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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A Note on Fit and Sizing
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.