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

Smith Variance Review

A top scoring helmet.
Smith Variance
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $180 List | $108.00 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Well made, proven over the years
Cons:  Heavy
Manufacturer:   Smith Optics
By Sam Piper ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Feb 10, 2017
  • Share this article:

#5 of 11
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Warmth - 25% 7
  • Ventilation - 20% 8
  • Weight - 10% 6
  • Goggle Compatibility - 10% 8
  • Style - 10% 8

The Skinny

A long standing favorite for helmet aficionados, the Variance helmet is living proof that Smith knows how to produce a superior product. Stylish, warm, comfortable, and safe, there isn't much this helmet can't do. The only Smith helmet in its style that outperformed it is the Smith Vantage, which pulled ahead in a few categories such as warmth and ventilation.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

Hands-On Review

Well-constructed hybrid shell and comfortable, with just the right amount of frills. Smith has been making this helmet for as long as we can remember, reminding us that if it ain't broke, don't fix it. It is also available with MIPS technology, and comes with antimicrobial lining for sweaty heads.

Performance Comparison

The visor is a bit bigger than the Vantage's and you can notice that the vents start a bit further back on the helmet.
The visor is a bit bigger than the Vantage's and you can notice that the vents start a bit further back on the helmet.

Fit and Comfort

As with other Smith helmets, the Variance will fit rounder heads better, but with its BOA adjustment system does a great job at fitting different shaped heads. If the BOA can't cut it and you need a more oval shaped helmet, the Giro Zone might be the key for a similarly-styled helmet. And if you're looking for a similar fit in a simpler helmet, we recommend that you check out our award winner, the Smith Maze.

A telling view from the side. This helmet is tried and true with years of experience. Great vent placement  as seen here  second only to the Vantage.
A telling view from the side. This helmet is tried and true with years of experience. Great vent placement, as seen here, second only to the Vantage.

Weight and Bulk

The Variance is the second heaviest helmet in our review, so if weight is super important to you this might not be your best choice. That being said, our testers had a hard time telling the difference of an ounce or two between helmets. The Variance is stylish and streamlined, a shape that Smith does well and hasn't changed in years. If weight is super important to you, we tested several lighter helmets, such as the Smith Maze and POC Fornix.


Our testers were pleased with the warmth of the Variance. We wore it with bare heads on warmer days in Tahoe and with a buff underneath on a frigid day at Bridger Bowl. The BOA system allows for size adjustment, making fitting a thin beanie or buff under the helmet easy. One thing we did realize, however, is that no matter how well a helmet fits, no matter how well the goggles integrate, there are going to be some chilly spots on the coldest, windiest of days. The only helmet that we tested that was warmer was our Editor's Choice Smith Vantage, but the Smith Maze actually tied for warmth, despite its open vents.


With 18 vents vs the Smith Vantage's 21 vents, the Variance does not vent quite as well as its more expensive counterpart. That being said, the Variance vents open and close, helping with heat regulation and adding warmth when it's super cold outside. In this testers opinion, the ability to open and close vents should be a baseline feature in any helmet. The Giro Zone is comparable in ventilation to the Variance, so if the Smith fit isn't quite right, give the Giro a chance.

Goggle Compatibility

Smith and POC goggles tested with the Variance sealed and seated well against the helmet. During single digit temperatures in Montana, one tester could feel slight air leakage, but that might have been a product of the temps, not the helmet. Compared to the Maze and Vantage, the Variance seemed like it had a bit more open space at the temples of the head.


Smith knows it has a winner with the Variance. The color choices, sleek profile, and a small visor make for a natural, appealing look. If you like the visored look, we also tested the Smith Vantage and the Bern Team Baker, which also have visors.

Best Applications

When you buy a Smith product, you can expect quality. The Variance is a great all-around helmet for any style of skiing in any climate.


Although the Variance is on the upper end of the price scale, it is a quality helmet that will please almost any user. Keep in mind that for a bit more you could purchase the Smith Vantage, which has a few more bells and whistles and more ventilation, or you could simplify things for a bit less coin with the Giro Ledge or the Smith Maze.

In the above photo, we get a good view of the front of both the Variance (left) and the Vantage. It's easy to see that the Vantage's vents are slightly bigger and placed in a more ideal location to create airflow.


Warm and snug. Safe and stylish. Well constructed and safe. This is hands down one of the nicest helmets on the market, its only drawback being its slight lack of ventilation in comparison to the Vantage.

Sam Piper