Do you want a comfortable, durable sun hat that won't scorch your wallet, but you can't stomach the thought of sporting one of those dorky neck capes? If so, the Outdoor Research Helios might just be the hat for you. The Helios is one of the most comfortable hats we tested, and it's durable enough to fold up and cram into a pack again and again and again. While this isn't the most protective hat we tested, its low-profile brim means that it's less likely to interfere with a backpack, making it an option for longer trips. It's also one of the least expensive hats we tested, earning our Best Buy award among the full-brim hats. The Outdoor Research Sun Runner, which is still our Best Buy for cape-style hats, is more protective than the Helios because of its full neck cape. And if you don't mind spending a lot more money to get a much classier hat, check out our Editor's Choice, the Filson Summer Packer.
Outdoor Research Helios Review
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Lightweight, comfortable, packable.
Cons: No ventilation, smaller than average brim, not stylish.
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Our Analysis and Test Results
We liked the Outdoor Research Helios so much during our 2019 review update that we gave it our Best Buy award for full-brim sun hats. (The Outdoor Research Sun Runner is still our Best Buy for cape-style hats.) The Helios is comfortable and lightweight, it packs down to nothing, and it holds up to endless folding and stuffing into packs and pockets. If maximum sun protection is your top priority, you'll probably be happier with a cape-style hat like the Sun Runner. But if you want a comfortable full-brim hat that won't break your wallet, read on to see if the Helios is the one for you.
The Outdoor Research Helios (in blue below) is a super comfortable, durable little hat that's a great value. It's not the most protective or stylish option, but it still scored decently in those categories.
The Helios is a full-brim hat, and in general, we found the full-brim hats we tested to be less protective than the cape-style hats. Our cape-style Best Buy, the Outdoor Research Sun Runner, took top marks in this category, while the Helios scored in the middle of the pack.
Like the Filson Summer Packer, the Helios has a 2 3/4" brim all the way around. This is one of the narrower brims in our test group, which means this hat doesn't keep as much sun off your face and neck as wider-brimmed hats, like the Outdoor Research Sombriolet or the REI Co-op Paddler's. But on the up side, the Helios's brim is narrow enough that it doesn't interfere with a loaded backpack as much as the wider-brimmed hats and it doesn't obscure the view, which means that you're more likely to keep it on your head. A hat you'll wear is much more protective than one you won't!
We wore the Helios in a variety of weather, including light rain. We were impressed that this lightweight, breathable material was able to keep the rain out, as well as protect us from the sun.
Thanks to its simplicity and its light material, the Helios shines here, scoring toward the top of the pack.
We found the Helios to be one of the most comfortable hats we tested. This model comes in three sizes and is adjustable via a cinch cord in the crown, which makes it easy to get a perfect fit. Even when the cinch cord is pulled quite tight due to windy conditions, the pressure is evenly distributed and we didn't find any points of pain or discomfort. The only tiny gripe we have with the Helios is that the front of the crown is quite straight, rather than curved to fit the shape of a forehead. This caused us to notice the fabric on our foreheads, even if it didn't dig in. This was a really small issue, but it's one we didn't have with other hats, like the Editor's Choice Filson Summer Packer.
The Helios is made of lightweight material that feels good against the skin and doesn't chafe. This was one of the lightest-weight hats we tested, comparable to the Arc'teryx Sinsola.
While not the most breathable hat we tested, the Helios performed well enough here that we didn't mind wearing it on really hot days.
The Helios has no mesh panels, air vents, or any other design features to encourage air to flow through the hat. Most of the other hats we tested have some kind of ventilation mechanism, though the Outdoor Research Oasis Sun Sombrero is also unventilated.
Even though it lacks ventilation, the Helios is made of super lightweight material, so it was fairly breathable. We also found that because the crown of the Helios is slightly squared off, rather than curved to perfectly conform to the forehead, air was able to flow through the hat from underneath. Tightening the cinch cord eliminated this benefit, but given that we mostly tightened the cinch cord in windy conditions, we weren't as concerned about breathability.
If breathability is a key issue for you or if you are someone who overheats easily, you might find the Helios to be a little stifling. We'd recommend checking out the Sunday Afternoons Ultra Adventure or the Outdoor Research Sombriolet instead. The KUHL Sun Blade took top marks in this category, but it performed badly by every other standard, so we wouldn't recommend it.
Given its light weight, we were impressed with the Helios's durability and gave it high marks in this category.
We used the Helios a lot during our test period, from hikes in all weather to ski tours to mucking about in the garden. Dozens of times, we folded this hat and shoved it into a backpack or a pocket. But by the end of our test period, the Helios showed almost no wear and tear. In spite of its lightweight material, this hat can hold its own against typical outdoor abuse.
Like all the other hats in our test, we subjected the Helios to a crush test in which we shoved the hat into a small Ziplock for 30 minutes and recorded the results. The Helios was easy to pack down into the bag, unlike bulkier hats like the Outdoor Research Ghost, the KUHL Sun Blade, or even the Outdoor Research Sombriolet. After 30 minutes, the Helios's brim was significantly creased, but these creases relaxed quickly and all but disappeared after a couple of wears.
One of the most packable hats in our test group is the Arc'teryx Sinsola, but the Sinsola is made of more delicate material than the Helios, so we ranked the Helios as more durable. The Filson Summer Packer is made of even tougher material than the Helios, and it's just as packable.
The Helios isn't the ugliest hat in our test group, but it's still pretty dorky.
In general, we found the full-brim hats in our test group, like the Helios, to be more stylish than the cape-style hats, like the Outdoor Research Sun Runner. Still, among the full-brim hats, the Helios is one of the most dorky. The brim on this hat is very flat, which gives it a slight Canadian Mountie feel. The Helios's material and detailing definitely make it look like a piece of outdoor gear, rather than a stylish piece of clothing. Some of the other full-brim hats we tested, like the Arc'teryx Sinsola and the Filson Summer Packer, have attractively sloped brims and materials and design that make them feel like they could be part of an everyday outfit, rather than just a hiking getup.
The Helios is durable, wearable with a pack, and great in conditions from hot sun to light rain. Because of this, we think this hat will really shine hiking excursions. It's not the most stylish hat we tested, so we wouldn't recommend it for daily wear around town, but it will provide decent protection and keep you cool during gardening and yard work.
Retailing for just $37, the Helios is one of the least expensive hats in our review, and it performs well above its price point. Given that you can use this hat in a variety of rugged outdoor pursuits and that it will likely last for many years, we think the Helios is a great value, which is why it won our Best Buy award in the full-brim category.
The best sun hat for you is the one you'll wear, and we found the Outdoor Research Helios to be one of the most wearable hats we tested. It's super comfortable, low-profile enough to wear with a pack or a lifejacket, and durable enough to get crammed in a pack or a pocket time and again without getting trashed. While we wouldn't call this hat stylish, we think it'll get a lot of use, and its price point is hard to beat.
— Joanna Trieger