Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $150 | Compare prices at 7 resellers
Pros: Perfect stuff pocket, super light, great mobility
Cons: No hand pockets, loose wrist cuffs
Best Uses: Multipitch climbing, fastpacking, running, just-in-case rain protection
The Outdoor Research Helium 2 is essentially a cross between a super light wind jacket and rain jacket. It offers the extended water resistance of a rain jacket with the ultralight weight of a wind jacket. This model is the most compact when stowed into its special stuff pocket. Bottom line: this jacket is extremely useful, especially for climbers, ultralight backpackers, and runners.
The Helium 2 is nearly the lightest and easily the most packable rain jacket of all the ones 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. We found the Marmot Essence, our Editors' Choice winner, performed better for real rain storms and it breathed better. Meanwhile, the Marmot PreCip, which is heavier, more featured, and more versatile won our Best Buy award.
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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 rain protection layer that takes up as little space and weight as possible. Two reflective patches make this a great jacket for cool weather running as well.
This jacket kept us dry and we liked the hood design above all others. Like the award winning PreCip, the elastic cinches extend only up to the temple and not across the brow. The unique part of the Helium's design is that there are no cord locks at the side of the hood. A third elastic cord that tightens on the back of the hood also cinches the two on the side of the face. With the large, stiffened brim, these features work perfectly.
The DWR treatment applied to the Pertex Shield+ fabric held up well during our testing. The one shortcoming with the Outdoor Research Helium 2's water resistance is the wrist cuff design. With only elastic on the wrist side and no means to tighten them, water can run down your forearms when reaching overhead.
This jacket does not have ventilation features, save the wrist cuffs which fit our lead tester's wrist with plenty of room to spare. What this jacket does boast is one of the more breathable 2.5-layer fabrics on the market: Pertex Shield+. We found this fabric breathable enough to keep comfortable and cool when generating heat and sweat. As a result, it became our favorite jacket for early morning runs. The Montane Minimus uses the same breathable Pertex, but also has a large mesh-lined chest pocket that allows core venting.
Comfort and Mobility
This jacket is truly minimalist, lacking even small nods to comfort like a micro fleece chin patch. What the Outdoor Research Helium 2 does deliver is excellent mobility and well-designed, easy-to-adjust hood. It has a unique elastic cinch system we loved and it's comfortable with a ball cap, helmet, or just your head. The zipper pulls on the waterproof main zipper and chest pocket have some of the easiest to grasp pulls, which is great for gloves.
This wasn't the lightest model we tested, but it was darn close, at 6.5 ounces compared to the 6.2-ounce Essence. The Montane Minimus weighed in about two ounces heavier, but has more features for an ultralight shell.
The lightweight 30D ripstop nylon face fabric on this piece stood up to abrasion surprisingly well. Surprising because we didn't expect such a superlight fabric to withstand much abuse. We wore this model rock climbing and ridge scrambling repeatedly and the forearms are just starting to show some wear from the rough granite. The main benefits of the Outdoor Research Helium 2 - superlight weight and packability - come at the expense of durability.
This model packs up in its interior stuff pocket smaller than any other we tested. So small in fact, climbers and runners are known to put a stuffed Helium in the bottom of a hydration pack so it's always there. Unexpected rain, wind, or cooler than anticipated weather this little secret weapon handles them all.
The hood on this rain jacket has a stiffened brim and a unique front-to-back elastic cinch cord with an external lock. The collar has a simple fabric tab at the chin and a nice large hang loop in the back. The Outdoor Research Helium 2 does not have pit zips and with the waterproof chest pocket, it is the only jacket we tested with no means of ventilation. The stuff pocket on the internal left front side closes with a Velcro tab and doubles as a good stash spot for snacks. The wrist cuff is very simple with only elastic on the inner wrist. The elastic hem cinch has one cord lock on the right side. The logos double as reflective patches on the left chest and left sleeve, but there is no back facing reflectivity.
The ultralight and minimalist Outdoor Research Helium 2 is a great choice for fast and light, high energy activities. It performs well backpacking, fast hiking, cycling, and running, and it is a very popular just-in-case layer for climbers and peak baggers.
At $150, this model is the most affordable of the ultralight jackets we tested. While the similar Essence and Minimus score higher overall with more features, the Helium is a great ultralight rain jacket and a great deal at this price.
The Outdoor Research Helium 2 is an good ultralight rain and wind jacket at an excellent price. It's fine tuned for light and fast activities that take advantage of its mobility and good breathability. This was our favorite jacket among those tested for cool weather running, and makes a perfect wind and rain jacket for rock climbing. When you don't need it, it's compact six ounces in your pack is hardly noticeable.
The Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's won a Top Pick for ultralight rain protection in our recent review of Women's Rain Jackets.
— Brandon Lampley and Robert Beno
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: November 13, 2014
Credit: Outdoor Research
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