If you go to your local REI, the Black Diamond Vapor helmet is probably the lightest and most expensive climbing helmet they’ve got. That makes it the best, right?
Well – not exactly.
I’ve used this helmet for two years now, in many different contexts. Cragging, multi-pitch, mountaineering, and ice climbing. (Also, occasionally as a bike helmet). Here’s the pros and cons of a ultralight climbing helmet like the BD Vapor.
- Good fit, easy to adjust even with one hand or gloves on
- Slim fit to head – hugs head, doesn’t perch on top
- Well ventilated for those hot days
- Large range of adjustment (helmet comes in two sizes)
The Black Diamond Vapor Helmet is designed to shave weight at the cost of long-term durability. If you need an economic helmet, or one that will last for a long time, consider a full-plastic shell like the Black Diamond Half Dome. If you frequently do long approaches, care more about looks than durability, and don’t mind needing to replace the helmet more than you might like, the Vapor helmet might be a good choice.
The BD Vapor helmet is UIAA certified for absorbing impacts to the top of the head, such as rock or ice fall. However, the interior foam construction of the helmet makes it a “one-shot” use — the helmet is designed to absorb one big impact, and it will break in the process. Once the interior foam of the helmet becomes cracked, it needs to be replaced.
That’s fine, if the helmet saves your life in the process of cracking. However, I’ve had a couple of these helmets break in the course of normal use — just being stuffed in packs, carried, and everyday dings. So it’s key to keep an eye on the state of the helmet and make sure no cracks have snuck in.
The aggressive venting on the sides and the back is sufficient to protect the head from major blows, but could theoretically allow small rocks, ice, or pointy pinnacles to penetrate the helmet.
Comfort – 10/10
This helmet is insanely comfortable — you will forget you are wearing it. The generously cut-out sides allow for a lot of heat to vent, which is great in warmer climates or if you’re working on the uphill. The adjuster system is intuitive and easy to use, even with bulky gloves on (if you are using the helmet for winter climbing).
Chinstrap is a little sticky, but not too hard to adjust. The helmet comes with headlamp clips for attaching a light to your lid – these work well, but occasionally will snag on other items like sleeves, jackets, or packs.
The Vapor helmet is super light. It weighs 200 grams (7 ounces). You’ll hardly feel it on your head or in your pack.
Looks – 10/10
This is a very stylish helmet. It sits snug on your head, and doesn’t give the impression of a duck perched on top of your head, as some other plastic helmets do. This helmet will make you look about as cool as you can, while wearing a climbing helmet. In my opinion, the Vapor looks much sleeker than its most direct competitor, the Petzl Sirocco.
Durability – 2/10
As a lightweight helmet, you need to understand that there are some tradeoffs. However, in my experience, these things are not built to last. If you climb a lot, expect to replace it every 1-2 years due to cracking in the foam. The plastic shell on top of the helmet is also very prone to dings — these aren’t a safety concern, but some people consider them an eyesore.
Final Score – 8/10
This is a fantastic helmet for certain types of users. At $140 MSRP, it’s a tough pill to swallow that you may be replacing this helmet every year. However, if you’re regularly hiking long distances to climb, counting ounces, or really value a perfect or stylish fit, this helmet may be worth it.
The Black Diamond Vapor comes in two sizes. Small/Medium fits heads 52-59cm, while Medium/Large fits 58cm-63cm.
These ultralight helmets come in six colors as of 2022: White (Blizzard), Grey (Steel Grey), Burgundy (Bordeaux), Light Blue (Ice Blue), Neon Green (Envy Green), Red (Octane).
You can buy it on Amazon.
Alternatives to the BD Vapor Helmet
If you want a slightly more durable foam helmet, try the Black Diamond Vector or the Mammut Wallrider MIPS, which has a hybrid shell and advanced technology for better-absorbing glancing and rotation blows to the head.
If you want the most durable, economical option, look for a full plastic helmet like the BD Half Dome.
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