The Black Diamond Helio Kit: Beyond the Skis

Post by blogger | February 5, 2018      

(This post sponsored by our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry.)

Disclaimer: While I have the Helio shell, pant, and gloves on loan from Black Diamond, I am doing my best to get them smelly enough that BD won’t ask for them back. (How that is accomplished is a trade secret of professional gear reviewers). I had a chance to use this kit out over the last few weeks of January, so my thoughts below are initial impressions. Also, I happen to be a tack-on medium in most BD apparel. Since sizing is so user specific, I won’t discuss it below.

Black Diamond reorganized their ski line to include the Helio two season’s ago. As they expand that line to now cover five ski widths, they are also expanding out the non-ski Helio offerings. BD has used the Helio tag to organize soft goods geared towards lightweight touring and ski mountaineering. Some non-ski Helio items have been around as long as the skis, but three standout 2018 pieces are the Helio jacket, pants, and gloves.

Good clothes go a long way in the mountains.

Good clothes go a long way in the mountains.

Helio Active Shell

Gore-Tex Active is the top of the line when it comes to waterproof-breathable lightweight material. The lightweight feel has made me rethink my general distaste for hard shells. Black Diamond is not alone in using Gore-Tex Active in a shell, but they have added a smart and simple design that works well for a backcountry jacket. The 2018 Helio Active Shell has a good amount of room in the hood, a well cut shape, long side zips, and some nicely thought out finishing touches. Which avoids the gripe I often have with shells: the noose that menacingly appears around my neck whenever I zip the hood up over a helmet. Two extra large front pockets easily fit climbing skins, are high enough to access while wearing a harness, and are the only zippered pockets in the jacket (there is one stretchy internal mesh pouch). This keeps things simple; in the mountains, simple is good.

 A little cross-training never hurts. . . The Helio Active Shell does just fine swingin’ tools.

A little cross-training never hurts. . . The Helio Active shell does just fine swingin’ tools.

The 2018 Helio stands atop the touring minded and lightweight options in my mind, but BD makes a number of other Gore-Tex shells too and is also releasing a proprietary waterproof/breathable (‘BD Dry’) material made shell — the Recon. The Recon will be a bit cheaper and works well as a resort/downhill/crossover touring shell (powder skirt and all). Some of the other jackets BD makes work better for climbers, but the Helio is a hard shell ace on the skin track.

The 2018 Helio Active Shell

The 2018 Helio Active shell

Helio Active Pants

The simplicity of the Helio shell was designed into the Helio Active pants as well. Cuff zips (1/4 length with a small internal gaiter), two pockets: that’s it. I like them because the design is so basic.

The weight of Gore-Tex Active works better than any other hard shell material I have tried in a touring pant. The Helio feels cut a bit slimmer than most skiing hard shells. Some might complain about the lack of side-zips (no venting option), but I actually like this: it always bugs me when too many zippers are in the mix (though this does nix the option of putting the Helio on over other pants, ski boots or crampons). Leaving side zips off, keeps the bulk down. I usually tour in soft shell pants, because hard shell pants often feel too heavy and stiff for my tastes, but the Helio feels light and agile.

The 2018 Helio Active Pants

2018 Helio Active pants.

One complaint about the Helio pants is the cuff — it is tough to zip the low profile cuff shut while touring, I have been either zipping up the cuff a bit or pulling it up to the top of my boot rather than wrestling it shut. This is a problem, but hardly fatal. Another small concern is a delam on the BD logo seam (you can see it in the photo above) — this one might be my fault for dragging the pants through an Alaskan alder shwack, but worth noting.

Overall I like the low bulk and breathability.

Helio Gloves

Options options options. The Helio glove is a three-in-one glove system. The Helio liner is a good skin-track weight, the outer is a solid mid-warmth glove made with a durable Dyneema shell and waterproof Gore-Tex lining. Worn together the two gloves add up to a light yet warm mountain tool.

The Helio Glove out for a tour.

The Helio glove out for a tour.

The ski glove game is lost by many gear companies because for less than $20 at Home Depot you can buy a pair of Kincos. Black Diamond has similarly struggled to beat out the simple leather and cloth of a cheap-o hardware store glove, but has found a path to compete in weight, dexterity, versatility, and waterproofing enough to make the Helio glove a worthy mitt for the kit.

The Helio liner glove.

The Helio liner glove.

