Black Diamond Vapor & Capitan Helmets Review

© UKC Gear

Helmets have come a long way in recent years. What was formerly considered lightweight is now midweight, and the current lightweight ones have got even lighter. The latest iteration of the Vapor weighs just 155g, making it one of the lightest climbing helmets ever made. For someone that started climbing wearing a 455g Ecrin Roc, this is fairly mind-blowing, but it does come with some caveats, with the main one being "be careful", because great though they are, the modern breed of lightweights are comparatively fragile.

As a result of there's still a big place for something more durable, which is where the Capitan comes in. At 325g it's still very far from 'heavy' in historical terms, but what it offers is a much more robust - and significantly more affordable - option that will likely appeal to a different and potentially wider user group, be that beginners, scramblers, or budget-conscious climbers looking for something that should last. Here we take a look at both to compare and contrast these two very different helmets.

Black Diamond Vapor  © UKC Gear
Black Diamond Vapor
© UKC Gear
Black Diamond Capitan  © UKC Gear
Black Diamond Capitan
© UKC Gear

Black Diamond Vapor - £150

The Vapor has sat at the top of Black Diamond's helmet collection for a fair few years now, and in that time has undergone a fast pace of development. The latest iteration has been brought down to a barely perceptible 155g, which is unfathomably light. Aside from the weight saving there have been major changes in how it's constructed, meaning that it's more durable than its predecessor. That said, this is still a helmet you want to take care of - it's not one you want to leave at the bottom of your rucksack, and benefits from a gentle touch. If you do this then you'll reap the benefits of an incredibly lightweight, well ventilated helmet that you'll barely notice you've got on your head.

Pros: Extremely light and extremely well ventilated, so much so that you barely notice it on your head
Cons: It's not cheap and the cradle could be comfier

A big but, is that this weight saving comes at a considerable financial cost, so you've got to ask yourself how much value you place in that performance and whether or not you'd be better off going for something more durable (and potentially cheaper), such as the Capitan we've reviewed below.

In Use

Paradoxically, the first thing you notice in use is that you barely notice it. The Vapor really is light, very light, so much so that it's easy to forget it's actually on your head. A major contributing factor to this is fit, because without a decent fit even the lightest of helmets can feel quite uncomfortable - so there's no substitute for trying one on in a shop.

Whilst we haven't had any issues with durability, we have been very careful with how we've handled it. The best way to take care of your helmet on a day-to-day basis is simply to pack it somewhere within your rucksack where it isn't going to get crushed. This could mean that it sits on top of everything, or that you clip it to the outside, but whatever you do, don't stash it at the bottom, because it's going to get trashed. If you follow this advice that will help extend its lifespan. After that just try not to get hit by any falling rocks, fall onto it, or bash your head on any roofs or chimneys whilst climbing. Is it a one-hit wonder? Possibly.

In terms of ideal uses, you could wear the Vapor for pretty much any sort of climbing, from sport to mountaineering. If money weren't an object I think this is the helmet we'd all want, because after all - who doesn't want a helmet that weighs 155g on their head vs. one that weighs more? The complication comes not only in the fact it costs quite a lot, but also that it's less likely to last as long as a cheaper model too. That's the price you pay for the lightness.


Not all helmets fit every person equally, and there's a bit of variation between makes and models. Perhaps it's fair to say that you're either a BD-head or you're not. The Vapor is available in two sizes, S/M and M/L. There's a good amount of variation within each size and you can adjust the fit courtesy of the strap at the back. I have a pretty sizeable skull, but there's still room for more.

The only drawback with regards to fit is that it could be comfier. Black Diamond have definitely opted for a minimalist approach to the cradle, with a cord fit system around the ears, then a slimline webbing around the back. The webbing works, but the cord - in our opinion - doesn't. Due to it being round, as opposed to flat, and slightly thicker than the webbing it feels like it presses into the head more, as opposed to lying flat. This isn't to say that it's outright uncomfortable, as you get used to it, but I do think BD missed a trick by not using tape.


The Vapor features two types of foam, an EPS puck at the top of the helmet, surrounded by moulded EPP foam. An additional feature under the polycarbonate crown is a layer of a super-light composite called ALUULA, a high tech and extremely strong material that adds penetration resistance while reducing weight (an equivalent level of protection in plastic or foam would be heavier). Without getting too technical, the denser EPS puck is designed to take impact from falling objects (such as rocks) while the softer EPP absorbs impacts (bashing your head in a fall). It's a nice bit of design that we are starting to see in more helmets.

