Smith Mission Snowsports Helmet and Smith Squad XL Goggles Reviews
It is only over the last decade or so that there has been an explosion in the number of people wearing helmets for skiing. That is great news, although it is amazing that that the trend didn’t explode rather sooner - fast speeds, icy snow and a lot of other people travelling fast all add up to high risk. Added to that is the fact that skiers are pushing the boundaries with more interest in off piste, snow parks and backcountry skiing.
But things have changed and nowadays stacks of people are choosing to wear a lid both on and off piste. Helmets have got lighter, cheaper, more comfortable and more accepted which all means the reasons for not wearing them have got less and less justifiable. It is still a personal choice, but most skiers and boarders are choosing to wear rather than not.
Alongside this, of course, snowsports enthusiasts will also usually wear some form of eyewear either in the form of sunglasses or, in many circumstances, goggles. The problem with googles can sometimes be the way they fit with a helmet. Sometimes they might not sit too well, the ventilation will be compromised, the helmet can push the goggles onto the nose in an uncomfortable way or the elastic doesn’t sit securely and they change position. They might also offer a restricted field of vision. Having a well integrated helmet and goggle combination can make a big difference to comfort and safety on the the slopes and steeps.
For my recent ski trip I brought along a goggle and helmet combo from Smith to test and review. Here are my findings……
Who are Smith?
It is worth a bit of introductory info on Smith before anything else. Smith are a huge name in snow sports (and a range of other sports) and, although the business started in developing sports eyewear, they also produce a comprehensive range of helmets.
They actually started producing helmets, they say, because they knew they could produce better options than those already on the market. They also saw the shortcomings of helmet/goggle combinations on the market and wanted to offer integrated options that perform well together.
And so, time to try the products. Smith sent me one of their latest edition Mission helmets and a pair of Squad XL goggles. I am going to look at each product separately and then consider how well they integrate together. Firstly, the Mission.
Smith Mission Helmet
Smith produce a range of different helmets and the focus across their whole range is about making the helmet offer the highest levels of safety as possible whilst also looking stylish and being comfortable enough to wear for long periods in variable conditions. To do this they looked at how impacts occur and how best to protect against them. This involved creating some new technologies and refining others - it is a process that is constantly evolving.
The Mission is a new option for Smith and is offered as a low to mid price range option that will appeal to a broad range of users. It features in-mold construction whereby a polycarbonate shell is paired with an EPS liner. The advantages of this are that it produces a good value construction method that is lightweight and very protective. The limitation of this construction method is the helmet won’t cope well with multiple impacts (such as a skier who spends a lot of time whizzing in and out of trees where they may hit their head more often through glancing blows with trees) but for other users this is probably unlikely to be an issue.
However, there is more to the Mission construction method than that because the helmet also features ‘Aerocore’ and ‘Koroyd’ technology along with, in some models, MIPs protection. Aerocore is a Smith innovation aimed at increasing airflow, improving temperature regulation and offering better impact resistance. This is achieved by using a revolutionary co polymer called Koroyd which is constructed into tiny tubes that absorb impact extremely well. Koroyd features in many of the helmets Smith produces for a broad range of sports. This construction also allows Smith to incorporate more vents into the helmet and improve air through flow which, in turn, offers better comfort while helping to prevent goggle fogging.
MIP’s is another addition to the Mission that offers significant benefits (Smith offer the Mission with or without MIPS). When you fall to the ground at an angle rotational forces are generated and a helmet integrating MIPS technology creates a sliding layer between the outer shell and the head. This allows the helmet's outer shell to slide relative to the head so the rotational force is decreased which reduces the potential for brain damage. MIP’s is offered by a number of manufacturers and has a well considered track record.
So, the Mission ticks all the boxes and its other key features of interest to a user are around its comfort and usability. There is a goggle clip, adjustable dial fit liner, comfortable foam inserts and an adjustable ventilation system with 14 vents (called AirEvac2). It also has removable ear pads that can be switched with an audio earphone system. The weight for size medium is 450grams and the Mission costs £129 with MIPs and £99 without.
I have previously used ski helmets from Giro and, most recently, Movement. So, I can’t claim to have a massive experience of loads of models, but I do also wear helmets for climbing and mountain biking and have previously worn a stack of watersports and motorsports helmets - so I feel confident that I know what feels good and what doesn't.
It is apparent on first inspection that the Mission is constructed to a very high standard and the materials look to be very high quality. Having now used a number of Smith products this is just as I would expect.
Most helmets are probably chosen primarily on looks - if you go into a shop and don’t like the look of a lid then you probably aren’t going to go any further towards a purchase. The Mission is a nicely styled helmet very much in keeping with current styling. They haven’t done anything too radical with the look and yet it looks modern and the use of Koroyd allows them to make it reasonably low profile. I really like the look of it and it comes in a range of colours so there is plenty of opportunity to match it to your ski outfit..... or be a rebel and go for a colour clash!
The next decider for most buyers is likely to be fit and comfort. You will be wearing a ski helmet for extended periods of time and so it has to feel good. The Mission has a generous plush lining and the adjustment cradle allows you to fine tune the fit. It is the most comfortable ski helmet I’ve worn and that surprised me as I always thought my Movement one was the business.
The cradle adjustment is simple and efficient and the Mission has an efficient 3 way vent closure system to seal it down when conditions get particularly gnarly. There is also a well designed goggle retainer. At the end of the day, it is a well featured and slick looking ski helmet with great fit (for my head at least!).
I haven’t crash tested it for this review (!) but, given Smith’s attention to detail and the amount of research they put in to developing new technologies, I have little doubt the Mission will protect the users head at least as well (and hopefully better), than many other helmets on the market. The use of the well proven MIPS system is another impressive feature. I am very impressed with the Mission and think it will serve any skier or boarder well.
Squad XL Goggles
I have a reasonable knowledge of some of the key technologies Smith incorporate into their goggles and performance eyewear because I have used a selection of their offerings before. Most relevant to this test, I reviewed their IO7 goggles earlier this year and my findings are here.
So, as mentioned, Smith focus very hard on integration between their helmets and goggles. Although, of course, each item can be used individually and with other brands. So, I will consider the Squad XL as a stand alone item first.
The Squad XL is the biggest goggle option in the Smith range. They are actually about 20% bigger than normal which means they will work well for larger faces but don’t be put off if you have a smaller face. Both my 15 and 16 year old boys have been using these and they have normal size faces. The larger frame size actually means a really wide field of vision (the goggles are 20% bigger) and better peripheral vision.
There are a broad range of lens colours in the range and Smith sent me a colour called ‘sun green’ which has proved to work well in brighter to mid range light conditions. They are a good general purpose option but Smith also include an additional low light lens as well. The system for swapping lens is simple and intuitive and for days where the weather is a bit of this and a bit of that it would be perfectly reasonable to take both lens and switch between them.
A lot of technology is incorporated into the Squad lens. They feature Smith’s ‘Cylindrical Carbonic-X' Lens which, simply explained, means they are curved only in the x (horizontal) axis. This creates a flatter lens that, although different to what I have mostly used before, offers a very clear field of vision. The feature ‘Carbonic-X’ is about the individually moulded scratch and impact resistant outer lens and the Squad XL’s also feature Smith’s Fog-X anti-fog inner lens treatment.
The Squad XL also uses Smith’s 3 layer DriWix foam to provide a cushioned and breathable fit around the face and the wide silicone backed strap has a dual slide adjustment. The goggles come with a microfibre goggle bag with replacement lens sleeve.
Another welcome addition to the Squad XL is Smith’s proprietary Chroma Pop polarised lens technology. The eye’s retina has trouble distinguishing between blue/green and red/green light and Chroma Pop helps overcome this by filtering two specific wavelengths of light. This delivers greater definition and more natural colour and it really works - the difference looking through a Chroma Pop lens and a standard lens is very noticebable.
Lastly, just when you thought there could be no more technical names, I have to mention Responsive Fit. This pairs a minimal frame architecture with a contoured shape to allow the goggles to micro-adjust to facial contours.
Phew. There is a lot of tech in this goggles and, although most users will probably choose their eyewear based on how it looks, I really feel Smith have added some truly useful and innovative features to the Squad XL - and the main way you will realise it is because you won’t even notice it! What I mean by that is the tech ensures the Squad XL’s will fit well, perform well, will be comfortable and last well. You can just get on with the adventures!
If you do want to see the differences you need to get a selection of other goggles and try them against the Smith’s. This was the point when I could really spot the improved clarity and fit. I really rate the attention to detail, the technology and the quality. The Squad XL's retail for £130.
Mission/Squad XL Combination
As mentioned previously, the Squad XL's can be used with other helmets just as other goggles will work with the Mission. To reassure myself that this was the case, during the test period members of my group used the Squad’s with Bolle, Movement and Giro helmets and tried Oakley, 100% and Bolle goggles. On some combinations the fit could have been slightly comfier (it was usually the goggles being pushed onto the nose by the helmet rim) and there was some lens fogging when 100% goggles were paired with the Mission, but at the end of the day all the mixes were found to be perfectly wearable together.
However, Smith put a lot of effort into integrating their helmet/glasses/goggle combos and so part of this test was to see how well the Mission and Squad XL worked together.
The shape of the Mission allows the Squad’s to fit snugly inside the upper rim of the helmet without any issue and there is no problem with the helmet pushing the goggles down. The combination is very comfortable and it is obvious they were specifically designed to work together.
The other big benefit of combining Smith goggles and helmets is based around how the ventilation system works together. Smith use a ventilation system called AirEvac2 which works to draw warm and moist air out of the goggles and expel it throughout the helmet and out of the rear. Although it is hard see any tangible proof that the AirEvac2 system works (you can’t see moving air), I can say that I have had absolutely no problems with the Squad XL’s fogging up. This was also the case when using a Buff neck collar which can sometimes force moist air upwards as you breathe.
The goggle strap design features a dual slider adjustment which works brilliantly with the Mission helmet retention because the buckles can be kept well out of the way.
The other big winner is the look. I wondered whether an XL goggle would look massive, but infact what I have found is that it looks really good. XL doesn't mean massive - it really means bigger.
So, I would say that while the individual Smith Mission or Squad XL's will work superbly on their own with various other helmets or goggles from other manufacturer's (I would always suggest taking your goggles or helmet along to the shop to test pairing), there are some significant fit and ventilation advantages to choosing the paired combo. I really like the Mission and I really like the Squad XL's.....but I really really like them together! Full details on both products is available via the Smith website here and the videos below offer a great insight into the features of both items.
Posted by Paul