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Outdoor Research Helium II Review

One of the lightest and most packable in our review, with excellent mobility, good storm worthiness, and a sweet hood.
Outdoor Research Helium II
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Price:  $159 List | $149.95 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Perfect stuff pocket, super light, good mobility, above average weather resistance
Cons:  No hand pockets, loose wrist cuffs, no particularly durable
Manufacturer:   Outdoor Research
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 14, 2019
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67
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#13 of 16
  • Water Resistance - 30% 6
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 5
  • Comfort & Mobility - 20% 7
  • Weight - 15% 10
  • Durability - 5% 5
  • Packed Size - 5% 10

Our Verdict

The Outdoor Research Helium II is essentially a cross between a super light rain jacket and a wind shirt; it offers the extended water resistance of a rain jacket with the weight and packability of a wind jacket. This model is one of the most compact we tested, and it conveniently stows into a special built-in stuff pocket. It might lack the durability or the ventilation options to make it as versatile as several other options in our review, but for backpackers, hikers, climbers, and trail runners who might leave their jacket in their pack 95% of the time, the Helium II is a perfect option.

This contender is the second lightest (only 0.5 ounces heavier than the Patagonia Storm Racer) and is one of the most packable models we tested, making it ideal for moving light and fast, or to carry around as a just-in-case layer for protection against unsettled weather. Our Top Picks and Editors' Choice winners, the Outdoor Research Foray, REI Rhyolite, and Arc'teryx Zeta SL, all performed better during blowing rainstorms and offered better breathability, but none packed down nearly as small and were all twice the weight of the Helium.


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Awards  Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Top Pick Award  
Price $149.95 at Amazon
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$299.00 at REI
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$249.00 at REI$229.95 at Backcountry
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Overall Score Sort Icon
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Star Rating
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Pros Perfect stuff pocket, super light, good mobility, above average weather resistanceTop-tier storm-worthiness, mobility and range of motion, hood design, long-lasting DWR, exceptional breathability, harness and hip-belt friendly pocketsThe most breathable material in our review, lightweight and compressible, stretchy fabric, top-tier hood design, extremely stormworthyStretchiest fabric in our review, cozy interior feel, breathability, robust, pleasant low-profile wrist closures, hood design is comfortable and maintains good peripheral visionAwesome hood, fantastic fit, very durable, exceptionally versatile, good breathability and ventilation, waterproof pockets
Cons No hand pockets, loose wrist cuffs, no particularly durableNo ventilation options, expensive, no easy way to clip to a harnessCut is slightly on the boxy side, not as durable as other modelsNo chest pocket, hood doesn't fit over a helmet, size up this model to accommodate layeringHeavy for a "minimalist" design, slightly more expensive than non Gore-Tex jackets
Bottom Line One of the lightest and most packable in our review, with excellent mobility, good storm worthiness, and a sweet hood.This storm-worthy and function-focused model is exceptionally versatile, offering some of the best across-the-board performance in our review.One of the best jackets for backpacking and hiking, it's and packable, yet still provides top-tier storm worthiness.A solid alpine performer for mixed weather conditions, this mega stretchy model moves with you - without holding you back.While this jacket didn't win an award, it remains one of our favorites and is an awesome do-anything jacket offering excellent stormworthiness, functionality, & durability.
Rating Categories Outdoor Research Helium II Arc'teryx Zeta SL REI Co-op Drypoint GTX Rab Kinetic Plus Marmot Minimalist
Water Resistance (30%)
10
0
6
10
0
9
10
0
9
10
0
7
10
0
9
Breathability & Venting (25%)
10
0
5
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
8
10
0
7
Comfort & Mobility (20%)
10
0
7
10
0
9
10
0
8
10
0
10
10
0
9
Weight (15%)
10
0
10
10
0
6
10
0
7
10
0
6
10
0
4
Durability (5%)
10
0
5
10
0
8
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
9
Packed Size (5%)
10
0
10
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
7
10
0
7
Specs Outdoor Research... Arc'teryx Zeta SL REI Co-op Drypoint... Rab Kinetic Plus Marmot Minimalist
Measured Weight (Medium) 6.5 oz 11 oz 10.5 oz 10 oz 15 oz
Waterproof Fabric Material 2.5 layer Pertex Shield+ 2-layer GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus waterproof breathable laminate 3-layer Gore-Tex Active Proflex™ 3-layer GORE-TEX with PacLite technology
Face Fabric and Layer Construction 30D 100 nylon ripstop w/ Pertex Shield+ waterproof breathable insert 40-denier ripstop (N40r) GORE-TEX PACLITE Plus 20D ripstop nylon Propriety Proflex waterproof membrane 2.5L 100% recycled polyester
Pockets 1 functional pocket chest pocket + 1 stuff-pouch 2 hand 2 zip hand 2 hand 2 zip hand, 1 chest
Are lower pockets hipbelt friendly Yes Yes Yes Yes
Pit Zips No Yes No No Yes
Helmet Compatible Hood (not only fits but not too tight) Yes No No No Yes
Stows Into Pocket? Yes No No No (but included stuff sack) No

