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Outdoor Research Helium Down - Women's Review

It's on the heavier end of jackets of similar warmth and does not live up to its name
Outdoor Research Helium Down - Women's
Photo: Outdoor Research
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Price:  $279 List | $209.21 at Amazon
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Durable, can go over other layers
Cons:  Less loft, less warm for weight
Manufacturer:   Outdoor Research
By Lyra Pierotti ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  May 28, 2021
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62
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#10 of 15
  • Warmth - 30% 6
  • Weight - 20% 5
  • Compressibility - 20% 5
  • Features - 15% 8
  • Durability - 10% 8
  • Water Resistance - 5% 8

Our Verdict

The Helium series of garments from Outdoor Research has been an impressive line of lightweight waterproof-breathable pants and jackets, as well as sleeping bags and a bivy. As such, we were excited to test their down jacket addition to the line. The Helium down is undoubtedly durable, but the materials, features, and overall fit (to use with other layers) are not our favorite. When we shop for a parka-style jacket to wear over layers, we want loft and warmth. However, it seems that OR may have overdone the features and overfilled the baffles, which results in a jacket that isn't as warm and boasts a heavier weight than others of similar function and warmth.

Compare to Similar Products

 
Awards  Editors' Choice Award Editors' Choice Award Best Buy Award Best Buy Award 
Price $209.21 at Amazon
Compare at 2 sellers
$237.41 at Amazon
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$339.00 at Feathered FriendsCheck Price at REI
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$100 List
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Pros Durable, can go over other layersWarm, lightweight, comfortable, length adds warmthVery warm for the weight, highly compressible, durable, versatile, comfortableDurable, weather resistant, athletic cut, good movement, versatileInexpensive, lightweight
Cons Less loft, less warm for weightExpensive, not likely your single-quiver down jacketLess stylish, harder to layer underneath a hardshell jacketNarrower baffles compress down; slightly lower quality 750 fill downLess warm, lower quality down
Bottom Line It's on the heavier end of jackets of similar warmth and does not live up to its nameAn impressively warm option that offers top of the line performance, particularly for alpine adventuresRose quickly to the top for its incredible warmth-to-weight and remarkable comfortA durable, versatile, and very comfortable jacket that can handle many activities, from mountain to townThis is a very light, entry-level down jacket for moderate temperatures
Rating Categories Helium Down Rab Neutrino Pro -... Feathered Friends E... Microlight Alpine J... Co-op 650 Down 2.0
Warmth (30%)
6.0
10.0
8.0
7.0
5.0
Weight (20%)
5.0
5.0
7.0
5.0
8.0
Compressibility (20%)
5.0
8.0
9.0
6.0
7.0
Features (15%)
8.0
6.0
5.0
8.0
5.0
Durability (10%)
8.0
7.0
8.0
8.0
6.0
Water Resistance (5%)
8.0
6.0
5.0
7.0
4.0
Specs Helium Down Rab Neutrino Pro -... Feathered Friends E... Microlight Alpine J... Co-op 650 Down 2.0
Down Fill 800+ fill responsibly sourced goose down 800 fill RDS Certified European Goose Down, hydrophobic 900+ fill goose down 750 ethically sourced European goose down 650 fill goose down
Main Fabric Pertex Quantum with Diamond Fuse Technology 100% nylon 15D x 30D ripstop, Pertex Shield with Diamond Fuse Technology 2.5L 100% nylon 30D ripstop waterproof hood / shoulder / upper sleeve Pertex Quantum Pro Pertex Quantum Pertex Quantum Recycled nylon taffeta
Measured Weight 14 oz 18.5 oz 9.5 oz 13 oz 9.5 oz
Pockets 5 3 2 3 2
Hood Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Stowing option Yes Stuff sack Stuff sack Stuff sack Packs into hand pocket

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Outdoor Research Helium series is known for bringing consumers some of the lightest rain jackets and rain pants. However, the down jacket, which is also in the Helium product line, is not overly impressive, and it does not live up to the same lightweight standards we've become used to.

Performance Comparison


Testing the Outdoor Research Helium down jacket on a spring ski of...
Testing the Outdoor Research Helium down jacket on a spring ski of Koma Kulshan or Mt. Baker, WA.
Photo: Robin Pendery

Warmth


Outdoor Research states that their Helium down jacket is their most durable, lightweight, and technical down jacket. We agree, but it comes at a cost to warmth. Our first thought is that the baffles are underfilled, and it's not an incredibly puffy jacket; this is an indication of the amount of loft, which is what gives a down jacket its insulating properties. The Helium features high-quality 800+ fill down, making it light and compressible; however, since it just doesn't have a great deal of loft or warmth, it didn't earn high warmth scores in our metric.

The fit of the Helium Down, however, is more spacious than other similar jackets, indicating that it is meant to be layered over other insulating layers and jackets. This is confirmed by the use of burlier and waterproof materials — you can throw this on over other layers and worry less about inclement weather or abrasive terrain.

