Outdoor Research's Helium II stood out as the most lightweight, compact jacket among those we tested this year, earning a perfect 10 and far outranking all of the competition in both packed size and weight. It performed so well in these categories that we chose it as our Top Pick ultralight rain shell. This jacket serves as both a wind shirt and a light rain shell for the minimalist outdoor enthusiast. Performing well as both a just-in-case measure in the bottom of your bag or as an added layer for the ultralight adventurer, this well-constructed and durable jacket gives you protection for very little bulk invested. However, what it provides with its incredibly small size and featherweight heft, it sacrifices in water resistance, so it may not be advisable to use this jacket if you plan on facing extreme weather conditions with wind, rain and especially cold weather.
Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Incredibly lightweight and packable
Cons: No waist pockets, not very durable, no pit zips
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Our Analysis and Test Results
At half the weight and half the packed size of all the jackets in our lineup, the Outdoor Research Helium II is hands-down the best choice for all your lightweight drizzly adventures, as it measured at a third of the size and weight of the bulkiest of the jackets we tested. To maintain its minimal dimensions, this jacket disregards many of the bells and whistles of the more complex jacket designs, giving you only what you need to stay protected from the weather and comfortable while on the move. With its Pertex Shield+ ripstop fabric, you get extreme breathability combined with a bit of added durability all rolled into a small functional package.
The Helium II uses Pertex Shield+ nylon fabric with a PU film laminate, which offers a sleek design and a great waterproof rating. We found more often than not, that what you gained in lightness you lost in water protection. When tested in torrential downpours and a high-pressure spray in our simulated rain lab, the fabric wet like a standard non-waterproof layer.
This lack of performance makes this a better jacket for wearing in a light rain shower or maybe just for a bit of extra wind protection. If you find yourself in heavy downpours while pursuing your outdoor adventures, you may want to pick a different jacket. Nevertheless, it had a number of advanced features for added water resistance, like a crown cincher to keep your hood in place, even in the wind or while moving around. The hood also featured a stiff visor to keep your face shielded from the precipitation when things got intense.
The Pertex Shield+ nylon material with a PU film laminate of the Helium II helped this shell rank amongst the highest in breathability.
While this jacket doesn't offer features like pit zips or a mesh liner, it doesn't need those, as the fabric is thin and air-permeable enough to keep you cool, even during extreme exertion. However, on the flip side, it certainly won't keep you warm on a wintery day as it lacks insulation, but if you plan on just using this as a shell over layers to keep mist or light rain off, it will add an extra layer without the weight, to keep you dry and comfortable.
The Helium is a perfect lightweight option as an outer shell over base layers; the featherweight material is soft, pliable, and smooth. It was a comfortable jacket for wearing out on a hike on a warm day with minimal layers or wearing while mountain biking over a warmer insulating underlayer and its minimal design presented fewer opportunities for chafing or rubbing.
The designers even added little bonus features, like a protective flap on the inside of the top of the zipper to keep your chin comfortable when zipped all the way up. However, one of the drawbacks is no standard pockets in which to put your hands, so remember to bring gloves if wearing this in cold weather. Moreover, if you plan on moving around a lot in this jacket, it may not stay in place, but it will move with you, allowing a full range of motion but riding up if you plan on wearing it with a backpack or climbing harness. We also recommend putting some thought into sizing up if you are planning on wearing over multiple layers. We tested the small, and although the slim design had a very flattering fit, it was a bit snug when putting over a multitude of base layers.
We don't often give jackets a perfect 10 ranking, but the Helium II blew the competition out of the water, coming in at only 5.2 ounces.
The designers at Outdoor Research focused entirely on keeping this jacket light, unfortunately cutting down on weight sacrificed a bit of the water and wind resistance. However, its lightness makes it perfect for long backpacking trips and for throwing in the bottom of your bag just in case you might need it. In fact, with its stuff sack, you can even clip it to your belt when traveling very light for the unforeseen drizzle you may encounter while out exploring.
At first glance, the Helium II looks a little like a shiny plastic bag and is certainly not the most rugged of the jackets we tested; the Helium II sacrifices durability to make easier to take with you on all your outdoor adventures.
The thinness of the material is balanced by ripstop fabric, which we found to be reasonably durable; however, with lots of use, especially under a harness or your pack, the material did seem to lose some of its rigidity. However, we didn't encounter any holes or tears just a worn down feeling of the fabric with use over time.
When packed in its handy-dandy stuff sack pocket with carabiner loop, this jacket measures a mere 4.5x4.5x3 inches (60.75 cubic inches), making this the most compact jacket we tested. This earned it a second rare 10-point rating, securing its place firmly as the best ultralight rain jacket.
When tucked away in its stuff pocket, you can easily clip this shell to your belt loop for easy access or toss it in your backpack for later use. We also like the fact that the ripstop fabric didn't hold too many creases when unpacked.
The Helium II stands as the leader in lightweight athleticism, hitting a perfect 10 in both weight and packed size. Whether you are hiking, kayaking, camping, fishing, climbing, or pursuing any other outdoor activity, this shell is the perfect piece of equipment for the serious lightweight athlete or as an added layer for anyone else. It will provide a layer of light wind and water protection over layers or just something to keep the sun off when wearing a tank or T-shirt.
At $159, this jacket offers a fairly good value for a lightweight rain shell. For anyone that doesn't care about bulk or weight, it is less of a value, since it trades this for water and wind protection. However, if you are an ultralight adventurer, you may not be able to find a better rain shell for your needs for the price.
Getting a rare perfect 10 in both weight and packed size, the Helium II won our Top Pick as the best ultralight rain jacket we tested. When heading out into unpredictable weather or considering an added layer when backpacking into the deep backcountry or over a mountain peak, this jacket will serve as an ideal minimalist shell.
— Katherine Elliott & Holly Zynda