The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket is a bombproof technical super light three layer hard shell suitable for everything from hard ice climbing to alpine touring and Skimo.
Over the last 3 months I have tested this jacket climbing above tree-line on Mount Washington, leading Grade 5 waterfall ice, and taking laps on the Sherburne ski trail. Its versatility and durability combined with its extreme pack-ability make this a solid contender in best hard-shells of 2016/17.
The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket uses GORE-TEX® 3L, 30d nylon plain-weave face with nylon C-Knit™ backer and DWR (95 gsm, 100% nylon). The nylon C-Knit™ backer supposedly creates a “quieter construction”. While it may feel a little softer than an old stiff style GORE-TEX® jacket it definitely does not feel like a soft-shell jacket, but that is a sacrifice one makes when they want 100% water and wind proof protection. After a few thousand feet of back-country skiing, a half dozen or more ice pitches, and 2-3 days above tree-line on Washington the jacket is showing virtually no signs of wear.
Definitely one of the key features of this streamlined jacket is how light and small it packs. Black Diamond lists 370 grams for a size medium. My size large was 386 grams, or 13 5/8 ounces. I could crush the piece down to about a 6 inch by 6 inch by 3 inch package, easily small enough to forget about it in your pack until that snow switches over to freezing rain or the next pitch climbs out a drippy shower-fest.
The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket is designed to be worn with a harness and omits hand pockets to save weight and increase pack-ability. While Black Diamonds size charts put me in a size large I would definitely prefer a size medium in this piece. For reference I am 5′ 9″ 180 pounds with a 42 inch chest. The large has a lot of space in the chest and I feel it would better fit a 44+ inch chest or someone closer to 200 pounds. Sleeve length was slightly long on the large but could be shortened with the Velcro wrist straps. Length was perfect for tucking into my harness and the hood easily fit over my ski helmet. Plenty of room in the shoulders for long reaches over the head. A medium would be perfect for me.
The Black Diamond Helio Shell Jacket sports a streamlined minimalist design to keep the weight down and the pack-ability up. Full length pit zips, two large chest pockets, velcro cuffs, and an innovative and effective “Coheasive” single pull draw-cord system at both the hem and the hood leave little to talk about here, and that’s ok. The alpinist or skimo customer this jacket is designed for is not looking for a ton of bells and whistles. This shell has what it needs and nothing it doesn’t.
I’ll admit I am often reluctant to pack a hard shell jacket on most my adventures. I prefer the superior breath-ability of soft shell jackets for the high output sports I pursue. However having the hard-shell packed away as a piece of insurance is a wise move when conditions change and things become a bit wetter or windier than you were expecting.
The extreme pack-ability and less than a pound specifications of a true hard-shell make the Black Diamond Helio Alpine Shell a solid piece of insurance to carry on just about any mountain adventure.
Disclaimer: Black Diamond provided the sample for the purpose of review. The opinions above are solely mine. Affiliate links above help support this blog.