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Outdoor Research Helium Pant Review

Hard to beat for any trip where weight and packed space are at a premium - as long as there isn't too much off-trail travel, where their lower than average durability could be an issue
Outdoor Research Helium Pant
Photo: Outdoor Research
Top Pick Award
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Price:  $119 List | $89.73 at REI
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  By far the lightest and most compact pant in our review, great mobility, elastic waist band is extremely comfortable and functional
Cons:  Less durable than most, hard to pull on over boots
Manufacturer:   Outdoor Research
By Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Mar 16, 2017
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83
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#5 of 13
  • Water Resistance - 25% 8
  • Comfort and Mobility - 18% 9
  • Breathability & Venting - 18% 7
  • Features - 5% 5
  • Packed Size - 12% 10
  • Weight - 17% 10
  • Durability - 5% 6

Our Verdict

The Outdoor Research Helium is our Top Pick for the Best Lightweight rain pant. It is half the weight and packed volume of most of the options we tested and is one of the lightest and most compressible rain pants on the market. While it does give up a little in the way of "extra" features and durability, it still offers excellent storm protection. The Helium offers an excellent fit (though slightly smaller than average) with great freedom of movement and is durable enough for most backpacking trips, day hikes, or summertime mountaineering adventures (as long as there is minimal bushwhacking to be done). The Helium is also a perfect just-in-case layer for a wide range of activities and all of our testers simply loved how tiny it packed away.

Product Revamped

Outdoor Research released an updated version of the Helium pant with new Pertex Diamond Fuse nylon fabric that is designed to be more abrasion-resistant. The updated model is exclusively available at REI now, and will be offered at other retailers starting in Autumn 2020. Take note that if you purchase this pant from anywhere but REI between now and then, you'll be purchasing the older model (which is the one we tested in this review).

March 2020

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Price $89.73 at REI
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Pros By far the lightest and most compact pant in our review, great mobility, elastic waist band is extremely comfortable and functionalMega stretchy fabric, best breathability in the review, built in belt is the bombCompact, light, affordableInexpensive, lightweight, excellent packed size, reasonably weather-resistant, baggy cut makes it easy to wear over other layers, low profile waistband doesn't pinch under a backpackBest pant among $50 and under options, above average durability, excellent storm worthiness
Cons Less durable than most, hard to pull on over bootsNot quite as abrasion resistant as other models, so-so weather-resistanceThin fabric prone to tearing, limited breathabilityNot especially breathable, clammy with moderate aerobic activity, no front hand pockets, below average articulationNo pockets, breathability, ventilation, not easy to put on without removing footwear
Bottom Line Hard to beat for any trip where weight and packed space are at a premium - as long as there isn't too much off-trail travel, where their lower than average durability could be an issueA fantastic all-around pant with rad stretchy fabric, which offers exceptional freedom of movement and the best breathabilityBudget, lightweight pants totally suitable for occasional usePerfect for those who want to bring a pair of rain pants but aren't likely to use them very oftenA killer pant for the price, offering better than expected feel and weather resistance, but does not offer much in the way of features
Rating Categories Outdoor Research He... Stretch Ozonic Pants Marmot PreCip Pant Co-op Essential Columbia Rebel Roamer
Water Resistance (25%)
8.0
7.0
9.0
7.0
8.0
Comfort And Mobility (18%)
9.0
10.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
Breathability & Venting (18%)
7.0
9.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
Features (5%)
5.0
8.0
9.0
6.0
5.0
Packed Size (12%)
10.0
9.0
8.0
9.0
8.0
Weight (17%)
10.0
9.0
9.0
9.0
8.0
Durability (5%)
6.0
7.0
7.0
6.0
7.0
Specs Outdoor Research He... Stretch Ozonic Pants Marmot PreCip Pant Co-op Essential Columbia Rebel Roamer
Measured Weight 6.5 oz / 184g 10 oz / 283g 8 oz / 225g 9.5 oz / 271g 12.5 oz / 354g
Waterproof Fabric Material 2.5 Layer Pertex Shield+ 2.5 Layer Dry Q Active Stretch Nano Pro 2.5-layer REI Proprietary waterproof breathable fabric Omni-Tech Waterproof/Breathable
Face Fabric and Layer Construction 30D 100 Nylon Ripstop w/ Pertex Shield+ Waterproof Breathable Insert 40D Dry Q Active Stretch NanoPro100% Nylon Ripstop 2.2 oz/ yd 40-denier nylon ripstop 70D 100% Nylon
Pockets 1 pocket 1 pocket 3 pockets 1 pocket 0 pockets
Side Zips Length? 1/4 Length Ankle Zips Full Length Side Zips 1/4 Length 1/4 Length Ankle Zips None
Put on Over Hiking or Mountaineering Boots No Yes Yes No No
Inseam Length, Size Medium 31 in 30, 32, 34 in 32 in 31.5 inches 30 or 32 in
Stows Into Pocket? Yes Yes No Yes No
Waist band Style Elastic + Shock Cord Nylon Belt + Elastic Band Elastic + shock cord Elastic + Shock Cord Elastic + Shock Cord

