Black Diamond Vision MIPS Review
Cons: Not super light, pricey, black absorbs heat from sun
Manufacturer: Black Diamond Equipment
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Black Diamond Vision MIPS was released in 2020 and quickly impressed us with its comfort and protection attributes. It uses EPP foam all around the head, which is more durable than EPS, with some ability to rebound from impact. This foam is designed to protect the head against side impacts, which might happen if you slam your head into the wall while falling. On the top of the helmet is an EPS foam plate, which still provides better absorption from falling objects, although often cracks or deforms when absorbing the blow. Protecting it is a rather large ABS plastic shell, which is far more resilient than the very thin polycarbonate shells that Black Diamond helmet wearers will be familiar with, which easily dent and deform with minimal impacts.
While the thing we like best about this helmet is the MIPS Brain Protection System found on the inside, which has been shown in studies to be effective at reducing the likelihood of rotational impacts to the brain. It is also possible to buy the helmet without this feature if you like. The Black Diamond Vision is almost two ounces lighter, comes in a couple of different colors besides just black (and also a women's version), and will save you a not-insignificant amount of money. Seeing as how we wear a helmet specifically to protect our brains from a concussion, TBI, or other possible injuries while climbing, we think the added weight and money is well worth it to get the best technology possible in the MIPS version.
Comfort is always going to be a subjective thing to discuss, so recognize that how comfortable a particular helmet is for you depends on the size and shape of your head. For us, this helmet was the most comfortable one we have worn from a fit standpoint. It has a rather large shape, which is neither overly oblong nor super round, but does fit deep, so the helmet rests down over the head, rather than looking like an ice cream cone sitting on top. (Note: our head tester has a large head, so it may still look like an ice cream cone on him!) The spacious fit is easily adjusted with a comfortable ratcheting plastic tension bar in the back, and we love how there is enough space within the helmet to wear a thin and lightweight beanie or even a visor.
The yellow MIPS harness sits inside the helmet right against the foam, and then there are a couple of low profile, soft foam pads that cushion your head against the helmet. Like in most foam helmets, these pads stay in place with velcro and can be removed to be washed or to adjust their position. They can also be flipped upside down if one side gets too sweaty and gross.
This helmet comes in two different sizes, so be sure to match yourself up with the right one for your head size. It also has a ratcheting tension bar made of plastic in the back, which is adjustable from each side. This system is exactly the same as is found in the BD Vapor and Vector but is not quite as easy to use as the wheel on the back of the Half Dome. Adjustment is easily made by putting the helmet on the head and then squeezing the two ends together along the band until the desired tightness is reached.
While the adjustment system for head fit is easy and comfortable, there is, unfortunately, no adjustment on the v-yoke straps that sit around the ears. The chin strap is sewn directly to the v-yoke, which is lower profile and potentially less annoying but offers not potential adjustment if the chin strap happens to rest too tightly against your neck. The chin strap itself is adjustable for length.
Our size M/L test helmet weighed in at 9.7 ounces on our independent scale, which was slightly lighter than the 9.8 ounces listed on BD's website. For a foam helmet, this is fairly heavy, and to be honest, we were surprised to find that it weighed that much because, after many days wearing it and lending it out, everyone had commented on how light it felt. It is still many ounces lighter than the heaviest hardshell helmets you will find in this review.
The reason for the extra weight is likely due to many things. For one, the MIPS harness weighs something, and indeed this helmet is nearly two ounces heavier than the non-MIPS Vision helmet. While made of lightweight plastic, the ratcheting adjustment system still also weighs more than simple thin webbing straps, as most foam helmets use. Finally, the ABS plastic outer protection is more robust than polycarbonate and covers a larger percentage of the helmet than the protective shells on other foam options. All of these things add up to a bit more weight, but also offer compelling advantages that are likely worth a couple of extra ounces.
This helmet has 13 vents, with six being found on each side and one centered in the middle on the back. It does not have any vents right on the front of the helmet, a spot that we find it extra nice to feel the breeze hitting us, but the two farthest forward vents do rest against the sides of the temples, helping you make calm decisions in the heat of the moment. The vents on this helmet are large, and there is a lot of space given to ventilation, making this an effective choice.
Some users have had concerns that this helmet could get hot because it is only available in black. We climbed with it in the sun many times and never found our brains to be cooking due to its dark color. We also must point out that it is made of heavily insulating foam, so the concern from trapping heat inside is far, far greater than the idea that heat absorbed on the outside might migrate into the helmet and make you uncomfortable. Frankly, if you are way too hot while climbing in the sun, it's probably because you chose to climb in the hot sun, and not the fault of your helmet. So while jet black may not be the most optimal color, its role in this helmet's overall performance, or perceived lack thereof, is extremely minimal.
A headlamp can be attached to the helmet using the two clips on the front specifically for this purpose, combined with an elastic strap in the back that hooks over the headlamp band. We think this is the best system because it is easier and works well with ski goggles, which you might be wearing either while ice climbing, mountaineering, or backcountry skiing.
The two clips on the front are recessed into a foam cut out so that they don't stick out from the helmet's shell where they can catch slings, clothing, or branches. They don't have a ton of inherent tension, so it is effortless to slide the band up under them, in stark contrast to some models that are so tight it is challenging to get the headlamp on.
Black Diamond calls this their most durable foam helmet. While it probably won't stand up to the same amount of daily abuse as a completely hardshell helmet like the Half Dome will, the fact is that over half of the helmet is covered in a hard ABS plastic shell, which is highly protective and durable. This ABS shell is much harder than the thin polycarbonate shell covering other BD helmets, which end up super dented in almost no time. While ours has a few scratches, there are certainly no dents.
The foam exposed on the outside of the helmet is entirely EPP (Expanded Polypropelene), which is more durable and resilient than EPS. If you abuse the helmet inside your pack, it may end up slightly nicked or scratched, but the EPP foam squishes, rather than cracks, like EPS foam. We are always sure to store the helmet on the top of our packs, where it won't get squished amongst all the hardware, and never sit on it.
The price of this helmet is elevated, which can be expected due to the inclusion of very new to climbing helmet technology — the MIPS BPS system. However, it is barely any more expensive than some other helmets that don't include this technology, and is a fair bit cheaper at retail prices than the only other helmet currently available that does. Since it provides better protection than any other climbing helmet, we think it is an excellent value at a fair price.
The Black Diamond Vision MIPS is an excellent climbing helmet that offers more protection than any other currently on the market. It combines EPP foam on the sides for impacts when falling, with EPS foam on top for impacts from falling objects, with an ABS shell for increased protection and durability, and pairs it with the MIPS BPS system, which can reduce rotational forces on your brain from an impact. This is the best technology you can buy in a climbing helmet. It is also comfortable and adjustable, so there is no reason not to make this your first choice.
— Andy Wellman