Reviews You Can Rely On

Smith Variance Review

A top scoring helmet without any major flaws
smith variance ski helmet review
Smith Variance
Credit: Smith
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $180 List
Pros:  Well made, proven over the years, good ventilation, sleek
Cons:  Heavy
Manufacturer:   Smith Optics
By Sam Piper ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Feb 10, 2017
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
  • Comfort - 25% 8.0
  • Warmth - 25% 7.0
  • Ventilation - 20% 8.0
  • Weight - 10% 5.0
  • Goggle Compatibility - 10% 8.0
  • Style - 10% 8.0

Our Verdict

Smith discontinued the Variance helmet.

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.

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

smith variance ski helmet review - the smith variance taking flight.
The Smith Variance taking flight.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

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.


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.

smith variance ski helmet review - our testers found it easy to control the temps inside the variance...
Our testers found it easy to control the temps inside the Variance, whether in frigid storm days or bluebird mornings in the backcountry.
Credit: Steven Tata


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.

smith variance ski helmet review - a telling view from the side. this helmet is tried and true with...
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.

smith variance ski helmet review - the variance isn't lightweight in comparison to other models we...
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.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman

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 variance ski helmet review - these oakley a frame 2.0 goggles fit nicely under the brim of the...
These Oakley A Frame 2.0 goggles fit nicely under the brim of the Variance.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman


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.

smith variance ski helmet review - no matter how we approached the mountain, we found very little to...
No matter how we approached the mountain, we found very little to complain about with the Smith Variance atop our domes.
Credit: Jenna Ammerman


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
You Might Also Like

Ad-free. Influence-free. Powered by Testing.

GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.

Learn More