Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Review: CAMP Pulse ski mountaineering helmet

I was getting ready to write a scathing review of the CAMP Pulse helmet after a disappointing experience. This is one of the only helmets on the market (Dynafit also makes one) that passes the CE standards for both skiing (rather weak) and climbing (quite demanding). The concept is brilliant for ski mountaineers, alpinists, and ice climbers. But I thought I'd found a major flaw.

We were up at Loveland ski resort recently and the wind was howling. Not only were my ears freezing but the ear flaps actually channeled wind in so that hearing was very difficult. It may not seem like a big deal but it truly can be during a storm. I tried readjusting the straps at lunch to no avail. This was particularly dismaying because Lou Dawson had given this helmet a positive review at Wildsnow.com; we don't always agree but this appeared to be a glaring oversight.
This morning, I discovered the problem...the earflaps were put on the wrong side. That’s how the helmet was shipped to me. But it’s an easy mistake since they are not marked left and right and the difference is subtle to the eye. Once I disassembled the flaps and put them on properly, the problem was solved. Now I've marked them to prevent the error after I remove the Winter Kit for summer skiing.
My bigger issues are matters of fit so these may or may not affect you. First, the sizing runs small compared to many other helmets. The size 2 just barely fits a large head; there’s no way it will fit anyone who takes extra large. They really need a size 3 as well.
Second, due to the very oval shape, I experienced significant pressure on the upper rear “corners” of my skull which I don’t get from other helmets (including the CAMP StarLight and Petzl climbing helmets and several different Giro bike and ski helmets). This pain isn't noticeable right away but it gets almost unbearable after a couple hours and there doesn't appear to be any easy modification possible.
Minor nits: The adjustable front vents can rotate slightly so they don’t quite align with the holes and the handle could use more texture so it's easier to operate while wearing gloves. The goggle clip is less than ideal when using a headlamp with a battery pack on the back.
As with many helmets, the side straps are difficult to adjust and the instructions are poorly written. Fitting helmets should be simpler so people will do it. Currently, few stores take the time to help customers get a proper fit and few will do anything more than tighten a chin strap. This means the helmet has a good chance of not working when it's actually needed due to improper position.
Still, the Pulse is a very nice helmet. Having been spoiled by ski helmets with adjustable vents (Giro and Smith), I will never go back to a helmet that lacks them. This is an invaluable feature for temperature control on the fly. In addition to the sliding front closures, the CAMP Pulse has removable plugs for the rear vents, which is an acceptable compromise to reduce weight.
The total weight of the Size 2 with the Winter Kit is 14.0 ounces. For comparison, a Giro Fuse is 13.7 ounces and a Giro Omen is 21.2 ounces--and neither can pass the climbing tests for energy absorption or penetration of a falling rock. The CAMP StarLight is 10.3 ounces but lacks the vents and earflaps for skiing.
Overall, assuming this helmet fits your head, the pluses far outweigh the minuses. At a price of $100, plus $20 for the Winter Kit, it is a good value and offers better than average performance.

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