Some things are just better together. This is especially true when you have two pieces of gear that have been engineered to partner perfectly with each other for some specialized purpose, like ski goggles and a helmet. The combo that I’ve been taking out all winter is the Level Snow Helmet with MIPS and I/O MAG Snow Goggles, both from Smith Optics. Let’s jump into it!
Smith Level MIPS Helmet Features:
- Hybrid shell construction
- Aerocore construction featuring Koroyd
- Low-profile regulator adjustable climate control with 20 vents
- VaporFit adjustable fit system
- Removable Snapfit SL2 ear pads
- XT2 anti-bacterial performance lining
- AirEvac ventilation
- MSRP: $200 as reviewed ($170 without MIPS)
Smith I/O MAG Goggles Features:
- Smith MAG interchangeable system
- Includes bright light and low light ChromaPop performance lenses
- Spherical carbonic-x lens
- 5X anti-fog inner lens
- TLT lens technology for crystal clear vision
- Responsive Fit frame design
- QuickFit strap adjustment system with clip buckle
- 3-layer DriWix face foam
- Includes microfiber goggle bag with replacement lens sleeve
- MSRP: $240
Goggles meet Helmet: A Love Story
Smith doesn’t really need an introduction, as both their helmets and goggles consistently win top marks (such as this roundup at Outdoor Gear Lab) from customers and industry commentators alike. I’ve been drying to get my hands on one of their integrated systems for years.
For me, the biggest reason mostly has to do with my own body: I tend to run pretty hot, even on cold days, and finding goggles that can handle my output without getting fogged over and then frozen has been really difficult. Half of the battle is the lens technology, but the other half is the ventilation and how well that interfaces with the helmet.
I wanted to do this review in combination because it’s easier to talk about why these two products work well together. The real key thing here is how the goggles and helmet are shaped and vented strategically to maximize the movement of air. Basically, the Level helmet has two vents above a shallow brim that channel air above the goggles. The key thing here is above, not in, since pumping cold air into the goggle isn’t actually what we want.
The idea behind AirEvac is to use oncoming cold air to basically suck the warm, moist air generated by your face up out of the goggles. The AirEvac design does that using the Bernoullie effect, taking advantage of the close fit between the top of the goggles and the vents in the helmet. The warm air gets carried away and back, while the vents that cover the remainder of the top of the helmet cool off the rest of your head, too.
Beyond the close fit between the goggles and helmet and the carefully designed air channels, the other nice thing about the helmet is that the strap keeper system is the perfect size for the wide, silicone-backed band on the goggles. It’s easy to use with gloves on and it’s basically just a big elastic cord and a hook to attach it to. One downside is that, with the brim on the helmet, it’s hard to pop the goggles up and onto the helmet when you walk into the lodge without them just sliding off the top. Frankly, though, that’s bad for the elastic in your spendy goggles – so maybe just as well.
Covering what counts:
Digging more specifically into the helmet, I was really pleased with the ventilation system during testing. It seems to be what Smith has nailed down more than any other helmet manufacturer. The Level has 22 vents total, and you can adjust ten of them with a selector mounted on top of the helmet. Adjusting them actually does make a noticeable difference, which is really the only way to tell that they’re doing anything. Personally, I was really pleased with the adjustment mechanism. On one bitingly cold day when I was wearing my giant mountaineering mitts, I could easily reach up and adjust the vents despite not having fingers to use. Major kudos.
The inner lining is cushy and warm, and it’s also removable for an easy wash. Although, frankly, with the antibacterial coating my sweaty head hasn’t inspired any odors to develop. The ear pads can also accommodate third-party Outdoor Products ear chips that were designed for Smith helmets, for those who like music or the ability to do hands-free calling. One issue that I did have was that the lining kept getting slightly wrinkled as I wore it, leading to creases the caused irritating pressure as the day wore on. I think that more velcro attachment tabs would have solved that.
I tested the MIPS-equipped version, and I really do recommend it. The whole idea with MIPs is to give added protection by absorbing rotational injury in a crash. It’s not a huge price difference, it looks cool, and it adds protection. Seems like a no-brainer to me.
Seeing things clearly:
I should start by saying that the I/O MAG Goggles are really quite high-dollar stuff. It’s remarkable to consider spending $240 on goggles, so my expectations going into the review were really high.
Smith Optics is generally regarded as one of the top companies in the business, and their flagship optical line is their ChromaPop technology. From a technical point of view, the idea behind ChromaPop is to increase the separation between the colors that you’re seeing to enhance contrast. Technically, they do this by creating lenses that filter out some of the intermediate areas of the visible spectrum, essentially creating a bigger ‘gap’ between colors. They have a variety of lenses for a variety of applications, everything from road riding to fishing to surfing.
The whole ChromaPop thing works quite well for Smith, in part because that contrast-enhancing technology is complemented by the really excellent optical clarity of Smith spherical lenses (of which you get two). I have pretty bad eyesight, and was a result I’m hyper-sensitive of the quality of my eyewear. Smith Optics’ gear is right up there with the best. The medium fit is good for most faces, too.
The inner lining of the lens is treated with a five-layer anti-fog technology. I have no idea what the specifics are, but it works super well in combination with the goggle’s ventilation. I *always* can get my eyewear to fog up, but with the I/O MAG it stayed totally minimal. Only the most humid, wet resort days where I was sweating like a horse in my gear made the corners of the goggles show the slightest hint of fogging. But I always had great clarity in these things, which is such a gift in Pacific Northwest conditions.
The I/O MAG also deserve points for just being really slick in looks and functionality, too. Smith ships these with two sets of lenses and the magnetic technology makes lens changes a breeze. There are still clips of course, just one on each side, so you won’t lose a lens in a bad crash. But the magnetic tabs make the lenses snap into the right position to minimize fiddling. I also like the aesthetics of the goggles, with their nearly-frameless appearance which is what everyone wants these days.
- Smith Level Helmet and I/O MAG Goggles interface super smoothly together
- Goggles are basically perfect – no major complaints
- Helmet is quite good but with a few minor quibbles
- I stayed virtually fog-free thanks to the integrated ventilation and the 5x anti-fog coating
- 3-layer foam stayed comfortable all day on the goggles
- The helmet is quite comfortable and adjusts easily
- Easy helmet ventilation is another plus, it’s adjustable even with big gloves on
- ChromaPop lenses, both high and low light, really are excellent for optical quality
- Design makes it hard to pop the goggles up onto your helmet, although that does save your strap
- Helmet lining tended to develop creases that irritated my scalp
The Bottom Line: Smith Level MIPS and I/O MAG Goggles
It’s easy to recommend the Smith Level Helmet and I/O MAG Goggles for skiers and boarders, especially someone who’s maybe looking to upgrade to an integrated system. I was totally pleased with the goggles in both high and low light conditions. The helmet is very good also, with ventilation that actually makes a difference. If you need something for your spring touring or want to get geared up for a 2021 ski season that hopefully won’t be cut short by a pandemic – take a look at Smith.