Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $339
Pros: Very light for a parka, extremely packable, unique pockets, High quality materials.
Cons: Waist rides up - would like to see an adjustable waist feature.
Best Uses: Climbing belay parka, ski touring, backpacking.
The Feathered Friends Hooded Helios is a great climbing belay parka that feels much more at home in the mountains than downtown. Since it is not available from major retailers, you must order online directly from the small manufacturer in Seattle, perhaps a small inconvenience to some but you won't be disappointed. It is both lightweight and extremely packable, and offers a few unique features. Overall we found that the Feathered Friends Hooded Helios performed very well as a technical climbing parka, and performed less well as a general use or "around town" parka relative to the other jackets in this review.
Since Feathered Friends products are not widely available for sale on the internet, consider the Rab Neutrino Endurance which earns our Best Buy award and is widely available at many major online retailers.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
WarmthFeathered Friends Volant Parka, and the mega-warm Feathered Friends Ice Fall Parka). That said, the Hooded Helios is plenty warm for its intended use. It has 7.9 oz. of 850 fill down (Men's M).
It is comparable in warmth to other light parkas reviewed here like the Rab Infinity, the Outdoor Research incandescent, and the Brooks Range Mojave. The Rab Neutrino Endurance offers a step up in warmth with a longer cut to cover more of your body, and much more protective face coverage. We took the Hooded Helios ice climbing many times and found it to be plenty warm as a belay parka, even on cold days.
The Hooded Helios has sewn through construction throughout. This keeps the weight down slightly but does make the Helios less warm than the larger box-baffled parkas in this review (among the lighter parkas, only the Brooks Range Mojave offers box-baffling). Keep in mind that pure warmth is not the aim of this parka. Feathered Friends offers this parka with or without a hood. We tested the hooded version and recommended hoods in general when it comes to parkas becomes they provide significant warmth and weather protection while adding relatively little weight and bulk. Among other places out west, primarily ice climbing in Montana, we used this jacket in -20 degree temperatures in New Hampshire and the Adirondacks.
The Feathered Friends Hooded Helios weighs a total 16 oz. (men's M), which puts it alongside the Brooks Range Mojave and the Rab Infinity and the Outdoor Research Incandescent as the lightest down parkas we tested. All three of these parkas are intended to keep you as warm as possible while maintaining a total weight hovering around one pound. It should be noted up front that the Hooded Helios, as well as the other two parkas mentioned above, are designed, at least in part, with "technical" or "active" use in mind; that is to say, climbing, mountaineering, ski touring, etc. Keeping that in mind helps to explain some of the design choices made here, including features, the cut of the jacket, and of course overall weight. It's also important, of course, to keep your own intended use in mind when choosing outerwear.
The Feathered Friends Hooded Helios has a great warmth-to-weight ratio. Feathered Friends has saved weight in several ways. First and foremost they have used high quality 850 fill down and a light but weather-resistant outer fabric. Secondly, the features on this jacket are kept to a minimum. And finally, the cut of this parka is much shorter than the other products in this review. All of these aspects are discussed below separately – but collectively they add up to a product that performs excellently as a technical climbing belay parka or a mountaineering parka for fast and light trips. By minimizing features and streaming the design, Feathered Friends has made a very packable, compact belay parka.
There are a few unique features on this jacket, all of which are done primarily to save weight and increase packability. There are no Velcro cuffs, only simple elastic piping that keeps the cuff snug around your wrist. Similarly there is no waist adjustability, there is only elastic piping that keeps the waist hem of the jacket snug. The upside of having an elastic waist like this is that there is no excess cinch cord dangling around your waist, getting caught on your harness, and annoying you. The downside, which we notice most when using the Helios around town, is that the waist does tend to ride up slightly. The two hand-warming pockets are constructed with a "clamshell" design. They do not have zippers but instead sungly fold around your wrist when your hands are in the pockets to keep out wind, snow, etc. See photo below.
