The Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket is a minimalist rain shell that is so lightweight, it can serve double duty as a waterproof wind shirt. Weighing a mere 6.8 ounces in a size X-large, it is perfect for wearing in warmer weather and summer when you need to carry a waterproof hooded jacket but want to keep your gear as lightweight and compact as possible.
While the Helium II lacks many features such as side pockets, pit zips, and adjustable wrist cuffs in order to shave off ounces, it comes with an adjustable hood (rear only), wide front brim, and a drawcord hem to keep the rain out of your eyes and off your head in windy conditions. Still, this is a spartan jacket compared to most other rain jackets, but one which will appeal to backpackers and hikers who are willing to trade weight for comfort and convenience.
Made with 30 denier nylon ripstop (2.5 layer Pertex Shield+), the Helium II is not robust enough for off-trail use. Lacking side pockets and other venting, the jacket also suffers from relatively poor breathability which is why it’s best used in warmer weather when having damp clothes is less of a safety issue than in the cold or winter.
The jacket is waterproof though, with fully taped seams throughout the body, hood, and arms, including water resistant zippers with zipper garages and an excellent factory DWR coating. It also has a small chest pocket with a water resistent zipper and a small inner pocket which the jacket can be folded into for storage.
The Helium II is so lightweight that it can serve double duty as a wind shirt in cool breezy weather and it’s a bonus that it’s waterproof as well, something that most wind shirts are not.
Is the Helium II worth $150 retail? I view the Helium II as a specialty purchase that will primarily appeal to ultralight backpackers and trail runners. While the Helium II is spendy if you compare it to other rain jackets that are two or even three times heavier, it is a great deal if weight and compactness are really important to you. For example, in the ultralight backpacking community, hikers typically pay $20-30 for each ounce of base weight (gear they always carry) that they can shave off their gear lists. If you can save 8-10 ounces by switching from a heavy rain shell to a Helium II for just $50 more than say a $100 Marmot Precip, you’re paying less than $10 per ounce for a significant weight savings. I’m not saying that’s sane, but the incremental price of the Helium II is relatively inexpensive in terms of weight savings when viewed with that lens.
Disclosure: Outdoor Research gave Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) a free sample Helium II jacket for this review.
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