Smith Session MIPS Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Well ventilated, adjustable visor, MIPS, good coverage
Cons: Sizing runs a little big
Manufacturer: Smith Optics
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Session falls roughly in the middle of Smith's range of mountain bike helmets. This helmet more or less took the place of the Rover MIPS, which is now only offered without MIPS, as their mid-range MIPS equipped mountain bike lid. The Session is a versatile helmet that proved to be a tester favorite for its excellent combination of head protection, comfort, ventilation, and adjustable features. It can't quite match the highest rated models in our test, but it is highly regarded among our testers.
Protection is the primary function of a mountain bike helmet and the Session provides a high level of it. The Session's coverage is quite good, with a shell design that comes down relatively low on the back of the head. It doesn't have quite the same level of coverage as the POC Tectal or Specialized Ambush, both of which come slightly lower on both the temples and back of the head, but it's pretty close.
The Session also employs Smith's Koroyd, a proprietary impact absorption technology, strategically placed on both sides of the helmet. The Koroyd looks a lot like a honeycomb and Smith claims it absorbs more energy upon impact than traditional materials while still maintaining airflow. The Session employs significantly less of the Koroyd than the new Forefront 2 and has significantly better ventilation as a result.
The Session comes equipped with a MIPS liner, the industry standard for reducing the rotational forces of impacts. Other brands, like POC and Leatt, have developed their own impact protection systems, but Smith has chosen to stick with the proven performance of the MIPS system.
Comfort is somewhat subjective, but our testers found the Session to be quite comfortable. The Session has a great shape with a length and width that will fit the shape of most riders heads well. It is very middle of the road in this regard and doesn't put any extra pressure on any part of the head. It doesn't have quite as deep of a fit as the POC Tectal or Giro Chronicle, but it doesn't feel like it sits high on the head either. It is minimally padded, but the padding is placed strategically from the temples across the brow, with just a little on the top of the head, only in the places your head makes contact with the shell and MIPS liner.
The rest of the fit is dialed in with the Vaporlock fit system which works well and provides a great range of adjustment. The Vaporlock system is similar to the size adjustments on most other modern helmets, with a dial at the back of the head that pulls tension evenly on both sides. It cradles the occipital lobe and can be adjusted up or down on a four position internal ladder to personalize the fit. The front attachment points of the Vaporlock system also have three positions of fore and aft adjustment by the temples.
Much like its more expensive sibling, the Forefront 2, one of the places the Session lost ground to the competition in comfort is the straps. The straps work well and are reasonably comfortable, but testers found it difficult to get the straps to lay completely flat. It is easy enough to adjust the locking strap splitter to avoid contact with the ears, but the nature of the design is such that they never sit perfectly flat. We feel the strap design on the POC Tectal Race SPIN, with a wider fixed yoke under the ear, is superior and more comfortable.
It is also worth noting that the sizing of the Session seems to run a little bit large. One of our testers who has a chronically size large head fit into our medium test model perfectly. Several reviews found online also back up this assessment of the sizing.
We are very impressed by the Session's ventilation. It is one of the highest-scoring models in this metric. A total of 15 vents, 5 in the front, 5 in the middle, and 5 in the back, keep the air flowing to keep your head cool. The front vents are large and scoop lots of air that runs from front to back in the helmet's air channels. Testers found the Session to keep their heads cooler than most other helmets in our test selection, even on hot, sunny California summer days.
The Specialized Ambush with ANGi and 100% Altec ended up topping the charts for ventilation, with massive vents and internal air channels that move lots of air to keep you cool. The Troy Lee A2 MIPS also edges in front of the Session for ventilation with an air scooping vent design. While we found the ventilation on the new Forefront 2 to work much better than the original version, it still can't match the A/C like flow of the Session.
The Session is a fully-featured mountain bike helmet. We've already mentioned many of this helmet's protective and comfort features in the sections above, like MIPS, Koroyd, the Vaprofit adjustment, and the straps, but it also has an adjustable visor.
The adjustable visor has three positions and is quickly and easily adjusted. It attaches by the temples and rotates, clicking into three positions — down, middle, and all the way up. This adjustable visor feature makes the Session compatible with goggles for the enduro and downhill crowd. Testers liked the range of adjustment and preferred it over the visor on the POC Tectal Race SPIN that requires the loosening of a screw to adjust. The visor on the new Forefront 2 proved to be the tester favorite, however, with a great length, sturdy feel, and metal hardware at the hinges.
Channels in the outermost vents on the front of the Session are also designed to fit the ear stems of sunglasses to hold them securely on your helmet when not in use. A helmet storage bag is also included.
Weighing in at 379 grams or 13.36oz in the size medium we tested, the Session is competitively lightweight. This weight is very close to several other models we tested, like the Troy Lee A2 MIPS and the Leatt DBX 3.0. Our Editors' Choice Award winner, the Specialized Ambush with ANGi weighs in just 29 grams lighter. For comparison, the Oakley DRT5 is one of the heavier models we tested at 476 grams and offers a similar level of protection and comfort as the Session.
So far, the Session appears to be a very durable helmet. The in-mold "Aerocore" foam is covered almost completely by the hard plastic external shell. The shell and foam fit together perfectly with no gaps or foam exposed in damage-prone areas. The outer shell is two pieces, upper and lower halves, that come together with a very clean seam in the middle of the helmet. The Vaporfit size adjustment has and continues to work well, and the straps and padding show no signs of wear other than some salty sweat stains. The three position visor remains perfectly functional and securely locks into its positions.
We feel the Session is a great value considering the protection, comfort, features, and ventilation it offers. We loved this helmet, and it costs a fair amount less than many of the top performers in this review.
Smith did a great job designing the Session helmet. This versatile lid is great for all types of riding, with an outstanding combination of protection, comfort, features, and ventilation at a reasonable price. If you're looking for a new mountain bike helmet, we don't think you can go wrong with the Session.
Other Versions and Accessories
Smith makes a range of helmets for mountain and road biking for both men and women. The Session comes in three sizes, Small (51-55cm), Medium (55-59cm), and Large (59-62cm). It is available in a variety of colors to suit a range of tastes or match your kit.
— Jeremy Benson