Black Diamond Vapor Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Lightweight, great ventilation.
Cons: Fragile, chin strap doesn't adjust forward, removable headlamp clips are easy to lose or forget.
Manufacturer: Black Diamond
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Vapor is the lightest climbing helmet in Black Diamond's lineup. It weighs seven ounces in the M/L size that we tested, and features an EPS foam liner and a polycarbonate shell. Other components include carbon rods and Kevlar to provide extra structural integrity around all the vents. The S/M size range is 53-59 cm, and the M/L size is 58-63 cm.
Overall the Vapor is a very comfortable helmet due to its light weight, interior padding, and minimal hardware. On the inside of the helmet, there is a thin but adequate headband and a small amount of padding at the top. The rear adjustment band is both secure and comfortable once fitted properly. Depending on the fit though, the chin strap might bite into the front of your neck. The chin strap attaches permanently to the V-shaped yoke created by the front and back straps. Since it cannot adjust, if you are on the smaller end of the size range, it'll cinch down under your chin as opposed to the side, which is not very comfortable.
This helmet uses a rigid rear adjustment band to cradle the occipital area and push your head into the front sweatband. The rigid band is very similar to the one found on other BD helmets. We found it best to fully expand the band before putting the helmet on, and then tighten it down with two hands. The band can collapse and stows in the helmet when not in use.
The Vapor comes in two sizes. We tested the larger size and found it to have a slightly larger fit than the Petzl models, so it's nice that there is a smaller size option. As we mentioned above though, the V-yoke for the chin strap can only occupy one fixed position because it is sewn in place. This fact limits its adjustability a bit, and we found that helmets with this configuration were more prone to lateral movement if we didn't have a perfect fit in them. Skimping out on that buckle might save half an ounce on the overall weight, but it does allow you to dial the fit in a bit better.
There's no question that this is a light helmet, and everyone who tried it on "oohed" and "aahed" over how light it feels. The Vapor is the lightest helmet available from Black Diamond, and the second lightest helmet we've tested. At seven ounces, it's about one ounce heavier than our Editors' Choice Award winner. That's approximately the weight of a small carabiner, but across the head, it's hard to distinguish. We noticed the difference more when comparing it to a hard-shell ABS helmet.
Due to the plethora of vents, the Vapor has the best ventilation of all of the helmets we tested, and we recommend it as the best helmet for hot days. If you frequently climb in hot weather (summer El Cap routes, anyone?), check out the Blizzard white colorway which will reflect the most sun.
The overall shape of the helmet is fairly deep and round. The rear and sides of the helmet have almost as much open space as material, but there aren't any vents in the front. That said, the inside foam is recessed away from the forehead which promotes air flow to the side vents.
The Vapor is the only helmet we know of that has removable headlamp clips. The four clips come with the package when you purchase the helmet, but usually, do not come attached. If you buy this helmet, we highly recommend you pop the clips into place immediately and never remove them. Otherwise, we think it's likely that the clips will get lost or you will forget to install them before bringing a headlamp on a climb. We think it's hard enough to remember a headlamp, and this feature is just asking for trouble. Black Diamond says that removing the clips reduces snagging on slings and clothing. While we've experienced our entire helmet stuck in squeeze chimneys before, we can't ever remember having a problem with headlamp clips hanging up.
Each clip attaches to the helmet via three prongs which snap into inserts in the foam. Each clip is different, so pay attention to which one is which. Initially, we were a little worried that the clips might pop out, but they are quite difficult to remove, which is a good thing. We think the clip is more likely to break than detach accidentally.
This helmet is constructed primarily from lightweight polystyrene (EPS) covered by a thin polycarbonate (PC) shell. Our test helmet got a lot of small creases and dents in the outer shell from relatively small impacts. We think that this is due to the polycarbonate shell being particularly thin. This helmet also uses Kevlar and carbon rods molded into the foam to add strength to it. We suspect that these reinforcements were due to the large number and size of the vents.
We couldn't put an entire season's worth of climbing on this one helmet, so in addition to our field tests, we also researched a lot of online user reviews and talked to people that have been using this helmet extensively. The consensus is that it gets a lot of cosmetic dings quickly and that there's no ideal way to carry it except on your head. Black Diamond replied to durability complaints on their website with this statement: "We do clearly state in the instructions not to store this helmet inside of a pack." So we didn't put it in our pack but attached it on the outside, and then the second we put the pack down it got all dimpled! Considering the way most climbers treat their gear, it's a little weird to think that we have to baby our helmet, which is what's supposed to be durable enough to protect our head from an impact. If you're looking for something that can take a beating, get stuffed in the bottom of a pack, or dropped a couple of feet without breaking, you might want to check out an ABS shell helmet instead.
The Black Diamond Vapor is among the most expensive helmets we tested. When comparing super lightweight options, it doesn't offer the absolute best value because others performed a bit better.
The Black Diamond Vapor is a well-ventilated helmet that sacrifices a bit of durability and adjustability for weight savings. It is expensive and offers almost no advantage, except an ounce of weight, over other slightly less expensive helmets.
— Cam McKenzie Ring