"Head injuries aren't cool. Of course you're going to wear your helmet", is not exactly the most conventional of chat up lines. However, it's the first thing my future wife ever said to me, as I stood beneath Vector at Tremadog, a callow youth, deliberating whether or not I should wear my white, plastic lid. Of course I wore it.
Twelve years later, Nikki and I were climbing Christmas Curry at Tremadog. I hastily scrambled up the slippery chimney at the start, a section I had climbed many times before, up and down, roped and unroped. Being a cocky, invincible Aspirant Mountain Guide, I forewent placing runners, favouring speed over safety. Then my foot slipped, Nikki screamed, and I landed in a heap at the bottom, smashing my helmet and cutting my face along the way.
Amazingly, and I'm putting this down to luck, I walked away virtually unscathed. I had a colossal bruise on my bum, a few stitches on my face, and a very traumatised wife (sorry Nikki). The helmet had a big crack in its side, and went straight in the bin. Unsurprisingly I've not been seen climbing without head protection since. And neither should you.
I was excited to review Edelrid's Salathe Lite for a couple of reasons: First, I'm a fan of Edelrid helmets, having used both the original Salathe and the Shield models over the last five or so years.
Tick one: it's comfortable and well-ventilated. If the fit works for you then this should be a helmet you can put on, and pretty much forget you're wearing.
Second easy win: weighing just 178g, the Salathe Lite is even lighter than the original version - around 20% less according to Edelrid. Weight is a big consideration when it comes to helmets - not because helmet weight makes much difference in the grand scheme of things, and a lighter helmet might not be a stronger one - but because the lighter it is, the less you notice it; and the less you notice it, the more willing you'll be to put it on.
What's it made from?
The Salathe Lite is predominantly made from white EPP (expanded polypropylene), a material that has origins in car bumpers, and boasts superb shock-absorbing properties. To save a bit more weight, Edelrid have replaced the classic ABS shell with Curv, the latest generation of an extremely high performance, thermoplastic material. According to Edelrid, this has similar properties to fibre-reinforced composites like carbon: good rigidity, high tensile strength, and exceptional impact resistance - and all that comes with a very low weight.
It's also white and blue, which aesthetically I much prefer to the garish Green/Black of the original Salathe.
Fit and comfort
The Salathe Lite is available in two sizes. Having a largish head I opted for size two, and I'd suggest climbers with smaller heads go for size one. That said, there's more to helmet fit than just the circumference of your head. Depth and shape play an important role too. Since every head is different, it's always worth trying on a helmet in a specialist climbing shop, rather than taking your chances and ordering online.
Though Edelrid talk about the helmet having a deeper shape, on me the fit of the Salathe Lite feels quite shallow compared to other helmets I've used. I find it easily tips of my head if I look up, which is far from ideal. With this in mind, had I tried on the Salathe Lite in a shop, I probably wouldn't have purchased it, and would have opted for something that cradles my own head better. All that said, your noggin may well be a different shape to mine, and you'll only know if the Salathe Lite stays put on your head by giving it a whirl.
The helmet has a simple-to-adjust webbing cradle, which is very comfortable, and appears less susceptible to damage than plastic cradles you'll find on many other helmets. The webbing allows for a snug and stable fit. The only negative of this design is that sometimes the webbing can get a little tangled when stowed.
You don't want a mushroom on your head. The Salathe Lite's low profile design means it is unobtrusive, and all the hoods of my jackets fit neatly over the top. It also features large vents on the back of the helmet, and two small vents on the front. This allows air to channel through, keeping you cool when trying hard, especially in hot weather.
The chin strap is closed by a low profile plastic buckle, that is well made and easy to operate with both gloved and bare fingers. Inside the helmet is a removable foam insert. On the Salathe Lite, these inserts are larger and spongier than other helmets I've used, which makes it more comfortable and also does an excellent job of absorbing sweat.
Whatever helmet I use, I normally find the foam starts to get pretty gross after about a year of hard use. To resolve this, I un-velcro the foam and give it a gentle wash. Sadly, after a couple of years of regular use, I find the foam inserts start to disintegrate and can get irritating, whilst the rest of lid is still going strong. At this point, I normally contact the manufacturer, who can send out replacement foam inserts free of charge. So far the Salathe Lite's inserts are still going strong.
The helmet also features two plastic head torch clips on the front, and a large elastic strap at the back, offering secure fixings for both headtorches and ski goggles. I've found these to be secure and low profile.
EPP helmets don't tend to come cheap. The Salathe Lite's retail price of £110 is the same as the comparable Petzl Sirocco, but significantly cheaper than the BD Vapour. Lightweight, well-vented, and decent value: if the Salathe Lite fits your head then it'd be an excellent choice for all your climbing and mountaineering. Being so light may be an advantage for scrambling and winter walking, too. It's a helmet for pretty much anyone, in other words.