The Atlas Helium Trail
– Price: $150
– Length: 23” (58cm) – also available in 26” (66cm) & 30” (76cm)
– Max recommended load: 160lbs (73 kg)- 220lbs (100 kg) for 26 in. and 270+lbs (122kg) for 30 in.
– Weight per pair: 3.6lbs (1.6kg)
– Snowshoe terrain: Deep snow, moderate inclines and terrain
The Wise Adventurer’s Verdict
This is our review of the Atlas Helium Trail, a budget-friendly snowshoe that punches well above its price point.
If you ever wanted to know just how much snowshoe you can possibly get for $150, the folks at Atlas have your answer. The Atlas Helium Trail is the brand’s most affordable composite shoe, but it’s also graced with many of the same features found in Atlas’ flagship offerings.
Atlas has been making snowshoes for the better part of 30 years now, so when they say these shoes are meant for “less extreme winter hikes” you’d do well to believe them. Still, we couldn’t resist getting them off trail to find their limits, and you’ll be glad we did.
Atlas Helium Trail: Detailed Evaluation
In our snowshoes field testing, we seek to evaluate each pair of snowshoes on all metrics that make a pair of snowshoe worth buying. This includes everything from the finer details on how they perform over specific types of terrain to big-picture themes like their ease of use, traction or walkability.
We test each snowshoe in different terrain and conditions to give you an accurate depiction of what to expect. Here are our tester’s impressions after covering some serious ground in the Atlas Helium Trail.
The Atlas Helium Trail lands right in the middle of the pack in terms of floatation, as do most shoes with an emphasis on versatility over specialization. You could certainly get better floatation out of a larger shoe, but you could also do a lot worse with something smaller and even more flexible.
All things considered, the Helium Trail may fall a bit short of more technical designs at two or three times its price point, but the difference is middling at best and our testers didn’t feel it was worth splitting hairs over. If you’re planning on hiking through lots of deep powder, this shoe will get you where you want to go.
Overall the Atlas Helium Trail delivers “good-not-great” performance across the board, but when it came to traction, this budget-friendly shoe really started to show its limitations. We found the Helium Trail delivered adequate traction over easy to moderate terrain, but when things got steep or icy, they were out of their depth. There are a few obvious reasons for this, all of which are plain to see on the underside of the shoe.
In terms of steep terrain, the main culprits here are the Helium Trail’s unidirectional traction aids and extremely limited toe crampons. Going uphill, these shoes work well enough, as all of their “teeth” save for the sole crampon at the toe are angled toward the rear of the shoe.
Once you point these shoes downhill, however, things can go south quickly. Our testers often found themselves reluctantly “skiing” down steeper slopes because the backs of the shoes lack any significant perpendicular reinforcements to keep the shoes from slipping.
As far as icy terrain or melt-freeze conditions, the rounded edges of the Helium Trail’s crampon and traction rails just didn’t deliver the kind of bite you need to tread confidently. Both are clearly an upgrade from your typical no-name department store special, but if you’re looking into more technical pursuits, you’ll want more traction for safety’s sake.
We’ve gotta give credit where credit is due: The Atlas Helium Trail is a joy to walk in. We can’t say we were too surprised here, as these shoes are extremely lightweight and somewhat flexible, but there’s actually some interesting tech at work here if you know where to look.
First is the “Helium” nylon decking that the shoes take their name from, which the company claims make the Helium Trail the lightest composite (plastic) shoe on the market. The series of louvered cutouts at the tail of the shoe help to reduce the overall material weight and bulk, but they also allow the Helium Trail to shed snow buildup with ease, which limits the extra weight you’re hauling around with each step.
We’re also fond of the heel lifter in the Helium Trail, which Atlas updated for the 2023 model year. The new mechanism is basically identical to the old one, but only provides 12-degrees of lift rather than the outgoing model’s 19 degrees. Considering Atlas’ intention for these shoes to be beginner-friendly and focused on less demanding terrain, less lift is better suited to the Helium’s mission.
In addition to the aforementioned heel lifter, the Helium Trail’s stretchy new binding is the other major upgrade for the 2023 year. Gone is the traditional nylon webbing system found on other Atlas Models like the Montane, and in its place is a stretchy rubberized harness not unlike MSR’s popular “Paragon” binding system.
