The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of outdoor gear

Black Diamond Helio 180 Review

They suffer none of the special problems we’ve encountered in other ultralight bindings; for this, they earn our Top Pick award.
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $575 List | $574.95 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Super light, adjustable for length, proven design, widely available
Cons:  No brakes, limited release adjustment, no heel lifters
Manufacturer:   Black Diamond
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 22, 2019
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63
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#6 of 12
  • Touring Performance - 30% 6
  • Downhill performance - 25% 3
  • Weight - 25% 9
  • Ease of Use - 15% 7
  • Durability - 5% 9

Our Verdict

These are our favorite ultralight AT ski bindings. They are reliable, durable, simple, adjustable for different boots, and are widely available. For ultralight use, the Helio 180 earns our Top Pick award. If your binding preferences are simple, your choice should be simple too. Go with the Helio 180 for ultralight, reliable performance. Heavier bindings will have more "bells and whistles" and will offer somewhat greater downhill performance and more sophisticated release value. However, we can say on real good authority that the Helio 180 will ski any terrain and condition you wish to tackle.


Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award   
Price $574.95 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
$550 List$448.95 at Backcountry$439.00 at Amazon
Compare at 3 sellers
$428.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Super light, adjustable for length, proven design, widely availableLight, solid, just the right set of featuresLight, innovative downhill performanceLight, simple, advanced features for the weight.Solid, reliable ski bindings, excellent toe piece entry and easy heel lifter transitions
Cons No brakes, limited release adjustment, no heel liftersNot ideal for truly hard-charging downhill skiersunsophisticated heel lifters, untested aftermarket brakeCrampon mount and brakes not included, heavier than closest competitionNo ski brake option, heavier than bindings with the same or more features
Bottom Line They suffer none of the special problems we’ve encountered in other ultralight bindings; for this, they earn our Top Pick award.This minimalist binding has exactly what most of you should want, and nothing you don’t need.Excellent bindings for all-around human powered skiing.A solid, simple contender with significantly more features than bindings just a little lighter.These Canadian bindings use a now-proven overall design and include the latest of the greatest usability benefits; we only wish they were lighter.
Rating Categories Black Diamond Helio 180 Atomic Backland Tour Marker Alpinist 12 G3 Zed 12 G3 Ion LT 12
Touring Performance (30%)
10
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6
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
8
10
0
9
Downhill Performance (25%)
10
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3
10
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6
10
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7
10
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7
10
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5
Weight (25%)
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
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8
10
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6
10
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5
Ease Of Use (15%)
10
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7
10
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8
10
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7
10
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8
10
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9
Durability (5%)
10
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9
10
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9
10
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7
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6
10
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8
Total Scores (%)
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10
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10
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10
10
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10
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10
Specs Black Diamond... Atomic Backland Tour Marker Alpinist 12 G3 Zed 12 G3 Ion LT 12
Weight (pounds for pair) 0.8 1.26 1.18 1.6 2.13
Release value range 6, 8, 10 "Men", "Women", "Expert" 6 to 12 5 to 12 5 to 12
Stack height. (mm. average of toe and heel pin height) 33 37 36 41 46
Toe/Heel Delta. (mm difference in height between heel pins and toe pins) 7.5 10 3 4 12.5
Brake options No Brakes 80, 90, 100, 110, 120 90, 105,115 mm 85, 100, 115, 130 mm No brakes
ISO/TUV Certified? No No No No No
Ski Crampon compatible? Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/ B&D style. Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/ B&D style. Yes. "Standard" Dynafit/ B&D Style With aftermarket part. Only G3 brand. With aftermarket part. Only G3 brand.

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Black Diamond Helio 180 is a super light "skimo race" style binding for the masses. For many skiers in many situations, these ultralight all-around bindings are just the ticket. As compared to your "typical" tech bindings, some functionality and performance are limited. However, for many users, these compromises are worth the weight savings, as a pair of these bindings is literally less than one-third the weight of the heaviest tech bindings available. Compared to the "typical" tech bindings we see people using, the Helio 180 is well under half the weight. There are other ultralight bindings on the market, and we are working to test all those that are relevant and proven.

Performance Comparison


Beautiful powder skiing with lightweight gear. When the snow is perfect  gear only needs to be adequate in performance. Lighter gear allows you to sample more of that perfect snow.
Beautiful powder skiing with lightweight gear. When the snow is perfect, gear only needs to be adequate in performance. Lighter gear allows you to sample more of that perfect snow.

Touring Performance


Touring performance is related to, but separate from, weight. In assessing touring performance, we look at pivot range, propensity for icing, and heel lifters. The minimalist construction of the Helio 180 doesn't collect much ice and allows for full toe pivot range. However, there is only one heel elevation option. The heel elevator on the Helio 180 is roughly comparable to a lower version of most bindings' middle level. You can turn the Helio heel piece 180 degrees for a theoretical "flat on ski mode", but your boot heel catches on the binding with nearly every step. It isn't really a viable option.


The fixed heel elevation will likely be something that keeps you from first considering the Helio 180. We suggest (and have tested, for decades) that modern light boots with great ankle articulation, when paired with even the most rudimentary of practiced and intentional skinning technique, negate the need for more elevation or elevation adjustment than the Helio 180 and other race bindings provide.

Touring mode on the Helio bindings. When you turn the heel piece sideways your boot can reach the ski  but it binds against the long side of the silver u-spring.
Touring mode on the Helio bindings. When you turn the heel piece sideways your boot can reach the ski, but it binds against the long side of the silver u-spring.

