Will the new Smith Level live up to the manufacturer’s reputation as one of big players in the helmet market?

The Ski Club’s Content Manager, Joe, got his mitts on the new Smith Level helmet to put it through its paces ahead of its release in Autumn 2019. 

I have always been a fan of Smith helmets, for me, they are the benchmark in balancing form and function, especially for freeride and all mountain riders. On first inspection, the new Level helmet seems to tick all the boxes: light, stylish and adorned with many of Smith’s trademark innovations, most notably the instantly identifiable Smith’s trademark Koroyd technology. Unboxing the helmet, the Level is what I have come to expect of Smith, with a very high-quality finish and sleek look. 

First Impressions

After trying the helmet on at work and the obligatory ‘show and tell’ pass around the office, I was itching to log some time on the mountain with the new Level. I packed the helmet in my hold bag ahead of attending the third stop of this year’s Freeride World Tour in Fieberbrunn, Austria. What better place to test Smith’s new backcountry lid?

I tested a medium helmet and the product was true to size, fitting the contours of my skull well. As I adjusted the patented VaporFit system for the first time, the helmet felt secure and comfortable around the back of my head, but the fit system tightened around the very top of my forehead, giving the impression that the helmet was sat tilted back. After checking in a mirror that the helmet was positioned correctly, I was reassured to see the helmet sitting correctly, and am pleased to report that the overall security of the helmet on my head is fantastic. I was able to ski all day without needing to adjust and it was easy to put on and take off without fiddling with the fit system. 

I should note that everyone has a unique skull shape, so many users may not feel the same fit as I have. As always, be sure to try any helmet on before you buy to ensure a good fit as returning protective gear can be easier said than done!

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Field Test

Ski Club of Great Britain

The antibacterial XT2 liner was well padded and drew moisture away from my scalp effectively, with pads in the right places so I felt contact around my head but no uncomfortable pressure. The liner itself dried quickly and remained fresh throughout the trip, despite long days of riding. The ear pads were also comfortable but not the most airtight and can feel a little breezy when you jump to warp speed.

Holding the helmet in place is a sturdy nylon strap with a comfortable fleece sleeve that also houses the excess strap out of the way, a tried and tested solution that is seen across most helmets these days. Another unquestionably standard component is the plastic clip that holds the strap together under your chin. Functional and dependable? Yes. Ergonomic and easy to use? Not by modern standards. Many brands are now utilising clever magnet designs and other ingenious systems to offer users a seamless clipping and unclipping experience, even when gloved up - but Smith have opted against this on the Level, which is a shame in a premium product.

Overall I was very impressed by the ventilation in the helmet. The Koroyd construction coupled with well-designed AirEvac airflow network of 20 vents kept my head cool even during an unseasonably warm February weekend in Austria. On the days where we had snow and (unfortunately) some rain the vents were sealed and keep the elements out with ease. The vents were easy to open and close, even in gloves, and had a useful half-open position which was ideal for runs where you might start in the sunshine before plummeting through the cloud - as we did many times in Fieberbrunn.

Once up to a healthy speed there was a noticeable whistle from the helmet. This was silenced by closing vents, and while closing the vents may help your aerodynamic efficiency, it is less than ideal in warmer conditions. In the end I found the slight whistle comforting, it was the helmet’s way of saying ‘hey now you’re going pretty fast, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself’. This could be a slight niggle for some, but certainly not a deal-breaker for an otherwise well ventilated helmet.

The rubberised visor completes the freeride look and meant that taps on trees and other items did not result in an almighty clatter resonating around the hard ABS shell, with the added benefit of not scuffing after the lightest of taps. The shape of the helmet at the front matched perfectly the new Smith goggles, which I was also testing, so there was minimal gap between the two items, with the vents in the peak that pull air from your goggles to prevent fogging.

An almighty wallop from a spatially unaware Austrian chap wielding skis in the ‘bazooka’ position gave me a good idea of the helmet’s shock absorbance. From that point onwards I was entirely confident in the combined effectiveness of the Koroyd construction and MIPS system. Glancing off another knock, this time as I clattered around a tree, the Level really impressed me with the way it shrugged off oblique impacts.

Find out more about MIPS when we exclusively visited the Swedish innovators’ laboratory last Autumn.

Unusually, the MIPS low-friction layer in the Smith Level felt much smoother on this helmet when compared to others we had tested recently. While this meant that we were extra confident in the MIPS system, the outer shell would move from side to side if you shake your head back and forth, especially when not using goggles.

The helmet is available without MIPS for a slightly reduced price, although after visiting the development labs and delving into the company’s research on the dangers of oblique impacts, I recommend forking out the extra dosh.

Priced at £189 RRP, the helmet sits in the mid-high price range, but the price is justified thanks to the high-end performance.

Conclusion

A great helmet that is just a couple of touches short of perfect, the Smith Level should make any freeride or all mountain charger’s shortlist.

For

  • Low weight and excellent ventilation
  • Secure fit
  • Sleek freeride look

Against

  • Outdated clip design
  • Can be a little breezy
  • The higher end of the price range

What Smith says about the Level helmet

"Whether riding in bounds or off-piste, elevate your all-mountain escapes with the new lightweight and tough Level and Liber-ty snow helmets comprised of Smith’s advanced hybrid shell construction with the pinnacle protection of lightweight Aero-core™ technology, featuring Koroyd®."

Find out more on the Smith website.