The MTN Lab is a backcountry/mountaineering-specific helmet. As such it's geared toward more active (see: sweaty) skiers who do more than just indulge gravity.
The MTN Lab, slightly out of context in a resort. It's best used as a side and backcountry tool.
As with most helmets, personal fit is going to dictate a great deal of the overall comfort of a helmet. We found the MTN Lab to be a bit quirky fit-wise. The fit is a little wider and shallower than some of our other top-rated helmets, meaning those with more slender or tall heads might find the fit a bit off (or might need to consider sizing up or using a skull cap to personalize the fit). Those of us with more narrow heads seemed to feel like the ear pads rode a little high. That being said, everyone's skull is different, and our testers with more rounded domes seemed to feel right at home in the MTN Lab.
There is a dial-fit system at the back of the helmet to cinch up the inner fit, something that makes a big difference in personalizing your fit. We would definitely recommend testing the fit at your local retailer before purchasing.
Because the fit isn't for everyone, we recommend trying this model on first at a local gear shop, or ordering from an online retailer with a great return policy, before you dream up too many backcountry laps in this helmet. And if you ski with a liner or cap, be sure to wear it when testing for your size and fit.
Salomon decided to forego plush interior padding with this helmet, likely for weight-saving reasons. The result is that this helmet isn't as cush as lots of the competition in this review. When you get a good fit, it feels relatively comfortable until you compare it to a more padded option.
This is where the MTN Lab struggles, or at least requires an assist from its owner. Let's get to the positives first. From the mid-skull down (that includes the ears) the MTN Lab has a soft, warm, Merino wool liner that should suffice on all but the coldest days on the hill (sorry, Jackson Hole in February). Unfortunately, the upper half of the liner is mesh, which is essentially insulation zero.
The MTN Lab is designed with ventilation in mind (see below) much more than warmth. The vents are large and plentiful. Unfortunately, they're also plug-less. No slider to close the vents, no rubber plugs, nothing. If it's dumping out, it's going to pile up in neat little stacks, just the size of the vents, starting on the mesh liner, directly on top of your head. It's perhaps the MTN Lab's greatest flaw, but one that can be mitigated by wearing a skull cap (or another hat of your choice) underneath the helmet. Also, knowing that the backcountry hardcore is a group of innovators and DIYers, there is any number of creative ways you could plug the vents when necessary using things you likely carry in your backcountry pack already (duct tape, anyone?).
The two liners, summer on left, winter on right that come with the Salomon MTN Lab.
Now, should you have to do these things? No. We just know that regular users of the backcountry tend to be both willing and able to improvise and that, to them, duct tape is a badge of honor. It's also possible that the folks at Salomon are so committed to backcountry safety in this, their backcountry-specific, helmet, that they don't want you out in the backcountry when it's stormy and the avalanche danger is at Defcon 1. Ideally, you're out making skin tracks under bluebird skies, and much of this section of the review is irrelevant.
The permanently-open vents, make the MTN Lab a bit cool on a storm day. We suggest using a skull cap or other liner when there's precip in the forecast.
Now that we've dispensed with the negatives, let's get to where the MTN Lab shines. This is easily one of the most ventilated helmets on the market, and a top dog in our group of contenders. You've got two vents in the front, forehead-level; six on the top, three back on both sides; and four more at the back of the helmet flanking the goggle strap.
To say that the ventilation in the MTN Lab is extraordinary isn't hyperbole. We're confident you could ski the mean streets of Phoenix in August and feel well vented (okay, that's hyperbole). The mesh-topped liner also adds to the incredible ventilation, and if you'd still like to pair it down further, you can remove the liner completely to exorcize the Merino wool liner and ear flaps, at which point the MTN Lab starts to look like a climbing helmet hybrid.
The MTN Lab, while phenomenally well-vented, can't close those same vents, making it susceptible to the elements.
We also appreciate that the liner can be removed for washing. Backcountry users know that after a few trips, just about anything that's been up and down a few laps is going to get funky. It's nice to know you can clean your helmet just like you (hopefully) clean your socks.
With the liner removed, the MTN Lab becomes more like a climbing helmet.
If you clean your liners (as we would recommend on occasion), hang or lay flat to dry. No need to risk shrinking up your liner to save a few hours.
This is another category that the MTN Lab shines in. At a featherweight 11 oz. (size Medium), it's pushing just how lightweight we a ski helmet can possibly be while still offering the necessary protection. This is another area where it's obvious that Salomon is going all-in on a backcountry-specific helmet. The fight against gravity as you skin up a mountain is battle enough. Every ounce you can leave at home makes your journey quicker and easier, which should make you happier. Whether you're a committed weight-weenie, right down to the uber-light ski setup, or you just want your ascents to be easier, the MTN Lab won't hold you back.
There is nothing revolutionary about the goggle fit of the MTN Lab. It's not going to be the reason you buy it, nor is it going to make you reconsider your purchase. There is a bungee strap that pulls down from the back and hooks to keep your goggle safely secured on the helmet. The goggles we tested didn't leave any noticeable gaps or obvious points of discomfort.
One point to add is that Salomon, in its commitment to all things backcountry with this helmet, did include two headlamp retainers (one on either side) to keep your headlamp fixed firmly on the front of the helmet and the straps from riding up on the rounded edges.
The headlamp retainer seems like a minor feature, but actually does a great job keeping your headlamp from slipping off the top of the helmet.
We were curious, so we tried headlamps on a few other models. Sure enough, with a little bit of action (which you could certainly expect skinning uphill and skiing downhill) they tended to slide up and off the top of the helmet. While mostly a niche use of this Salomon helmet, it's smart, and it works. You'll be the envy of the skin line on those dark morning ascents and evening laps. This is an awesome feature but limited in usefulness to a smaller group of people.
Style may be in the eye of the beholder, but in our opinion, the MTN Lab is a smooth-looking helmet. It's not loud or showy; it's classic. For those style-conscious backcountry skiers, it should match up one way or another to the rest of your gear.
This may be a bit of a misnomer in that the word "applications" is plural. The MTN Lab is designed for one purpose: Backcountry skiing. That's where it's going to excel. Would it work at the resort? Sure, on warm, spring days especially without precipitation. But that's not what it was built for. The features of the MTN Lab were designed around the needs of backcountry skiers and mountaineers. The minimalist weight, the borderline excessive venting, climbing safety rating, and the small, niche touches that mostly apply to backcountry travelers make this a helmet to be taken beyond the boundary lines of your local ski hill.
At $200, the MTN Lab isn't the cheapest helmet we tested, but it might be the most discipline-specific. If you're a committed backcountry skier, the price shouldn't scare you off. The MTN Lab offers features built around being in the backcountry more than any other helmet we tested. If you are geared similarly toward being in the backcountry, this helmet should have your attention. Given the increased danger of backcountry travel, a bump in price in just about any backcountry-specific gear is understandable. You can also consider that, to a degree, you're buying two helmets in one. It's a ski helmet; it's a mountaineering helmet; it's both. That's more than your standard, cheaper, ski helmet offers, and that's value.
The MTN Lab. Lightweight, ventilated, and with some features that will be enjoyed most by the touring crowd.
The MTN Lab is built for a specific purpose and a specific crowd. It's not for everyone, but for those who spend most or all of their days providing their own uphill ride, it's a great helmet.