Smith's Forefront helmet was truly on the forefront when it came out in 2013. It had a comfortable fit, lots of coverage and a low profile--not to mention a unique, lightweight construction utilizing Koroyd. All that came at a price, though: $220, to be exact. MIPS was added between then and now, creeping the Forefront's asking price to a remarkable $250. The Session will be available this spring as a more economical alternative at $160.
Smith makes bold claims about the Session's ability to protect your head. Of the honeycomb-esque Koroyd structure, which supplements traditional EPS in the shell, Smith claims it "manages energy more efficiently with less volume than any other protection material on the market." Mix in a MIPS slip-plane for claimed rotational force deceleration, and you've got what sounds like a very protective helmet on your hands, or, more prudently, head.
But helmet manufacturers--Smith included--haven't given us any crash-performance data with which to compare helmets, so we'll have to take their word for it. As for facts, there aren't many to speak of when it comes to the performance of helmets: Key factors like ventilation and comfort are both subjective--at least without the use of a wind tunnel. We can talk concretely about design and features, though, so let's start there.
The Session's shell is punctuated by 15 large vents, four of which are occupied by Koroyd panels. The dial-adjusted fit system provides a wide range divided by 40 incremental clicks. The visor is also adjustable, but you've only got two positions to choose from: way up, and way down. It is possible to ease the visor into a middle position, but this requires a delicate touch.
The Subjective Stuff
While Koroyd is claimed to manage energy more efficiently at a lower volume than EPS, I think it also reduces ventilation. Here's my theory: The straws do not all align perfectly with head-on airflow, so air has fewer direct points of entry than it would if the same helmet had open vents--especially along the top of the helmet, where the straws are vertically oriented. Quickly saturated pads and dripping sweat was the result back when I spent time in the Forefront, and that was before it had MIPS--which probably doesn't help.
The Session's large, open primary vents, were then a welcome sign, as I suspected that this lower-end helmet would likely feel airier than its C-suite sibling. For once, I was right. Remember, this is the subjective part--I'm allowed to say that. The Session cycles air in and out as well as a $160 helmet should. Now, I haven't tested it in any really steamy conditions, but it's comfortable at least into the 70s. I've also worn it on sub-30-degree days. If you really want to feel how air flows through a helmet, try it out in the cold.
Fit and Features
Like the Forefront, the Session has an even-feeling fit that doesn't cause any pressure or discomfort while riding. I would prefer fixed strap splitters, but oh well. Sometimes you have to settle for a PB&J, even though you really wanted a PB&J on buttered toast. Such is life.
Sunglasses can be secured to the shell by sliding the temple tips into pockets between the Koroyd and EPS on either side, and there's room for goggles under the visor. Smith is best in class when it comes to giving you places to put your eye gear; this is a brand that knows how to butter its own bread. The open vents along the top also allow users to use strap-mounted accessories--something that isn't possible with the Forefront.
The Forefront's unique design has earned legions of fans and a few vocal haters. Both groups would be wise to try on a Session. It boasts the Forefront's best features--fit, volume and potentially protection--in a more traditional-looking helmet that in many ways is actually closer to the lower-case forefront.