Atlas Helium Trail Snowshoes Review

Atlas Helium Trail Snowshoes Review

The Atlas Helium Trail ($140) is a lightweight and surprisingly inexpensive snowshoe designed for use on rolling hills and easy terrain. It has great traction and an easy-to-adjust webbing-based binding system that is compatible with most winter hiking boots. The Helium Trail Snowshoes also come with heel lifts (televators) which make climbing hills easier and are not usually found on less expensive snowshoes.

But the Helium Trail Snowshoes have one fatal flaw that prevents me from giving them a blanket recommendation. The webbing strap in the binding is cut where it rubs against the traction rails, which can lead to a catastrophic failure of the binding. I detail this issue below and illustrate it with a video.

The Helium Trail has traction rails and a pivoting front crampon.
The Helium Trail has traction rails and a pivoting front crampon.

It’s a pity because the Helium Trail Snowshoes have otherwise exceeded my expectations. My hope is that Atlas will redesign the Helium Trail snowshoe binding on what is otherwise an outstanding product.

Specs at a Glance

  • Gender: Unisex
  • Sizes: 23″ (3 lbs 5 oz), 26″ (3 lbs 8.4 oz)
  • Traction: front crampon, side traction rails
  • Heel Lifts: Yes
  • Shape: Teardrop
  • Deck Material: Plastic
  • Max Recommended Load: 23″ (up to 160 lbs), 26″ (up to 220lbs)

Snowshoes are heavy, ranging from four to five pounds per pair, depending on sizing. But the thing that sets the Helium Trail Snowshoe apart from other makes and models is the fact that they only weigh 3 pounds and 5 ounces, which is an astonishingly low weight for a 23″ snowshoe. The 26″ snowshoe, which I’ve been using for the past 4 weeks, weighs 3 lbs 8.4 oz per pair.

Atlas Helium Trail is a plastic snowshoe with a simple webbing strap binding
Atlas Helium Trail is a plastic snowshoe with a simple webbing strap binding

While they are lightweight, I was also intrigued by the webbing-based binding system which looked much easier to use and apt to stay closed than the ski strap bindings on the MSR EVO Ascent Snowshoes that I usually wear. Those are also great snowshoes, but they’re heavier, shorter in length and their bindings have a tendency to pop open at awkward times.

Atlas also offers the Helium snowshoe with two different binding systems. The Helium BC Snowshoe is nearly identical to the Helium Trail except that its binding uses a stretchy ski strap instead of one made from webbing, while the Helium MTN Snowshoe has a Boa-based binding system. I’m not a huge fan of either of these based on past experiences with ski strap binding (as described above) and Boa bindings, which are very bulky and make it difficult to strap snowshoes to a backpack when not in use.

Long 26” snowshoes provide good flotation in deep powder
Long 26” snowshoes provide good flotation in deep powder

Teardrop Design

The Atlas Helium Trail is a teardrop-shaped plastic snowshoe with a front crampon and side traction rails. The front crampon is made with tempered steel while the traction rails are made with aluminum to help reduce weight. The Helium has a televator heel lift, which you can flip up to reduce calf strain when climbing hills. This must be done by hand since there’s no other way to grasp the televator wire, but a good whack with your trekking pole handles is enough to flip them back down when they’re no longer needed.

The plastic decking is surprisingly durable and has a lot of flex in it when you step on obstacles like rocks or small ledges. Louvers (angled slits) cut into the surface of the decking keep the deck flexible while shedding powdery snow. I consider the flotation good, but not extraordinary for a 26-inch snowshoe.

The Helium Trail’s front crampon provides an excellent bite in ice, hard snow, and mixed rock and snow for hill climbing, but the side traction rails are not that impressive when side-hilling on crusty snow. The Helium MTN and Helium BC models have slightly more aggressive front crampons, but I doubt the difference is that material.

Helium Trail Binding

The Altas Helium Trail has a simple webbing-based binding that you pull up to tighten making it super easy to use. It also stays properly tensioned when in use. The binding is “handed” so you must put your right foot into the right-hand snowshoe and your left foot into the left. An “R” and a “L” are embossed in the bottom of the binding although they’re hard to see.

The webbing strap pulls plastic ribs around your footwear cradling your foot in place while properly positioning them above the front crampon. As you walk, the binding pivots through a large front hole in the front of the snowshoe, so the front crampon digs into the snow in front of you while the rear of the snowshoe floats on top of the surface of the snow providing flotation. This is a standard snowshoe design.

The webbing strap has some slack in it but there’s a small plastic clip that you can snug the extra length into to keep it from flopping around when you’re snowshoeing. I’ve found that the extra length does not catch on passing vegetation, even when snowshoeing off-trail. This had been one of my chief concerns with these snowshoes, but it hasn’t been a problem.

When the front crampon pivots forward is catches on the traction rails which cut into it
When the front crampon pivots forward it catches on the traction rails which cut into it.

In addition to the webbing, a ski strap is used to lock your heel in place. If you don’t use the heel strap, your heel and boots won’t track straight or level, making it much harder to walk. The heel strap has holes punched into it and is held in place by a buckle with a little metal nub…exactly like the one on MSR snowshoes that comes undone frequently. The heel strap is also lower quality and has less elasticity than a proper ski strap making it hard to get a tight fit that stays secure. But that’s not the big showstopper with this binding, just an annoyance.