This is a unique design among the parkas in this review, with the exception of the Feathered Friends Volant. In our testing we found that these pockets work very well for warming hands at the belay, or standing around at the base of climbs. Without a zipper you never have to fumble with a pocket zipper one-handed, and in terms of warming, the pockets are lined with down on both sides, something that many of the parkas reviewed here don't have. If you're worried about securing things in your pockets, it is true that the clamshell pockets aren't as good at "safe-keeping" than regular zippered hand pockets.
For your little items however there is a small zippered inner chest pocket that is the perfect size for energy bars, a camera, iPhone or similarly sized knickknacks you might have with you. There is no external chest pocket.
The hood of the Helios is fairly simple. It has front adjustability with two cinch cords that are routed to the interior of the jacket, keeping the excess cord from whipping in the wind. It fits well over a helmet and when zipped up fully the jacket covers the neck well but does not offer a lot in terms of face protection relative to other burlier parkas. The lack of face protection is something you're unlikely to notice until you are faced with driving winds and snow, at which point you may wish for something more. It is worth noting that the Brooks Range Mojave and the Rab Infinity, two light parkas similar to the Hooded Helios, also offer little in terms of face coverage when fully zipped. The MontBell Mirage however, our Men's Down Jacket Review Top Pick, features more complete true-parka style face coverage while remaining very light and compact.
The cut of this jacket is rather short. This is both a good and a bad thing. First the good news: If you're using the Hooded Helios as a belay parka the short cut means that the jacket stays out of the way, resting just above your harness, allowing easy access to your belay device, ice screws, whatever. With bigger and longer belay parkas you may find yourself rolling or folding up the bottom or pulling the jacket up over your harness to get at things. This is not a big deal to some folks, but the short fit is certainly cleaner in this usage and appreciated by some climbers. The short fit also means less fabric, and thus a lighter and more packable parka to stuff in your climbing pack.
Now the bad news: The short cut of this parka means that it keeps you less warm than a longer parka (it covers less of your body), and when worn outside of a climbing situation, like walking to the store etc., it rides up rather annoyingly. When wearing this jacket around town we constantly found ourselves pulling it back down. If you're short this may be less of a problem. For this reason we have to say that as a "general use" parka the Helios performs less well than many others in this review because of the fit and related loss of warmth. This is despite the fact that we love it as a climbing parka.
It is worth noting that we tested a size M and our two primary testers are 5'10 and 6 feet with slim builds. According to Feathered Friends the size large will add an inch to the length and they note that this style is a bit conservative on the sizing, meaning buyers may want to consider purchasing a size up. Additionally, Feathered Friends does offer custom builds of jackets, but this will cost you a lot of extra money, and a lot of extra time.
The Helios features a Pertex Endurance outer fabric. This is one of Petex's more weather-resistant fabrics and we have found it to work quite well in poor winter weather both on the Helios and on other jackets that feature this fabric. The Hooded Helios is a lighter weight parka overall and one aspect of this design is that it does not protect the face as well as heavier and larger parkas. If you're facing very windy and snowy weather it's a bit harder to hide inside of the Hooded Helios relative to other parkas. The hood of the Helios, however, is adjustable, unlike the fixed elastic hoods found on the similarly light Rab Infinity and Outdoor Research Incandescent.
Generally speaking we have found the Helios to be relatively durable. The Helios however is intended to be lightweight, and the outer fabric reflects that design. If fabric durability is a large concern, consider checking out the larger and warmer parkas in this review that are less concerned with overall weight and therefore offer burlier outer fabric and/or fabric re-enforcements on the high wear areas. The Mountain Hardwear Chillwave Jacket for example, or the Feathered Friends Ice Fall Parka. One design aspect to be noted is that the Hooded Helios is minimal in terms of features. There are no waist cinches, no cuff Velcro, no pocket zippers. As far as durability is concerned, there are fewer things to break.
The Feathered Friends Hooded Helios is best used as a climbing belay parka or as a light parka for other fast and light backcountry activities.
At $340 the Hooded Helios is only a good value if what you need is a solid and simple belay parka. If you're looking for a parka that can do it all, from belay duty to wearing around town in winter, consider a more versatile jacket like the Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka or the Rab Neutrino Endurance.
— Chris Simrell
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Most recent review: March 1, 2014
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