Atlas Helium Trail Review
Cons: Unimpressive traction
Manufacturer: Atlas Snowshoes
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Atlas Helium Trail
Check Price at Backcountry
Check Price at REI
Check Price at REI
|$150 List||$180 List|
|Pros||Inexpensive, easy to use, versatile||Rigid, precise, excellent binding security, impressive traction||Good traction, easy-to-use and comfortable binding||Inexpensive, simple, reliable||Excellent binding security, good traction, decent flotation|
|Cons||Unimpressive traction||New binding trades ease-of-use for comfort||Mediocre flotation for the length, strapped binding attachment isn't ideal||Loud decking on crusty snow||Binding 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 value||The best snowshoes in our test, complete with high end features and simple engineering||This is a great traditional snowshoe that's outshone in a few areas by newer designs||This molded snowshoe is reliable, inexpensive, offers widespread appeal, and is compatible with add-on tails for improved flotation||We like this fairly-priced snowshoe for everything but the most technical terrain|
|Rating Categories||Atlas Helium Trail||MSR Lightning Ascent||Atlas Montane||MSR Evo||MSR Revo Trail|
|Stride Ergonomics (15%)|
|Ease Of Use (15%)|
|Specs||Atlas Helium Trail||MSR Lightning Ascent||Atlas Montane||MSR Evo||MSR Revo Trail|
|Uses||Spring snow and moderate terrain||Spring snow and steep terrain||Spring snow and moderate 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
|22": up to 180 lbs;
25": 120-220 lbs;
30": 150-280 lbs
|25": 120-200 lbs;
30": 150-250 lbs;
35": 180-300+ 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 0 oz||4 lbs 7 oz||3 lbs 9 oz||3 lbs 13 oz|
|Surface Area||191 in²||188 in²||176 in²||173 in²||194 in²|
|Dimensions||26" x 8"||25 x 8"||25 x 8"||22 x 8"||25 x 8"|
|Crampon/Traction Aids||Tempered steel||Steel crampon augmented with rail and frame teeth||Steel crampon augmented with traction rails||Steel crampon augmented with traction rails||Steel crampon augmented with rail and frame teeth|
|Frame Material||Aluminum||Aluminum||Aluminum||Steel traction rails||Steel|
|Deck Material||Plastic||Fabric||Nytex fabric||Molded plastic||Molded plastic|
|Binding System||Nylon straps with plastic buckles, rubber strap with pin-in-hole||Rubber Straps with pin-in-hole||Nylon straps with cam buckles, rubber strap with plastic buckle||Rubber Straps with pin-in-hole||Rubber straps with pin-in-hole|
|Flotation Tails Sold Separately?||No||Yes||No||Yes||No|
|Men's and Women's versions?||Unisex||Yes||Yes||Unisex||Yes|
|Sizes Available||23", 26", 30"||22", 25", 30"||25", 30", 35"||One size (22")||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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Ian McEleney
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