The outgoing webbing binding was easy to use and exceptionally comfortable, so while some of us were sad to see it go, the new “Wrapp Stretch” system does the job just as well. The material is super stretchy, which makes for a comfortable fit that works well with boots and shoes alike.
No,it doesn’t have the sophistication of a BOA binding, and no, it’s not as secure as one of a TSL’s three-way adjustable systems. Still, the new Wrapp Stretch system is more than secure enough for casual use, and achieves Atlas’ goal of being as beginner friendly and intuitive as possible.
We didn’t experience any durability issues with the Atlas Helium Trail, and we don’t have any immediate concerns with longevity to share either. There’s no denying that these shoes feel “less durable” alongside more premium options including other composites like the Tubbs Flex VRT though, which is something to consider.
Over the long term, we’ll be interested to see how the various components of these shoes hold up. The Helium decking is light and thin by design, but everything mounted to it looks and feels plenty strong enough for regular use over mild terrain. To be fair these shoes have now been on the market in one version or another for about three years now, and we’ve yet to see a single person who’s managed to damage them.
Value is the biggest selling point of these shoes, and between the full length traction rails, lightweight decking, solid walkability, and comfortable bindings, there’s just no doubt that you’re getting your money’s worth, even when paying full retail price for a pair.
The Helium Trail may not deliver the most sophisticated construction or the most technical performance, but they’re a proper snowshoe from a reputable company that costs less than some shoes with half their appeal.
These shoes have their limits, and if you stay within them, you’ll love every minute in the Atlas Helium Trail. That means long hikes through fresh snow, rolling hills, groomed trails, and packed snow are all fair game, and all for well under $200. You’ll definitely want something else if you’re looking to tackle steep climbs and descents or icy terrain that requires more aggressive traction aids, but outside of those conditions, these shoes are a home run.
What We Like
The Atlas Helium Trail is a budget-focused snowshoe, and bang for our buck was the single biggest feature for us. There are much less capable, durable, and technical options out there for the same price (or more), and for that, we salute the folks at Atlas.
It’s also worth mentioning that while these aren’t the most technically-inclined shoes, they do include an impressive assortment of modern features for the money. Atlas likely could have sold plenty of these things for the same price without the heel lifter, the hinged binding, or the ultralight decking, and that fact isn’t lost on us.
We also appreciate that Atlas is continuing to improve and refine their most budget-friendly shoe, and the new version for 2023 really leans into its intended use. The Helium Trail was never meant to be a go-anywhere, do-anything shoe, and the new bindings and less-aggressive heel lifters both feel like steps in the right direction for its more laid-back intentions.
What We Don’t Like
The main drawback of these shoes is their limited traction, which subsequently limits their all-around versatility. We can’t really complain considering the price point here, but these simply aren’t the first (or second) pair of snowshoes we’re reaching for when the going gets steep or icy.
Aside from that, we really don’t have any complaints here. Sure, the plastic decking is loud (especially over packed/icy snow), but the same goes for any shoe with a composite deck.
The new binding will be a plus for some and a minus for others, but it’s a minor difference either way you look at it. Some people complain that Atlas’ traditional nylon webbing system is difficult or complicated, but we’ve always felt it was one of the easiest and most intuitive setups on the market. To each their own, but for what it’s worth, we like the new one too.
- Tubbs Flex VRT: A beefier composite decking option with better traction, better flotation, and a BOA binding system. Read our full test and review of the Tubbs Flex VRT…
- MSR Evo Trail: Another smart option for the budget-conscious. Costs a bit more, but delivers better traction and versatility.
- TSL Symbioz Elite: A unique shoe with excellent traction and a highly flexible decking that delivers a natural walking experience at a reasonable price. Read our full test and review of the TSL Symbioz Elite…
The Bottom Line
Despite its limited traction over technical terrain, there’s simply nothing else on the market that competes with the Atlas Helium Trail’s value for the money. This shoe is comfortable, capable, and surprisingly sophisticated, all while costing about half of the competition.
It’s the perfect shoe for beginners who don’t want to go all in on the sport, but it’s also a great casual or backup option for the seasoned veterans out there. The updates for 2023 make the Helium Trail more user-friendly than ever, and as long as you keep them off the iciest stuff, we’re confident they’ll serve you well.