Black Diamond Vector Helmet
Stated Weight (size 58-63 cm): 240 grams
Blister’s Measured Weight (size 58-63 cm): 248 grams
- Co-molded EPS foam with polycarbonate shell
- Large ventilation ports provide max airflow
- Ratchet adjuster with molded push buttons
- In-mold headlamp clips for ultra-secure attachment
- Tuck-away suspension makes for compact storage
Test Locations: North Table Mountain & Clear Creek Canyon, CO; Keene Valley & Shawangunk Mountains, NY; Grand Teton, WY
Days Tested: 30+
Climbing helmets are extremely important, and while the market used to be pretty homogenous across the board, there are now more diverse options than ever before. As a result, picking a helmet that has the right blend of protection, weight, comfort, and features for you can be tricky.
As much as I hate to admit it, the Black Diamond Vector Helmet first peaked my interest because it was the only one I tried on that didn’t look like a giant mushroom on my head (I made the mistake of trying on the Petzl Elia Helmet in red and looked like Toad from Mario).
Looks aside, I decided to try the Vector because of its low weight (it weighs around 100 grams less than Black Diamond’s Half Dome helmet) and how comfortable the Vector felt when I first tried it on. The Vector uses a hybrid design with foam throughout the helmet and a thin plastic shell, which is designed to offer increased coverage while coming in at a lower weight than many of the traditional plastic offerings. So what sort of compromises do you make when cutting out that weight, and how does the Vector compare to the many other helmets out there?
Fit and Comfort
The Vector is available in S/M and M/L sizes. I used the women’s version which is only available in the S/M size and is designed to fit heads with circumferences ranging from 53-59 cm (other than the available sizes and colors, the women’s Vector is the same as the men’s). My head measures around 51 cm in circumference, but I was able to tighten the helmet snugly around my head using the Vector’s ratchet adjustment system and the fit felt very secure. That said, helmet fit is extremely important and everyone’s head is a bit different, so be sure that you get a helmet that fits your head.
I found adjusting the Vector to be fairly easy. The plastic buttons on the adjustment system glide easily over the ratchet strap and rarely slip out of place once the helmet has been adjusted. The ratchet system has kept the Vector in place nicely, both on my bare head and while wearing a beanie underneath. This was very much appreciated on a chilly, 2:00 am summit bid of the Grand Teton.
It’s also worth mentioning that the ratchet system folds into the helmet when not in use, which is awesome for longer treks where I’m hauling a lot of gear. I can stuff my puffy (and other things) into the Vector to save space in my pack, though I’m sure to place the Vector higher in the pack where it’s less likely to get damaged than if it were down at the bottom.
The chin strap on the Vector is made of pretty simple webbing and the buckle is easy to adjust, though it’s not quite as easy to use with gloves compared to helmets with larger dial-style adjustment systems (e.g., Black Diamond Half Dome). My main gripe with the Vector’s chin strap is that I initially found it difficult to get the webbing evenly positioned on both sides of my head. This didn’t make the helmet any less secure, but it was a little annoying … like having a hat pulled over one ear, but having the other ear exposed. But after a few climbs and some work with the straps, I managed to solve this problem and have since been able to get the straps to fit comfortably.
I felt that the Black Diamond Vector encompassed more of my head than some of the other helmets I’ve tried, such as the Mammut Rock Rider and the Black Diamond Vapor (the Vector offers more forehead coverage than both of those helmets). While this could have been attributed to my smaller head, our editor Luke Koppa has a much larger head and agrees that the Vector seems like it offers above-average coverage around the front, sides, and back of his head, too. While all UIAA-certified helmets should protect you from impacts from above, I did appreciate the Vector’s increased coverage from loose pebbles and the inevitable shrapnel shower that comes with belaying an ice climber.
To get an idea of how it relates to real-world impacts, I think it’s worth going a bit more in-depth on the UIAA climbing helmet test. The UIAA helmet test focuses mainly on penetration and impacts on the top of the helmet, which seem to correspond more to impacts from objects falling from above than they do to the lateral and rear impacts often associated with impacts from an actual fall.
