Backcountry skiing is all about light, compact gear since you have to carry everything you need for a side tour, day tour or multi-day traverse on your back. The Black Diamond Helio Active Jacket & Pants are designed to be light in weight, minimal in design and packable when not in use. On top of this, they have to be waterproof and windproof to protect you from the elements while still being breathable. This is a lot to ask from something that takes up barely more room than a water bottle does in your pack.
Front and back of the Black Diamond Helio Active Jacket and Pants.
The Black Diamond Helio collection consists of skis, gloves and poles which all work together to enable you to go “lighter/faster/stronger”, which is the Helio mantra. All pieces in the Helio line are stripped of anything deemed excessive and the rest is based on minimal design. Zips, snaps, clips and clasps are all designed and integrated to limit weight without sacrificing durability or performance.
The Helio Active jacket and pants are built using an ultralight yet durable GORE-TEX waterproof/breathable fabric with a C-Knit backer material that provides a softer feel on the inside against your skin. They are Black Diamond’s lightest three-layer shells and are aimed squarely at alpinists and ski mountaineers given how incredibly packable they are. A streamlined feature set of only what is mandatory and nothing more keeps weight and bulk down. Harness-compatible pockets, full-length pit zips, Coheasive hem and hood adjustments, minimal gaiters, transceiver pocket and stash pocket are but a few of the extras that Black Diamond did not do away within the effort to keep things truly minimal.
The Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody
In addition to the Black Diamond Helio Active Jacket & Pants, I was also running the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody as it’s a perfect lightweight, packable mid layer companion. Like the Helio, the Alpine start is minimalist, light and compact so you can store it in your pack and it won’t take up any room when not in use. Over a base layer, the Alpine Start Hoody is ideal for taking the teeth out of frigid alpine winds while at the same time not overheating you. Targeted at climbers the Alpine Start Hoody is also an ideal backcountry skiing mid layer, with a helmet compatible hood, drawcord hem and stretch cuffs easily seals out the elements. The Scholler stretch-woven fabric is light and thin yet still tough and weather resistant. If you are in the market for a lightweight minimal mid layer then be sure to include the Black Diamond Alpine Start Hoody along with the Helio Jacket & Pants. The Alpine Start Hoody retails for $149US and comes in Smoke, Ash, Baltic colours in M, L, XL sizes.
Shell: GORE-TEX® 3L Active with nylon C-Knit™ backer and DWR finish (155 gsm, 100% nylon)
Integrated Cohaesive™ cord management system
A lightweight kit such as the Black Diamond Helio Active Jacket & Pants are most at home in the backcountry and that’s exactly where I put them to the test. Over the span of several weeks, I tested the Helio apparel in all sorts of weather, cold, sunny, windy, foggy, you name it, pretty much everything except full on rain. What I liked most about the Helio kit was their light-weight minimal design. Like most things in my ski touring arsenal, it has to be light and it has to pack down to almost nothing as my pack is only 32L so space is at a premium and I don’t want to carry a gram more than I have to. I’m all about efficiency on the up and comfort and weather protection on the down so the Black Diamond Helio Active Jacket & Pants fit these requirements well.
The GORE-TEX fabric with C-Knit backer was really comfortable and protected me from any weather I encountered but when I needed to vent the jacket was best I have ever tested. With long pit zips and two hand warmer pockets that had integrated mesh panels, airflow was not a problem. I only wish I could say the same for the pants. With only two pockets and zero vents, I was a little disappointed that the focus on venting in the jacket was not carried over into the pants. When skinning up I need to vent my lower body and on the Helio Pants there were just no options like on the jacket. Another crucial must have that was missing for me (this time on the jacket) was two stash pockets large enough to carry my skins. While the Helio Active Jacket does have a single stash pocket it’s not nearly large enough to accommodate one skin let along two.
The sleek design and cut of the pants and jacket fit my 6’1” 180lb frame well. The zips, gaiters, low profile snaps and small waist buckle kept overall bulk and weight to a minimum and make the Black Diamond Helio Active Jacket & Pants ideal for any mountain adventure. While the fabric is super minimal it still feels durable enough to keep out the worst weather, however, I wouldn’t get too aggressive with any tree skiing.
Overall the Black Diamond Helio Active Jacket & Pants impressed, they did away with anything I didn’t really need but kept most features I simply couldn’t live without. They were primarily designed as a mountaineering kit but I find that they also work well for backcountry skiing, if Black Diamond improved the pant venting and add in some skin pockets in the jacket then they’d be total winners.
The Black Diamond Helio Active Jacket and Pants are very similar to the Rab Sharp Edge Jacket and Pants, so be sure to read that review as well.
Black Diamond Helio Active Jacket
Price: $499.99CAN / $399US
Weight: 363g / 12.8oz
Colours: Slate, Verde, Bluebird
Size: S, M, L, XL
Black Diamond Helio Active Pants
Price: $449.99CAN / $349US
Weight: 332g / 11.7oz
Colours: Smoke, Midnight
Size: S, M, L, XL
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