When it comes to being active outdoors, I’m a firm believer in buying quality gear. Quality gear is one of the most important factors in deciding whether or not you enjoy your time outdoors, as nine out of ten times, you need a level of protection from the elements you’re up against. In the winter, it’s staying warm and keeping moisture away from you body. In the spring and fall, it’s protection from rain and alternating cold and warm temps. And in the summer, it’s staying cool in the heat while staying protected from the sun.
One of the main brands I consistently come back to time and time again in virtually any season is Helly Hansen. I was introduced to their gear a couple years ago when I bought a Helly sailing jacket, and since then, I’ve been completely and utterly enamored with the brand. It simply performs at an incredibly high level, and every piece of Helly gear I own does exactly what it says it will do.
On a recent trip to Vail and Beaver Creek, I discovered exactly how capable Helly Hansen’s gear was when I found that it’s worn by the entire outdoor staff at each of Vail Resorts locations. After talking with my instructor, it turns out that Helly is now the official provider of outwear for Vail Resorts. Ski/snowboard instructors, lift operators, the search and rescue teams – everyone’s outfitted with Helly gear. Intrigued, I contacted Helly for more info regarding the Vail Resorts uniform program, and they forwarded me a lengthy look at the Helly Hansen brand as well as their uniform partnership with Vail Resorts.
As a huge Helly Hansen fan, I wanted to share it with you, as I’m always intrigued by the inner workings of a performance-driven company. Read on, and I think you’ll find it quite interesting as well.
Helly Hansen History
Helly Hansen’s roots date back to 1877, when a Norwegian captain by the name of Helly Juell Hansen and his wife Maren Margarethe began producing oilskin jackets, trousers, sou’westers and tarpaulins made from coarse linen soaked in linseed oil for the marine industry. It was a concept met with tremendous success, as over the next five years, the pair sold approximately 10,000 pieces, thus laying the foundation for Helly Hansen as we know it.
Since then, Helly Hansen has focused on developing innovative solutions to meet the most demanding of applications, centered around the company’s unique 3-Layer system. In 1949, Helly Hansen introduced the Helox, a thin sheet of translucent PVC plastic sewn into waterproof coats that replaced the oilbased outerwear of the time. Twelve years later, the company introduced the original fleece – the fiberpile – that’s warm, lightweight and fast-drying, making it ideal for wearing under the outer protective layer. Then in the 1970’s, Helly Hansen introduced LIFA – a revolutionary fiber that keeps the skin dry and warm by pushing moisture away from the body, thus making it the ideal baselayer fabric for outdoor and workwear use. And in 1980, Helly Tech technology was launched, making use of both hydrophilic and microporous technology to ensure Helly Hansen gear is both waterproof and breathable.
Combining these developments into a single system, Helly Hansen has mastered the art of layering, and they’ve created a variety of outerwear in both 2-Layer and 3-Layer Systems. The base layer takes moisture and wicks it away from your body. The second layer absorbs the moisture, keeping it away from you body and providing added warmth. And for colder and/or wet conditions, the third outer layer keeps moisture and wind out, protecting you from even the worst elements. The goal is to keep you dry, warm and comfortable, regardless of the conditions around you and your activity level, and it works exceptionally well – and that’s precisely why it’s worn by sailors, skiers and adventurers the world over.
Helly Hansen Uniform Program
Expanding on their lineage of providing gear for those that depend on it day-in and day-out, Helly Hansen made the decision in 2006 to start providing uniforms for the resorts of the Canadian Rockies. In doing so, Helly had the opportunity to put their gear to the ultimate real world test, receiving direct feedback about their product from those that wore it in varied, harsh conditions. There’s simply no lab or computer testing that can come anywhere close to duplicating the rigors of testing in the real world. As Helly told me, a year on the mountain with the pros is like a lifetime of use for most people.
