Kevin Avery tests the Black Diamond Vector Helmet looking for a good fit, lightweight protection, comfort and style…
Value for money: ****
Black Diamond say:
A revolutionary helmet that’s ideal for long routes, alpine climbs and other weight-sensitive missions, the Black Diamond Vector Helmet combines lightweight protection, excellent ventilation and “barely there” comfort like never before. The geometric, co-molded EPS foam and polycarbonate shell provides full-coverage protection while remaining incredibly lightweight and comfortable, and the generous ventilation ports keep air flowing on warm days. The ratcheting suspension tucks away for easy storage in your pack, and when the sun gets down before you do, the Vector’s in-mold headlamp clips provide an ultra-secure attachment.
My first helmet was one of the Joe Brown classics; fibreglass, plastic and foam. It weighed 650 grams and was uncomfortable, big and sweaty. I never wore it…and anyway, back then, helmets just weren’t considered cool A little later, on one of my first trips to the Alps, I decided I might need a helmet I would actually wear. I bought an original Black Diamond Half Dome, it was white, light and a whole lot nicer to wear than my Joe Brown neck weight. But it still felt a bit cumbersome, and the fit didn’t quite seem perfect. So I only wore it when I thought it was absolutely necessary. Ice, Alpine, that sort of thing.
I remember seeing the first Petzl Meteor helmets and thinking they looked like cycling helmets (which they did!). I also remember that at about the same time, more of the “wads in the mags” were wearing helmets. Grit headpoints etc. I still hated helmets but was coming round to the idea that it might be a good idea to wear one all the time (statistics and all that). I was going off to the Dolomites to climb a route on the North Face of Cima Grande, the Brandler Hasse. It was a fairly tricky route where I’d have to concentrate and try hard and it was about 20 pitches long! I didn’t want some kind of heavy lump weighing me down, banging and clattering every time I looked up and generally getting in the way and putting me off! So I got a Black Diamond Tracer helmet. It was light and discrete and I wore it for quite a while. It was a big improvement but it still didn’t fit me perfectly so I didn’t wear it as much as I should’ve done. I was chatting to a mate of mine about the merits of helmets and how, maybe we should be wearing them whenever we climb. He had a Petzl Meteor II but again, didn’t like the fit. I tried it on and bizarrely, it fitted me perfectly. He tried my Black Diamond Tracer and strangely, it was a perfect fit for him! So we swapped!
Since then I’ve worn my helmet all the time. And I suppose what I’m trying to say here is that, if we should all consider wearing a helmet when climbing, we need to get one that fits and is comfortable, as this will encourage us to…well, actually wear it! I recently cracked my Meteor II and was quite gutted, so when Black Diamond gave me the opportunity to test the new Vector I was pleased. I’d liked my Tracer but the fit wasn’t quite perfect. So how did I get on with Black Diamond’s new Vector helmet?
Firstly I’d like to say that the fit of the Vector helmet is much improved (for me) from that of my old Tracer. It fits easily as well as my Meteor II meaning I wear it all the time! At 231g (size S/M) it is barely noticeable once on your head and the simple ratchet adjuster system with molded push buttons is easy to use meaning the helmet accommodates hats, hoods etc or nothing at all underneath on those warmer days. The chin strap is comfortable and the buckle is easy to operate in all but the biggest of gloves. When the helmet is stored away the suspension system sits neatly inside.
I felt that the Vector gave good head coverage, vision wasn’t compromised and protection for the back of the head and upper neck seemed excellent. The ventilation holes are plentiful and positioned so that there is no danger of small stones etc, falling vertically into them. As it is a co-molded EPS foam and polycarbonate shell, it isn’t going to take multiple impacts and you do need to treat it with a little bit of care. Throwing my rucksack down on a recent day out, I managed to put a sizeable dent in the top of the Vector as it impacted with a stone on the floor! It will however, save your bacon when it really needs to and I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t care about discarding it and getting a new one after that!
Okay, so far so good. So is there anything I don’t like? Well, just one thing really. The Vector comes in 4 colours at present; orange, cafe, blizzard and black. As I said earlier, ventilation seems to be very good and in warmer in weather, on my test helmet, it might need to be! My Vector is black which to be honest, is not (in my opinion) a practical colour for a climbing helmet. It is going to heat up a lot in hot weather meaning less comfort and possibly less wearing by the user. It may be a fashionable colour but I’d prefer something light and bright that will reflect the sun rather than absorb it. Bright colours look cooler too (in my opinion) and stand out better in photos!
One final feature I’d like to mention are the head lamp clips. The Vector has 4, 2 at the front and 2 at the back and these allow a headtorch to be securely attached. Although I’ve always found this a bit of a job when actually wearing the helmet, something which has been the case with all helmets I’ve owned. Once on though, the torch is going nowhere!
So to conclude: The Vector helmet is a very light, supremely comfortable, climbing helmet. Fit is excellent as are head coverage and ventilation. On the down side I’m not so keen on the black colour-way for practical reasons and at £70, it’s not cheap. A great package from Black Diamond though and definitely a big improvement on the Tracer.
- Find out more about the Black Diamond Vector Helmet and where to buy it at the Black Diamond Website