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Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket

manufactured by :
Philip Werner

Reviewed by:
On April 25, 2014
Last modified:October 2, 2016


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.

Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket
Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket

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.

Front Bill on The Helium II Rain Jacket
Front Bill on The Helium II Rain Jacket

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.

Helium II as a Wind Jacket
Helium II as a Wind Shirt on a Brisk Spring Day

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.This post contains affiliate links

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  1. Philip, how does this complement your Montbell wind shirt? Do you have both along, or just the OR Helium II? Also, how do they compare on breathability?
    Thanks as always for your detailed, on-point reviews

    • The Montbell wind shirt is much thinner but is not waterproof. It does have a much better hood those with additional neck pulls to tighten fit around the face that are good when the wind is ripping. But no I don’t bring the Helium and the wind shirt at the same time. Too much functional overlap. Just the Helium II.

  2. I was actually wondering how this compares to the Montane smock you reviewed a while back. I’m looking at getting a lightweight rain shell for the JMT this year and have narrowed down my search to these two…. Do you prefer one over the other?

    • Definitely the Helium II. The hood is so much better.

      • Have you tried the Marmot Super Mica? Good pockets and pit zips, plus some fabric protection against wear at the shoulders and hips. Lots of adjustment to hood ( and wire brim) and relatively long tail. My XL weighs 9 oz.

      • Phillip, Interested in your take on the Super Mica as well. It seems to tick all the boxes for a light rainshell, looks slightly more functional than the Helium II.

      • Haven’t tried it Steve. It’s hard work reviewing all these rain shells. You have to wear actually wear them in the rain on hikes! I’ll give it a crack when I can get my hands on one. The mechanical venting (pit zips) sounds good.

  3. Your description of the OR top sounds a lot like a FroggTogg top. I’m curious if you’ve ever used the FT’s and if so, how they compare for you? I just tossed mine on the scale and it came in at 6.1 oz. Amazon has them in the $15-25 range

    • Funny. I was thinking about that comparison when writing this post, but I like to review products on their own and leave that kind of comparison for comments like this.

      I have a Frogg Toggs coat and pant set and the Helium II is a much better jacket. Much sturdier and wear resistent. Much more form fitting. Even more breathable. I am super hard on gear and can destroy a Frogg Toggs rain jacket by simply walking through high grass. I’ve done it before. That’s not an issue with the Helium which can withstand that degree of torture. I guess it just depends on what level of durability and fit you’re looking for. Frogg Toggs fit me like a sack which is why I dont wear them, but they can be an excellent value depending on what you want and where you plan on hiking.

      You can also buy a Zpacks.com cuben fiber raincoat that weighs 5.1 ounces in an xlarge for $250. I have no idea where manufacturers come up with these prices. It’s a head scratcher.

      • I’ve looked at the Zpacks top in wonder myself. Could they really be THAT good? They sell the material at roughly 4X the price of the other cuben and cuben hybrid fabrics, so I guess that’s a big part of it. Then I consider that their starting price for a sleeping bag is around $350 which, I would guess, has to take a lot more time fabricating, so the price is a conundrum.

        The FroggToggs do fit like a sack, the plus side being that I can put every bit of insulation I’m carrying underneath and still be pretty darn comfy. I spent 5 hours hiking in 35-50 degree rain yesterday in the FroggToggs and they did quite well for a $15 piece of kit. This was trail walking with a pack and no bushwhacking, so durability was not an issue. At that price I am going to start experimenting with some venting mods, probably punch some hole in the pits.

      • Breathable cuben was bullshit when I tried it. Check out Will Reitvelts instructions for a tyvek rain suit. That’s another low cost, light weight option. http://gossamergear.com/wp/tips/tip-of-the-week-make-a-hooded-tyvek-rain-jacket-and-chaps-for-under-10

  4. This is an older post, BUT… I have questions. I love my OR Foray and it’s fullbody “pit zips” for bushwacking/tracking but it’s a little heavy and I sweat through it pretty quickly with exertion. I do a fair amount of solo hiking and I have been researching windshirts and recently picked up a Patagonia Houdini a couple days ago. Although I like how light the Houdini is , I’m wondering if I should just return it and get the OR Helium. With the houdini, I still need a dedicated rain jacket, and I have been leaning towards taking my cheap driducks instead of my foray (just for weight purposes). Most of my hiking is done in the southeast but I have a knack for bringing bad weather with me. Do you think I could get by with just the helium? Thanks for all your hard work.

    • Yeah. You can get by with the Helium. I mostly use the Foray for winter hiking and colder shoulder season weather, but it is on the heavy side and a bit too much shell for warm weather. That’s when I switch to the Helium, which is a fine raincoat, and light enough to also use as a wind shirt.

  5. Love your blog! I bought a GoLite jacket and then my parents got me some $30 Suit for Christmas and it seems to be pretty good….just checked it. It’s Frogg Toggs. Have you tried those?
    By the way, I share your stuff all the time on my page North Cascades Backpacking and hiking.

  6. I bought the Helium for my wife and myself and used it in the sawtooths this past year.
    We both found it not to be waterproof after hiking in 6 hours of moderate rain fall. It was not a condensation issue. I have tested both of them at home and they are not fully waterproof. Is this the nature of this jacket?

    • Sounds like your DWR coating failed. I’d contact Outdoor Research and exchange them using their guarantee. I really like this jacket for three season use and have hiked all day in rain with it. I still get wet from internal condensation, but I stay warm in it and it hasn’t wetted out (complete DWR failure) yet.

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