Eastern Mountain Sports recently provided me with a pair of EMS Men’s Helix Bib Pants for the guiding work I do out of our North Conway, NH climbing school location. The fact these were given to me have not influenced my review of them in anyway, and the opinions below are my honest impressions of these bibs!
It’s hard to find a bib that is good for everything in winter. For ice climbing I want the range of motion soft shell pants give me. For winter mountaineering on Mount Washington I want the bombproof windproof-ness of a hard shell. For back-country skiing I want both mobility and bombproof protection, plus a fit that works over bulkier ski boots. EMS has almost hit the bulls-eye with these bib pants!
Fit: I’m 5′ 9″, 178lbs, with a 34 inch waist so according to the size chart I am a medium in these. The first time I tried them on they felt a little snug. However after over a half dozen ski tours and a couple Mount Washington ascents I’ve found the Polartec NeoShell fabric really does stretch unlike the traditional hard-shell bibs I have worn. They’re less baggy than my older EMS System III 20k bibs, and I feel much less boxy and more technical.
Breath-ability: While I don’t fully understand the claim “Uses convection rather than diffusion to promote more efficient moisture vapor transport”, I can report these breath extremely well. So well that while skinning uphill for 2 hours in regular winter conditions I have yet to take advantage of the full side zips to let any steam escape. Granted, it’s has been a bit unseasonably cold the last few trips, but I notice no moisture getting trapped under these at the end of the day.
Windproofness: I wore these for my coldest wind chill ever ascent of Mount Washington just a week ago. How cold? Try -65 degrees!
With nothing but heavy weight long underwear (EMS Power Stretch Pants) and some thermal boxer briefs underneath they kept me comfortable during a rather long ascent in wicked conditions.
Features: Full length waterproof side zippers make these go on and off easy, but I especially like the built-in internal gaiter that easy fits and snaps secure over my ski boot. Other faves are the small chest pocket the holds my iPhone and the zippered hand pockets that can fit my avalanche beacon.
Improvement: The only thing keeping these from getting a perfect score for me is I need a thigh cargo pocket big enough to hold an AIARE Field Book (7in x 4.5in) for quick access during a ski tour. If a thigh pocket doesn’t work with the side zippers then the chest pocket could be deepened to accommodate the field book that more and more back-country skiers will be carrying.
Bottom Line: These are an excellent technical bib at a great price! I’ll rate them based on primary use…
Ice Climbing 7/10
Back-country Skiing 8/10