I like skinning with liner gloves, and the Helio liners provide a nice balance of small, but grippy, while also feeling durable enough than I don’t think I’ll bore a hole in them too soon. The shell worn alone is a comfortable general purpose glove for many a backcountry day, while also dexterous enough that I have used them a couple times ice climbing. The Helio system worn together is burly enough to handle serious days in the mountain. Dexterity takes a hit when both gloves are on, but that seems to be the case with most warmer gloves.

BD Engineer Pete Gompert out for an Austrian night tour while sporting the Helio kit – pants, shell, and gloves.

BD Engineer Pete Gompert out for an Austrian night tour while sporting the Helio kit – pants, shell, and gloves.

The Helio fixed length carbon pole rounds out the non-ski ‘Helio’ labeling. I haven’t had a chance to take the poles for a spin, so can’t speak to anything other than their featherweight stats. ‘Helio’ bindings are on the way (rebranded ATK). The ‘Cirque’ pack is made with the same Dyneema as the Helio glove and might as well have been called the Helio pack (stay tuned for a pack review).

A bit of ‘field testing’ in Alaska.

A bit of ‘field testing’ in Alaska.

Black Diamond is clearly developing their ski touring design focus, exemplified by the Helio tag. I am excited to see what else comes down the pipeline. The Helio Active shell, Active pants, and glove succeed in offering a well thought out lightweight kit for ski mountaineering, touring, and alpine days.



One Response to “The Black Diamond Helio Kit: Beyond the Skis”

  1. Travis February 5th, 2018 11:58 pm

    Weight of the jacket or pant for 2018?

Anti-Spam Quiz:

While you can subscribe to comment notification by checking the box above, you must leave a brief comment to do so, which records your email and requires you to use our anti-spam challange. If you don't like leaving substantive comments that's fine, just leave a simple comment that says something like "thanks, subscribed" with a made-up name. Check the comment subscription checkbox BEFORE you submit. NOTE: BY SUBSCRIBING TO COMMENTS YOU GIVE US PERMISSION TO STORE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS INDEFINITLY. YOU MAY REQUEST REMOVAL AND WE WILL REMOVE YOUR EMAIL ADDRESS WITHIN 72 HOURS. To request removal of personal information, please contact us using the comment link in our site menu.
If you need an emoticon for a comment just copy/paste off the following list, or use text code you might be familiar with.

:D    :-)    :(    :lol:    :x    :P    :oops:    :cry:    :evil:    :twisted:    :roll:    :wink:    :!:    :?:    :idea:    :arrow:   
Due to comment spam we moderate most comments. Please do not submit your comment twice -- it will appear shortly after approval. Comments with one or more links in the text may be held in moderation, for spam prevention. If you'd like to publish a photo in a comment, contact us. Guidelines: Be civil, no personal attacks, avoid vulgarity and profanity.

  Your Comments

  Recent Posts

Facebook Twitter Email Instagram Youtube


  • Blogroll & Links

  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

    All material on this website is copyrighted, the name WildSnow is trademarked, permission required for reproduction (electronic or otherwise) and display on other websites. PLEASE SEE OUR COPYRIGHT and TRADEMARK INFORMATION.

    We include "affiliate sales" links with most of our blog posts. This means we receive a percentage of a sale if you click over from our site (at no cost to you). None of our affiliate commission links are direct relationships with specific gear companies or shopping carts, instead we remain removed by using a third party who manages all our affiliate sales and relationships. We also sell display "banner" advertising, in this case our relationships are closer to the companies who advertise, but our display advertising income is carefully separated financially and editorially from our blog content, over which we always maintain 100% editorial control -- we make this clear during every advertising deal we work out. Please also notice we do the occasional "sponsored" post, these are under similar financial arrangements as our banner advertising, only the banner or other type of reference to a company are included in the blog post, simply to show they provided financial support to and provide them with advertising in return. Unlike most other "sponsored content" you find on the internet, our sponsored posts are entirely under our editorial control and created by WildSnow specific writers.See our full disclosures here.

    Backcountry skiing is dangerous. You may be killed or severely injured if you do any form of ski mountaineering, skimo randonnee and randonnée skiing. The information and news on this website is intended only as general information. Due to human error and passing time, the information, text and images contained within this website may be inaccurate, false, or out-of-date. By using, reading or viewing the information provided on this website, you agree to absolve the owners of Wild Snow as well as content contributors of any liability for injuries or losses incurred while using such information. Furthermore, you agree to use any of this website's information, maps, photos, or binding mounting instructions templates at your own risk, and waive Wild Snow owners and contributors of liability for use of said items for ski touring or any other use.

    Switch To Mobile Version