demonstration, or check the links below for your specific brand’s fitting guide.

Rawlingss LogoRiddell LogoSchutt LogoXenith Logo

Football Mask Options

Materials: Carbon steel (common, most used - heaviest), stainless steel (for serious players – lighter), titanium (rarest, most expensive – lightest and strongest) Different styles and acronym meanings

Abbreviation

Type

Positions

OPO, ROPO

Oral Protection Only, Reinforced Oral Protection Only

QB, WR, TE, DB, K, P

NOPO

Nose & Oral Protection Only

FB, LB, TE

JOP, RJOP

Jaw & Oral Protection, Reinforced Jaw & Oral Protection

OL, DL, FB, LB, QB

EGJOP

Eyeglasses, Jaw & Oral Protection

OL, DL, FB, LB, TE

EGOP

Eyeglasses & Oral Protection

RB, WR, DB, TE

NJOP

Nose, Jaw, & Oral Protection

OL, DL, LB

2B

Short Face Mask

QB, RB, TE, WR, DB

2EG

Short Face Mask w/Eye Guard

RB, FB, TE, WR, LB, DB

3BD

Long Double Top Bar Face Mask

Lineman

2BD

Short Double Top Bar Face Mask

RB, FB, TE, LB DB

2BDC

Short Double Top Bar Closed Face Mask

QB, WR, TE, DB, K, P

RKOP

Reinforced Kicker Oral Protection

K, P

Big Grill

Multiple bars across the mouth and jaw area to prevent fingers from hooking or passing through

Lineman

Open Cage

Horizontal bars, Open eye area, more peripheral vision

QB, RB, WR, DB, TE

Closed Cage

Vertical and Horizontal bars, less peripheral vision

Lineman

Key

Definition

O=Oral

Protection and bars across the mouth, open cage without vertical bar

N=Nose

Protection across the nose, closed cage with vertical bar

R=Reinforced

Second, reinforcing bars across the top of the mask

J=Jaw

Bars extend lower to cover the jaw as well as the mouth

E or EG=Eyeglasses

Extra bars at the sides of the helmet to protect the eye area, often with reinforced bars across the top

UB=U Bar

AKA horseshoe, bull-ring, vintage add-on, used to block facemask grabs

P=Protection

PO=Protection Only

K=Kicker

Made with minimal protection and maximum vision for kickers and punters

DW=Double Wire

An extra bar added across the center horizontal area of the facemask, like reinforced

SW=Single Wire

One bar running horizontally across center of facemask

Riddell - LW

Light Weight

Riddell - EG

Eye Guard

Riddell – 2B

Short Face Mask Length

Riddell – 3B

Long Face Mask Length

Riddell - D

Double Top Bar

Riddell - C

Closed – Small eye opening

Riddell – N

Nose Guard

Riddell - HT

Hockey Type mask with many horizontal bars across mouth

Riddell - 360

360 Helmet Style

Riddell - S

Speed Helmet Style

Riddell - SF

Speed Flex Helmet Style

How to Attach a Facemask

3 facemask

Each facemask will have a different method of attachment. Some masks may have a quick release attachment system.

  1. Attach two facemask clips to the facemask, in between the reinforced upper bars of the mask, or on the single forehead bar. Place them on either side of the bridge of the upper bar, one on the left, and one on the right.
  2. Attach two facemask clips to the upper bar where it connects with the jaw of the facemask, one on the left, and one on the right.
  3. Place two T-nuts through the holes on the inside of the bonnet, pointing out through the forehead of the helmet.
  4. Line up the facemask so that it’s centered on the helmet. Line up the facemask clips to the T-nuts. Use a long screw to secure the facemask clips to the T-nuts. Tighten enough so that the screw doesn’t fall out. Don’t over-tighten.
  5. Take two T-nuts and place them in the slots in the temple area, making sure they are flush with the slot.
  6. Match the upper jaw facemask clips, with flaps inside the mask area and not outside the mask area, with the T-nut in the helmet temple. Brace the T-nut with your finger on the inside of the helmet while placing a screw through the facemask clips into the T-nut.
  7. Tighten all of the screws on the side and front to lock the face mask into place.
  8. Facemasks may have between 4 to 6 areas that need to be secured, depending on the type of helmet.
  9. You may also ask the Team Member at any of our Sports Authority service desks to attach your facemask for you, or provide a quick tutorial on how to fasten your facemask type.

Helmet Weight and Neck Safety

Helmets exist to protect players against concussions – but an ill-fitting or too-heavy helmet will also jeopardize the player. Helmet and facemask weight is an important consideration when purchasing a helmet. A helmet that is too heavy will place unnecessary stress on the neck muscles, tendons, and spine of a player, causing chronic neck and headaches and other injuries.