There's a lot of ventilation featured around the sides of the Vapor, which coupled with its extremely light weight makes it feel quite cool when worn. As always with climbing helmets, there's only so much ventilation space available as the top of the helmet needs to protect you from anything falling from above. 

There aren't many more features to mention, but it's worth highlighting that it does have clips and elastic to fit a headtorch in place.


The Vapor is a supremely light, and supremely comfortable helmet. It's definitely something you've got to be careful with, but feels more robust than its predecessor. Were there to be a catch it's that it comes at a high price - £150 - although given that this is likely to be the lightest on the market, and at the top of Black Diamond's range, its price shouldn't come as a surprise. For those who aren't after the lightest, read on to find out more about the much more reasonably priced Capitan (which comes in at £70).

Capitan - £70

Lovely though the Vapor is, not everyone has £150 to spend, and the fact you could buy two Capitans (or a helmet and a harness, say) for the price of a single Vapor makes it quite an attractive proposition. In addition to that, the Capitan is also likely to last you longer too, as its polycarbonate shell is significantly larger, hence provides much more protection, meaning it'll withstand more knocks - both on the crag and inside your rucksack. The downside is that it's quite heavy by modern standards, coming in at 325g. Lightness is not its primary concern: instead it has been designed to provide a good level of protection at a decent price - and in our opinion it succeeds in both departments.

Pros: Great price, extremely durable
Cons: Not the lightest or most well-ventilated

In Use

Whereas the Vapor is performance-oriented, the Capitan is an everyday workhorse suitable for just about everything: sport, trad and mountaineering. If it's outright performance you're after you'd want the Vapor, as it's lighter and much better ventilated; however the durability of the Capitan is on another level. Unlike the Vapor which you have to treat quite carefully, you can be much rougher with the Capitan, as the polycarbonate shell extends over the vast majority of the top of the helmet, protecting the softer and more fragile foam within.

In terms of usage, it's definitely warmer than the Vapor, which isn't necessarily a bad thing for certain activities such as winter climbing, but can make it feel quite warm sport or trad climbing in hot weather.


Much like the Vapor, the Capitan comes in two sizes: S/M and M/L. There's a good amount of variation between these sizes and on the whole they should fit a range of head sizes: but do try it on before buying, because in the experience of the UKC gear team it won't be an ideal fit for every head shape (no one helmet is). There's also a variety of colours available, from an eye-catching pink to the more moderate grey that we've featured here.

One thing I like on the Capitan, which I don't get on with anywhere near as much on the Vapor, is the cradle. The irritating cord that's used on the Vapor is replaced by a plastic frame on the Capitan, which sits much more comfortably against the back of your head.


The Capitan isn't as well ventilated as the Vapor, which is one factor in it feeling warmer, and the other is simply that the polycarbonate shell acts as another layer, which further adds to the warmth. This could actually be a benefit from a winter climbing perspective, where keeping a bit of warmth in isn't a bad thing, but can make it feel quite hot on warm days.

The Capitan also features headtorch clips, further adding to its versatility.


The Capitan is a great all-rounder that comes in at a competitive price. Weight-wise it's not the lightest, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's not trying to be. We'd say that durability and protection are what make it stand out, as well as how affordable it is. The fact that it's designed to last only adds to the appeal, because unlike other lighter weight helmets this model ought to see you covered for a long time.

14 May

The BD helmets in M/L are a good choice if you've a large head.

Fits is personal, on trying on I didn't find the new Vapor as comfortable as the older model and extremely expensive.

Capitan is great personal fit, unlike the Vision, which surprised me.

Used old Vapor and Capitan for ski touring, though not indicated unlike Petzl Meteor.

14 May

On the new model, has the cord replaced the plastic ratchet system at the back?

I find it so annoying when you look up and the ratchet touches your clothing at the back of your neck and releases.


14 May

Yes. This isn’t a problem the new one has.

The cradle is my least favourite part of the helmet, but it no longer catches your pack / clothing.

I really like my Vapor.

18 May

Nice review but no mention of any EN or ISO standards that these helemets conform to. Mention of these will give purchasers an idea of impact resistance and shock absorbency.

18 May

That they can be bought (from reputable sources) implies they meet the required standards - EN 12-something-or-other

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