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Atlas Helium Trail Review

This snowshoe does everything well and has a low price, making it a great value
Atlas Helium Trail
Credit: Atlas
Best Buy Award
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Price:  $140 List | Check Price at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Inexpensive, easy to use, versatile
Cons:  Unimpressive traction
Manufacturer:   Atlas Snowshoes
By Ian McEleney ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jan 12, 2022
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69
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#4 of 11
  • Flotation - 30% 6.0
  • Traction - 25% 6.0
  • Stride Ergonomics - 15% 8.0
  • Ease of Use - 15% 9.0
  • Bindings - 15% 7.0

Our Verdict

The Atlas Helium Trail takes home an award for being high value and high performing. The bindings are quite easy to use — even our first-timers had no problems. The binding distributes pressure across the foot really well, so these are comfortable with stiff mountaineering or snowboard boots and softer hiking boots alike. The bindings are also secure — we had no problems with them coming off unexpectedly — and flotation was what we expect from a model of this size. Traction was a minor let-down; several times, these slipped where similar models didn't. Nevertheless, we think the all-around performance and low price make this a good choice for most hikers who want to get out on snowshoes.

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Atlas Helium Trail
This Product
Atlas Helium Trail
Awards Best Buy Award     
Price Check Price at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
Check Price at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
Check Price at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
Check Price at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$180 List
Check Price at Backcountry
Overall Score Sort Icon
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Pros Inexpensive, easy to use, versatileGood traction, easy-to-use and comfortable bindingFully featured for steep and technical useInexpensive, simple, reliableExcellent binding security, good traction, decent flotation
Cons Unimpressive tractionMediocre flotation for the length, strapped binding attachment isn't idealLoud decking and bulky harnessLoud decking on crusty snowBinding straps can be a little fiddly or uncomfortable with soft footwear
Bottom Line This snowshoe does everything well and has a low price, making it a great valueThis is a great traditional snowshoe that's outshone in a few areas by newer designsThis contender provides excellent traction, heel lifts, a comfortable binding, and moderate weightThis molded snowshoe is reliable, inexpensive, offers widespread appeal, and is compatible with add-on tails for improved flotationWe like this fairly-priced snowshoe for everything but the most technical terrain
Rating Categories Atlas Helium Trail Atlas Montane Tubbs Flex VRT MSR Evo MSR Revo Trail
Flotation (30%)
6.0
5.0
5.0
5.0
6.0
Traction (25%)
6.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
7.0
Stride Ergonomics (15%)
8.0
7.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
Ease of Use (15%)
9.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
5.0
Bindings (15%)
7.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
6.0
Specs Atlas Helium Trail Atlas Montane Tubbs Flex VRT MSR Evo MSR Revo Trail
Uses Spring snow and moderate terrain Spring snow and moderate terrain Spring snow and steep terrain Spring snow and moderate terrain Spring snow and moderate terrain
Optimum Weight Load (per manufacturer) 23": 80-160 lbs;
26": 150-220 lbs;
30": 200-270+ lbs
25": 120-200 lbs;
30": 150-250 lbs;
35": 180-300+ lbs
24": 120-200 lbs;
28": 190+ lbs
up to 180 lbs (up to 250 lbs with tails) 22": up to 180 lbs;
25": 120-220 lbs
Weight (per pair) 3 lbs 9 oz 4 lbs 7 oz 4 lbs 9 oz 3 lbs 9 oz 3 lbs 13 oz
Surface Area 191 in² 176 in² 179 in² 173 in² 194 in²
Dimensions 26" x 8" 25 x 8" 24 x 8" 22 x 8" 25 x 8"
Crampon/Traction Aids Tempered steel Steel crampon augmented with traction rails Steel crampon augmented with traction rails Steel crampon augmented with traction rails Steel crampon augmented with rail and frame teeth
Frame Material Aluminum Aluminum Steel traction rails Steel traction rails Steel
Deck Material Plastic Nytex fabric Molded plastic Molded plastic Molded plastic
Heel Lift Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Binding/Deck Connection Hinged Strapped Hinged Hinged Hinged
Binding System Nylon straps with plastic buckles, rubber strap with pin-in-hole Nylon straps with cam buckles, rubber strap with plastic buckle Boa Rubber Straps with pin-in-hole Rubber straps with pin-in-hole
Flotation Tails Sold Separately? No No No Yes No
Men's and Women's versions? Unisex Yes Yes Unisex Yes
Sizes Available 23", 26", 30" 25", 30", 35" 24", 28" One size (22") 22", 25"
Tested Size 26" 25" 24" 22" 25"

Our Analysis and Test Results

One-piece plastic decks have been around for well over a decade in snowshoes, but very few companies were making them. We are excited to see a major company like Atlas using this technology. This type of snowshoe construction tends to be lighter overall with better traction. Read on to see if the Helium Trail lives up to this potential.

Performance Comparison


Atlas Helium Trail snowshoes - in the field with the helium trail.
In the field with the Helium Trail.
Credit: Jessica Haist

Flotation


This is the reason you're reading a snowshoe review — you don't want to be wallowing around in hip-deep snow this winter! The most important factor in flotation is the surface area of the snowshoe. Our measuring method yielded 191 square inches of surface area for the Helium Trail, which is about what we expect for a 26-inch model.


One characteristic that can enhance surface area is rigidity or stiffness. Models with a metal frame are usually perfectly rigid fore-to-aft; plastic models can be more flexible, and that is somewhat true here. The lengthwise steel traction rails add quite a bit of stiffness, but these stop short about 8 inches from the end of the snowshoe, leaving the tail slightly flexible. Though this does detract slightly from the flotation, it helps make for a more natural stride.

