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Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket Review

Light and compressible, it is ideal for trips where low weight is paramount
Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket
Credit: Outdoor Research
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Price:  $160 List | $158.95 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Insanely lightweight, tiny compressed size, stows tightly in a reversible pocket, hood design maintains great peripheral vision, respectable stormworthiness
Cons:  Average breathability, minimal hood, only one pocket, not as versatile in the traditional sense
Manufacturer:   Outdoor Research
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 24, 2022
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70
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#8 of 12
  • Water Resistance - 30% 7.0
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 5.0
  • Comfort & Mobility - 18% 7.0
  • Weight - 15% 10.0
  • Durability - 5% 4.0
  • Packed Size - 7% 10.0

Our Verdict

The new Outdoor Research Helium is essentially a cross between a super light rain jacket and a wind shirt. It offers respectable stormworthiness and the extended water resistance you'd expect from a rain jacket but with the weight and packability of a wind shirt. This model is the lightest weight and most compact we tested and conveniently stows away into its reversible chest pocket. It lacks the durability or ventilation capabilities that make it as versatile as other models in our fleet, but for backpackers, hikers, climbers, and trail runners who leave their jacket in their pack more often than not, the Helium Rain is an excellent option.

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Price $158.95 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
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Pros Insanely lightweight, tiny compressed size, stows tightly in a reversible pocket, hood design maintains great peripheral vision, respectable stormworthinessIncredible price, Gore-Tex, solid weather protection, excellent hood design, weight and packed volumeStormworthy, cost, durable, versatile, good breathability and ventilation, waterproof pocketsVersatile, durable, long lasting DWR, good stormworthiness, minimal clammy feelBetter breathability than others in its price range, decent ventilation, roll away hood, nice pit zips, affordable
Cons Average breathability, minimal hood, only one pocket, not as versatile in the traditional senseWets out quicker than other Gore-Tex models, two layer design isn't as long-lasting, clammy interiorHeavy for a "minimalist" designHeavy, average packed size, mobility, and freedom of movementNo chest pocket, not quite as breathable as models that use non-coated membrane
Bottom Line Light and compressible, it is ideal for trips where low weight is paramountOne of the best values you can get for a piece of rain gear, this Gore-Tex model is packed full of functional featuresIt's one of our favorite do-anything jackets, offering excellent stormworthiness, functionality, and durabilityA durable jacket with function focused design that will keep most satisfied, without putting a hole in your walletA great jacket that offers above-average breathability, with an excellent price tag
Rating Categories Outdoor Research He... REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Marmot Minimalist Patagonia Torrentsh... Marmot PreCip Eco
Water Resistance (30%)
7.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
Breathability & Venting (25%)
5.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
6.0
Comfort & Mobility (18%)
7.0
7.0
6.0
8.0
7.0
Weight (15%)
10.0
6.0
4.0
5.0
5.0
Durability (5%)
4.0
6.0
9.0
8.0
6.0
Packed Size (7%)
10.0
7.0
5.0
7.0
7.0
Specs Outdoor Research He... REI Co-op XeroDry GTX Marmot Minimalist Patagonia Torrentsh... Marmot PreCip Eco
Measured Weight (Medium) 6.5 oz 12.5 oz 16 oz 14 oz 13.5 oz
Waterproof Fabric Material 2.5-layer Pertex Shield 2-layer GORE-TEX Paclite GORE-TEX Paclite 3-layer H2No Performance Standard shell NanoPro
Face Fabric and Layer Construction 30D 100 nylon ripstop w/ Pertex Shield+ waterproof breathable insert Polyester 100% recycled polyester 350-D 100% recycled nylon, polycarbonate PU membrane, tricot backer 100% nylon ripstop
Pockets 1 zippered hand pocket 2 hand 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest 2 zippered hand pockets 2 zip hand pockets
Are Lower Pockets Hipbelt Friendly? Yes No No No No
Pit Zips No No Yes Yes Yes
Helmet Compatible Hood (not only fits but not too tight) No No Yes No Yes
Stows Into Pocket? Yes No No Yes Yes

Our Analysis and Test Results

An extremely lightweight and compressible shell, the OR Helium is ideal if you're after a rain layer that takes up as little space as possible. Whether for use as a just-in-case layer while out on an afternoon hike, a long-distance backpacking trip, or a challenging alpine climb, this jacket disappears in your pack like no other.

