The Black Diamond Helio Active Pant is an ultra-light shell that is best used for fast moving backcountry adventures. The Helio Active uses a 3 layer technology that provides breathability and a weatherproof shell at under a pound. While these pants are excellent for backcountry skiing or other winter alpine adventures, they achieve their lightweight status by trimming down to the bare essentials. Of the features they do have, the snow gaiters are tough to fit over ski boots and the pockets are minimal. While the pants held up fine on a normal snowy day, testers would choose a different pant for use during an intense winter storm when weatherproofness is of utmost importance. Overall, these are a great pant for fast moving backcountry adventures, but lack in the versatility seen in some of the other pants in this test.
The Black Diamond Helio Active is a shell layer using a Gore-tex Active 3-layer fabric, yet weigh only 11 ounces. The Gore-tex Active fabric proved a lot more pliable than typical Gore-tex material and comfortable to wear while actively skiing uphill. The Helio Active is by far the thinnest pant that was tested and therefore very packable so it’s easy to toss in a backpack for alpine adventures. The main downfall of these pants is that the thin material doesn’t give the impression of a snow layer that would withstand heavy abuse. While testers only used it for one season and therefore can’t attest much to the pant’s durability, the thin construction seems inevitably less durable than a thicker pant with multiple layers of higher denier fabric to go through.
By far the best feature of the Helio Active is how light it is compared to the typical ski pant. This is in part due to the Gore-tex Active fabric but also due to its minimal features. It comes only with the necessary features such as two zippered thigh pockets, partial leg zips, and low profile stretch snow gaiters. However, the leg zips are only useful for putting on over ski boots rather than being a venting system typically seen in snow pants. In addition, the snow gaiters are a bit tight to buckle over a typical boot. Instead of using the typical velcro tabs to adjust the fit, the Helio Active has a low profile removable belt and belt loops. Some testers liked this belt since it can be removed to trim weight while others preferred the built-in velcro tabs of other ski pants. Lastly, the Helio Active has a built-in RECCO reflector as a safety measure to assist in a quicker recovery should an avalanche happen while skiing at the resort. Seeing as these pants are more tailored to the backcountry user the RECCO reflector seems a bit unnecessary though of course it never hurts to have it.
The Helio Active claims that it can keep the user both warm and dry and it succeeds in one aspect more than the other. Considering that it has no insulation it doesn’t do much to keep testers warm, but a base layer can easily help achieve this goal and allows users to customize how much insulation they want based on the temperature and their expected level of energy output. The Helio Active holds up fine on snowy days but wasn’t testers top choice when trying to charge on a big powder day. Testers also found that snow can get in a bit easier with this lightweight pant that doesn’t sit as high on the waist.
The Helio Active is solely a pant shell with no insulation and therefore is best used as a backcountry ski pant. Since the pant on its own doesn’t provide any warmth, testers only used it while wearing a base layer underneath. While these pants are not best suited for resort skiing, they are perfect for a day of skinning quickly uphill. The Helio Active Gore-tex Active technology is meant to provide plenty of breathability during active times yet provide a waterproof and windproof barrier when inactive. Testers thought it succeeded wonderfully at this purpose on their backcountry excursions when the top priority was going fast and therefore exerted a lot of energy.
The Helio Active is considered a regular fit by Black Diamond but testers found it to be a bit tight when wearing over base layers. The pant cuffs were especially hard to snap over a ski boot and testers thought that this feature could have been designed slightly better so that it was easier to put on. However, it is a very comfortable pant, especially when wearing in the backcountry, a perfect layer to move uphill without feeling constricted.
Style & Value
Testers best described the Helio Active as a functional and practical style. It has no bells and whistles or any extra pieces of flair that add to its style. While it doesn’t stand out as a unique piece of ski wear, the Helio Active is great for the no-frills skier who cares more about functionality in the backcountry rather than the flashiest piece of ski apparel. At $349 these pants are middle of the line in terms of price though their main selling point is weight. Testers thought that some of the other pants tested were higher value unless having the lightest ski pant out there is really the top priority.