509 Carbon Altitude Helmet Review
Fast forward 20 years down the outdoor-recreation-career-highway full of twists, turns, detours and a lot of different gear. Reliability and function are still key, but I now have greater appreciation for the bells and whistles that can make the ride enjoyable and ensure I can get the job done comfortably. As someone who relies on their equipment for work, I have no soft feelings for gear that doesn’t deliver.
After 30 test rides in the field, here’s my take on the 509 Carbon Altitude Helmet.
509 Carbon Altitude Helmet Review
509 has three backcountry, MX-style helmet lines; Altitude, Carbon Altitude and Tactical. All of these helmets are covered by a one-year warranty, come with a breath box installed and have a removable/washable liner. The Carbon Altitude comes with a zip-up carrying case.
The 509 Carbon Altitude Helmet, tested here, comes in eight different sizes (XS-4XL) across three different outer-shell molds to help ensure a good fit. There are seven different styles—my tested helmet colour is called Off Grid Hi-Vis. It retails for $450 CAD.
The Test Drive
The claim to fame for the 509 headwear line up is the precision fit. I found the helmet to fit true-to-size, with internal padding that can be favourably compared to the molded bucket seats found in an Italian race car. It feels luxurious. While the liner is supple and provides good coverage, there are no pressure points, sloppy movement, or excessive bulk.
The Carbon Altitude has a low profile and is the only helmet I have ever worn that allows full head movement in any direction without also having to shift my torso or shoulders to accommodate the helmet binding up on my airbag or jacket. The unhindered mobility translates to better rider positioning and balance overall.
As a guide and avalanche educator, I am routinely sliding my helmet on and off, or leaving it on my bars to talk. Most helmets have a quick-dry interior liner that chafes my temples or freezes into a hard torture device after a while. The soft interior “Pro Series” lining on the Carbon Altitude has always stayed super cush and pliable.
I’ve been testing the Kingpin Goggle as well, and the goggle to helmet interface is impeccable, with only minor air seepage noted on a -32˚C day riding up the trail with no balaclava.
Durability and Strength
The Carbon Altitude Helmet is the most durable, strongest and lightest in 509’s lineup, and is advertised as having a carbon composite shell.
I had the pleasure of taking a couple good diggers in this helmet. The visor not only stayed intact but it didn’t even move, courtesy of the locking top center mount.
It should be noted that after 30 days of riding and rolling around in the back of my truck or jammed unapologetically into a gear bag, there has been no separation between any of the molding, and no fading, peeling, chipping or even a scratch on the paint (nor scratches or hazing on the goggles for that matter). This helmet is built to last.
Warmth and Venting
Each 509 helmet includes 8 intake and exhaust vent ports and a cold weather breath box. The helmet also has a little bit of a unique design, featuring a triangular fabric extension called a ‘chin curtain’, just below the chin piece.
While the added protection of the breath box delivered on cold days up the trail, any riding other than that with it installed left me feeling straight up claustrophobic—kind of like running up a flight of stairs and then trying to catch your breath in a paper bag.
While the breath box is easily removable, not having it installed did end up in fogged or iced-up goggles on more than one occasion during the really cold month of February. I tested this helmet throughout the Polar Vortex, so I am unsure of the warm weather breathability and venting. But I can say I never ran too hot or too cold…just out of breath.
Technology and Protection
Many riders are familiar with 509 Fidlock magnetic buckle chin strap system. It’s an easy system to get used to and very convenient, even with gloves on.
However—and here’s my only girly moment of the review—there are too many edges and moving pieces within this system that end up tangled in my frozen mat of hair, which makes for some awkward moments.
Both the Altitude and the Carbon Altitude lines from 509 meet ECE safety standards, and some styles of each model utilize the MIPS brain protection system. MIPS technology, which has been tested since 1996, utilizes a low friction layer between the outer shell and inner liner that ‘slides’ with impact to absorb and redirect rotational forces. Even though studies have long shown MIPS to be effective at reducing energies transmitted to the brain in a crash, it is only recently becoming more commonly found in higher-end helmets.
For their top-of-the-line helmet, I would expect nothing less than industry-leading features to go along with the $450 CAD price tag.
I am cautiously optimistic about the value of carbon helmets. Any helmet that meets DOT or ECE standards must past the same rigorous safety tests—so the “carbon fiber is stronger” argument is debatable in this case.
Carbon fiber’s true claim-to-fame lies in its lightweight superiority. The weight difference between the 509 Carbon Altitude and the thermoplastic Altitude Helmet is 124 g on a scale. That doesn’t sound like much, but that’s 10% lighter. The weight difference is noticeable when you pick up the same size Carbon Altitude and Altitude helmets. If your arms can feel it, your neck is sure to feel the difference throughout the day.
The ‘worth’ decision is a personal one. In this case, for $100 CAD more than the standard Altitude Helmet you get a 10% lighter helmet, a sweet helmet bag and some different style options.
Just remember, when it comes to your most valuable asset—your medulla oblongata—I would absolutely recommend you purchase the best helmet you can afford. After all, what is beauty without brains?