More people than ever are venturing into the backcountry for ski tours this winter. As a result, discussions about safety are being raised more than ever—and rightly so—by longtime members of the backcountry community and new enthusiasts alike. Safety doesn’t always mean avalanche awareness, though: Preventing and dealing with injuries in the backcountry is just as important. Head trauma is of course near the top of the “things to avoid” list, and these helmets offer protection without weighing you down in the skin track.
Pret Cynic X2 – $150
For new backcountry skiers who want a one-helmet quiver, the Cynic X2 is hard to beat. At just under a pound it’s light enough for day tours—I even strapped it to my pack, along with a 30-pound sled, for a testing trip in Yellowstone National Park—but durable, warm, protective enough for ripping around the resort. The Cynic contains MIPS technology (the leading protection system on the market), and I’ve found that the barely-there brim works well with every pair of goggles I’ve worn. A wool liner makes this helmet best for cold environments, but the ear flaps are removable for more airflow. Buy Now
CAMP Speed 2.0 – $120
The Speed 2.0 is my go-to bucket for long touring days, warm conditions, and missions that verge into ski mountaineering. For one thing, this thing is light. Weighing just 9.5 ounces, it’s less than that summit beer you probably should have just left in the parking lot. No liner and always-open vents on the sides and back allow the helmet to ventilate well, and the ounce-shaving, minimalist goggle retainers do their job well (although I’ve found the helmet-to-goggle face fit tough to perfect). Notably, the Speed 2.0 is certified for skiing and rock climbing, making it ideal for ascents on which rockfall is an issue (you can take it to the crag or ice climbing as well). Bummer: With only one size available, fit can be difficult for wearers with smaller heads. Buy Now
Sweet Protection Ascender MIPS – $220
We gave the Ascender an Editors’ Choice Award in 2019 for its combination of versatility, weight, and protection. Like the Pret Cynic X2, this helmet contains the MIPS system to lessen harsh impacts; as with the CAMP Speed 2.0, the Ascender is also rated both for skiing and climbing. This is the most breathable helmet here by far, thanks to its lack of ear flaps and a shell perforated with over 100 small holes. I wore the Ascender in near-summer heat and sun on a glacier in Banff National Park, and never wished I had on something lighter. Finally, this helmet is super low-profile, so it easily slides under a hood and won’t add unnecessary bulk to your pack. Tradeoff: price. Buy Now