Outdoor Research Helium Pant - Women's Review
Cons: Less durable, clammy feeling
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Outdoor Research Helium rain pants used to be half the weight of the next lightest pants in this review. Now, they are among the lightest.
From down jacket to hardshells, we've become increasingly familiar with Pertex fabrics. The various types of Pertex have become some of our favorites, from the wind resistant and warm Quantum to the waterproof Shield lines. Pertex focuses on light weight and is an excellent choice for the OR Helium pants. Pair this with the Helium jacket, and you have an ultralight, storm-ready summer mountain kit.
In our tests, the Pertex Shield material in these pants kept us dry while hiking and even running. The ankle zippers feature a storm flap instead of waterproof zippers, but that's not a dealbreaker. There is a back pocket with a storm flap over the zipper instead of a waterproof zipper. This makes it easier to invert the pocket and stuff the pants into the pocket, but it is not typically our favorite waterproof zipper design. However, this is a much better orientation than side pockets or side zippers with storm flaps instead of waterproof zippers. The flap is ideally placed to block drips in the direction of gravity, whereas side zippers with storm flaps can get drips running along the length of the zipper in torrential downpours.
Comfort and Mobility
The Helium used to be our go-to rain pant for wet weather running. With the latest update, the cuffs are now broader to allow easier on/off with burlier footwear; this means they flap more when moving briskly. When running, we prefer to wear quick-drying pants and a super breathable rain jacket; we also like ro keep moving, so our body heat pumps our pants dry as fast as they get wet…
The latest version of the Helium pant is much easier to layer over other pants. This makes them more versatile for the clothing and footwear you might be wearing, and much easier to put on in a hurry. The supple fabric moves very fluidly, though be wary that it feels like tissue paper, so don't let it get snagged!
Breathability and Venting
These pants don't have any vents, and the only zippers are the 1/4 length side zippers that help you get them on over shoes. The fabric, however, is so light weight and breathable that we can't imagine needing vents. The Pertex Shield is a 2.5 layer waterproof fabric. This category of rain shells often has that more plasticky feel on the inside, and can feel clammy when wet. We found this to be the case, not surprisingly, though the texture on this fabric makes it a notable improvement over similar materials. Additionally, the fabric is so thin that the moment we picked up the pace, our body heat would pump out all the moisture from our body, and dry any wet patches on the pants, too.
At a very light six ounces, these pants are nearly double the weight of their predecessor. They are still among the lightest in this review, but they are no longer so exceptional to deserve an award. They now enter a category that is far more competitive (and some models are more durable for their weight).
These pants are not as light as they used to be, but they're still pretty darn compressible. The extremely supple Pertex Shield material stuffs into the back zipper pocket, revealing a clippable loop, in case you want to clip it to anything. We find this feature to be much less useful on pants than on jackets. It's great to have quick access to a jacket clipped to your harness if the weather turns or the wind picks up while on your climbing route. But pants require more time and stability to put them on, so we didn't feel we needed to clip them to our harnesses or backpacks for rapid access.
This pouch, however, does provide a level of protection for the pants if you need to stuff them in a bag with sharp objects and keeps them tidy and organized for neat packing in a travel bag or duffel. Be careful; when stowed in its pocket, these pants are so small we were almost worried about losing them!
These pants used to be carefully featured to be an ultralight specialist rain pant. The latest model is more versatile for fit and easy on/off, but ironically less versatile all around.
We do love the single zippered back pocket. We love pockets, but hand pockets are not as ideal on rain pants; who wants to put wet hands in rain pants pockets anyway? The waist has OR's signature grippy elastic band that helps keep the pants in place and works very well, and the adjustable elastic drawcord is easy to use and useful. The cuffs now have partial elastic, two loops to tie cord (in case you want to attache a gaiter-like cord to loop under your shoes), and a brilliant little plastic shoelace hook, which kept the bottom of the pants well anchored to our shoes.
The 1/4 length side zips and wider legs ensure you can get these pants on over shoes, but not boots. This is appropriate for these light pants; they are not thick or rugged enough to be an all-mountain or winter-ready shell pant. These are ideal for hiking where you might get caught out in a storm in shorts (or running tights) and a t-shirt, and you want something to keep you dry.
These pants are very lightweight and, as such, not the most durable for a couple of reasons. First, the material is more susceptible to wear and abrasion due to how thin it is. Second, the 2.5 layer material, especially with this design being so close to your skin, provides less protection on the inside from skin oils and dirt--this has to do with the half-layer that protects the waterproof membrane from your skin. Additionally, the wider legs now are more at risk of snagging on bushes and branches as your hiking, and the supple fabric is less likely to resist snagging.
These pants are a very lightweight, so they are not the most versatile. However, if light weight is important to you, these are a decent choice and may be well worth the cost. They are no longer the lightweight specialist they used to be, so you might consider a more durable rain pant that has a similar weight.
The Helium line of rainwear has been a strong performer in ultralight rainwear for several years. This year, presumably in an attempt to improve the fit and versatility of these rain pants, Outdoor Research made them heavier. While they are no longer an award winner, they do offer decent performance across the board.
— Lyra Pierotti