Gear Scout: Helly Hansen’s Odin Line

Odin. Remember him? Norse God, eye-patch, short-temper, played by Anthony Hopkins in the recent Thor movie. Basically the most badassed viking character ever.

So even though they are Norwegian, and have been making durable, weather-proof wear since 1877 (that’s 135 years), you could be forgiven for thinking that Helly Hansen choosing Odin as the name of their explorers’ line is just a little cavalier. I mean seriously, there is some great gear out there already; technical, tough, professional stuff. And HH just slaps down the Odin name as if to say “Ja, you make some nice clothes, but you will never come close to this level of Norse bad-assed-ness.”  

The other thing I found interesting was that the Odin name is applied not just to a few hero jackets or products, but to a whole lineup. Shirts, pants, jackets, fleece, etc. If you read my recent Watershed Bag review, you know how much I like products designed to work together as a system, so I was intrigued to check out the HH Odin lineup.

First-off, I think this is the first company making technical gear that seem to actually understand the fit of the average working outdoor pro. I don’t mean a sponsored, professional mountain climber, I mean people with genuine jobs in the outdoors, who work outside all day and still punch a clock. Avalanche prevention crews, SAR techs, trail guides, timber cruisers, you know what I mean. It seems that most of the gear we get is either designed for a Gumpy-shaped physique or an 18 year old yoga instructor. The HH gear actually fits a realistic, healthy middle-age body shape. When you are working outdoors, climbing, dragging a sled, or swinging an axe, you need gear that gives you room to move, without being baggy and getting in the way.

The second thing I liked was that HH doesn’t seem to be in love with a particular fabric. Too many brands come up with a trade-marked fabric (something like polar-gor-fleece-tech-fiber-therm) and then they feel they need to make EVERYTHING out of it. In contrast, the Odin series is made out of whatever material is best at what that piece of gear needs to do. So they have snug base-layers made with a mix of wool and technical fast-drying textiles, looser quilted shirts for general work around the yard with comfy flannel over prima-loft insulation, thin and quick-drying dress shirts with built-in SPF protection, rugged mountain pants with a silk-like lining, armored knees and cuffs, stretchy panels for movement, and jackets featuring every mix of technical and natural textiles you can imagine. Sounds confusing? It isn’t. It just all works together as an effortless package, making layering easy and breathable, but not bulky. Yes, I like systems.

Speaking of systems, the last thing I really like about the HH company is that they have partnerships with working pros around the world. I don’t mean they sponsor extreme athletes with Go-Pro cameras surgically attached to themselves. I mean they work, quietly, with real outdoor pros, and have regular conversations about how to improve their gear. This has resulted in understated details that you don’t appreciate until you are out in the field. Their jackets are designed with hoods that fit comfortably over a helmet, yet can be cinched-back to wear over a bare head. Cuffs are designed to work with gloves, giving a good transition without getting in the way. Their velcro tabs are on top of the cuff so they don’t catch all the time, and you can see they are open before your sleeve is full of snow. Chest pockets are designed to hold a proper 2-way radio, not an ipod. Sleeve pockets will fit avalanche-igniters, pocket-flares, or bear-bangers, and they have a transparent window so you can check at a glance how many you have with you as you run out the door of your hut, truck, or office. Outer-shells are designed to work with back-packs and harnesses, with thoughtful pocket-and seam-placement. The pants are designed to work with ski and snow boots, have lower-leg protection from crampons, have zips that you can open with gloves on, can be zipped to jackets for powder days, etc.

All these little details make a huge difference in the field. Being able to access your sunglasses or GPS without having to undo the strap on your pack seems like a small detail, until you do it a hundred times. OK, so maybe Odin wouldn’t be seen wearing a bright orange shell jacket as he’s out walking the dogs. But really, if you just want to look like a modern version of a Viking tough guy, there is no end of “tactical” jackets and pants available with a ton of loops, hooks, and random bits of velcro everywhere.

If you are a real outdoor enthusiast , not just a wanna-be, (and by real I am referring to the professionals of the outdoors, the guys fixing a microwave tower on a mountaintop in a rainstorm, the resort-crew checking the out-of-bounds ropes at 7am when the snow is blowing sideways, the climatologists tracking glacier-movement in the Rockies, and thousands of others, you know who you are) then you really should take a look at this stuff. It’s worth the effort.

hellyhansen.com

Christophe Noel is a journalist from Prescott, Arizona. Born into a family of backcountry enthusiasts, Christophe grew up backpacking the mountains and deserts of the American West. An avid cyclist and bikepacker, he also has a passion for motorcycles, travel, food and overlanding.

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