Purchased winter 2016, reviewed March 2017
The Hestra Heli is the flagship ski glove from Swedish glovemaker Hestra, which calls it “a modern classic with many uses.” Look around at any ski resort and you’ll spot the distinctive two-tone Heli (white goat leather palm and fingers, with a dark 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 shrugged, stopped me mid-sentence and said “just go buy some Hestra Helis.” So here we are.
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.
The workmanship 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.
One of the best features of the Heli is that it is built with a removable liner. The liners are very well-constructed and comfortable, with no annoying seams or lines of stitching. Separating the shell and liner allows the glove to dry much faster than a glove with an integrated liner, or allows you to use a different liner glove entirely.
When temperatures soar (say, during a sunny backcountry skin in March), you can pull the fleece liners out and use them alone without the shells.
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.
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.
The leather used on the palms and fingers is tough but not indestructible. It is much stronger than the weak fabric or fake leather used on most gloves, but with enough hard use (scrambling over rocks or carrying wood, say) you will eventually wear through it in places.
Hestra Heli Performance: Wind and Waterproofness
Hestra markets the Heli as “windproof, waterproof and breathable,” a claim repeated widely online. In my experience, the Heli is effectively windproof but its claim to waterproofness is dubious. 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 receives heavy wear. It’s 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 fades the Hestra Heli quickly surrenders to water. It’s hard to know exactly why the Heli seems especially vulnerable to water; some backing fabrics wet out faster and hold more water than others, and performance varies widely between “waterproof-breathable” membranes. The seams on the Heli’s shells are unsealed, and there are a lot of them. The goat leather palms and fingers also eventually wet out, even after treatment with Hestra’s leather conditioner. If rain, wet spring snow, or splashes of water make their way through the shell they will soak the liner, which has no hope of drying unless removed from the shell. This can be frustrating 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 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.