Prior to their UK release three years ago, I managed to get hold of a Black Diamond Vapor Helmet from the US. Upon opening the box my initial thoughts centred on just how light it was, I mean 186 grams doesn’t feel very significant when you are thinking about something designed to keep your skull intact. For me, I just had to trust Black Diamonds technology. Designed using a sheet of Kevlar and carbon rods wrapped in EPS Foam this helmet resists enough force to earn its CE Certification meaning you are just as likely to see it in use at a road side crag as an Alpine North Face.
The fit is just amazing, very low profile, tons of ventilation and did I mention light; so much so you hardly realise you’re wearing it. It is the fit however, that sets it apart from other helmets on the market. Although the Vapor has weight related competition from the Petzl Meteor and Sirocco, I have found both these helmets sit like a mushroom on my head. I found the Grivel Air Tech and Grivel Race Helmets were the closest fitting helmets prior to the Vapor, feeling more akin to a sleek cycle helmet than the climbing helmets of old. Clearly the many ventilation holes around the rear of the Vapor helped reduce the weight dramatically. Some will find these too much with potential for ice and even small stones to find their way through should you find yourself in the line of fire but having personally used my Vapor to destruction, throughout the UK in Summer and Winter and over two Alpine seasons I’ve yet to have any debris come through these holes.
The EPS Foam and carbon rods are wrapped in a very thin Polycarbonate Shell, and I mean thin. Again Black Diamond have kept weight down to a minimum here but in doing so sacrificed some durability. It sounds daft to say it but you do need to be careful whilst packing this helmet, I have repeatedly stuffed mine into the top of my pack, attached it to the outside with bungee cord and clipped it to my harness on mechanical uplifts. I can see the damage this has caused to the Polycarbonate Shell, so much so it has now cracked in several places, I have even lost a piece of the EPS foam from the inside of the helmet. All this has come from packing though, yes it’s taken the usual bumps outside but this isn’t the result of the damage.
I recently retired the helmet so thought I would put it through a rudimentary, non-scientific ‘drop test’. Three sharp stones of different weights (100g, 600g and 1750g) were dropped initially at 1.8 meters and again at 2.5 meters. The first two stones did very little damage at 1.8m but the larger one knocked allot of the foam out, particularly where it had cracked due to my aggressive packing. The large stone was then dropped at 2.5m which forced the EPS foam out from inside the helmet, surprisingly the thin Polycarbonate shell didn’t puncture. I can now see the Kevlar sheet Black Diamond have used, which remained undamaged, and the carbon rods which interestingly only run around the side of the helmet over the ears, front of the forehead and back of the helmet. The rods do not cover the top of the head. I did this test just for interest and with the crack from the foam already in place from abuse on my part it’s hard to gauge what we can take from this. The video is below….
For such intense use over the past three years I think my Black Diamond Vapor has done an excellent job. The lack of UIAA Certification is something to think about as this requires the maximum force to be transmitted to your head to be less than 2kN. However, it is very hard to find official data on helmet related incidents; I don’t know if there is even any official data recording real time helmet impacts…? The final sting is the price. You will be lucky to find one on sale for less than £100 but if you are searching for a very lightweight and incredibly comfortable helmet then look no further than the Black Diamond Vapor.