Our Analysis and Test Results

An extremely lightweight and exceptionally compressible shell, the Helium II is ideal for those looking to pack a rain protection layer that takes up as little weight and space as possible. Two reflective patches make this a great jacket for cool weather running and biking or as your only additional layer for longer trail runs.

Performance Comparison


The Helium II is super light and very compact  making it an excellent jacket to carry along on multi-pitch rock climbs. Brandon Lampley getting ready for the afternoon showers at Lumpy Ridge near Rocky Mountain National Park.
The Helium II is super light and very compact, making it an excellent jacket to carry along on multi-pitch rock climbs. Brandon Lampley getting ready for the afternoon showers at Lumpy Ridge near Rocky Mountain National Park.

Water Resistance


This jacket did a solid job of keeping us dry, and the hood design was one of the best in the review. Like the Best Buy award winning Marmot PreCip, the elastic cinches extend up to the temple and not across the brow. The unique part of the Helium's design is that there are no cord locks at the side of the hood. A third elastic cord that tightens on the back of the hood also cinches the two on the side of the face. With the large, stiffened brim, these features work perfectly together.

The DWR treatment applied to the Pertex Shield+ fabric held up pretty well during our field and side-by-side testing. The one shortcoming with the Helium II's storm worthiness is the wrist/cuff design. Because this jacket only offers elastic on the wrist side and no means to tighten it, water can run down your forearms when reaching overhead into rainy weather.

Despite its exceptionally low weight  the Helium II performed very well in our real-world and side-by-side testing  though we do think its DWR treatment tends to wear out slightly faster than average and needs to be treated more frequently.
Despite its exceptionally low weight, the Helium II performed very well in our real-world and side-by-side testing, though we do think its DWR treatment tends to wear out slightly faster than average and needs to be treated more frequently.

As a whole, we were impressed by the storm protection this 6.5-ounce jacket provided; however, it wasn't nearly as storm worthy as several other jackets in our review nor would it be our first choice for a weeklong trip with a high chance of precipitation every day. If you find yourself in a situation like the one above, you'd be far happier having something like the Outdoor Research Foray, REI Drypoint GTX, or Arc'teryx Zeta SL. With that said, we thought it was very comparable to the other super light models, we tested like the Patagonia Storm Racer and Black Diamond Fineline.

Breathability & Ventilation


This jacket does not have any ventilation features, save the loose-fitting wrist cuffs (if you can call that a ventilation feature), which fit our lead tester's wrists with some room to spare, and thus let some moisture escape.

What this jacket does boast is respectable breathability; we found this fabric was more breathable than some coated options like DryVent (The North Face Venture 2) or H2No (Patagonia Torrentshell). The Pertex Shield+ fabric was breathable enough to keep us comfortable when generating some heat and sweat, as long as the temperatures outside were low, or we weren't working too hard and were wearing minimal clothes underneath.

This model is a perfect wind/rain jacket hybrid. It moves exceptionally well and weighs next to nothing.
This model is a perfect wind/rain jacket hybrid. It moves exceptionally well and weighs next to nothing.

The Helium II was breathable enough for cooler or drizzly early morning runs, but we liked the Patagonia Storm Racer a little better as it was a touch more breathable. All that said, because of the lack of venting options, if you're a sweaty person or looking for something more than super-light rain protection that lives in the bottom of your pack, then the Outdoor Research Interstellar or Rab Kinetic Plus are certainly noticeably more breathable. The other option is the impressively venting Outdoor Research Foray.

