Retailing for a very low $60, the Black Diamond Half Dome is far and away the best value you can get in a climbing helmet. While it isn't exceptionally light or nearly as comfortable as the very best helmets in this review, it also costs less than half the price of lightweight EPP foam helmets such as our Editors' Choice award-winning Petzl Sirocco. Constructed of a thick, hard polycarbonate shell with EPS foam on the inside, the Half Dome is easily one of the most durable helmets you can buy, ensuring that you don't need to baby it in the pack or on the wall. It is also one of the most easily adjustable, featuring a simple to use wheel on the back of the head that tightens or loosens a plastic band by merely spinning it one way or another. While it isn't the lightest or most comfortable helmet you can buy, the low price tag makes it a compelling choice for those on a budget, and a logical winner of our Best Bang for the Buck award.
Black Diamond Half Dome Review
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Affordable, hard plastic shell is very durable, wide range of adjustability, easy to adjust
Cons: Heavy, not super comfortable, not much ventilation, not easy to adjust v-yoke around ears
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Black Diamond has updated the Half Dome helmet in 2019, making minor tweaks that add to adjustability and make it slightly lower profile, but do little to change the weight. Women will be thrilled to learn that there is now a women's specific Half Dome helmet, which we have not tested yet, but that purports to be shaped like a woman's head and allow for comfortable and easy ponytail escape in the back. The updates made to this version of the Half Dome include adding more ventilation, changing the design and look of the headlamp clips, which still work just as efficiently, and significantly shrinking the size of the adjustment wheel on the back of the head. To us, it still feels very similar to the old Half Dome, and we don't think you need to run out and buy a new one just because there's been an update, wait until you need to instead. The most similar helmet in this review to the Half Dome is the Petzl Boreo, which is both lighter and a bit more comfortable according to the majority of our testers, but isn't nearly as adjustable and costs $10 more. If you are in the market for a durable and inexpensive helmet, we also highly recommend checking that one out.
If you were to try this helmet on all by itself, without any others to compare it to like we do in our testing, we are sure you would consider it to be quite comfortable. Its interior foam lining cushions the head from above and in the front, and there is an adjustable harness system in the back that holds the helmet firmly in place. The helmet is nicely shaped like a head, ensuring there aren't pressure points where there don't need to be.
That said, there are a couple of areas of discomfort that we can't ignore. The first one is the weight, which we account for below, but plays a significant role in this helmet being less enjoyable to wear than much lighter versions such as the Mammut Wall Rider. It's also really warm, which is a ventilation issue but affects comfort significantly, especially on hot days. Lastly, the chin strap v-yoke does not sit as comfortably against our head as other helmets, such as the Petzl Meteor. All of these factors led us to be very cognizant of the fact we were wearing a helmet, which is unfortunate because it made us, and some other testers, less excited or willing to do so, defeating the purpose of the helmet in the first place.
The Half Dome is the most easily adjustable helmet of any in this review, and also has the widest range of adjustment, ensuring that even people with very small heads can wear a large size helmet. The helmet adjusts by a sliding plastic band on the back of the head, tightened and loosened by spinning a wheel one way or the other with one hand. This wheel is smaller and easier to turn than previous versions of this helmet, making it even more user-friendly. The large range of adjustability makes this helmet a great choice for programs, guiding companies, or even simply sharing one helmet between a group of friends at the crag.
While the size itself is a cinch to adjust, we found the v-yoke system, which is the webbing that goes around the ears and attaches to the chin strap, a real pain in comparison to the design on the Petzl Sirocco or other Petzl helmets. It takes a lot of fiddling to move the chin strap into a different location if you feel too much pressure against your throat. It's also easy to over tighten the rear band, something easy to fix, but which can lead to a headache after a couple of hours.
Our size large helmet weighs 12.7 ounces when measured on our independent scale, which is a hair heavier than the previous version. This helmet is the heaviest that we tested.
While this may not seem very heavy, our experience over many years of testing says that compared to the competition it adds a significant amount of fatigue and discomfort to a long day by wearing a helmet this heavy. We firmly believe in lightening your climbing equipment whenever possible, but especially so for helmets. If you are in doubt, try on the Petzl Meteor, our Best Bang for the Buck for lightweight helmets, which costs only $40 more, before purchasing, and see if you don't instantly notice a difference.
While the new update to this helmet adds a bit more ventilation holes than the last version had, it is still the least ventilated and hottest helmet in this review. Five relatively small holes adorn each side of the helmet, with one more in the back, and none on the front.
Our testers immediately noticed their heads sweating when wearing this helmet on even mildly warm days, and once again this affects the comfort level, as well as the willingness to don it at all times. The Black Diamond Vapor is the most well-ventilated helmet that we tested, but most of the other foam options also allow for far more air flow.
The Half Dome has four plastic clips that easily hold a headlamp in place according to the most "classic" design for this feature. While we have come to appreciate the elastic cord and hook design on the backs of the Mammut Wall Rider MIPS and Petzl Meteor, among others, because they can also hold ski goggles, the Half Dome is not a helmet we would wear on ski mountaineering missions. Therefore, the lack of this feature is pretty much irrelevant.
The clips are straightforward to slide a headlamp band up underneath, and also have small teeth on the ends that effectively hold the bands in place. The Petzl Boreo has a very similar design, and we feel that these two helmets are the easiest to augment with a headlamp.
The Half Dome has a heavy-duty, hard plastic shell with foam on the inside, and is far more durable than the lighter weight, thin, polycarbonate shells that protect the foam on helmets like the Black Diamond Vector. This design has proven to be among the most durable for long term use.
Important to note is that we are not commenting or judging, nor recommending, the durability or ability for this helmet to take repeated blows from rocks, ice, or other projectiles, although it does pass CE and UIAA specifications for these purposes. We are only saying that compared to the competition, you can really toss this helmet around without worrying about denting or dinging it up, and it can also likely take far smaller pebbles to the Dome with no adverse effects than light foam helmets.
The Half Dome is a good helmet for beginners who are looking to save some money when purchasing a lot of climbing gear. It is ideal for single pitch cragging, whether sport, trad, or top rope. It also works well for ice climbing. However, due to its heaviness and lack of ventilation, it's not one we recommend for long days in the mountains, alpine climbing, or even multi-pitch adventures. We would not use this helmet for skiing or mountaineering. It is also not the best choice for hard sending. For these purposes, we recommend checking out any number of lighter helmets detailed in this review.
This helmet only costs $60 retail, making it a real bargain. Since it is durable and affordable, we think it presents great value, but also point out that more pleasant and comfortable helmets don't cost that much more ($40), considering you will likely own and use the helmet for many years.
The Black Diamond Half Dome may be the single most popular climbing helmet in the United States. This popularity is surely due to the low price and the catchy name. We think it presents excellent value for beginners looking to get into the game without spending a fortune on equipment and is thus worthy of our Best Bang for the Buck award.
— Andy Wellman