Downhill Performance


Users of the Helio 180 are generally non-discerning about the nuances of downhill performance. All that matters to these fans of the light and fast is that their boot stays on the ski. That is the case with the Helio. If you ski hard and fast enough to qualify for your own TGR film segment, you might notice some limitations to the Helio, and you might need that film crew and first aid on hand for the potential consequences of such energetic skiing in the backcountry.


We notice that the boot/ski connection is less robust with the Helio 180 than with the sturdier bindings. Many of these other bindings have more elaborate heel pieces that push your boot down and forward onto the ski surface (essentially…), lending a more connected feel and performance. Additionally, these heavier bindings have greater range and function of their release characteristics than the Helio 180. With the Top Pick Helio, you have to decide, at the time of purchase, if you want release value of 6, 8, or 10. Note, also, that these "release values" are not recognized by the DIN third-party oversight. The Helio is not certified in any way to release; it will release, but it is not certified to do so. The release value numbers can be roughly correlated to one another, but are not intended to be used as "DIN" numbers.

The minimalist toe piece of the Helio does what you need it to without much complication.
The minimalist toe piece of the Helio does what you need it to without much complication.

Ease of Use


Simplicity generally correlates to "ease of use". In this way, the Helio is pretty dang good. Stepping in and out is no different than any basic tech binding. Your heel level choice is made for you; there are no brakes to ice up. Simple, reliable, and easy to use.


It is in terms of ease of use that the Helio 180 edges ahead of the closest competitor. While testing the Helio, we had no issues with function. Early in our testing of a close competitor, we had one of the non Helio bindings become stuck onto a tester's boot. This tester literally kept the ski on his foot for over 10 miles of expedition exit and had to take the whole ski/boot/binding combination indoors with a hammer and punch to get it apart. There was no field fix possible. We had no such problem with the Helio 180. Otherwise, race-style bindings are similar in many, many ways.

The red flap on the top of the Helio heel simply prevents you from stepping down into downhill mode. This also serves to elevate your heel slightly while in tour mode. It is the only useful heel elevation option on these bindings.
The red flap on the top of the Helio heel simply prevents you from stepping down into downhill mode. This also serves to elevate your heel slightly while in tour mode. It is the only useful heel elevation option on these bindings.

Weight


It is right in the name. These are super light bindings. The "180" refers to the weight, in grams, of one complete Helio binding. Our scales verify this. We weighed each of our tested bindings to be 181 grams, including mounting screws; this is ridiculously light. Out of the box, they seem more like jewelry or the parts to a miniature race car than ski bindings.


This Top Pick Winner is ultralight and is in good company among its peers. In our test, the remaining bindings are all quite a bit heavier. "Full function" bindings (featuring three heel risers, brakes, and adjustable release) are at least twice the weight of the Helio 180.

Minimalist bindings are great for maximum skiing. If skiing is good  more skiing is better. For more backcountry skiing  lighter uphill gear. Save weight with the Top Pick BD Helio 180.
Minimalist bindings are great for maximum skiing. If skiing is good, more skiing is better. For more backcountry skiing, lighter uphill gear. Save weight with the Top Pick BD Helio 180.

Durability


We have had no problems with the Helio 180. 2019 is the first year of this exact model, which should raise some eyebrows. However, we know that the Helio 180 is simply Black Diamond's re-badging of the proven ATK brand bindings. In screening the market and doing our pre-purchase research, we learned that ATK bindings have a durability track record in line with other skimo race-style bindings.


We continue to test all the bindings in our review. Our rigorous use has revealed no issues with the Helio 180, but we will keep trying.

The Helio heel piece in downhill mode. Simple. You can see here some of the range of adjustment available. Without the adjustment plate  the binding is lighter and a different color and called the "Helio 145".
The Helio heel piece in downhill mode. Simple. You can see here some of the range of adjustment available. Without the adjustment plate, the binding is lighter and a different color and called the "Helio 145".

Value


There are certainly less expensive bindings on the market. Our Best Buy winner, at retail, is much cheaper than the Helio. The Helio asking price is more in line with the real robust bindings we tested; per ounce, the Helio is super expensive. For each gram you save, though, the value might be pretty darn good. Essentially, if you want bindings like this, the Helio 180 isn't prohibitively expensive. If you can spare some ounces, the Best Buy will be far easier on the wallet.

Four springs in a toe piece used to be typical. Marker  with the Kingpin  ramped it up to six. BD/ATK cuts it down to two. (We also have the Marker Alpinist binding in testing now. Its toe piece only contains two springs).
Four springs in a toe piece used to be typical. Marker, with the Kingpin, ramped it up to six. BD/ATK cuts it down to two. (We also have the Marker Alpinist binding in testing now. Its toe piece only contains two springs).

Conclusion


Your choice of these bindings is purely your own. Realize that there are some real limitations (release sophistication) and some not-so-bad limitations (heel lifters, brakes). Care in use will mitigate all of these issues. In closely assessing AT ski bindings, we have to look at a whole range of performance attributes. There are many different types of users and many different performance criteria. Most people will be looking at a variety of criteria in their shopping process. Our overall scoring rubric reflects this.

However, we must acknowledge that there is a large and growing subset of the backcountry skiing population whose binding criteria are pretty simple: "What is the lightest binding I can get that holds my foot on the ski for touring up and skiing down?" Release characteristics, touring heel elevators, and boot-retention "elasticity" for this growing, experienced, and thoughtful subset of the population simply aren't issues they concern themselves with; for them, the Helio 180 is the best choice. In fact, if you are one of those users and can commit to one model and size of boots for the life of your skis, the untested Black Diamond Helio 145 is the same as the 180 without length adjustment.


Jediah Porter