The Helium II offers some of the best range of motion of any jacket in our review. The only jacket scoring better was the (much more expensive) Arc'teryx Zeta SL.
The Helium II offers some of the best range of motion of any jacket in our review. The only jacket scoring better was the (much more expensive) Arc'teryx Zeta SL.

Comfort & Mobility


Despite a truly minimalist design, the Helium II doesn't give much up for its range of motion or overall mobility and was just above average overall. It didn't offer as good of mobility as the Arc'teryx Zeta SL or the stretchy Black Diamond Fineline but it was one of the better models that didn't feature a stretchy fabric. For "comfort" in the traditional sense, it might be a little lacking compared to most of the jackets in this review and doesn't even feature small nods to comfort like a micro-fleece chin patch.

Despite being the lightest shell in our review  the Helium II managed to also feature one of the better hood designs. It cinched down nicely  kept our head dry  and still kept an above average amount of peripheral vision when we turned our heads.
Despite being the lightest shell in our review, the Helium II managed to also feature one of the better hood designs. It cinched down nicely, kept our head dry, and still kept an above average amount of peripheral vision when we turned our heads.

Hood Design

This jacket does deliver an excellent, well-designed, easy to adjust hood that fits over a bike or climbing helmet. It has a unique elastic cinch system that our testers loved, and we found the Helium's hood to be comfortable when worn with a ball cap or a rock climbing helmet. The zipper pulls on the waterproof main zipper and chest pocket have some of the easiest to grasp pulls, which are excellent for gloves.

The cinch featured on the Helium II did a fantastic job at keeping the hood on our heads  regardless of how windy it was or what type of headwear we had on.
The cinch featured on the Helium II did a fantastic job at keeping the hood on our heads, regardless of how windy it was or what type of headwear we had on.

A Note on Fit and Sizing

The Helium II runs slightly snugger than most and is one of the slimmest fitting jackets in our review (the Rab Kinetic Plus and the Patagonia Storm Racer being the others). However, for most people, we still recommend your usual size unless you find that you are typically in between sizes; in this case, we would recommend sizing up. A 5'10" medium-sized 175 lb user loved the medium size (and also wore a size medium in every jacket we tested); however, it's worth noting that it was a little tight with a puffy jacket underneath, though a thick base-layer like a Patagonia R1 Hoody fit great. Our size large test jacket fit our 6 ft, 185-pound tester nicely. Thought it was slightly snug, the torso stayed put when climbing and reaching overhead.

The Helium II runs a little smaller than most jackets we tested  though unless you are truly between sizes or you know you are going to need to layer more than just a light fleece (Patagonia R1 or equivalent)  then you don't need to size up.
The Helium II runs a little smaller than most jackets we tested, though unless you are truly between sizes or you know you are going to need to layer more than just a light fleece (Patagonia R1 or equivalent), then you don't need to size up.

Pocket Design

Continuing with the minimalist design, the Helium only offers one Napoleon-style chest pocket. This isolated pocket is very functional and fits even a larger than average smartphone or similar sized item. It does feature a "stuff pouch" that (now) features a clip-in loop for secure attachment to a harness. While not having a pair of pockets to put your hands in is a small disadvantage, we think folks looking for the insanely low weight and minimal packed size won't find this missing feature to be a deal breaker.

Weight


At 6.5 ounces, this is the second lightest model we tested. It's only a touch heavier than the Patagonia Storm Racer (6 ounces) and remains one of the lightest overall waterproof models currently available. Other impressively light models were the Black Diamond Fineline (7.5 ounces) which was similar in overall design and offers a little stretch to its fabric for improved mobility.

Durability


The lightweight 30D ripstop nylon face fabric on this piece stood up to abrasion surprisingly well; we have to admit that we didn't expect such a super light fabric to withstand as much abuse as it did. We wore this model rock climbing and ridge scrambling repeatedly, and the forearms are just starting to show some wear from the rough granite after several months.

