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Hands-on Gear Review
Black Diamond Half Dome Review
Cons: Heavy, hot.
Bottom line: An durable and inexpensive helmet that is easy to adjust.
The Black Diamond Half Dome is our Best Buy Award winner, just edging out the Petzl Elios for the best value in a climbing helmet. These helmets are similar and scored very close in our tests. If you like a rear click-wheel adjustment, then this is the helmet for you. If click-wheels aren't your thing, then the Elios is just $5 more and uses dual push buttons to adjust tightness. While hardshell helmets have improved a lot since years past, they are still a lot heavier than the lightweight foam helmets on the markets. If you want something inexpensive that will last forever, then the Half Dome is a great bet, but overall we prefer a lighter foam helmet for most applications. Check out our Editors' Choice winner, the Mammut Wall Rider, for a great example of the new types of helmets available.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Black Diamond Half Dome is a hardshell plastic helmet which is very durable compared to the rest of the field. It is available in five different colors and two sizes: S/M (48-57 cm) and M/L (55-61.5 cm).
When it comes to helmets, if it's not comfortable, you might be less likely to wear it, so we consider this a key testing metrics. Unfortunately, and like all other hardshell helmets that we tested, the Black Diamond Half Dome just wasn't as comfortable as the lighter foam helmets on the market today.
Compared to other hardshell helmets, we found it slightly less comfortable than the Petzl Elios. The Half Dome uses dense foam padding covered in a smooth material to pad the inside. The smooth material is very comfortable on the forehead, though this combination of materials absorbed less sweat than the soft fleece lining found on the Elios and most other helmets. It can be removed and washed if needed though.
This helmet tightens with a click-wheel, which, though easy to adjust, makes it easy to overtighten the helmet and also creates a pressure spot at the back of your head. It also makes it virtually impossible to wear a ponytail comfortably. If you have a lot of hair, and are a lady, check out the Petzl Elia, the only helmet that is ponytail compatible. Men can wear it too, of course, though it does have some feminine styling and colors that you might not appreciate. Note that the Half Dome does come in a "women's" version, which is just the same helmet with purple straps.
This helmet earned top marks for adjustability, both for the ease of adjustment and the range that we could adjust it.
The click-wheel is coated in a soft rubbery material which allows for quick and easy adjustment with or without gloves on. The diameter of the wheel found on this helmet is bigger than the one on the CAMP USA Storm, making it easier to operate with gloves on. It also allows for a huge range of adjustability in the size M/L that we tested, and an entire family with different sized heads were able to wear this model, from big daddy all the way down to a six-year old.
The wheel can be raised or lowered depending on your preference and occipital bone formation, and the V yoke of the chin strap is also adjustable. This helps you adjust a helmet's chins strap from front to back in order to get a snug fit without choking the wearer, and also provides more lateral stability. If you find your helmet hanging off the side of your head, you need to tighten these down. Unfortunately, in an effort to shave weight many of the lighter foam helmets, like the Black Diamond Vapor, forgo this adjustment option.
This helmet weighed 12.1 ounces on our digital scale, which makes it the second heaviest helmet in our test. Only the CAMP USA Armour is heavier at 12.8 ounces.
If you're specifically looking for a hardshell helmet but want something lighter, then the Petzl Elios is your best bet at "only" 11.4 ounces. But, if you really want to see what weight savings are possible, then try out the Petzl Sirocco, our Top Pick for Lightweight. This helmet weighs only 6.1 ounces, fully half the weight of the Half Dome.
Like the other hardshell helmets we tested, the Half Dome is on the hot side and scored low in the ventilation test. Though the sides of the helmet are suspended away from the head, airflow through the helmet is at a minimum.
The shell has just seven small vents, which is nothing compared to the Black Diamond Vapor, which has 21 large ones and the best ventilation in our tests. One plus to the lack of openings in the shell would be ice or alpine climbing in very wet or rainy conditions. This shell design will fend off more water and keep you warmer than a more open helmet, though we usually prefer to let a jacket hood do this job.
Black Diamond states that the headlamp clips on this model are "the most secure headlamp attachments on the market," and we concur!
Like most of the other helmets we tested, this helmet uses four plastic clips positioned around the helmet to hold a headlamp. The clips on the Half Dome are some of the easiest to get the strap under and are also some of the most secure due to a small lip molded into the underside of the clip to prevent the strap from sliding down. The clips on the Petzl Elios sit in a divot in the helmet, which makes it challenging to slide the headlamp strap under. If you are debating between those two helmets and know that you'll be climbing with a headlamp on (either by design or necessity), then let this be the deciding factor for you.
This is one of the most durable helmets we tested. Due to the thicker plastic shell and smaller amount of fragile polystyrene, hardshell helmets tend to be more durable and longer lasting than lightweight foam helmets, and the Half Dome is just that.
The foam on the inside is protected from punctures or abrasions and does not have any areas likely to fail from flexing the outer shell. The rear adjustment band is hinged, which allows the band to collapse within the shell to protect it when packing. The yoke and chin strap hardware is also simple but durable. Black Diamond offers a one year warranty on all of their helmets, while Petzl helmets have a three year warranty. We doubt that either of the warranties would cover anything outside of materials or workmanship, so this may not make much difference for a helmet. What we did notice is that the Petzl Elios showed more cosmetic wear faster than the Half Dome.
This helmet is appropriate for all types of climbing, from cragging to big walling, alpine or ice. Anybody looking for a great deal that will last a long time should consider this helmet.
At $60, the Half Dome is the least expensive helmet and the best value available in a climbing helmet. Since it is likely the most durable climbing helmet we tested, it should last for a very long time and we are sure you will get your money's worth out of it. The Mammut El Cap retails for $70, but the Half Dome is a much better helmet in our estimation. The Petzl Elios is equally as good as the Half Dome, but costs $5 more. Lightweight foam helmets start at nearly twice the price, at $100, and range up to $140. While these helmets can weigh as little as half as much as the Half Dome, they are not as durable and will not last as long.
The Black Diamond Half Dome is comfortable, durable, and an excellent value at $60. It scored very similarly to the Petzl Elios in our tests, but costs $5 less. We think that either one of these helmets are excellent options in the hardshell category. The main drawback to either of them is the extra weight compared to a lightweight foam helmet, but they are both cheaper and more durable.
— Cam McKenzie Ring & Luke Lydiard
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