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.Editor's Note: This review was revised on August 18, 2022, with info on the updated version of the Helium Bivy.
Outdoor Research Helium Bivy Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Lightweight, weatherproof, roomy, ease of use, bug screen
Cons: Stuff sack too large
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Outdoor Research Helium Bivy
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|Pros||Lightweight, weatherproof, roomy, ease of use, bug screen||Lightweight, versatile, stows easily, price is right||Extremely lightweight, packable||Light, durable, warm, affordable||Weight, packed size|
|Cons||Stuff sack too large||Leaky zippers||Expensive, no zipper||Not waterproof, tight fit for taller individuals||Durability, no zipper/cinch|
|Bottom Line||This very well may be the new standard in what we expect from a top-notch bivy sack||This model boasts an enticing weight, comfort, and versatility ratio||An effective and lightweight bivy that far outperforms other emergency or minimalist shelters||The Escape is an excellent lightweight choice for cold dry climates or emergency situations||An ultra lightweight, reusable emergency bivy best suited for very occasional use|
|Rating Categories||Outdoor Research He...||Sierra Designs Back...||MSR Pro Bivy||SOL Escape Bivvy||Survival Frog Tact...|
|Weather Resistance (25%)|
|Packed Size (15%)|
|Specs||Outdoor Research He...||Sierra Designs Back...||MSR Pro Bivy||SOL Escape Bivvy||Survival Frog Tact...|
|Measured Weight (oz.)||16.3 oz||13.6 oz||8.9 oz||8.4 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 Diamond Fuse 2.5L 100% Nylon, 30D Ripstop
Bottom: 100% 40D Nylon w/ TPU lamination
|Top: 20D Nylon Ripstop
Bottom: 30D Nylon Ripstop
|20D ripstop nylon 2 ply breathable 1000mm||Metalized Spun-bonded Olefin||Polyester Film|
|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
Product Update Note — August 2022
Outdoor Research updated the Helium Bivy since our last test cycle. The photos above show the old version (left) and the new version (right). Designers have upgraded the top material to the new Pertex Shield Diamond Fuse 2.5L nylon. With the material update, OR claims that the new version is 14% lighter than the previous generation. Our review still pertains to the old version, but we are now linking to the updated Helium Bivy, which is more readily available.
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.
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 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 by the lightweight alternative. We felt the Pertex layer offered comparable weather protection and even a boost in breathability, which we will get to later.
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 ounces. 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.
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.
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.
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 bivies, you will never remain completely 100% condensation-free 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
— Brian Smith & Brian Martin
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