Today, Helly Hansen has become one of (if not the largest) provider of outdoor workwear. In total, Helly’s shipped over 100,000 uniforms worldwide to meet the most demanding of applications, with Helly’s latest partnership –Vail Resorts – receiving approximately 55,000 uniforms. It’s this decision to get as much of their gear as possible in real world testing environments that directly translates into the greatness of the Helly Hansen products you and I wear. Everything from coloring to fit to insulation to fabric technology has been thoroughly tested and analyzed in an incredibly varied number of situations, allowing Helly to fine tune virtually every aspect of their products and ensuring that each piece of gear performs at the level promised.
During my time in Vail, I used Helly Hansen’s three layer system exclusively, and I can tell you first hand I’ve never used a more versatile, comfortable system in my life. Irregardless of the varying temps and my activity level, the Helly system does an incredible job keeping moisture away from your body while keeping wind and colder temps out. It’s simply the best outerwear system I’ve found, period.
Helly Hansen Technology
As already noted, a huge benefit of real world testing for Helly Hansen is that it encourages the use of the latest technology in each of the garments. Two of the ways Helly has implemented technology into their outerwear is with PrimaLoft insulation and the RECCO Rescue System.
If you’re unfamiliar with PrimaLoft, it’s a synthetic insulation developed by Albany International Corp. that was designed as a water resistant alternative to down. Originally created for the U.S. Army, PrimaLoft insulation is warmer, drier, softer and more compressible than other synthetic insulation on the planet, which is why it’s now become the premier insulation used by the Army, Marines and Special Forces. It’s also the exclusive insulation used in Helly Hansen’s complete product lineup.
The secret to PrimaLoft’s greatness lies in its construction. Modeled after goose down, PrimaLoft insulation utilizes ultra-fine fibers to create tiny air pockets, trapping body heat inside while keeping the cold out (as is the case with down). Unlike down, however, PrimaLoft insulation’s microfibers are designed to be permanently water resistant, constructed to create a tight surface tension that both resists moisture and dries faster than down once wet.
Despite it’s water resistance, PrimaLoft is still exceptionally breathable, allowing moisture to be transmitted away from your skin. And what may be one of its greatest attributes, PrimaLoft is exceptionally compressible without any loss of performance, meaning you can compress it as much as you want, and it will maintain the same resiliency as if it were new. It is, without question, the best synthetic insulation on the market.
The second technology utilized by Helly Hansen is the RECCO Rescue System, a vital piece of technology for anyone that ventures out in an area prone to avalanches. Similar to a radar system, RECCO works in two parts. After an avalanche, the search and rescue team uses RECCO detectors to send out a search signal. RECCO reflectors built into your Helly gear then bounce back the signal to rescuers, giving rescuers your precise location. You don’t need any training to use it, it doesn’t require batteries, and it’s permanently attached, so you never have to worry about leaving it at home. And it’s just another way Helly Hansen’s incorporating great technology into the gear they’re bringing you.
Helly Hansen Conclusion
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I love Helly Hansen. It’s a brand that takes tremendous pride in their heritage and what they do, and the result is performance outdoor gear that really has no rival. I’ve worn Helly gear on mountains, in the backcountry, and in -20 degree temps, and it’s performed flawlessly each and every time. No matter what season it is, if you’re looking for some of the best performance outdoor gear on the planet, you’ll find it with Helly Hansen.
Helly Hansen’s Odin Fastpack Jacket has been awarded the very prestigious Norwegian Award for Design Excellence by the Norwegian Design Council. As with all Helly Hansen gear, the Odin Fastpack Jacket is the ideal combination of purposeful design, protection, and style. The jacket weighs in at a mere 242 grams, but it’s built so that you can wear it in inclement weather with the same confidence you would as if you were wearing a bulkier option. The Odin Fastpack features Helly Tech Performance protection, water-resistant Aquaguard zippers and a helmet-compatible hood. You can pick one up at the Helly Hansen website.