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Outdoor Research Helium is the lightest rain pant in our review and the best super-light rain pant on the market. More and more options are released each year, though the Helium remains at the top of our list. Most ultralight models offer very poor breathability, aren't very waterproof, and cross over the point of functionality because they are too fragile. This simply isn't the case with the Helium; it gives up a little bit in some of these categories to other much heavier models, but overall, it offers respectable durability, breathability, and storm worthiness - especially considering how crazy light and small they are.

Performance Comparison


We took the Helium pant out on a dozen or so trips using them for a little over 3-weeks. All of our testers were impressed with how tiny and light these pants were yet still provided pretty decent weather protection.

Weather Resistance


The Outdoor Research Helium uses Pertex Sheild+ fabric for its weather resistance. Pertex Sheild+ is a PU film coating laminated to a Nylon shell that coupled with the Helium's design, offers respectable weather resistance. Despite its impressively low weight, these pants performed above average in our hose and shower tests, as well as in real-world use.

If you expect to have soaking wet weather for days on end we might...
If you expect to have soaking wet weather for days on end we might go for another rain pant but for days when it drizzles lightly all day the Helium still proved to be enough
Photo: Ian Nicholson


The Helium gives up a little in the way of storm worthiness when compared to burlier models like the Outdoor Foray Pants or the Marmot Minimalist Pant, but they performed comparably to other heavier models like the Marmot PreCip Full Zip, REI Talusphere Full Zip, or Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic, earning an 8 out of 10 in this metric.

For its' weather protection, the Helium uses Pertex Sheild+ in a 2.5...
For its' weather protection, the Helium uses Pertex Sheild+ in a 2.5 layer construction. Pertex Sheild+ is a PU film coating laminated to a Nylon shell that offered good, but not amazing, weather protection.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Comfort and Mobility


When you first pick up this pair of rain pants, you immediately want to categorize it as a super lightweight pant that might not offer comfort or a functional design in exchange for saving weight. Our review team found that this was not the case. Our entire team loved how the low-profile elastic waistband felt, particularly when worn with a backpack. It proved to be one of the most comfortable contenders; the elastic waistband and shock cord was a breeze and kept our pants from slowing inching down. We found that these pants fit a wide range of users, but certainly run a little on the smaller/slimmer side of the spectrum. For folks that are forced to size up, there are three built-in elastic loops to accommodate suspenders.


Despite the slimmer than average fit, the Helium's range of motion was among the best in our review, featuring a solid design and excellent articulation. After extended use, our testing team found that these pants performed well for activities that demanded a fair amount of mobility, whether alpine rock climbing, Nordic skiing, trail running, or similar type activities.

Breathability & Ventilation


This contender does not offer any additional features to help with ventilation, though the Pertex Shield+ fabric proved to perform slightly above average in the breathability metric. In our side-by-side testing, we found these pants to be more breathable than some, like the The North Face Venture or Columbia Rebel Roamer. They were similar to the Marmot PreCip Pant, but not quite as breathable as the OR Foray.


We liked the internal fabric and texture. Several members of our testing team noted that it felt less clammy than other options, particularly the Marmot PreCip and The North Face Venture Half Zip.

Despite its low weight and incredibly small packed size the Helium...
Despite its low weight and incredibly small packed size the Helium has several small, but very helpful features that make this pant more comfortable. Most notable are its comfy low-profile waist band and waist-cinch-toggle that were never uncomfortable while wearing a pack and did a fantastic job at keeping our pants from sagging down unwanted. We also like the four small elastic loops that can accommodate suspenders.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Features


The Helium doesn't provide much in the way of "extra" features; instead, its exceptionally low weight and compressibility are its main attributes. It does have a handful of additional features, making it easier to use and possibly allowing its wearer to save weight. It stuffs into its reversible back zippered pocket and is complete with a clip in loop, should you want to carry it on a climbing hardness or clip it to something else. Another nice feature is the loops, which can be found under the pant cuff; when attached with cord (and passed under the arch of the boot), they allow the pant cuffs to more or less function as gaiters.


