Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Lightest rain jacket tested, packs down really small.
Cons: The quest for helium weight means no hand pockets, no side zippered pockets.
Best Uses: Hiking, backpacking, ultralight backpacking, climbing.
Outdoor Research's Helium 2 is the most spartan, minimalist shell in our test group and wins our Top Pick award for ultralight rain protection. With its ability to pack down and compress to almost snack bar size, then clip to your harness or pack on a biner loop, this is our absolute favorite choice for the unmitigated adventurer. This jacket is basically a crossover between a wind jacket and a rain shell, coupling the light-weight design of a wind shell with the rain resistance of a rain shell. The light weight sacrifices a bit of durability, but for the weight-saving hiker, this is acceptable. For more robust rain protection check out Marmot Oracle - Women's or the Patagonia Torrentshell - Women's.
Related review: Outdoor Research Helium 2 - Men's
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
A minimalist rain shell weighing under 6 ounces, the Helium 2 is a top notch performer in the ultralight category. To save weight this shell skips on extra features such as pit-zips, but offers increased mobility and compressibility.
The Pertex® Shield fabric from which this shell is constructed advertises waterproofness, breathability, and wind resistance. The Helium 2 delivers to some degree on all those claims. It performs best as a contingency option when rain or winds threaten, but a strong storm isn't necessarily imminent. In our testing, we determined that it is adequately waterproof but wouldn't handle a continuous deluge as well as some of the beefier rain jackets. We love the super lightweight PU film laminated nylon, the taped seams, and roomy hood that offer plenty of comfortable weather protection.
The Helium 2 is a great option for those tired of sticky, rubbery rain jackets. The Pertex® Shield fabric feels softer and less clammy against bare skin, making the jacket less of a sauna once your body heat raises. The lack of pit-zips or other means of increased air circulation prevent the jacket from venting exceptionally well during high exertion activities, but the light material breathes fairly well.
Comfort & Mobility
Testers really appreciate the comfortable fit of the Helium 2. Despite its minimalist design, it layers well over base layers, has a flattering cut, and provides uninhibited movement during high-movement activities. The light weight is hardly noticeable while wearing. While the jacket does not provide any hindrance to active movement, it should be noted that there are really no comfort features on this jacket. It is minimalist in design, and has no fuzzy features or extra pockets to add comfort beyond the basic fit. The Women's Helium 2 is slick looking, somewhat of a cut above the rest in terms of style. This shell is a simple, handsome choice for ladies.
The Helium 2 is the one true, minimalist shell out of all the rain jackets we tested. It has pared down many of the features offered by the competition in favor of lightweight supremacy. Its true value lies in its absence of features: elastic cuffs instead of Velcro tabs, only one pocket located on the chest, one cinch for the hood, no pit-zips, no mesh, no lining, no etceteras. This absence of features allows the jacket to weigh in at a scant 5.8 ounces and makes it the lightest jacket we tested by a long shot.
We love this minimal design, but sometimes we do miss having hand pockets. This is not a shell to spend a nice afternoon hiking or running errands in, but rather works best as a backcountry piece where economy of features is more appreciated.
The hood is comfortable and roomy, yet easy to adjust as it has just a single cinch on the backside of the hood. It has both a generous brim and inner dimensions for added protection - and a gal's hair. We think your helmet will fit under this hood comfortably. The shell also provides fair rump coverage with its lengthened backside.
Weight & Bulk
One of the best features of this shell is how small it packs down and little it weighs. We weighed our women's jacket in at 5.8 ounces, making it the absolute lightest jacket in our testing group. It can easily be tossed into a backpack at almost no cost to the hiker.
The lightweight and minimal Helium 2 is the logical choice for serious backpackers, climbers, or cyclists. It is the perfect choice for packable light wind and rain preparedness. Due to its lack of comfort features, this shell excels at backcountry exploits and is not ideal for around town and casual use.
For $150, this jacket offers an exceptional price for high-performance protection. It costs slightly more than our Editor's Choice winner, the Patagonia Torrentshell, but weighs half as much.
You can also check out the men's version of the Outdoor Research Helium 2 - Men's.
The Helium 2 wins our Top Pick award as a specialty piece. When the time comes to need a rain jacket, you really need one, and we are relieved to have found one that can be packed along for emergencies without adding to the pack weight and taking away from the experience. For a minimal and also quite stylish rain shell, we highly recommend this one.
— Erisa Coppernoll and McKenzie Long
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Most recent review: December 8, 2013
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