Performance Comparison


Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket rain jacket - crazy light and ultra-compact, this model is the perfect "just in...
Crazy light and ultra-compact, this model is the perfect "just in case" piece of storm protection.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Water Resistance


This jacket kept us dry in several short downpours, and the fabric resisted wetting out reasonably well. As you might imagine, it wouldn't be our first choice for trips where you expect rain all day, day after day. The DWR treatment applied to the Pertex Shield+ fabric held up pretty darn well during our field and side-by-side testing and outperformed several thicker, heavier models in its price range.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket rain jacket - despite its exceptionally low weight, the helium rain performed very...
Despite its exceptionally low weight, the Helium Rain performed very well in both our real-world and side-by-side water resistance testing. However, we do think its DWR treatment tends to wear out slightly faster than average and needs to be treated more frequently.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The main shortcomings with the Helium's stormworthiness are the wrist/cuff design and minimal hood. There's only elastic on half of the wrist opening and no means to tighten it; this means water can run down your forearms when reaching overhead into rainy weather. The hood offers good peripheral vision and cinches down nicely to help it stay on in the wind. The hood barely covered our entire head and didn't hang over our face or forehead; almost always our face would still get rained on during storms, even if our body stayed dry. While a bummer, it's not a dealbreaker, and we were impressed with its performance, especially considering it weighs about the same as two energy bars.

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 allowed some moisture escape.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket rain jacket - this model features no forms of ventilation. the interior fabric...
This model features no forms of ventilation. The interior fabric felt a little on the clammier side, but that's what you get with a sub 6.5-ounce rain jacket.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

It does boast respectable, albeit average, breathability compared to other models in the budget-friendly range. Its fabric is more breathable than several of the coated 2.5-layer fabrics like TNF's DryVent or Patagonia's H2No. The Pertex Shield+ fabric is breathable enough to keep us comfortable when generating some heat and sweat, but we had to be diligent when layering; this included stopping and adjusting what we were wearing to ensure we didn't overheat. The Helium was not as breathable as the nearly-as-light North Face Flight Lightriser, which boasts TNF's air-permeable FUTERLIGHT material.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket rain jacket - while outdoor research made other sacrifices to save weight (like...
While Outdoor Research made other sacrifices to save weight (like omitting any ventilation and only offering a single pocket), they didn't take any shortcuts when it came to range of motion. We were able to move freely in this jacket.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The Helium is breathable enough for cold or drizzly early morning runs and can be a great option to carry in your trail vest. However, because of the lack of venting options and average breathability, if you're a sweaty person or looking for something you can regularly run in, we'd recommend something more breathable, though it's difficult to match its weight.

Comfort & Mobility


Despite a minimalist design, the Helium doesn't give much range of motion or mobility. For "comfort" in the traditional sense, it's a little lacking compared to most of the jackets in this review, as it doesn't feature small nods to comfort, like a micro-fleece chin patch, and its thin fabric was slightly more on the clammy feeling side than most.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket rain jacket - this model's sleeves hardly pull back when we extend our arms, and...
This model's sleeves hardly pull back when we extend our arms, and its hem (the bottom of the jacket) just barely lifts up when we reach above our heads.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Hood Design

It delivers a hood with an excellent fit, albeit a little on the minimalist side as far as coverage goes. The toggle on the back of the hood (to take in or release slack) is easy to operate, even with gloves on. It features a single toggle on the rear of the hood, which connects the crown-line elastic-cinch to two half-length pieces of internal elastic, located near your cheeks.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket rain jacket - the cinch featured on the helium rain did a fantastic job at keeping...
The cinch featured on the Helium Rain 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.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The Helium seals out weather without taking away peripheral vision. In fact, despite its minimal design, it offered decent peripheral vision. While it's a popular alpine or rock climbing model, it does not fit over a bike or climbing helmet, though you can always wear the hood underneath the helmet if you are desperate and it's storming.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket rain jacket - despite a fairly minimal design, this model did a good job at...
Despite a fairly minimal design, this model did a good job at cinching and moving with us, helping to maintain above-average peripheral vision compared to other models we tested.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

A Note on Fit and Sizing

The Helium runs snug and is one of the slimmer fitting jackets in our review. 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. Our 5'10" 175-pound tester wears a medium size (and also wore a size medium in every jacket we tested), and it fits comfortably; 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 six-foot, 185-pound tester nicely. Though slightly snug, the torso stays put when climbing and reaching overhead.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket rain jacket - the chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack which does a good job...
The chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack which does a good job compressing the jacket without being difficult to stow away.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Pocket Design

