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 bivys 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.
We were thoroughly impressed with the Outdoor Research Helium's low weight despite its fantastic comfort and protection.
When the Helium arrived in the mail, we were skeptical of how it would stack up against the ultra-capable previous Editors' Choice, the 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 offers excellent weather protection as well as some serious weight savings.
The biggest difference between the OR Alpine and OR Helium bivys in this metric is the clamshell zipper. The Alpine has a much larger and wire reinforced flap to guard against the heaviest downpours. The Helium opted for a much lighter but still effective flap design. This feature on the Alpine does give it an edge in overall weather protection.
One of the biggest differences in weather resistance between the Helium (left) and Alpine (right) is the size of the protective flap over the zipper. The Alpine also has a wire sewn in for structure which definitely gives a large weather protection advantage. However, the Helium is quite effective and significantly lighter without this huge flap.
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 (thinner than the past award-winning alpine bivy) proved to be much more breathable. While the OR Alpine is quite good, we found ourselves maintaining homeostasis in the Helium for longer periods even with it completely sealed up.
As with all bivys, 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) 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.
There is an interesting ventilation difference between the Helium Bivy and the Alpine. The Alpine has a much larger storm flap over the zipper which does 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.
The X factor. Yes, comfort is subjective, but there are some attributes which 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 bivys 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 the OR Alpine. The two bivys, sharing such similar floor plans, felt nearly identical. The Alpine did feel a bit more sturdy in high winds, as it has thicker fabric.
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.
It was hard to contain our excitement as we uncovered the attributes of the Helium considering its weight-savings compared to its main competition, the OR Alpine Bivy. While maintaining everything we loved from other OR bivys, this thing rings in several ounces less than other comparable bags. This Helium weighs a hair over a pound at 16.3 oz. That's over four ounces lighter than the Alpine Bivy. 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 bivys — 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 could be smashed down to almost half this size.
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 bivys considering how well it performed throughout the testing.
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 (the same sack used for the thicker and heavier Alpine Bivy) 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 can), MSR Pro Bivy, Outdoor Research Helium, Outdoor Research Alpine, REI Superlight.
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 situations we might shelf the Helium for another is if we knew we were heading into consistently frigid conditions wherein we would take the Alpine bivy. Or if we were in a situation where precipitation was highly unlikely but still wanted some added insurance, in which case we would take the MSR Pro bivy (since it weighs even less than the Helium).
The Outdoor Research Helium is our new Editors' Choice winner and that is because it performed so well in a wide variety of conditions. It also offers a reasonable price point.
In the high desert of Arizona the weather can change fast. When the sun set high on Mt. Lemmon, the Outdoor Research Helium kept us comfortable, dry, well ventilated, and confident that we would remain that way.
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 cheaper than it's the closest competitor, the OR Alpine Bivy. About 70 bucks cheaper which is significant to most of us.
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 OR reputation. This bivy surpassed our expectation and has become one of our favorite bivys, ever.