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

Smith Variance Review

A top scoring helmet without any major flaws.
Smith Variance
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $180 List | $146.73 at REI
Compare prices at 4 resellers
Pros:  Well made, proven over the years, good ventilation, sleek
Cons:  Heavy
Manufacturer:   Smith Optics
By Sam Piper ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Feb 10, 2017
  • Share this article:
75
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 12
  • Comfort - 25% 8
  • Warmth - 25% 7
  • Ventilation - 20% 8
  • Weight - 10% 5
  • Goggle Compatibility - 10% 8
  • Style - 10% 8

Our Verdict

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 protective, there isn't much this helmet can't do. While we prefer the superior Smith Vantage, which pulled ahead in a few categories such as warmth and ventilation, we wouldn't steer anyone away from the Variance, unless weight is your most critical factor.


Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

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 Smith Variance taking flight.
The Smith Variance taking flight.

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.

Warmth


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.

Our testers found it easy to control the temps inside the Variance  whether in frigid storm days or bluebird mornings in the backcountry.
Our testers found it easy to control the temps inside the Variance, whether in frigid storm days or bluebird mornings in the backcountry.

Ventilation


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 our 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.

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 tips toward the heavier end of the spectrum, 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 Salomon MTN Lab, Smith Maze and POC Fornix.

The Variance isn't lightweight in comparison to other models we tested  but most of our testers find it completely acceptable for resort riding and even single-day touring.
The Variance isn't lightweight in comparison to other models we tested, but most of our testers find it completely acceptable for resort riding and even single-day touring.

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.

These Oakley A Frame 2.0 goggles fit nicely under the brim of the Variance.
These Oakley A Frame 2.0 goggles fit nicely under the brim of the Variance.

Style


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.

Value


Although the Variance is on the upper end of the price scale ($180), it is a quality helmet that will please almost any user.

No matter how we approached the mountain  we found very little to complain about with the Smith Variance atop our domes.
No matter how we approached the mountain, we found very little to complain about with the Smith Variance atop our domes.

Conclusion


Warm and snug. Ventilated and stylish. Well constructed and protective. 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 and a tad more weight. Minor details.


Sam Piper