Keeping warm in the brisk early morning, wearing the Outdoor...
Keeping warm in the brisk early morning, wearing the Outdoor Research Helium down jacket, with Mount Shuksan in the background.
Photo: Robin Pendery

Weight


The Helium line of products carries a name that would imply it is lighter than air. While the rain jacket and pants certainly live up to this expectation, this down jacket struggles to compete in the broader lightweight down jacket market. At 14 ounces for a size small, the Helium Down is average in this competitive product lineup.

The tradeoffs in this jacket's design make it specific to particular climates. Outdoor Research is based in Seattle, and this jacket does well in the Pacific Northwest, where there is ample precipitation, rugged terrain, and mild temperatures. The Pacific Northwest is home to the impressive "power mist", which will challenge any waterproof/breathable fabric to the max. To be durable and waterproof, the Helium sacrifices warmth and compressibility and still ends up heavier than many models that fall in the broader category of lightweight down jackets.

The Outdoor Research Helium down jacket is less puffy than others in...
The Outdoor Research Helium down jacket is less puffy than others in its weight class, with burly materials and a full feature set, making it less warm for the weight.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Compressibility


In the same vein as the weight metric above, the Helium Down is not the most compressible due to the materials and fleece-lined pockets. We love cozy pockets, but they are bulkier and heavier, so they come at a cost to weight and compressibility. Additionally, the more durable fabrics and design make this jacket bulkier, as well as the ample pockets and adjustable hood and hem; if you're looking for durability and technical prowess (mostly this means adjustable enough to seal out stormy conditions), then this might be worth the compressibility penalty.

Our main gripe with the low compressibility score is that it seems that OR decided it would also come at a cost to loft — there is just not that much puff to this jacket. However, if you plan to layer, you may be able to overlook this.

For a down jacket named after a gas lighter than air, the Outdoor...
For a down jacket named after a gas lighter than air, the Outdoor Research Helium did not impress our reviewers for its weight and compressibility.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Features


The OR Helium is fully featured and adjustable for a variety of conditions. The helmet-compatible hood cinches with a single pull-cord in the back, and the bottom hem cinches similarly with a single cord. Elastic at the cuffs keeps heat in your arms, and cozy fleece lines the handwarmer pockets; there's a small strip along the zipper where it meets your face at the collar. Speaking of pockets, there are so many! Two handwarmer pockets, a chest pocket, and two internal bucket pockets are great for stashing gloves; this allows them to stay warm and dry when you take them off to tie in to your climbing rope, slice a piece of salami, or check your smartphone navigation app.

The Outdoor Research Helium down jacket is OR's most technical...
The Outdoor Research Helium down jacket is OR's most technical, lightweight 800 fill down jacket. We were thus disappointed that the hood was so tight when wearing a helmet.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Durability


After features, durability is another top metric for the Helium Down. The Pertex Diamond Fuse fabric has diamond-shaped filaments that lock together and make the material highly resistant to abrasion and durable. The fabrics used in the Helium make it much more appropriate to wear this jacket over other layers — as your outermost layer — even in inclement weather.

Some jackets that are made of light, breathable fabrics wet out at the slightest hint of mist, making it imperative to wear underneath your hardshell layer. Based on OR's design, this jacket excels on technical climbing routes; logistical efficiency is likely what OR had in mind when declaring this jacket their most technical down hoodie. We appreciate this jacket for ice climbing in particular, where you climb in a shell layer to keep wind and dripping water at bay, and you probably don't want to take that shell off to add a warm layer at the belay station.

The Outdoor Research Helium down jacket is made of very durable...
The Outdoor Research Helium down jacket is made of very durable materials.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Water Resistance


The durable fabrics used in the Helium Down are highly weatherproof. We have been testing jackets with Pertex fabrics for many years now, and we are huge fans. The Shield fabric lineup is also impressively waterproof but still supple and durable — an excellent choice for a down jacket. In our experience, these fabrics breathe better than other waterproof/breathable fabrics of the same thickness. We appreciate these characteristics, as a jacket needs to be able to pump moisture out, so the down can dry out quickly.

The Outdoor Research Helium down jacket is made of durable and...
The Outdoor Research Helium down jacket is made of durable and weather resistant Pertex Quantum and Shield fabrics.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Value


The Helium is a good value. It is most applicable to technical climbing in mild regions where it doesn't get too cold but it might be stormy or wet — think the Pacific Northwest, which is where Outdoor Research is based. It is also very durable and uses great materials, including responsibly sourced down. If this jacket suits your needs, it is a great investment.

Conclusion


The Outdoor Research Helium is a difficult jacket to recommend. It is well made, and we really dig that it uses responsibly sourced down and durable Pertex fabrics. But its utility is limited, especially when compared to other models in this review. It is not that light or compressible, and it is also not exceptionally warm. That said, if you're looking for a durable down jacket that won't start to fall apart when you climb a few pitches of rock or ice in it, and you have adequate warm layers to put on underneath, this might be the perfect jacket for you!

Testing the Outdoor Research Helium down jacket certainly affords us...
Testing the Outdoor Research Helium down jacket certainly affords us some excellent views.
Photo: Lyra Pierotti

Lyra Pierotti