The main benefits of this jacket - super lightweight and packable - do come at the expense of durability. The bottom line is the Helium II is less durable than most jackets we tested, though not by a significant amount. Compared to other lightweight models we tested, like the Black Diamond Fineline and the Patagonia Storm Racer, performance is similar. For folks who are mostly day-hiking or backpacking, the Helium is more than durable enough for hiking trails.

Looking for something on the other end of the durability spectrum? Consider the Outdoor Research Foray or the Marmot Minimalist.

The Helium II was easily the most packable jacket in our review  being half the size (or smaller) than most other jackets we tested.
The Helium II was easily the most packable jacket in our review, being half the size (or smaller) than most other jackets we tested.

Packed Size


This model packs away in an interior Velcro-closure stuff pocket and is easy compresses down among the smallest of all the models we tested. There isn't much difference in packed size between this model and the Black Diamond Fineline or Patagonia Storm Racer but it was significantly smaller than other models we tested.

This is the perfect model to keep in the bottom of a hydration, day pack, or multi-pitch pack so it's always there. Unexpected rain, wind, or cooler than anticipated weather - this little secret weapon handles them all. The latest version of the Helium does come complete with a clip-in loop to facilitate attaching to your harness (where previous versions lacked this feature).

The newest version of the OR Helium II features a clip-in point for carrying on your harness while stuffed away in its pocket. We think this jacket is fantastic for climbing and any other time you would like to bring a jacket just in case.
The newest version of the OR Helium II features a clip-in point for carrying on your harness while stuffed away in its pocket. We think this jacket is fantastic for climbing and any other time you would like to bring a jacket just in case.

Features


The hood on this rain jacket has a stiffened brim and a unique front to back elastic cinch cord with an external lock. The collar has a simple fabric tab at the chin and a nice large hang loop in the back. The Helium II does not have pit zips; with the waterproof chest pocket, it is the only jacket we tested with no means of ventilation. The stuff pocket on the internal left front side closes with a Velcro tab and doubles as a good stash spot for snacks, while the wrist cuff is very simple with elastic on the inner wrist. The elastic hem cinch has one cord lock on the right side, and the logos double as reflective patches on the left chest and left sleeve. There is no back facing reflectivity.

The Helium II has a nice hang loop on the inside of the collar and waterproof zippers with easy to use pulls. No pit zips on this ultralight shell though  and the wrist cuffs aren't adjustable.
The Helium II has a nice hang loop on the inside of the collar and waterproof zippers with easy to use pulls. No pit zips on this ultralight shell though, and the wrist cuffs aren't adjustable.

Best Applications


The ultralight and minimalist Helium II is a great choice for fast and light activities, from day hikes and trail-runs to long-distance thru-hiking. It even excels at summer-time mountaineering and other climbing objectives. It performs well for general-purpose backpacking, day-hiking, cycling, and running, and it is a very popular just-in-case layer for climbers and peak baggers. It's worth remembering that most backpackers and mountaineers end up carrying their waterproof jacket 95% (or more) of the time, making the Helium a perfect layer always to bring along (and practically forget that you have). It will work but isn't our top pick for heading into prolonged stormy weather.

The Helium II fits over a climbing or bike helmet well enough  but it isn't quite as helmet friendly as some other models we tested.
The Helium II fits over a climbing or bike helmet well enough, but it isn't quite as helmet friendly as some other models we tested.

Value


At $159, this model is one of the most affordable of the ultralight jackets we tested. It's a steal compared to the Patagonia Storm Racer ($250) which was only half an ounce lighter but did offer better breathability. This model is more expensive than the Black Diamond Fineline ($130) but is an ounce lighter, but the Fineline is stretchier and offers slightly better mobility.

Conclusion


The Outdoor Research Helium II is a rad ultralight rain and wind jacket at an excellent price. It's fine-tuned for light and fast activities that take advantage of its excellent mobility and respectable breathability. When you don't need the Helium II, its compact six ounces in your pack or clipped to your harness are hardly noticeable. It isn't as durable, well-ventilated, or versatile as some other options, but for folks looking for the best ultralight jacket, this is it.

This model provides dependable waterproof protection in a tiny package. It's our go-to jacket for just-in-case protection when multi-pitch climbing.
This model provides dependable waterproof protection in a tiny package. It's our go-to jacket for just-in-case protection when multi-pitch climbing.


Ian Nicholson