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Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket Review

Light and compressible, ideal for trips where low weight is paramount
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $160 List | $158.95 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 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 6, 2020
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71
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#8 of 12
  • Water Resistance - 30% 7
  • Breathability & Venting - 25% 5
  • Comfort & Mobility - 18% 7
  • Weight - 15% 10
  • Durability - 5% 5
  • Packed Size - 7% 10

Our Verdict

The new Outdoor Research Helium is essentially a cross between a super light rain jacket and a wind shirt. It manages to offer 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 might lack the durability or ventilation options that make it as versatile as other options, but for backpackers, hikers, climbers, and trail runners who might leave their jacket in their pack 95% or more of the time, the Helium Rain is the perfect option.

Compare to Similar Products

Our Analysis and Test Results

An extremely lightweight and compressible shell, the OR Helium is ideal if you're after a rain layer that is light and 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


Crazy light and ultra-compact  this model is the perfect "just in case" piece of storm protection.
Crazy light and ultra-compact, this model is the perfect "just in case" piece of storm protection.

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.

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.
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.

The main shortcomings with the Helium's stormworthiness are the wrist/cuff design and its 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 respectable 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. This means that 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 thus let some moisture escape.

This model featured 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.
This model featured 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.

It does boast respectable, albeit average, breathability when 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 was 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 make sure we didn't overheat.

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.

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.
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.

Comfort & Mobility


Despite a truly 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.

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.
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.

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) was 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, which are located near your cheeks.

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.
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.

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.

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.
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.

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 had a medium size (and also wore a size medium in every jacket we tested), and it fit 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. Thought it was slightly snug, the torso stayed put when climbing and reaching overhead.

The chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack which does a good job compressing the jacket without being difficult to stow away.
The chest pocket doubles as a stuff sack which does a good job compressing the jacket without being difficult to stow away.

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.

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.
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.

Weight


At 6.3 ounces, this is the straight-up lightest model in our review, and as a result, has countless applications. Since most people end up carrying 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 simply hard to beat for almost any application, like summer alpine climbing, multi-pitch rock routes, and trail running.

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.
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.

Durability


The lightweight 30D ripstop nylon face fabric stood 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 abuse, we were impressed that it held up as well as it did. However, we'd take care when wearing it.

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, though not by a significant amount. For folks who are day hiking or backpacking, the Helium is more than durable enough.

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

The Helium Rain was 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 1-liter Nalgene for size reference.
The Helium Rain was 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 1-liter Nalgene for size reference.

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 of sizing this pocket, making it small enough to actually compress, without being so small that it was a pain to stow it.

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. Unexpected rain, wind, or cooler than anticipated weather; this little secret weapon handles them all. The latest version of the Helium has a clip-in loop to facilitate attaching to your harness (where previous versions lacked this feature).

Surprisingly  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.
Surprisingly, 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.

Value


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

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.
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.

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, but is not for everyone. On trips when you aren't using your rain jacket, the Helium is hardly noticeable in your pack or clipped to your harness. While it might not be as durable, well-ventilated, or versatile as some options, it's our top choice for ultralight.

Ian Nicholson