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Hands-on Gear Review
Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's Review
Cons: Very few extra features, light material feels fragile
Outdoor Research's Helium II is the most spartan, minimalist rain shell that we tested this year. It ran away with our Top Pick award for ultralight rain protection. This jacket is almost as small as your favorite wind shirt, but it is also durably waterproof. Outdoor Research really took the idea of minimalism to heart with this jacket. Not only is the jacket itself tiny and light (and thoughtfully constructed), but it is also one single layer that functionally replaces two. No need to tote a wind shirt AND a lightweight rain shell on your next fast-and-light adventure, just take this one instead. Then consider that it is half the weight of your favorite rain shell. Be still our hearts.
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Rain Jacket for Women Review
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Outdoor Research Helium II is a minimalist rain shell in every way imaginable. Weighing a meager 5.5 ounces, it is our unequivocal winner in the ultralight category. Though any extra comfort features are spare, they were thoughtfully constructed, and the jacket is ultimately one of the more comfortable ones we tested. The Helium II is constructed of Pertex® Shield+ fabric which puts a higher emphasis on waterproofness, breathability, and light weight over durability. This ultra thin rain shell is not one that will withstand a lot of scratching around on rocks, but it is so well designed we would hardly hesitate to to take it everywhere and just plan on replacing it sooner.
The Helium II uses Pertex® Shield+, which boasts some of the highest waterproof ratings in the industry. Perhaps it is more mental, but our reviewers were hesitant to call it their go-to piece for the most heinous of storms. For those torrential downpours, the Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's was a little more confidence inspiring. The thin material of the Helium II leaves little room for error--ripping a hole in a jacket doesn't do much to keep the water out.
The Pertex® Shield+ material of the Helium II is by far the thinnest waterproof/breathable material we tested. The jacket lacks pit-zips or any other vents, but it doesn't really need them. The Shield+ material gets some of the highest breathability ratings in the industry. Sound too good to be true so far? Don't worry, there is a small Achilles heel in the durability department.
Though very minimal in design, the Helium II easily accommodates warm insulating layers and maintains excellent range of movement for climbing and other outdoor pursuits. Testers tried every bodily contortion, and the Helium II moved right along with us. There are no frills here, and it is clear that this jacket had a lot of thought put into it. No fuzzy collars or extra pit-zips, and they even reduced the hood adjustment to a single, well-placed draw cord. This jacket will keep you dry, from the inside-out--and on long athletic missions, dry equals comfort. The hood fits just right with or without a helmet. There is only one chest pocket, and it is sizeable enough (and well located) to be useful for a GPS or other essential accessible items. However, there are no hand pockets--this is a truly dedicated minimalist jacket.
The OR Helium II gets a perfect 10, a very rare rating for us. Light weight was clearly the focus of this jacket, and OR delivered--along with some other exceptional features such as great water resistance and breathability. On of our testers hiked the entire Pacific Crest Trail carrying this jacket - a testament to its light weight since a thru-hiker is hesitant to carry much of anything.
What we so love in waterproofness and breathability we pay for in durability. The thin Pertex Shield+ will retain its waterproof/breathable quality if well cared for, but this is a jacket that begs to be abused on your every adventure. So, if this is an important layer for you, it is well worth the extra cost--and just plan to replace it sooner. Just don't expect it to last for years and years like some of the more rugged jackets in our test.
To be concise: Wow. This jacket is small. It is hard to believe anything this small could be waterproof AND breathable, but it's true.
The lightweight and minimal Helium II is best choice of the rain shells we reviewed for any serious backpacker, climber, cyclist, etc. It is the "perfect 10" for packable light wind and rain preparedness. Due to its lack of comfort features, this shell excels at backcountry exploits, but is not ideal for around town and casual use--though it will keep you dry and comfortable no matter the task.
For $159, this jacket offers an exceptional price for a high-performance rain shell. It is relatively specific in its application--but if that application is your application, this will quickly become the one piece you can't live without.
Outdoor Research Helium 2
— Lyra Pierotti
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