Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket - Women's Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Exceptionally packable, lightweight, impressively waterproof, easy to move in
Cons: No vents or hand pockets, lack of everyday features
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The OR Helium is a 2.5 layer jacket made of Diamond Fuse 30D ripstop nylon with a Pertex Shield. It has a single chest pocket that it packs into, waterproof zippers, and an adjustable hood.
This 2.5 layer rain jacket has fully taped seams and waterproof zippers that actually work. In both our real-world rainy day testing and our laboratory water pooling tests, it's up the challenge of keeping you dry. Even leaving puddles sitting on top of the zippers (most jackets' weak point) didn't reveal any significant flaws. Though it had that vaguely moist feeling inside, we didn't find any actual water droplets that made it through the fabric or zippers of this jacket.
The hood and waist hem both have a single adjustment point that's easy to operate and does exactly what we want it to do. The hood also features a slight brim to shield your eyes while you're moving through the rain. Slightly longer material on the backs of your hands helps keep them more protected, and the elastic on the underside keeps them secure, if not adjustable.
Our single critique of the Helium is that the short storm flap behind the top 6 inches of the main zipper is sewn in a way that points it away from the zipper. It has to be intentionally placed behind the zipper every time you zip it all the way up. Other than this minor complaint, we're pretty impressed with the waterproofness of this minimalistic jacket.
The Helium is built more for packability and speed than it is for comfort. That being said, it's not without a few details that make it a pretty good jacket to wear. Its sleeves are a good length and move with you, helping to keep you covered and dry. Though the cuffs aren't adjustable, the Velcro section is a very pleasant compromise between staying put and being mobile enough to push up your forearm if you want. The Helium is a much more mobile jacket than many others, with thin fabric that moves with you as you need it to. It doesn't have as long a torso as many others we tested, to maintain this mobility, but it's adequate and has a drop hem in the back to boot.
There's a small patch of microfleece on the back of the storm flap, keeping it comfortable even in full-coverage mode - though the storm flap points the wrong way, so you'll have to remember to put it in place every time. While that can seem annoying, it also keeps the flap out of the way of the zipper, preventing it from getting caught every time you put on the jacket - which is more than many other jackets can boast.
The hood isn't helmet-compatible, but it is large enough to fit over most ponytails, and its adjustability keeps it in place and out of your line of sight. While many waterproof zippers can be cumbersome to zip, the small teeth of the Helium's zipper help make it much easier than we expected. At the end of the day, the Helium lacks certain everyday features that you might want - like a longer torso or hand pockets - but replaces them with details that make it a joy to move in and a great adventure jacket.
At first glance, the Helium may not seem all that breathable due to its total lack of vents. Yet here again, is where the impressively lightweight yet protective Diamond Fuse fabric works its magic. It simultaneously repels the rain without trapping excessive body heat. For light to moderate activity in mild conditions, we love wearing the Helium. As the rain eases or intensifies, it's easy to zip up or unzip the main zipper and be assured it will stay exactly where you want it.
The jacket is also windproof, though its thinner fabric is more easily bent by the wind. This means that a cold wind will flatten the air pocket against your body, making you feel colder than some thicker jackets which can withstand stiff breezes and maintain that protective pocket of body heat.
The Helium is one of the very few jackets we are comfortable wearing on missions that require a high level of movement - like running or biking. While you do so, it also has reflective pieces to help make you more visible. The logo on the front left chest is reflective, as are two stripes spiraling one full rotation up each arm. We do feel, though, that the lack of vents somewhat defines the upper temperature limit in which the Helium is ideal for intense activities characterized by sweat. Similarly, its lack of stiffness to withstand cold winds puts a lower limit on the range we find it comfortable for. But in between those end caps (which will be different for every person) on missions that require a combination of breathability and mobility, we love the Helium.
While this thin, flexible jacket can't quite live up to many of the thick, ultra-reinforced jackets out there, for what it is, we're pretty impressed. Outdoor Research claims the Diamond Fuse technology used to construct this jacket is durable, strong, and snag resistant. We spent several months having adventures in the Helium and had no problems with its integrity. Compared to the previous version, the current iteration of the Helium has a tighter ripstop weave.
Yet it's one of the thinnest jackets we tested, making it more prone to fail in really rough conditions. However, we didn't experience anything that broke or compromised this jacket. Its fabric doesn't stretch at all, though very few rain jackets do, but it's less stiff and much more maneuverable than most the others we tested. Our only noticeable concern on the model we tested is a weak taping job on one end of the inside of the pocket zipper. As you flip the jacket in and out of this pocket to pack it up and take it out over and over, we're not sure this air-filled tape job will continue being waterproof forever. But during our testing, it never failed.
Weight and Packability
Weighing just 5.6 ounces, the Helium is one of the lightest rain jackets we tested, and about half the weight of some of the competition. It packs into its own left chest pocket and zips closed, featuring a carabiner loop to easily clip it anywhere.
This is another upgrade from the previous version that packed into an interior Velcro pocket. We much prefer the zippered chest pocket, though it's a tight squeeze to get it in there. We do think that the Helium would benefit from a slightly larger pocket, both from the standpoint of packing it away more easily without straining the zipper, and we feel a larger pocket would be much more usable. That minor complaint aside, the Helium is one of the lightest, most packable rain jackets we tested.
The OR Helium isn't the least or most expensive rain jacket we tested. Its value depends a lot on your intended usage of your new jacket. If you're looking for a comfortable rain jacket to hang up in the closet and wear as a shell all year round for dog walking and running errands, this one may not be ideal. But if you're hunting for a rain jacket that you can stuff in the bottom of your daypack and head out for an all day mission in the springtime, the Helium is exactly the answer to your calling.
The OR Helium is a super lightweight, impressively waterproof, ultra-packable rain jacket that's perfect as an emergency layer or on-the-go missions. Its thin, breathable fabric helps keep you dry from the outside and inside. It lacks some of the creature comforts of a more casual coat, like hand pockets, but it's hard to beat when it comes to portability. We love the Helium as an emergency layer and have crowned it our Top Pick for Ultralight Adventures.
— Maggie Brandenburg