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Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket Review

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

Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket

Water Resistance
Breathability
Comfort & Mobility
Hood Adjustability
Weight
Durability
Packed Size

Excellent

The Helium II is an ultralight waterproof breathable rain jacket that's lightweight enough that it can be used as a wind shirt in breezy conditions. It has a fully adjustable hood which is an unusual bonus on such a lightweight jacket.

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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 resistant 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.

Popular Hiking and Backpacking Rain Jackets

Make / ModelAdj HoodPit ZipsWP/BRAvg WeightPrice
Marmot PrecipYesYesYes13.1 oz$100
Outdoor Research Helium IIYesNoYes6.4 oz$159
Frogg Toggs UL2 Rain JacketYesNoNo5.5 oz$20
Patagonia TorrentshellYesYesYes12.1 oz$129
Frogg Toggs Xtreme LiteYesNoNo7.6 oz$45
REI Essential Rain JacketYesNoYes8.8 oz$70
Lightheart Gear Rain JacketYesYesNo7.2 oz$99
Columbia Outdry EX EcoYesNoYes13.0 oz$199
The North Face Venture 2YesYesYes11.5 oz$99
REI DryPoint GTXYesYesYes10.5 oz$249

Recommendation

The Outdoor Research 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 sample Helium II jacket for this review.

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5 comments

  1. Hello,
    I came upon your article and had I quick question. I’m doing a Hut hop tomorrow and the temps should be in the 40’s with a lot of wind, 45-50 mph with gusts of 60 mph.
    Is the helium II good for these heavier wind conditions? I was planning on using my Marmot Minimalist because it’s a little burlier than my Helium II, but I’d prefer taking the latter because of its lighter weight.
    Thanks for any advice you can give!!

    Happy Trails!!

    Nick

  2. I bought both the OR Helium II and the OR Realm for backpacking but it didn’t rain on the 7 days we spent backpacking in Banff and Pukaskwa National Parks in August.

    In light rain on day hikes both jackets were lighter than my GoLite Paclite and the Realm was also way more breathable.

    We have a 5 night/6 day trip in September on the Lake Superior Park Coastal Trail. I know it will rain (or snow) on this trip.

  3. How does one go about “reproofing” the DWR coating when it wears off?

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