Hestra Heli

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The Hestra Heli is the flagship ski glove from Swedish glovemaker Hestra, which calls it “a modern classic with many uses.” Look around at many ski resorts, and you’ll spot the distinctive two-tone Heli (white goat leather palm and fingers, with a black, blue, or red nylon nylon back and gauntlet) just about everywhere. Outdoor Gear Lab calls the glove “tried and true,” and D’Arcy McLeish at Snowbrains notes that “the Hestra Heli Glove has long been the choice of snow professionals.” A couple years ago I was ranting to my brother, a volunteer ski patroller, about how disappointing my current gloves were. He stopped me mid-sentence and said “just go buy some Hestra Helis.” So here we are.

Hestra Heli ski gloves after two winter seasons of use

The Hestra Heli glove, after two+ seasons of regular use downhill skiing, backcountry skating, hiking, and winter bonfire building.

Fit and Construction

The Heli comes in European sizes, meaning that instead of the three size options normal in the US (small-medium-large) you get to pick a 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, or 12. This makes finding the perfect size a lot easier. In terms of fit, the Hestra Heli is a bulky glove. Even when sized correctly, you can also sneak a thin wool or synthetic liner inside the Heli’s fleece liner. This is a glove that unabashedly prioritizes warmth over dexterity–ski boot buckles are no problem but zippers can be a challenge.

Hestra Heli glove holding frozen water bottle

The Hestra Heli excels in cold, dry weather. Summit of South Suicide Peak in Chugach State Park, winter 2015/16. Don’t forget to turn your bottles upside-down in the winter so ice forms on the bottom! Photo: Cale Green.

The craftsmanship on these gloves is top-notch. The goat leather palms and fingers softened so quickly that I wondered about durability, but they’ve survived in great shape minus a few scuffs and scratches. The goat leather does need to be treated regularly to keep it in good shape, and Hestra includes a small pouch of waterproofing material with the gloves. The polyamid snythetic material used on the back of the glove and gauntlet is very rugged and seems to be totally oblivious to two seasons of hard use. The drawcords, straps, and velcro holding the liner are all doing their job without complaint. The liners are very well-constructed and comfortable, with no annoying seams or lines of stitching.

Hestra Heli glove features

The Hestra Heli’s features include (from left to right) a velcro wrist strap, carabiner and loops with metal eyelets, handcuffs, and a gauntlet cinch. The Heli prioritizes durability, features, and performance over weight.

Hestra Heli Performance: Warmth and Protection

Hand warmth is very specific to individuals, and is influenced dramatically by circulation, other clothing choices, and exertion. That said, the Hestra Helis are comfortable for me as downhill ski gloves down to about 10°F, and for hiking down to around -5°F. With an additional light liner they can be pushed lower, and their roomy construction makes it easy to slip in a chemical handwarmer, even without the presence of a dedicated sleeve or pocket. When temperatures really soar (say, during a sunny backcountry skin in March), you can pull the fleece liners out and use them alone without the shells.

The Hestra Heli is really two gloves in one: a rugged shell and a thick fleecy liner. The two parts are attached with a full-circumference strip of strong velcro (visible at the cuff of the liner). Detaching the liner makes it much easier/faster to dry the gloves.

The gauntlets are sized large enough to fit over the sleeves of any normal ski jacket. The combination of cinches on the gauntlets and velcro on the wrists works perfectly to block snow. I can’t remember a single snowflake making its way to my hands while wearing these gloves. And if you do yardsale (under the lift line, of course), the elastic “handcuff” straps will keep your gloves off the market.

Hestra Heli glove leather

The goat leather palms and fingers start out bright white but quickly take on character from your outdoor adventures.

Hestra Heli Performance: Wind and Waterproofness

Hestra markets the Heli as “windproof, waterproof and breathable,” a claim widely repeated online. There is really no mincing words here: this claim is simply false. The Hestra Heli is coated with DWR, a polymer that causes water to bead up and slide off. But DWR quickly wears off of clothing, especially on a glove that is receiving heavy wear. Even at its best, its questionable whether a DWR finish should count as “waterproofing.” Even a cotton t-shirt with DWR will shed a spray of water, at least for a while. In any case, once the DWR beings to fade the polyamid fabric on the Hestra Heli quickly surrenders to water. The goat leather palms and fingers also wets out, even after treatment with Hestra’s leather conditioner. Rain, wet spring snow, or splashes of water will make their way through the shell and soak the liner, which has no hope of drying unless removed from the shell. This can cause a lot of frustration on days with wide temperature swings, and leave you with wet, cold, heavy gloves as the sun goes down and the mercury drops.

I e-mailed Hestra to ask about waterproofing and received the following response:

“We recommend using a spray-on DWR for the cloth backhand portion, and a leather waterproofer like NikWax for the palm to improve water resistance. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for whatever product you use, and please avoid SnoSeal, we’ve found that it can be corrosive to the threading on our gloves’ seams.”

The Hestra Heli meeting their match on Adak Island, in the Aleutians. The mixture of snow, wind, and rain quickly overpowered the shells and soaked the fleece liners. Photo: Cale Green.

Bottom Line

The Hestra Heli is a robust, warm winter workhorse ski glove with a notable vulnerability to water. Despite this Achilles Heel, they excel in moderately cold, dry snow winter conditions, especially under hard use.

Wearing the Hestra Heli while carrying a metal ice awl on Portage Lake, in front of the face of Portage Glacier. The Heli is a great glove for hard work, whether that means teaching ski racers or drilling through a glacial lake to make an ice rink. Photo: Cale Green.