The Traction Rails Cut the Webbing Strap

A bigger problem is as follows: When the binding pivots forward, the webbing strap passes perilously close to the traction rail teeth on the outside front edge of the snowshoes. If your winter boots have a wide toebox, the webbing straps come in contact with traction rail teeth, cutting it, which will eventually lead to failure.

I encountered this defect because I wear a pretty chunky winter boot (The North Face Chilkat 400 II, size 11), but it might not be an issue for people with narrower footwear if there’s enough clearance between the webbing strap and the traction rail teeth to avoid any friction between the two. Still, it’s a design flaw that really should be fixed by Atlas. It really is just a matter of time before the webbing strap is cut straight through.

The location of the frontmost webbing strap brings it into contact with the traction rail teeth
The location of the frontmost webbing strap brings it into contact with the traction rail teeth.

When I contacted Atlas support about my cut webbing, which occurs on both my left and right snowshoes, they offered to start a warranty process and replace my snowshoes. I declined because 1) the problem would just recur with a replacement set and 2) the Helium Trail is out of stock everywhere and they don’t expect a shipment from China until next autumn or winter. Instead, they advised me to return them to REI, where I’d purchased them for a refund.

If I worked at Atlas, I guess I’d be a little bit more concerned about this design issue than they were. Granted it might only occur with larger size boots and not smaller and more narrow ones, but it could be easily fixed with a minor modification to the way the webbing is attached to the binding. You or I can’t make that modification though – it would have to be made in the factory.

Assessment

Snowshoes are an essential piece of winter hiking gear and they have to be durable and reliable. While the Atlas Helium Trail Snowshoe is an impressively lightweight and functional piece of gear, the webbing-based binding is flawed and will fail when the traction rails cut through it with use. I’d also caution you to avoid the Atlas Helium BC Model which has a nearly identical binding but uses a flexible plastic strap instead of a webbing strap. The Boa binding on Atlas Helium MTN Model does not come in contact with the traction rails and is probably a safe bet, although one that is much more expensive than the Helium Trail reviewed here.

Disclosure: The author owns this product.

Editor's note: Help support this site by making your next gear purchase through one of the affiliate links above. Click a link, buy what you need, and some sellers may contribute a small portion of the purchase price to support SectionHiker's unsponsored and independent gear reviews, beginner FAQs, and free hiking guides.

Most Popular Searches

  • atlas plastics

11 comments

  1. In my experience it is not unusual to talk with support at a company – have them listen (supposedly) to your description of a technical problem you encounter with their product, and the immediate answer is to get you a new one. I agree with you, you would think that even if the individual you initially contact does not have the interest or understanding, they would try and get you in touch with someone else in the organization that does. But that rarely happens. I have an old pair of Atlas BC shoes and like them, but hearing something like this would make me less likely to replace them with an Atlas shoe in the future. About the only thing you can do is to give them a realistic review on REI and hope someone who is looking to use the snowshoes for more than walking on the local golf course or state park will be aware of this flaw.

  2. Can’t leave a review on a product that’s out of stock. I’ve also had REI delete my negative reviews of products, so I don’t bother anymore.

  3. Couldn’t you take a file and reduce the plastic so it does not rub against the binding?

    • Nope. Not enough clearance. The only effective remedy is to attach the webbing to the top of the plastic tab like they do with the Boa binding on the MTN model or to move the traction rails back so they’re not adjacent to the binding when it pivots forward.

  4. Great review. Ive ran Atlas for 15+ years now and never had issues like yours. Couple thoughts after watching the vid several times working with the assumption your still planning to keep them.
    1) Use a pliers and bend the interfering teeth away enough for clearance
    2) file/ grind/ cut the tooth so it is shorter
    3) Pop / cut the rivet holding the web and reattach where it works better. When the binding straps on my Atlas shoes needed replaced the parts came with stainless nuts, bolts, and washers to replace the factory rivets.
    4) Cut that section ( tooth?) completely out and drill/bolt the remaining ends of the rail into place

    I realize it all may be more trouble than its worth. Im surprised and saddened to hear Atlas is not taking your issue seriously.

    • No, I’m going to return them to REI. I did manage to score a pair of the Helium MTN snowshoes with the Boa binding and I’ll probably just use them. I’m no stranger to hacking gear, but in this case it’s just not worth it.

      I suspect that Atlas will take it more seriously when they get more user feedback about the issue. With the Pandemic supply chain issues and product stuck in China in containers, I suspect very few people have been able to purchase these snowshoes this year, which I why no one’s noticed the problem.

  5. The moral of the story is…if can last a winter of white mountains hiking, its probably pretty durable. This was obviously a fail.

  6. I dunno about current ATLAS ‘shoe bindings but my old ATLAS bindings TOTALLY DISINTEGRATED after 12 years! Not good.

    I now own MSR Lightning Ascent ‘shoes (1st gen.) and they are still going strong.

    • I would consider 10 years, if you used them a lot, to be a good return on investment.

    • In the past 6 years I’ve gone through a pair of Easton Artica Backcountries (same issue as the Helium binding strap), 2 pairs of Lightning Ascents (frame and crampon warping), and a pair of Revo Ascents (frame bending). I’d kill to get a fraction of that 12 years out of a pair of snowshoes.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

error: