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Outdoor Research Helium Bivy Review

This very well may be the new standard in what we expect from a top notch bivy sack
Outdoor Research Helium Bivy
Photo: Outdoor Research
Editors' Choice Award
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Price:  $180 List | Check Price at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, weatherproof, roomy, ease of use, bug screen, and on and on
Cons:  Stuff sack too large
Manufacturer:   Outdoor Research
By Brian Martin ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Jun 11, 2019
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77
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#1 of 8
  • Weather Resistance - 25% 8
  • Weight - 25% 6
  • Comfort - 20% 9
  • Ventilation - 15% 9
  • Packed Size - 15% 7

Our Verdict

The Outdoor Research Helium Bivy ticks all of the boxes when it comes to a bivy sack. It provides superior weather protection in a surprisingly lightweight package and is relatively durable considering its weight. The Helium is easy to set up even when your hands are freezing and provides enough space around your head to read a book or contemplate your life without feeling claustrophobic. With its affordable price tag, the Helium will without a doubt be our bivy of choice as we look forward to several windy, rainy, and potentially snowy slogs through the mountains.

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Awards Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award  
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Pros Lightweight, weatherproof, roomy, ease of use, bug screen, and on and onLightweight, versatile, stows easily, price is rightExtremely lightweight, packableLight, durable, warm, affordableWeight, packed size
Cons Stuff sack too largeLeaky zippersExpensive, no zipperNot waterproof, tight fit for 5'11"+ individualsDurability, no zipper/cinch
Bottom Line This very well may be the new standard in what we expect from a top notch bivy sackThis model boasts an enticing weight, comfort, and versatility ratioAn effective and lightweight bivy that far outperforms other emergency or minimalist sheltersThe Escape is an excellent lightweight choice for cold dry climates or emergency situationsThe TACT is an ultra lightweight reusable emergency bivy best suited for very occasional use
Rating Categories Outdoor Research He... Backcountry Bivy MSR Pro Bivy SOL Escape Bivvy Survival Frog TACT...
Weather Resistance (25%)
8.0
7.0
6.0
3.0
2.0
Weight (25%)
6.0
7.0
8.0
8.0
9.0
Comfort (20%)
9.0
7.0
5.0
4.0
2.0
Ventilation (15%)
9.0
8.0
6.0
4.0
1.0
Packed Size (15%)
7.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
10.0
Specs Outdoor Research He... Backcountry Bivy MSR Pro Bivy SOL Escape Bivvy Survival Frog TACT...
Measured Weight (oz.) 16.3 oz 13.6 oz 8.9 oz 8.36 oz 4.6 oz
Packed Size (in.) 4" x 12.5" 3" x 9.5" 8" x 3.5" 4" x 7.5" 2" x 4.5"
Waterproof? Yes Yes Yes Water-resistant fabric with waterproof seams Yes
Open Length (in.) 82" 80" 88" 84" 84"
Shoulder Width (in.) 26" 36" 36" 31" 36"
Material (top/bottom) Top: Pertex Shield 2.5L 100% nylon Bottom: 100% 40D nylon Top: 20D Nylon Ripstop
Bottom: 30D Nylon Ripstop
20D ripstop nylon 2 ply breathable 1000mm Metalized Spun-bonded Olefin Polyester Film
Bug Mesh? Yes Yes No No No
Sleeping Bag or Pad Attachments? Yes No No No No
Poles? Yes, one overhead shockcorded Delrin pole No No No No

Our Analysis and Test Results

We get excited about a product when it blows past our expectations into the stratosphere of what is possible with outdoor gear. The OR Helium Bivy is one of those pieces of equipment. We felt like after testing this bag, we needed to stand upon a boulder, holding stone tablets with bivy requirements etched into them that basically say, though shalt make your bivies very similar to the Helium. We wouldn't hesitate to recommend this product to a close friend, someone we would even have to talk to after they used the product.

The OR Helium Bivy is excellent in nearly any situation. This may be the all-arounder to end all other rounders. It's lightweight, provides excellent weather protection and incredible breathability. The only situation we might shelf the Helium for another is if we knew we were heading into consistently frigid conditions wherein we would take something a little heavier duty.

Performance Comparison


We were thoroughly impressed with the Outdoor Research Helium's low...
We were thoroughly impressed with the Outdoor Research Helium's low weight despite its fantastic comfort and protection.
Photo: Brian Martin

Weather Resistance


When the Helium arrived in the mail, we were skeptical of how it would stack up against the ultra-capable previous Editors' Choice, the now-discontinued OR Alpine bivy. The Helium is significantly lighter, basically half the weight of its big brother. It retains the same size footprint and roomy interior. When crunching the outdoor gear maths, we figured weather protection would be a likely place that took a hit with all of the weight loss. This wasn't the case. We weathered several rain/snow mix storms in Park City, Utah in Spring, safely and comfortably scrolling through Instagram while inside the Helium.


Another point of skepticism regarding the OR Helium was its utilization of Pertex fabric rather than the "Ol' Reliable" Gore-Tex. When you see the Gore-Tex label, you have a pretty good idea of the fabric's capabilities. We were pleasantly surprised with the lightweight alternative. We felt the Pertex layer offered comparable weather protection and even a boost in breathability, which we will get to later.

The lightweight and durable Pertex fabric used in the OR Helium...
The lightweight and durable Pertex fabric used in the OR Helium offers excellent weather protection as well as some serious weight savings.
Photo: Brian Martin

Ventilation and Breathing


It seems that when Outdoor Research grafted Pertex fabric onto their rock-solid bivy foundation, they created a real gem. Yes, we are suckers for really lightweight and functional pieces, but in this case, the lightweight fabric brought with it some highly beneficial properties. The thinner fabric proved to be very breathable, and we found ourselves maintaining homeostasis in the Helium for longer periods even with it completely sealed up.


As with all biviss, you will never remain completely 100% un-condensated if you seal it up and fall asleep. What we did notice was that we were never woken by discomfort while in the Helium. Yes, from time to time, there would be some moisture on the outer layer of our sleeping bag when we woke up, but it was minimal and didn't detract from the overall experience.

The OR Helium (Left) and OR Alpine (Right -- discontinued) have the...
The OR Helium (Left) and OR Alpine (Right -- discontinued) have the same footprint and clam-shell opening/ventilation design. Both allow for ample ventilation during a rainstorm and no-see-um mesh for nicer weather.
Photo: Brian Martin

There is an interesting ventilation difference between the Helium Bivy and other heavy-duty models with larger storm flaps over the zipper that allow you to have it unzipped a bit more during a downpour. We found that the difference between this mechanical ventilation advantage was made up by the Helium's lower weight and more breathable Pertex fabric.

Comfort


The X factor. Yes, comfort is subjective, but there are some attributes that we have found to be highly influential in getting a good night's rest even during a raging storm. First, some elect to prop the head of the bivy up, keeping it off of your face while others forego the weight of a pole. There are situations where you might want that ultralight bivy, but to achieve maximum comfort, the bivy needs to be off of your face while you're sleeping. Trust us. The OR Helium has a massive amount of space when compared to the competition, and when looking at bivies of similar weight, there is no other even close to being as comfortable.


While the OR Helium is quite comfortable, spacious, and protective, it isn't necessarily more comfortable than other high-end bivies with similar-sized floor plans.

Having ample headroom during a downpour is one of the most critical...
Having ample headroom during a downpour is one of the most critical points in maintaining some element of comfort in a bivy. The Helium and Alpine bivys both offer sufficient headroom which allowed us to read a book or do a bit of journaling while waiting out a gullywasher.
Photo: Brian Martin

Weight


It was hard to contain our excitement as we uncovered the attributes of the Helium considering its weight-savings compared to its predecessor, the now-discontinued OR Alpine Bivy. While maintaining everything we loved from other OR bivies, this thing rings in several ounces less than other comparable bags. This Helium weighs a hair over a pound at 16.3 oz. For comparison to see how much weight OR has been shaving off their bivies; the previous version of the Alpine weighed 28.5 ounces on our scale, and the earlier version of the Helium was just over 18 ounces.


Yes, there are lighter bivies — much lighter in fact. The new MSR Pro Bivy offers decent weatherproofing but forewent some of the creature comforts. It tipped the scales right at 8.9 ounces, which is pretty amazing. If you're looking for an emergency bivy that actually holds up, check that thing out.

While the stuff sack is generously sized, we found the bivy itself...
While the stuff sack is generously sized, we found the bivy itself could be smashed down to almost half this size.
Photo: Brian Martin

If you're planning on using your bivy on a regular basis and weight is still an important factor, the OR Helium is a strong contender if not the best choice for lightweight bivies considering how well it performed throughout the testing.

Packed Size


Despite the significant weight loss and volume necessary to pack the OR Helium the stuff pouch it's shipped in is unnecessarily large. We could pack the bivy, sans pole, into a bag half the size. While the large stuff sack made deploying and storing the bivy easy, you could save some serious space by keeping the bivy and pole separate and utilizing a much smaller stuff sack.


Ultimately the larger stuff sack does give you some options. You can keep the bivy in the amply sized bag for normal use, and if the occasion calls for it, you can smash the bivy down into a much smaller space.

From left to right the Frog Tact (About the size of a mini coke...
From left to right the Frog Tact (About the size of a mini coke can), MSR Pro Bivy, Outdoor Research Helium, Outdoor Research Alpine, REI Superlight.
Photo: Brian Martin

Value


We feel like the OR Helium offers some serious bang for your buck. But seriously, this is a great bivy. It ticks all of the necessary boxes. It's comfortable, weather-resistant, lightweight, and packable. It is also significantly relatively inexpensive compared to many other high-end competitors.

Conclusion


We were impressed with not just the significant weight loss of the Outdoor Research Helium Bivy but the entire package. The weather resistance, comfort, weight, packability, and value were all top-notch. If you're looking for an all-arounder that won't break the bank, this is it.

We were originally attracted by the Helium's claimed weight and the...
We were originally attracted by the Helium's claimed weight and the OR reputation. This bivy surpassed our expectation and has become one of our favorite bivys, ever.
Photo: Brian Martin

Brian Martin