< Go to Rain Jackets - Men's
Hands-on Gear Review
Outdoor Research Helium II Review
Cons: No hand pockets, loose wrist cuffs
The Outdoor Research Helium II 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 jacket we tested when stowed into its special stuff pocket. Bottom line: this jacket is extremely useful, especially for climbers, ultralight backpackers, and runners. It is more windproof than the super breathable Marmot Essence.
The Helium II 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 during blowing rain storms and it breathed better. Meanwhile, the Marmot PreCip, which is heavier, more featured, and more versatile won our Best Buy award. The PreCip is the lightest fully-featured model we tested.
RELATED: Our complete review of rain jackets - men's
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
An extremely lightweight and packable minimalist shell, the Outdoor Research Helium II 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 and biking 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 Helium II'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 into flowing water.
Breathability & Ventilation
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 one of our favorite jackets for early morning runs. The Montane Minimus uses the same breathable Pertex, but also has adjustable wrist cuffs and a large mesh-lined chest pocket that allows core venting.
Comfort & Mobility
This jacket is truly minimalist, lacking even small nods to comfort like a micro-fleece chin patch. What the Helium II does deliver is excellent mobility and a 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 over 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. Our size large test jacket fit our 185 lead tester nice and snug, and the torso stayed put when climbing and reaching overhead.
This was the lightest model we tested at 6.5, compared to the 6.8-ounce Essence. The Montane Minimus weighed in about two ounces heavier, but has more features for an ultralight shell. The lightest of the fully featured jackets we tested, the Marmot Precip and Columbia Evapouration, weigh in 5 ounces heavier. If fast and light are your top priorities, then the Helium is a stellar choice for you.
The lightweight 30D ripstop nylon face fabric on this piece stood up to abrasion surprisingly well. Surprising because we didn't expect such a super light 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 after several months. The main benefits of this jacket - super light weight and packability - come at the expense of durability.
Looking for something on the other end of the durability spectrum? Consider the Outdoor Research Foray or the Marmot Minimalist.
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. This convenient integrated stuff pocket is the main benefit of the Helium compared to its two ultralight competitors.
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 Helium II 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 Helium II 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 $159, 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 still a great ultralight rain jacket, especially at this price.
The Outdoor Research Helium II 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, its compact six ounces in your pack is hardly noticeable.
Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's
See the review and comparisons of the Women's Rain Jackets here!
— Brandon Lampley and Robert Beno
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: December 5, 2015
Where's the Best Price?
*You help support OutdoorGearLab's product testing and reviews by purchasing from our retail partners.
Table of Contents
Helpful Buying Tips
Other Gear by Outdoor Research