Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Lightest rain jacket we have tested, packs into itself.
Cons: The quest for helium weight means no hand pockets, no side zippered pockets.
Best Uses: Wind and light rain protection, just-in-case rain gear.
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
Outdoor Research's Helium II jacket is essentially a cross between super-light wind jacket and rain jacket. It offers the extended water resistance of a rain jacket with the ultra-light weight of a wind jacket. Bottom line: this jacket is extremely useful, especially for backpackers, but it is not the best jacket specifically for rain protection. It wins our Top Pick award because it is the best ultralight rain jacket.
The Helium II is the lightest and most packable rain jacket of all that we tested, making it ideal for moving light and fast, or to carry around as a just-in-case layer for protection against wind and rain. With a tested weight of only 6.5 ounces and a packed size little bigger than a digital camera case, we found that the Helium II was convenient to have when we needed it and no trouble at all to carry when we didn't. While the jacket is super cool as a lightweight wind and rain layering option, it is not optimal for prolonged exposure to the elements, or long bouts of high exertion activity. For the ultra-lightweight hiker, it's hard to beat the Helium II. For a slightly more featured, slightly heavier, yet still lightweight minimalist rain jacket, we recommend the Montane Minimus Jacket. If you're looking for a more full-on rain jacket for prolonged exposure to wet weather or high exertion rainy activities, check out the Marmot Oracle.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
An extremely lightweight and packable minimalist shell, this piece is ideal for those looking to pack a protection layer that takes up as little space and weight as possible.
Despite its utterly minimalist design, this jacket is fairly waterproof. We would liken this jacket more to a wind shell with water protection than a strict rain jacket. All the seams are fully taped and the 2.5 layer Pertex® Shield+ fabric does a decent job of keeping the water out, but testers did experience leaking around the main zipper, and the cuffs are a particularly weak point. They are simple elastic and offer little in the way of keeping water from dribbling down the sleeves if arms are extended overhead. The hood is small, but touts a decent sized brim.
This jacket offers little in the way of ventilation and breathability. There are no pit-zips or mesh lined pockets to increase air flow, and the fabric does not breathe as well as a three-layer hard shell material.
Comfort & Mobility
This is a minimalist jacket with virtually no design features aimed at comfort. There are no soft fuzzy parts to this jacket. Frankly, this jacket is not built for comfort, it's built for speed. It is designed to be worn for booking it off the ridgeline with black clouds on your tail, not for a cruise around town or a rainy day stroll.
The fit of the jacket is athletic, and it is so light that there are very few hindrances to mobility when wearing it. The hood is somewhat small and barely (just barely) accommodates a helmet.
The single greatest feature on this jacket is the fact thatit is so light. By creating such a lightweight jacket, Outdoor Research had to eliminate any features that weren't absolutely necessary. The result is a streamlined jacket with no features beyond those that serve a definite purpose.
Lack of pit-zips or other means for ventilation keeps the jacket light, but doesn't allow for additional air flow. The hood is only adjustable from the back, and there are no adjustments along the cuffs. There is a simple chest pocket for a map, topo, or any miscellaneous gear that needs stashing, and there is a simple drawstring along the waist. The main zipper is waterproof and DWR coated to prevent rain from leaking in, as is the zipper for the chest pocket.
This jacket does pack into a small interior pocket, and the result is one of the smallest packages we've seen, making it super convenient to carry around even if you don't end up using it. Testers found it incredibly useful as an emergency layer on Sierra peaks.
Weight & Bulk
This is the lightest, most compact jacket we tested by far. It weighed in at only 6.5 ounces and it packs into its own pocket, forming a bundle almost as small as our digital camera case. It has a carabiner loop to clip it onto a pack or harness.
The jacket's super-light weight and small size make it easy to carry around virtually anywhere. We found ourselves bringing it along on multi-pitch climbs and Sierra peaks as a wind jacket since it was just so easy to pack and carry.
This jacket is made for ight and fast adventures. It will serve you well when high-tailing it off a ridge or peak when the storm rolls in. It works as an excellent just-in-case layer or to double as your wind shell.
For $150, this compressible piece is well worth the price. It is less expensive than our Editor's Choice winner, the Marmot Aegis Jacket and only slightly more expensive than our Best Buy Winner, the Marmot PreCip. If you are in the market for a minimalist shell, this one is hard to beat.
The Outdoor Research Helium 2 - Women's is the women's version of this jacket.
This is the ultimate minimalist lightweight shell. Not for the comfort-oriented customer, this jacket is best suited to long backcountry trips and short-term exposure to the elements.
— Chris McNamara and McKenzie Long
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: July 21, 2014
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