Black Diamond Tracer Helmet

17th May 2012

At the last BMC Technical Conference I attended a workshop about helmet impact forces.  We looked initially at the Crompton Climber, which was the first commercially available helmet.  It’s a beast of a unit with a sloppy fit that feels like a heavy mixing bowl on your head.  No wonder so few climbers used to wear helmets unless they were on big routes or climbing in winter.  Nowadays helmets are getting more widely worn and I think that’s largely because they are so much more user friendly than they used to be.

The Crompton was constructed in the traditional hard shell and webbing cradle style but we now also have other lighter weight systems.  Hard shells with a foam liner like the Petzl Elios are very popular and then there’s the lightweight foam models like the Black Diamond Tracer… 

The Helmet
The Tracer I received is grey (also available in blue, orange and white).  It is very light (245 grams for the medium size) and feels significantly lighter when compared in the hand to a hard shell model such as the Black Diamond Half Dome (360 grams).  The construction quality is excellent with typical Black Diamond attention to detail.  There’s a thumbwheel headband adjuster at the back and the inner has soft foam pads at the top and sides attached with Velcro pads.  There are 17 vents and the 6 on the upper sides are covered in mesh. There’s also 4 headtorch attachment clips in the corners.

The Tracer is certified to EN 12492 and UIAA 106 standards.  The particularly stringent UIAA tests require that the ‘force transmitted to the head form as a result of the impact of the falling mass shall not exceed 8 kN for the vertical impact test, for the side impact test, for the front impact test and the rear impact test’.  In recent tests conducted for the BMC by Dr Mark Taylor of Leeds University a tested Tracer helmet was found to be comfortably within these parameters.  Dr Taylor’s results showed a vertical impact of 5.8 kN, front impact of 3.3 kN, side impact of 2.6 kN and rear impact of 3.2kN (many thanks to the BMC for providing this data). 

The Review

The Tracer I received is a large size (59-63cm) and it’s also available in medium (56-60cm) and small (49-57cm).  The large fitted me really well and the thumbwheel adjuster is easy to use even with thick gloves.  The chinstrap sits comfortably, can be adjusted easily and closes with a quick release buckle.  There are 2 nifty quick release buckles to allow you to adjust the straps forward or backwards.  These work really well and offer the best system for this adjustment I’ve ever seen on a helmet.

Initially I thought one of the foam side pads was missing but when I looked it was in the box.  The trouble is it had come off very easily and I can see this happening again because the pads are just held on by small Velcro dots.  If the pads were missing it would affect the fit considerably so please take care not to lose them!  Once fitted the soft side and top pads are comfortable against the head.

The adjustable head cradle has a useful tilt feature that allows it to be set further down around the neck.  I found the tilted position the helmet gripped my head firmly. Having three helmet sizes allows a close fit but doesn’t leave much space if you want to wear a hat underneath.  I could fit a skinny powerstretch beanie inside but had no chance with a thicker woollen hat.

The vents are large and well spaced.  I wore it in Wales in the recent late summer heatwave and it felt cool and comfortable.  In real heatstroke conditions I expect it will be as cool as any others on the market.  The top vents are covered in mesh to stop objects falling through.  The mesh is tough and bonded into the shell so it should be durable but they are towards the top so might not keep out rain or snow very effectively.

The headtorch clips are great.  They really hold the elastic firmly and it’s very unlikely you’d lose your light.  They are also very low profile so I’ve had no problem with them catching on things.

The rear vent is quite large and I saw a female climber who had fed her ponytail through it.  I’m not sure this is an intentional design feature but it could be useful for the longer haired climber!

I do feel the helmet looks quite wide (and other friends commented on this too) although it doesn’t feel wide in use.  The foam thickness is a vital element of the design for shock absorption but I think something like the Petzl Meteor seems thinner at the sides.  It’s still a good looking lid though.

Conclusion

The Tracer is an excellent helmet.  Comfortable, simple, lightweight and effective.  The instructions rate it for rock climbing, ice climbing and mountaineering.  I prefer a hard shell for ice climbing but that’s a matter of personal choice.  I am certainly confident it will excel for rock climbing, mountaineering and ski mountaineering.  Even better, it’s so comfortable maybe more climbers will be tempted to wear one!