Reviews You Can Rely On

Outdoor Research Helios Review

This comfortable, durable hat has a wide brim and provides great value
Outdoor Research Helios
Photo: Outdoor Research
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Price:  $38 List | $37.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Lightweight, comfortable, packable
Cons:  Poor ventilation, smaller than average brim, not very stylish
Manufacturer:   Outdoor Research
By Joanna Trieger ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 16, 2021
  • Share this article:
Our Editors independently research, test, and rate the best products. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and we never accept free products from manufacturers. Learn more
67
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#12 of 17
  • Protection - 30% 6
  • Comfort - 25% 7
  • Breathability - 15% 7
  • Durability - 15% 8
  • Style - 15% 6

Our Verdict

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 doesn't provide as much protection from the elements as others, its low-profile brim means that it's less likely to bump against your backpack, making it an option for longer trips. It's also one of the least more affordable models in our lineup.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award  Best Buy Award 
Price $37.95 at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$41.25 at Amazon
Compare at 3 sellers
$25.93 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
Check Price at Backcountry
Compare at 3 sellers
$34.95 at Amazon
Overall Score Sort Icon
67
83
78
77
74
Star Rating
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
Pros Lightweight, comfortable, packableLightweight, durable, great sun protectionExcellent protection, removable cape, good in the wind, good valueGreat protection all around, especially on the back; brim is angled for longer protection, good ventilation, comfortableComfortable, very breathable, good color, great value
Cons Poor ventilation, smaller than average brim, not very stylishNot super stylishLooks a little funny, can get hot on the back of your neckNot stylish, brim is not crushable, shows stains easilyNot very stylish, brim could be wider
Bottom Line This comfortable, durable hat has a wide brim and provides great valueThis hat wins our Editors' Choice for Technical Use for being the highest performing and most versatile of the bunchThis super protective hat is lightweight, versatile, and an excellent value, winning our Best Buy AwardThis hat has great coverage and is a good choice for any sunny activity, although it is not the most stylishOne of our top choices for a full brim hat that is extremely comfortable and breathable and a great value
Rating Categories Outdoor Research He... day Afternoons Ultr... Outdoor Research Ru... day Afternoons Adve... The North Face Hori...
Protection (30%)
6.0
9.0
10.0
10.0
6.0
Comfort (25%)
7.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
9.0
Breathability (15%)
7.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
9.0
Durability (15%)
8.0
9.0
7.0
6.0
7.0
Style (15%)
6.0
5.0
6.0
4.0
6.0
Specs Outdoor Research He... day Afternoons Ultr... Outdoor Research Ru... day Afternoons Adve... The North Face Hori...
Weight (ounces) 2.3 oz 2.6 oz 2.8 oz 2.6 oz 2.9 oz
UPF rating 50 50+ 50+ 50+ 40+
Size of Brim (inches) 2.75" 3.25", with 6" neck cape 2.75 brim, 7.25" neck cape 3.75", 7.25" neck cape 2.9"
Material 86% nylon, 14% polyester 88% nylon, 12% polyester dobby 100% Supplex nylon 100% nylon with 100% polyester mesh insets Nylon Ripstop, 97% recycled polyester mesh lined
Cinch Cord Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Packable/compressible Yes Yes Yes No - do not fold or compress the brim. Packs Flat Yes
Size tested L L L M 21" - 23" L/XL

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Outdoor Research Helios is a super comfortable, durable little hat that's a great value. It is comfortable and lightweight, it packs down to almost 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. 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.

Performance Comparison


The Helios offered adequate protection for a sunny day hike.
The Helios offered adequate protection for a sunny day hike.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Protection


The Helios is a full-brim hat, and in general, we found the full-brim hats we tested to be less protective overall than the cape-style hats. The Helios scored in the middle of the pack in the protection category. This hat has a 2- 3/4-inch 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. But on the upside, 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 as much. This means that you're more likely to keep this hat on your head when wearing a pack. A hat you'll wear is much more protective than the one you won't.

The brim on the Helios isn't the widest we tested, but the...
The brim on the Helios isn't the widest we tested, but the low-profile brim has its advantages, like less interaction with a pack and better visibility.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

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.

Though the Helios isn't waterproof, it kept us dry on this drizzly...
Though the Helios isn't waterproof, it kept us dry on this drizzly hike.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Comfort


Thanks to its simplicity and its lightweight material, the Helios shines here, scoring toward the top of the pack. 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.

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, too.

The Helios is light and pliable enough that even our canine tester...
The Helios is light and pliable enough that even our canine tester was willing to pose for a photo!
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Breathability


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. This hat 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.

There may have been snow on the ground, but this was a hot day...
There may have been snow on the ground, but this was a hot day. Though it lacks ventilation, the Helios is light and breathable enough that it kept us comfortable through several hot climbs on this tour.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Even though it lacks ventilation, the Helios is made of super lightweight material, so it is fairly breathable. We also found that because the crown 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 then. 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.

The Helios is one of the smaller and lighter hats we tested.
The Helios is one of the smaller and lighter hats we tested.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Durability


Given its lightweight stature, we were impressed with the durability of the Helios and gave it high marks in this category. We used this hat 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 we tested. After 30 minutes, its brim was significantly creased, but these creases relaxed quickly and all but disappeared after a couple of wears.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Style


The Helios isn't the ugliest hat in our test group, but it's also not the most stylish. In general, we found the full-brim hats in our test group, like the Helios, to be more stylish than the cape-style hats. Still, among the full-brim hats, the Helios is one of the dorkiest in our opinion. The brim on this hat is very flat, which gives it a slight Canadian Mountie feel. Its main material and detailing definitely make it look like a piece of outdoor gear, rather than a stylish piece of clothing.

Stylish or not? We felt pretty dorky in the Helios thanks to its...
Stylish or not? We felt pretty dorky in the Helios thanks to its flat brim and technical look.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Value


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.

Conclusion


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 great in conditions from hot sun to light rain, 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.

This durable little hat is a great value. We think you'll like it.
This durable little hat is a great value. We think you'll like it.
Photo: Joanna Trieger

Joanna Trieger