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Hands-on Gear Review

Smith Variance Review


Ski Helmet

Smith Variance
Price:   Varies from $138 - $180 online  —  Compare at 6 sellers
Pros:  Warm and well made.
Cons:  Non-removable ear pieces.
Editors' Rating:     
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Manufacturer:   Smith Optics

Overview

In early season cold and stormy testing, the Variance led the field for its comfortable fit, stylie look, and very warm, tensioned ear pieces. As the season wore on into spring and warmer conditions, however, the vents in the shell ultimately couldn't compete for air-flow comfort with the more modular construction of the Smith Vantage, which pulled ahead for the win. In overall scoring, the Variance is tied for second place with our Best Buy winning Bern Baker HardHat. For the additional price of the Smith model, you get both European and American safety certifications. The Bern is not certified at all.

Updates for 2016
For the 16-17 season the Variance helmet is now available with a MIPS liner for $220, compared to the version without for $180. To check out the new colors for this year, keep scrolling!

RELATED: Our complete review of ski helmets

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Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings

Review by:
Jediah Porter
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Saturday
November 26, 2016

New Colors for 2016


Alongside White, Black, Charcoal, and Navy, the Variance is now offered in Solar Charcoal, Reactor Black, and Ranger, shown left to right. Smith has confirmed that these new colors and the MIPS liner option are the only changes for the Variance this year.
Smith Variance
Smith Variance
Smith Variance
 

Hands-On Review


The Smith Variance is a solidly constructed, comfortable helmet with ear pieces that hug the wearer closer and more warmly than any other helmet in our test.

The Smith Variance in action on Mammoth Mountain. With its tight ear covers and sound construction  the Variance is great for cold days and cold climates. Mammoth hardly qualifies.
The Smith Variance in action on Mammoth Mountain. With its tight ear covers and sound construction, the Variance is great for cold days and cold climates. Mammoth hardly qualifies.

Fit and Comfort


Like all Smith helmets, the Variance best fits those with heads on the round end of the spectrum. If you have an intermediate to long-oval head, the Variance will exert some pressure on your aft- and fore-head. The Boa adjustment system pulls the harness snugly around heads with some variety of shape, but those with truly long oval heads should check out something like the Giro Seam for a better fit. Otherwise, the smooth lining and soft straps keep the Variance comfortable against even bare heads.

The Smith Variance in action. For those with round oval heads  you won't find a better fit.
The Smith Variance in action. For those with round oval heads, you won't find a better fit.

Weight and Bulk


The Variance, in terms of weight, is right in the middle of our tested spectrum, but its in-molded construction is low profile and sleek. Most medium to large hooded jackets will fit over this model, although the snug ear pieces and weather-ready design of the Variance doesn't require additional hood protection like other helmets we tested.

Warmth


The Variance is tied with the Giro Seam for warmth. Primarily, this is because of the well-tensioned ear pieces on each of these products. If a helmet is cold and drafty, this can be mainly traced to the ear pieces. Not coincidentally, the Seam and Variance are the two brain buckets in our test with ear pieces that are not removable. Permanently fixing the ear covers to the helmets allows the respective manufacturers to tension them more securely than if they were removable.

Ventilation


While the Variance has a high number of adjustable shell vents, the fact that each is quite small plus the far more significant fixed nature of the ear pieces decreases its ventilation effect. The most readily vented helmets in our test have shell vents plus removable ear pieces. Notably, for a few extra dollars, you can upgrade to our Editors' Choice Smith Vantage and get more holes and removable ear pieces.

Goggle Compatibility


As one of the few companies that makes both helmets and goggles, Smith designs their products to work together. You'll do best with Smith goggles accompanying your Variance helmet. However, many models from other manufacturers will also work.

White helmets inspire equal parts love and loathing. Some like the neutrality  while others crave more spice in the color of their headgear. Thankfully the Variance comes in a wide range of colors.
White helmets inspire equal parts love and loathing. Some like the neutrality, while others crave more spice in the color of their headgear. Thankfully the Variance comes in a wide range of colors.

Style


The matte color scheme, small visor, and low-profile, head-hugging construction endeared the Variance to our testing team. In many ways, it is the most neutral and appealing helmet in our test.

Best Applications


This is an excellent, all-around helmet for riding in cold climates. Treat the in-molded construction with care and note that other products will be far better at venting in warmer conditions.

Value


The Variance is a price-point high performance helmet. For more money you get a few more features on our Editors' Choice Smith Vantage. As a widely available product, you are apt to find excellent sales on the Variance. As a certified helmet in a classic design and shape, we recommend the Variance to budget minded skier and riders.

Conclusion


The Variance's warm and snug design immediately endeared it to our early-season testing team. In cold and stormy conditions it remained at the top of our list. As the winter wore on into spring, however, and venting became more important, it's cousin the Vantage gradually took over the top spot. If you primarily ride and ski in cold conditions, and have a round-ish head profile, you will not do better than the Smith Variance.

Other Versions and Accessories


Smith Vantage
Smith Vantage
  • Cost - $220
  • Editors' Choice Award Winner for ski helmets
  • Warm and well ventilated
  • Ranked high in all of our rating metrics
Jediah Porter

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: November 26, 2016
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:     (0.0)
Rating Distribution
1 Total Ratings
5 star: 0%  (0)
4 star: 100%  (1)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)


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