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.
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 really useful, just not the best jacket specifically for rain protection.
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. As a super-lightweight just-in-case jacket for protection against wind and rain, it's hard to beat the Helium II. For a slightly more featured, slightly heavier, yet still wicked light 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
Comfort & Mobility
This is a minimalist jacket with virtually no design features aimed at comfort. There are no soft fuzzy parts to this jacket.
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.
Frankly, this jacket is not built for comfort, it’s built for speed. This jacket 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.
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 we might be led to believe.
We can’t say we would recommend this jacket as your go-to for long periods of extended exertion – you are likely to end up soaked from the inside.
Despite its utterly minimalist design, this jacket is fairly waterproof. We would liken this jacket more to a windshell with water protection than a strict rain jacket. All the seams are fully taped and the Pertex fabric does a decent job of keeping the water out, but testers did experience leaking around the main zipper; 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.
Weight and Bulk
This is the lightest, most compact jacket we tested by far. We weighed it in at only 6.3 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.
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 doesn’t let the jacket breathe exceptionally well. The hood is only adjustable from the back and there are no adjustments along the cuff. 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 into 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 a wind shell on Sierra peaks.
Light and fast adventures. High-tailing it off the ridge or peak when the storm rolls in. Ideal for short-lived exposure to the elements. Works as an excellent just-in-case layer or to double as your wind shell.
— Robert Beno
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: November 27, 2012
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