During the test, the helmet is placed on a dummy simulating a human head, with a load sensor placed on the neck portion. The first aspect of the test is the top impact test, in which a 5 kg weight is dropped on the top of the helmet from a height of 2 meters. A 5 kg weight is also dropped on the helmet from a much shorter height of 50 cm with the helmet rotated 60° in the direction of the impact to perform front, side, and rear impacts tests. In all the impact tests, what is measured is not the amount of force the helmet withstands, but instead, it’s the amount of force that is channeled to the neck (for UIAA, the force must not exceed 8 kilo-newtons, or roughly 1800 lbs of force). Finally, the UIAA performs a penetration test, in which a 3 kg cone-shaped weight is dropped from a height of 1 meter on the top of the helmet in order to see if it can penetrate the helmet through to the headform. If it does penetrate through the helmet, the helmet fails the test.
So with that testing certification in mind, Black Diamond claims the Vector offers “full-coverage protection while remaining incredibly lightweight and comfortable.” I think this is a pretty accurate description of the helmet. It is light compared to many other climbing helmets, and as I noted above, it does encompass a lot of my head.
But while the Vector does in fact cover most of my head, I’m not sure how well it would perform in the case of a fall (where back and lateral impacts are common), given that the UIAA test seems to focus primarily on how the helmet withstands top-down impacts (e.g., rockfall). And to be very clear, this is by no means isolated to the Vector. The UIAA test is still the most common standard used for nearly all climbing helmets, so that’s what most climbing helmets are designed to pass. This is more of a note on the popular standards and that there aren’t currently any widely-adopted standards for climbing helmets that more rigorously test impacts that are more related to falling, as opposed to impacts from above.
All things considered though, the Vector envelopes most of my head in foam, which I personally find more comforting than helmets like the Black Diamond Half Dome or Petzl Panga which only feature foam near the top of the helmet and simple plastic around the back and sides.
One notable feature on the Black Diamond Vector is its in-mold headlamp clip system. The clips are made of the same polycarbonate plastic as the helmet shell, and they lay in line with the helmet’s ventilation system as opposed to being additional pieces of plastic that jut out. They’ve held my headlamp in place without a problem, and the great thing about the clips is that they sit almost flush with the helmet and are barely noticeable when not in use. This decreases the chance of the clips snagging on something (and potentially breaking off) when pulling the helmet in and out of a pack.
Another feature I like on the Vector is its ventilation system. The large vents allow for a lot of airflow to the back of the helmet, but leave enough coverage to pass all the tests mentioned above. Aside from two small front vents, all of the vents are located on the back of the helmet. This has lead to a bit of a sweaty forehead when climbing in hot temps, but is something I’ll gladly compromise on for more coverage. If you want maximum ventilation in a pretty similar design, check out the Black Diamond Vapor helmet, which has more vents.
Most Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) foam helmets like the Vector, Petzl Meteor, and Camp Storm get a bad rap for lack of durability. This is because EPS foam is designed to fracture when impacted, thus dispersing the force of the impact that would have otherwise gone straight to your head. But since the foam accomplishes this by fracturing, you have to replace EPS helmets after even just one significant impact (e.g., when there is noticeable cracking or deforming of the foam or plastic).
And here it’s worth quickly mentioning the more recent use of Expanded Polypropylene (EPP) foam to construct climbing helmets. Unlike EPS, EPP is designed to flex and “give” under impact but still maintain most of its structural integrity, which enables it to potentially withstand multiple impacts while remaining effective. Though there aren’t many EPP helmets on the market, there are a few helmets such as the Petzl Sirocco and Mammut Wall Rider that feature EPP foam. But no matter what kind of helmet you’re using, you should always inspect it consistently to assure that none of the foam or plastic is significantly cracked, dented, or otherwise compromised.
While I don’t think that lightweight hybrid helmets like the Vector are as durable as their heavier counterparts (e.g., Black Diamond Half Dome and Mammut El Cap), I’m still pretty happy with how the Vector has held up overall. I’ve thrown around the Vector quite a bit (which I wouldn’t necessarily recommend) and bopped my head on a few overhangs, but the helmet is still in good shape overall with only a few scratches and a small dent near the vents in the back.
I haven’t taken any falls in the Vector where I hit my head or encountered any significant rockfall, but it has served me well on the short sport climbs I usually use it for. If you want a helmet that you don’t have to be as careful with and aren’t as worried about weight, the Black Diamond Half Dome and Mammut El Cap might be better options.
The Black Diamond Vector is a very good, lightweight helmet that offers increased protection compared to some other lightweight EPS helmets like the Black Diamond Vapor and Mammut Rock Rider while still coming in significantly lighter than more traditional plastic options like the Half Dome and El Cap. This puts the Vector in a nice middle ground, and makes it a great choice for people who want a lightweight helmet but don’t want to skimp on coverage.