Things have certainly come a long way from the battered old heavy plastic lid with which I started my climbing career, as Wild Country's Focus Helmet certainly shows. Gone are the days where the only choice was a hard plastic shell with internal webbing cradle. There are now 3 main options: foam, shell and hybrid.
Keeping it brief here is a quick run down:
Foam. THE lightweight option made of expanded polystyrene (EPS), often with a thin polycarbonate shell for durability.
Shell. Made of moulded polycarbonate these tough plastic helmets are often regarded as the hard wearing option.
Hybrid. A mix of the above!
Most manufacturers offer the first two options (if not all three) and the Focus Helmet is Wild Country's lightest product, a top end foam helmet for mountaineers and climbers operating at the extremes, wanting to keep weight down and comfort levels high whatever the situation. Made of EPS with polycarbonate shell sections the Focus has webbing cradle, rotary dial to alter fit, headlamp clips, magnetic buckle on the chin strap, removable washable soft lining and 16 air vents. It comes in two colours, white and bright red for those wanting to cut more of a dash.
The Helmet has a EN 12492 and UIAA (106) certifications (for climbing and mountaineering), meaning it has passed safety tests for penetration, impact and strength of the retention system - no worries on that front then.
So what's it like to wear? Well fitting and very light! At just 220g no matter what activity I tried it for I just kept forgetting it was on my head. Climbing, on ice, alpine or skiing I was comfortable. I have used various climbing and ski helmets over the years and this is the first one that hasn't made my head ache 10 hours into a long route. Less weight to carry in and out of routes is also a big bonus. I was suprrised that my other hybrid helmet only weighed in at 285g yet feels so much heavier to wear: given that actually makes the hybrid 30% heavier than the Focus it shouldn't really have been a surprise.
The webbing chin strap plus plastic cradle allowed for easy fit and adjustment, with the headlamp clips also simple to use. Like others (Dan Bailey!) I will admit to feeling sceptical about the magnetic buckle, a feature which seems to be on not just the Focus helmet but also used by many competing manufacturers. The idea is that the chin strap can be fastened one handed and to start with I found it fiddly. A few days of using the helmet and I was converted. The Magnetic buckle is really easy to use, especially when undoing it- one handed with gloves on, no problem! I am not really sure how often that this function is a necessity but it makes for a nice user experience.
The big question I had was 'how tough is this helmet?'. EPS helmets have a reputation for being fragile so in order to test it properly I made a point of handling it just as roughly as my previous hard shells. Ramming it in my sack, strapping it externally to bags, throwing it into cars and against the boulders, dropping it without a care: I did it all. I also (not planned) had the dubious pleasure various times of having ice shower down on me on routes, though luckily nothing to cause injuries despite a few near misses. I had hoped to drop a few rocks on the helmet to see just what impact it would take, but it seems like the UKC team have that treat in store for you later in the year and I gave this test a miss. So 'drop test' aside the Focus has stood up to rough treatment excellently with no visible deformities yet: I would confidently take it anywhere in the mountains.
I can't say I have found a beautiful helmet yet (!) but the Wild Country team have given it a good go to make the Focus as attractive as possible. Vibrant red and classic white are the current colour options with nice contrast to the foam underneath and bold logos. There is no getting away from the mushroom effect though.
Price-wise - at £79.99 it is not cheap but in reality ii sits bang in-line with comparable options, as does the weight of 220g. There are lighter weight helmets - they cost more money: there are heavier shells - they cost less money. You get exactly what you pay for with this helmet.
To sum up, the Focus helmet does exactly what it says on the box: a great lightweight versatile option, comfortable to wear whether rock climbing or mountaineering, tougher than it appears and well priced. For one I am converted and will be relegating my hard shell to the cupboard!
WHAT WILD COUNTRY SAY:
For the extreme climber inside all of us!
The new Focus is a superlight in-mould helmet that provides top levels of protection in an elegant shell with innovative features. An all-new design provides a stylish and multi-vented polycarbonate and EPS model that sits securely on comfortable inner pads. Volume adjustment is smooth and simple through our ‘Quik-Clik’ dial and clever new magnetic chinstrap buckle. Both of these features can be operated easily with a single hand, or wearing gloves.
This superlight helmet has been designed for extremes and offers the ultimate in protection.
• In-mould construction with EPS foam and durable
• 16 side vents
• 4 lamp clips
• Ultra lightweight rotary dial - adjustable in height for optimum fit
• Chin strap with magnetic buckle for one handed use or with gloves
• Removable and washable comfort lining
• One size
The Focus is available in two colours, Red and White.
See more at wildcountry.com.
About the Heather Swift:
From childhood on a Derbyshire hill farm to living in Chamonix France, South America to Nepal, the outdoors have never been far away for Heather. You are equally likely to find her bouldering, trad or sport climbing, in the alps, on north faces or ski-mountaineering.
- She is currently pioneering the Women's Mountain Collective, a content creation and promotion platform.