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Hands-on Gear Review

Outdoor Research Helium II Review


Rain Jacket

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  • Currently 4.0/5
Overall avg rating 4.0 of 5 based on 1 review. Most recent review: December 5, 2015
Price:   $159 List | Varies from $95 - $159 online  —  Compare prices at 7 resellers
Pros:  Perfect stuff pocket, super light, great mobility
Cons:  No hand pockets, loose wrist cuffs
Manufacturer:   Outdoor Research

Overview

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

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Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings

Review by:
Brandon Lampley
Review Editor
OutdoorGearLab

Last Updated:
Saturday

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.

Performance Comparison


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The Helium II is super light and very compact. Brandon Lampley getting ready for the afternoon showers at Lumpy Ridge near Rocky Mountain National Park. This is an excellent jacket to carry along on multi-pitch rock climbs. The Marmot Essence is a far more breathable ultralight jacket for high energy use, but the Helium blocks the wind much better.

Water Resistance


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.

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This model is a perfect wind jacket rain jacket hybrid. It moves very well and weighs next to nothing.

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.

Weight


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.

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Brandon Lampley puts the La Sportiva Eco 2.0 GTX boot and the Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket through the paces on a quick round trip on the Kelso Ridge of Torreys Peak. Long day trips through rough terrain are right in the Eco's wheelhouse.

Durability


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.

Packed Size


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.

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Holy cow this model stuffs down small. We only wish it had a carabiner clip-in loop.

Features


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.

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The Helium II has a nice hang loop back of the collar and waterproof zippers with easy to use pulls. No pit zips on this ultralight shell and the wrist cuffs aren't adjustable.

Best Applications


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.

Value


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.

Conclusion


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.

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This model provides dependable waterproof protection in a tiny package. It's our go-to jacket for just-in-case protection when multi-pitch climbing.

Other Versions


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Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's
  • Top Pick award by Outdoor Gear Lab team!
  • Women's version of the Helium rain shell
  • Ultralight (5.5oz) yet durable
  • $160

See the review and comparisons of the Women's Rain Jackets here!
Brandon Lampley and Robert Beno

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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: December 5, 2015
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
  • 1
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  • 5
 (4.0)
Average Customer Rating:     (0.0)
Rating Distribution
1 Total Ratings
5 star: 0%  (0)
4 star: 100%  (1)
3 star: 0%  (0)
2 star: 0%  (0)
1 star: 0%  (0)


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