This is an especially important consideration for youth players. While a child’s head may reach adult size or growth when they are young, their neck will not necessarily reach adult size until well into their teens. Make sure any youth helmet is a comfortable weight for a young athlete. For junior-high and middle school players, transition them slowly year over year from their lighter youth helmets to their heavier high school or adult helmets. Give their neck muscles time to adjust and strengthen before allowing them to wear a heavy helmet.

With all of the different hardware, padding, and material types available for helmets, weights can vary greatly. Here’s a start that may help with your search.

Helmet Weight Chart

Football Helmet Name

Size

Helmet w/Facemask weight (lbs./oz.)

Riddell Revolution Attack Youth

Medium

3 lbs., 1 oz.

Riddell Attack Youth

Large

3 lbs., 4 oz.

Schutt Vengeance DCT Hybrid Youth

Medium

3 lbs., 6 oz.

Schutt Recruit Hybrid Youth

Medium

3 lbs., 7 oz.

Riddell Edge Youth

Large

3 lbs., 9 oz.

Riddell Revolution Edge Youth

Medium

3 lbs., 12 oz.

Riddell Revolution Speed Classic Youth

Medium

3 lbs., 12 oz.

Riddell Revolution Speed Youth

Medium

3 lbs., 14 oz.

Riddell Speed Classic Youth

Large

3 lbs., 15 oz.

Riddell 360 Youth

Medium

4 lbs.

Riddell Speed Youth

Large

4 lbs., 2 oz.

Riddell Speed Flex Youth

Medium

4 lbs., 3 oz.

Xenith X2E Youth

Medium

4 lbs., 3 oz.

Helmet Parts & Pieces

Video on parts and pieces of a helmet

Care & Cleaning

Inside of a helmet

Helmets should be regularly wiped down after games and practices through the season, and regularly reconditioned after the season.

  1. After the game, make sure to let the inside of your helmet air-dry before placing it in a dark or non-ventilated area. This will prevent bacteria and mold from growing.
  2. For the outside shell, don’t use harsh abrasives as this may scratch or damage the graphics and color. Instead, use a disinfectant wipe or dish soap and water to get the shell nice and clean after every game.
  3. For the inside, some helmets have overliners that can be removed and hand-washed. Always air-dry the overliners – never place them in a laundry dryer.
  4. For helmets that don’t have removable overliners, spray a skin-safe anti-odor disinfectant after cleaning with a dish-soap mixture inside the helmet. Wipe with a soft, fabric cloth, not an abrasive brush or sponge. Get in between all of the pads as well. Rinse with a lightly damp cloth. Air dry.
  5. Make sure after you wash and disinfect your helmet that it is completely dry before placing it in any locker or equipment bag.
  6. If you place your helmet inside a bag, spray the inside of the bag with disinfectant first and let it dry. This will help prevent any transference of dangerous bacteria from previous equipment in the bag.
  7. Avoid all disinfectants and cleaners that are not safe for skin contact. This includes bleach, ammonia, turpentine, and almost all types of kitchen and bathroom cleaners. Plain water is preferable to any skin-irritating chemicals.
  8. Don’t sit or lean on your helmet, or place stress on it other than during play.
  9. Always check for cracks, scratches, and other hardware damage after a game.
  10. Don’t forget to also wipe down the facemask and check to make sure all of the dirt is removed.

Reconditioning, Recertification, Replacement

Reconditioners have a multi-step process they use to make sure helmets are good as new. Reconditioning a helmet usually takes about a month to complete, which is why it should be timed between seasons.

  1. The helmet is taken apart.
  2. The paint and scratches are removed. The outer shell is cleaned then inspected for cracks and defects.
    1. If sufficient damage, such as hairline fractures, have occurred to the shell or other integral parts, a replacement helmet is necessary.
    2. Structural damage such as cracks, tears, and broken pieces to any safety equipment render the equipment un-useable until it can be repaired or replaced.
  3. The helmet is repainted, and buffed to a shine.
  4. Facemasks are inspected, cleaned, and replaced as needed.
  5. All hardware is inspected, cleaned, and replaced as needed.
  6. Interior pads are removed, washed, and sanitized.
  7. Worn decals are removed.
  8. Recertification: Safety tests are performed on the helmet to ensure that it holds up under game conditions. After the tests are passed, the helmet is recertified according to NOCSE (National Operating Committee for Sports Equipment) standards.
  9. Recertification and manufacturer labels are reapplied, and the helmet is sent back.
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