Atlas Helium Trail snowshoes - the tail of this model is quite flexible.
The tail of this model is quite flexible.
Credit: Ian McEleney

Traction


Snow can be slippery. After flotation, we think that traction is the most important snowshoe metric. After all, flotation with no traction is what skis are for. While the traction on the Helium Trail isn't bad overall, we had higher expectations. Side-by-side testing with similar one-piece plastic snowshoes showed this model slipping slightly more often.


Modern snowshoes have metal teeth, spikes, and rails underneath to add grip. The Helium Trail meets this expectation with a row of steel teeth under the toes and a pair of 14 inch serrated steel rails running lengthwise underneath. These provide some up and down traction but really come into play on sidehills and traverses when they engage with crusty surfaces to prevent the snowshoe from sliding out. The under-toe teeth face forward at an angle; our testers speculated that they'd provide more grip if they pointed straight down.

Snowshoes with a single-piece plastic frame and deck construction have an additional traction advantage: fins, ridges, and paddles molded into the deck. The Helium has these, both as an extension of the rails and perpendicular to the direction of travel, to enhance uphill and downhill traction. Again, we think that if the fins in the rear of the snowshoe pointed straight down (and were perhaps deeper), they might offer more traction.

Atlas Helium Trail snowshoes - steel cleats and serrated rails, plus plastic fins and paddles...
Steel cleats and serrated rails, plus plastic fins and paddles, equals good traction, though there's still room for improvement on this model.
Credit: Ian McEleney

Stride Ergonomics


When it comes to how pleasant or unpleasant it is to walk in a pair of snowshoes, several factors come into play. These include, but are not limited to, how the binding is attached to the deck and the overall shape of the deck. The Helium Trail goes with a hinged attachment for the binding to deck attachment. Considering that this is the "Trail" model of the Atlas Helium line, it wouldn't be ridiculous for these to have a strapped attachment. That being said, the hinged attachment performs better on gnarly, steep, or technical ground, so using it on this snowshoe adds versatility.


The last 8 inches of the tail on the Helium are slightly flexible. While this does slightly chip away at their functional flotation, we think that it slightly improves performance on hardpacked snow and groomed trails, again increasing versatility.

Another factor to consider with this model is weight. Though that's not a metric in our test, we do measure and note it with the specs. The Helium lives up to its name; it's among the lightest in our review and lighter than any other 25 or 26-inch model. Adding weight to your feet does not lead to a more comfortable or natural stride, and we appreciate that this snowshoe adds the least.

Atlas Helium Trail snowshoes - the downside of a hinged binding attachment on packed trails is drag...
The downside of a hinged binding attachment on packed trails is drag from the tail.
Credit: Ian McEleney

Ease Of Use


The Helium Trail is quite easy to use. It passed our "first-time user" test with flying colors on several occasions. Though many of our testers prefer to see rubber pin-in-hole type straps used throughout a snowshoe binding, we do like how easy it is to get in and out of the bindings on this model. Overall, these bindings are some of the easiest to use in our review.


The forefoot is wrapped in a flexible plastic cage on the Helium Trail. This cage is secured to the foot by a single nylon webbing strap that zig-zags across the foot and through two buckles. One pull on the webbing snugs it up, and one pull on a different piece of webbing releases the tension.

Atlas Helium Trail snowshoes - pulling this strap tightens the entire binding around your forefoot...
Pulling this strap tightens the entire binding around your forefoot easily.
Credit: Ian McEleney

The heel of the binding features a standard rubber pin-in-hole type of strap. The end of the strap is flared and textured, making it easier to grip with gloves on. The last thing we look at for this metric is heel lifters. The Helium has them, and we found them easy to engage and disengage, without too much resistance in either direction.

Bindings


Here we look at the bindings from both a comfort and security perspective. Too often, these two attributes exist in opposition. Bindings that are comfortable are sometimes more likely to fall off your foot — the last thing you want on a stormy day. Bindings that hang on tenaciously can sometimes create pressure points or restrict circulation, not what you need when it's cold outside.


The Helium Trail features bindings that do everything we want. They're comfortable, and the plastic forefoot cage (Atlas calls this the "Wrapp Trail" binding) distributes binding pressure evenly around the foot. This means that pressure points are minimized whether you're wearing a stiff mountaineering boot or a soft trail shoe.

Atlas Helium Trail snowshoes - the plastic cage wraps your forefoot for more comfort.
The plastic cage wraps your forefoot for more comfort.
Credit: Ian McEleney

In the security department, the nylon webbing strap that secures the plastic cage is itself secured with two cam buckles. We've tested Atlas snowshoes with almost-identical bindings in the past and experienced no problems with them — and we didn't with the Helium either. As mentioned above, the heel is secured with a rubber strap and simple pin-in-hole buckle, which is always a secure system.

Value


This is one of the least expensive pairs of snowshoes in our review; they're less than half the price of some of the competition. Considering that we would happily wear them in the same situations, and even in some rowdier ones, we think the Helium Trail is a great value for pretty much everyone who wants or needs flotation.

Conclusion


We like the Atlas Helium Trail. This snowshoe sports respectable flotation, the most important performance metric. When it comes to walking comfort, they're not perfect on groomed trails or for the deepest of the deep, but they do well at both. The bindings are easy to use, comfortable, and secure. While we think the traction could be better, this is still a solid snowshoe and a fantastic value.

Atlas Helium Trail snowshoes - this model is a great value for when the snow flies.
This model is a great value for when the snow flies.
Credit: Jessica Haist

Ian McEleney
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