We used this feature on two separate trips (one on snow) and felt this "built-in gaiter" created an exceptional seal around our boots, keeping snow and brush out. This feature gives the user the option to leave behind a separate dedicated pair of gaiters, further reducing their pack's overall weight.

The Helium is the most compressible pant we tested and stows...
The Helium is the most compressible pant we tested and stows conveniently into its rear zippered pocket. It's shown here with a 1 liter Nalgene bottle for size reference.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Packed Size


The Helium pants are the most compact pant we tested - by a fairly sizeable margin. The design ensures the pant is lightweight and extremely packable. Even its closest competitors are about twice the packed volume, with several options being two-thirds larger. This light layer, which will practically disappear in your pack, will leave you more than prepared and willing to carry it in the event of an unexpected afternoon thundershower.


Weight


At 6.5 ounces, the Helium offer the lowest weight of any model in our review and is easily one of the lightest options currently on the market. It achieves its incredibly low weight from a range of design features (or lack of features).


A few of these features include sporting one single pocket. This contender is also made of the lightest external fabric in our review and has minimal-width seam tape, low gauge 1/4-length zippers, and a lower-profile elastic waistband. These pants might not be as durable and do not offer as many features as many other options, but as far as an excellent pant for backpacking and hiking, or as a just-in-case layer, the Helium is tough to beat.


Durability


This competitor features a 30D nylon shell, which is the thinnest in the review, though not by heaps. We found them plenty durable for most backpacking and hiking trips, but do think that if you end up doing much in the way of bushwhacking or off-trail travel, these lightweight pants might be destroyed quicker than other models. The Marmot Minimalist proved to be the most durable contenders in our review.

These pants did feel slightly clammier than others against bare skin...
These pants did feel slightly clammier than others against bare skin but this was a small price to pay for its insanely low weight.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Ease of Use


The Helium pants are slightly below average in the ease of use category. The 1/4 length ankle zippers marginally assist in pulling the pants over low-profile tennis shoes; however, anything that is more substantial will prove to be nearly impossible, requiring you to remove your footwear. For folks with larger feet, it's likely that you'll always have to remove your shoes to don or remove these pants, as the pant legs are slimmer than average and the ankle length zippers do not provide much assistance. These pants feature one rear pocket and no hand warmer style pockets; overall, our testers did not find this to be a significant issue and most of our review team felt that carrying items in jacket pockets was generally more comfortable, regardless of the option.

The quarter-length ankle zippers featured on the Helium pant zips...
The quarter-length ankle zippers featured on the Helium pant zips all the way open.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

A Note on Fit
These pants run small. We don't think you automatically need to buy the next size up, but if you tend to be in between sizes, we'd certainly recommend it.

While we never found ourselves using it, we do appreciate the Helium...
While we never found ourselves using it, we do appreciate the Helium pant's attention to detail - from the low-profile waist band and waist cinch to the clip-in point (pictured here) that becomes available when the pants are stowed in their rear pocket.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Best Applications


The Helium pants are best for any application where pack space and weight are at a premium, whether that be backpacking, day hiking, mountaineering, or as a top layer for colder cross-country ski days. These pants are rad for what they offer, weighing in at 6.5 ounces. We love them for any backpacking or hiking trip when bad weather is in the forecast as long as the trip doesn't involve much bushwhacking, where the relatively low durability score might become a disadvantage. We'd use them while mountaineering or on snowshoeing trips, or for cold poor weather trail runs.

Value


At $120, the Helium slightly tiptoes onto the more expensive side of rain pants, though are still affordable, especially if you're a weight weenie. For $20 more than many similarly designed pants, the Helium saves you 5-7 ounces, and is roughly half the packed volume of say, the 14 ounce Marmot PreCip Full Zip Pant, the 11 ounce Marmot Minimalist, or the 10 ounce Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic.

Our entire review team loved the Helium pant. Its the perfect rain...
Our entire review team loved the Helium pant. Its the perfect rain pant for most backpacking or climbing trips where it will live in your pack 95% of the time but still provides enough weather protection for when the weather turns grim.
Photo: Ian Nicholson

Conclusion


For a combination of storm worthy functionality and minimal weight, the Helium is the best super-lightweight rain pant we've seen. If minimal packed size and weight are the most important factors driving your rain pant purchase, then this competitor is tough to beat. It isn't as durable or feature-rich as many other options, but it is extremely functional in design. It keeps you dry, is comfortable throughout, and offers excellent freedom of movement, blowing the competition away in the weight and packed size categories.

Ian Nicholson