Rule one of Alpinism: Look cool in the mountains. But it also helps when you’re thinking about what apparel suits the sport you’re pursuing and looking at the more practical factors. It’s no secret that a decent jacket should be waterproof, breathable and lightweight - three deciding factors which determine whether a waterproof makes it out in the day bag. Testing a women’s - specific outer hard shell from Black Diamond, fit needed to be spot on, something that I felt comfortable in and didn’t look overtly feminine or unflattering.
What the manufacturer’s say:
An ultra-light ski touring jacket, the Black Diamond Helio Active is the ultimate shell for fast and light mountain missions. Featuring Gore-Tex® Active technology, this 3-layer jacket is extremely breathable, yet durably waterproof and windproof, making it the ideal solution for high-intensity days in the backcountry.
The Black Diamond Helio Active Shell is built to handle big vert and fast descents during epic days in the backcountry. The jacket’s 3-layer Gore-Tex® Active technology provides ultimate breathability for high-intensity ski touring, while maintaining its durable waterproof/windproof protection. The Helio Active’s Gore-Tex® C-Knit backer adds to the shell’s overall comfort, replacing the usual crispness of a traditional hardshell with a quieter overall construction. Featuring two harness compatible hand pockets and a single-adjust Coheasive hood that’s compatible with a climbing helmet, the Helio Active is ready for alpine and ski mountaineering objectives, while full-length pit zip vents allow for quick temperature regulation for high output activity. An internal drop pocket stores essentials, and the single-adjust Coheasive hem features an internal cord management system, allowing you to keep out unwanted moisture.
- Gore-Tex® 3L Active is durably waterproof/windproof and provides ultimate breathability
- Soft hand Gore-Tex® C-Knit® backer
- Integrated Cohaesive™ cord management system
- Harness compatible hand pockets
- Full-length pit zips
- Fit: Regular
- Size: S-XL
Black Diamond Women’s Helio Gore Active jacket on test:
The Helio Gore Active jacket won me over, with its comfortable, sophisticated alpine fit ( long enough to wear with a harness on and roomy enough to have layers on underneath) that provided suitable protection from the mixed winter conditions. I tested the jacket in the Alps, where the weather conditions varied between cold, icy mornings and hot, sunny conditions where the après-ski hour couldn’t come quick enough. Moving uphill in the mountains where up to 1000m could be gained meant using a jacket that had breathability as one of its key performance functions.
But do you really need this jacket?
Currently, my outdoor clothing rail has a rainbow spectrum of outer hard shell layers for all kinds of weather (including layers for wet days, and for really wet days.) I’d say that the Black Diamond Women’s Helio Gore Active is for days when you don’t expect it to rain, but has the high performance factor should weather turn; the jacket for winter sports when fast and light is key. It’s definitely an addition rather then my main outdoor jacket, but feels luxurious and high performance enough for a test in the Alps. It’ll also take a big hole out of your wallet, retailing at £350.00, which isn’t a price point that would make it a must-have item.
What features stood out?
It doesn’t feel as stiff as other jackets - Many hard shells have a ‘crispness’ that means they don’t quite handle in the same way. The Helio Active Gore Tex C Knit backer means it has a more fluid, fabric like feel to it. It doesn’t sound as loud when you’re wearing it, meaning it’s much nicer to wear if you’re moving quite warm and only wearing a single base-layer underneath it. Perfect for sneaking up behind your friends in a snowball ambush.
Room in the pockets – but only just – The Helio Active had some pretty decent hand pockets, large enough to fit a phone and snacks. The only downside being they’re not quite large enough to fit a map in. There’s a front chest pocket emblazoned with the BD diamond that can niftily opened from the bottom, which is a great little pocket for a lift pass/ compass/ additional snacks to fit in. I’d say that I forgot to use this pocket as the zip is normally vertical rather than horizontal, but a useful pocket should you need to use it.
Weight- The test jacket was a Women’s size Small, weighing in at 340g
Hood - The hood was pretty roomy and could fit a helmut underneath it, with an adjustable toggle on the back holding in place. A stiffened brim on the front of the hood meant rain didn’t get in, but the jacket did let some moisture in the between the top of the jacket and with the hood up.
When it gets hot it’s adjustable - Having Velcro straps on the cuffs meant insulation can be kept in, and a longer sleeve in the arm means it’s less likely to have snow/ ice falling down leading to cold clammy skin. Equally, when moving uphill, rolling the sleeves up means heat can be expelled quickly, and the full-length pit zips allow air to easily pass through to keep the ventilation going.
No more clamminess whilst wearing this jacket- the Integrated Cohaesive™ cord management system (which looks a bit like a little black circle) is a little built in toggle which allows the jacket to be adjusted using one hand around the bottom of the jacket, rather then have a traditionally exposed toggle that can easily break or get caught on the rock. It’s nifty, and feels like it’s been designed for those who are moving fast in the mountains, whether it’s climbing , ski-touring or hiking/ snowshoeing in mind.
Colour isn’t girly - A jacket, which doesn’t have any ‘feminine’ trim, is going to get a big hefty tick of approval. No pink cord, no girly logos or flowers. Just a Black Diamond logo on the top left shoulder blade, and black zippers and pull toggles. The minimalist design with block colours and contrasting black taped zips and cuffs means it feels like a premium product as a result, and something that I’d feel comfortable wearing, without getting any comments that it feels like a product targeted at women only. The jacket is available in coral ( a muted orangey red), slate (light grey with white trim) or ocean ( blue with black trim). Personally, I think Coral feels the most alpine – it’s bright enough without being the same colour as a Stabilo highlighter, and yet catches my eye and wouldn’t look out of place worn in the UK mountains. No one wants to look like a Lego brick after all.
It is Gore-Tex after all – The Black Diamond Women’s Helio is definitely a premium product because it uses Goretex as the heart of the product. Using the C –Knit backer as the lining the jacket has loosened up the traditionally stiffer hardshell fabric.
The three layers of GORE-TEX membrane means the jacket is designed to be super breathable, rated to 25,000mm hydrostatic head and 30,000mm breathability. It uses a technical Black Diamond designed fabric, the catchily named ‘Higos 3L ACT - 30D Nylon Plain Weave 3L Active’ or Gore-Active, meaning when it rains, you can literally see the water droplets beading on the 30D face fabric , which also has a slick dosing of the DWR finish. If the technical names don’t really stick, it’s basically a pretty darn fancy GORE-TEX jacket that’s both lightweight and breathable.
The Black Diamond Women’s Helios is definitely a jacket that offers great protection for Alpine winter sports such as Ski-touring and alpine climbing and is light and functional enough to be brought along for all adventures. It’s a premium jacket that feels well-designed with fast and light at its core ethos, meaning it could come in handy not just in the winter- but could definitely make its way along in the summer as a lightweight climbing hardshell, or a great layer for backpacking.
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