Continuing with the minimalist design, the Helium offers one Napoleon-style chest pocket. This isolated pocket is very functional and fits a larger than average smartphone or similar-sized item. This stuff pocket now reverses and becomes a stuff sack for the jacket, complete with a clip-in loop for climbers to hang from their harnesses on multi-pitch routes. 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 dealbreaker. It also makes this jacket very comfortable to wear with a waist belt, as there are no zippers to pinch your hips.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket rain jacket - weight is why you buy this jacket; at 6.3 ounces, it is the lightest...
Weight is why you buy this jacket; at 6.3 ounces, it is the lightest in our review. While it does cut several corners such as no wrist closures (as seen in this photo), it still provides solid storm protection, even at its incredibly low weight.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Weight


At 6.5 ounces, this is the lightest model in our review; as a result, it has countless applications. Since most people carry their rain jackets in their packs, this model's minuscule weight makes it even more inviting. It provides average stormworthiness, and no other jacket can touch its weight and packed volume. It's hard to beat for almost any application, like summer alpine climbing, multi-pitch rock routes, and trail running. Folks hunting for the best light weight jacket should also check out The North Face Flight Lightriser, which is 0.5 ounces heavier but offers a stretchier material and a more breathable fabric with similar weather resistance.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket rain jacket - as you may imagine, this isn't the most durable model. it uses super...
As you may imagine, this isn't the most durable model. It uses super light fabrics and a minimal construction to achieve its low weight. While it isn't nearly as fragile as we expected, to call it "tough" would be an overstatement.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Durability


The lightweight 30D ripstop nylon face fabric stands up to abrasion better than expected, but to call it durable would be a stretch. We wore it while rock and alpine climbing for several months, and the forearms are just starting to show some wear from the rough granite. After using it for a summer and fall guiding season and not expecting much from the superlight fabric's ability to withstand the abuse, we were impressed that it held up as well as it did. However, we did take care when wearing it.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket rain jacket - the helium rain is easily the most packable jacket in our review...
The Helium Rain is easily the most packable jacket in our review, compressing down to half the size (or smaller) than most other jackets we tested. Here it is zipped into its pocket with a one liter Nalgene for size reference.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

The main benefits of this jacket are its weight and packability — and they do come at the expense of durability. The bottom line is the Helium is less durable than some in our fleet, but is more than durable enough for folks who are day hiking or backpacking.

Looking for something on the other end of the durability spectrum? Consider the Outdoor Research Foray, Arc'teryx Zeta SL, or the Marmot Minimalist.

Packed Size


This model packs away in a reversible chest pocket, which turns into a stuff sack, and is easy to compress down. Outdoor Research did a great job sizing this pocket, making it small enough to compress without being so small that it was a pain to stow it.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket rain jacket - for being one of the lightest and smallest rain jackets on the...
For being one of the lightest and smallest rain jackets on the market, it doesn't cost an arm and a leg. This model can be a relatively inexpensive upgrade to save several ounces in your pack.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Since it packs down so tiny, it's the perfect model to keep in the bottom of a hydration, daypack, or multi-pitch pack — so it's always there. If you encounter unexpected rain, wind, or cooler than anticipated weather, this little secret weapon can handle it. The latest version of the Helium has a clip-in loop to facilitate attaching to your harness (where previous versions lacked this feature).

Value


As one of the lightest and most compressible jackets on the market, this model remains reasonably priced. This makes it a spectacular value, as no other model weighs less or is more compressible for the same or less cost.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket rain jacket - this model provides dependable waterproof protection in a tiny...
This model provides dependable waterproof protection in a tiny package. It's our go-to jacket for just-in-case protection on all sorts of trips from day-hikes to multi-pitch rock climbing.
Credit: Ian Nicholson

Conclusion


Fine-tuned for light and fast activities that take advantage of its tiny size and minuscule weight, this jacket simply disappears in your pack. It's the perfect piece of foul-weather protection for trips where every ounce matters or as a just-in-case layer on more casual outings. The Helium Rain fits a lot of people's needs; on trips when you aren't using your rain jacket, the OR Helium is hardly noticeable in your pack or clipped to your harness. It offers decent durability, ventilation, and versatility for hiking or backpacking and is our top choice for ultralight.

Ian Nicholson
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