Representing their Scandinavian heritage, Helly Hansen brings a very warm jacket to the market. Like the Arc'teryx Macai, this is an expensive jacket insulated with both down and synthetic insulation. The two jackets feel and perform quite similarly. The Helly Hansen gets the nod on price and more stain-resistant shell fabric while the Macai's weather protection and fit pulls it ahead overall.
Jason testing the Helly Hansen at Mammoth Mountain. The Enigma, aside from it's hefty weight and hearty insulation, virtually disappears on the body. Range of motion is complete and fabrics are comfortable and nonrestrictive.
The Helly Hansen Enigma is a wicked warm jacket. The only other jacket in our review that kept testers warmer is the modular Columbia Whirlibird Interchange and Best Buy The North Face Vortex Triclimate. Plentiful insulation in a close-fitting and well-designed package makes the Enigma the jacket for the dedicated high-latitude skier. Skiers and riders frequenting more temperate climates, but prone to being cold should also check out the Enigma.
Helly Hansen's proprietary Helly Tech Professional shell fabric does the job. Our sprinkler and fore-arm rub test revealed an amount of wet through that could be described as normal. The excellent hood and collar kept out driving snow and wind. The plethora of pockets and vents, adding up to 8 external zippers are all cleverly recessed into folds in the shell material. In our sprinkler check none of these zippers leaked when closed properly. However, given that there are so many zippers, including 3 on the back of the jacket, it was quite easy for our distracted testers to inadvertently leave one or more open. Additionally, the hefty insulation of the Enigma masked the effect of any drafts, further lengthening the time these zippers could be left open. While the vents and pockets do not prove to be very effective at transmitting wind, in our testing abundant snow and moisture did enter inadvertently open outer zippers. Detail-oriented users will have no problem with this stated issue, but those prone to absent-mindedness may do better with a simpler piece, with flaps as back-up coverage to opened zippers. Finally, sealing out the cold, wet and wind, the Enigma has well executed and comfortable internal stretchy cuffs. Each cuff is equipped with a thumb-hole and layers smoothly beneath gloves of all sorts.
Detail view of the Enigma's cuffs. We love big velcro and gusseted cuffs with internal stretchy thumb-looped cuffs. And the Enigma delivers.
On paper, the Helly Hansen seems to offer impressive ventilation. In addition to the front main zipper (really, your first line of offense when it comes to venting any jacket) the Enigma has four zippered vents. That is twice as many as any other jacket in the review. However, reality falls short of the double promise. In our testing, the fact that these vent zippers are short, backed by mesh, and embedded in plentifully insulated parts of the jacket meant that little to no cooling air seemed to get to our bodies.
Comparison of the effect of posture on the efficacy of the Helly Hansen Enigma back vents. In both images the zippers are open, but only when the wearer exaggerates his posture do the vents open enough to allow air in.
Additionally, Helly Hansen's attention-grabbing Down Flow construction is intended to assist in moving air around the torso. In use, little air flow was noticed by our testers.
Internal view of the Helly Hansen Enigma's "Down Flow" technology. these bubbles of insulation, in theory, hold the back of the jacket away from the body and allow for airflow while adding insulation. We noticed no difference.
The Enigma is a skiers jacket. Detailing, features, fit and fashion all scream skier. This jacket has all the bells and whistles, executed in remarkable fashion. It is a small thing, but the Helly Hansen Enigma's well-positioned goggle wipe really rounds out the piece. The only jacket in our test that seemed more purpose-built for skiers was the Spyder Titan.
Fit and Comfort
For the price, one expects the Enigma to feel luxurious. And it does. Fabric textures are tuned to their intended usage, fit allows an impressive range of motion, and construction at crucial interfaces like the front of the collar and the cuffs is tight, smooth and clean. Notably, one bald tester especially appreciated the smooth and soft lycra-like fabric inside the hood. On bare-headed missions around town, pulling up the hood provided a warm and welcoming sensory experience.
Close fit, plentiful insulation, smooth fabrics, and unique recessed zippers give the Helly Hansen Enigma a unique, understated look. That look sends a clear message, but sends it subtly. Described as "Euro", the Helly Hansen will certainly be passed over by the freeride crowd. It would surprise our testers if any one person liked both the Helly Hansen Enigma and the Armada Nelson.
If you have dreams of skiing Lake Louise, Norway, or Antarctica, this could be the jacket for you. In short, it is very warm.
Our testers have a hard time discussing value of a $800 jacket. This is a pull-no-punches piece of luxury ski and snowboard equipment. It sure seems like it will last, but so does the much less expensive Patagonia Rubicon Rider.
Helly Hansen is known for cold-climate fishing gear. You've seen their classic orange rubber suits on reality show fisherman. The Enigma jacket is just as weather resistant, but accomplishes this in a comfortable, soft-faced design. This comfort requires some costly engineering and design, but if you ski in very cold climates, it could be worthwhile.