The Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket is a minimalist waterproof/breathable rain jacket and a long-time favorite with thru-hikers and section hikers because it is so lightweight. Weighing a mere 6.8 ounces in a men’s size X-Large, it is best used in warm weather when you want to keep your gear as lightweight and compact as possible and don’t need a rain jacket loaded down with cold-weather features. However, the Helium Jacket’s breathability is lackluster and the resulting interior moisture buildup can be unpleasant except in warmer weather.
Specs at a Glance
- Gender: Available for men and women
- Average Weight: men’s medium 6.3 oz (tested men’s XL is 6.8 oz)
- Waterproof: Yes
- Breathability Rating: Not Available
- Seam-taped: Yes
- Pockets: 1 Chest
- Hood Adjustment: Rear volume adjuster
- Wrists: Elastic
- Hem Adjustment: Yes
- Back length: 29 inches
- Material: 30D, 2.5-layer Pertex Shield
- Zippers: YKK
The Helium Jacket we review here is an upgrade to the Helium II Jacket (still available in outlets). In this latest model, (now just called the Helium) Outdoor Research replaced the waterproof/breathable fabric version of the Pertex fabric used in the original version with a more durable and abrasion-resistant version of Pertex called Diamond Fuse which is 5 times more tear-resistant. Diamond Fuse is made with diamond-shaped fibers which lock together to form a more durable and abrasion-resistant fabric. That’s a great benefit for hikers with such a lightweight fabric.
However, we haven’t been impressed with the breathability of this new version of Pertex. While the breathability of the earlier Helium II jacket was tolerable, the inside of the new Helium Jacket becomes quickly saturated with trapped perspiration, especially when you’re hiking in sustained rain. It’s so bad, you could easily conclude that the jacket wasn’t waterproof at all.
This is less of an issue if it’s very warm out because the moisture is unlikely to chill you. But it can quickly become problematic in cooler temperatures (for us this occurs between 50-60 degrees YMMV) when you’ll want to wear a mid-layer garment inside the jacket that will keep you warm even if it becomes soaked from trapped perspiration.
The Helium Jacket strikes a good balance between functional features that enhance the performance of the jacket but don’t add much weight.
The Helium Jacket has a hood with an elastic rear volume adjuster which does a pretty good job at shrinking the volume even for people with small heads. The hood has a wide front bill to shield your face from the rain. It doesn’t have a shapeable wire to keep it from flopping down, however, so you’ll probably want to wear a billed cap underneath for hiking in sustained rain.
The main front zipper is water-resistant, which is nice. There’s also a strip of soft chamois at the top to protect your chin and as well as a zipper garage.
The Helium has one chest pocket, also with a water-resistant zipper, but no side pockets. The chest pocket is large enough to store a SmartPhone. The chest pocket also doubles as a stuff sack.
The wrist cuffs are elasticated to seal out the wind. This is a reasonable compromise for a warm-weather rain jacket, but it makes it more difficult to wrap the cuffs around rain mitts or gloves so water doesn’t run down the sleeves and into them.
The Helium has an elastic hem adjustment to help seal the bottom of the jacket off from drafts. The jacket has a back length of 29 inches and does have a drop tail. This is comparatively short so make sure that your mid-layer top, like a fleece pullover or hoody, doesn’t stretch below the hem where it can absorb rain.
More Lightweight Rain Jackets
|Make / Model||Pit Zips||Adjustable Hood||Wrist Cuffs||Avg Weight||Price|
|Marmot Precip ECO||Yes||Yes||Yes||10.9 oz||$100|
|Black Diamond Stormline Stretch||Yes||Yes||Yes||9.9 oz||$149|
|Outdoor Research Helium||No||Yes||No||6.3 oz||$159|
|Enlightened Equipment Visp||Option||Yes||Yes||5.3 oz||$190|
|Montbell Versalite||Yes||Yes||Yes||6.4 oz||$200|
|REI DryPoint||No||Yes||Yes||10.5 oz||$249|
|Zpacks Vertice||Yes||Yes||Yes||6.2 oz||$259|
|Montbell Storm Cruiser||Yes||Yes||Yes||10 oz||$299|
|ArcTeryx Zeta SL||No||Yes||No||10.9 oz||$299|
The Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket is a good choice for warmer weather trips where gear weight is a priority and you’re unlikely to need a rain jacket, but feel you need to carry one anyway. That might sound like a bizarre calculation, but it’s one that backpackers, especially those armed with weather forecasts make about shorter backpacking trips all the time. If it does rain, the Helium Jacket will be sufficient in terms of waterproof protection, although it’s likely to get a little moist inside. If it remains dry but gets chilly, the Helium Jacket also makes a passable windbreaker to lock in the warmth of your mid-layer.
For longer trips, ones with adverse weather conditions, or a colder temperature range, I’d encourage you to look at the rain jackets we list above that have a richer feature set and better breathability but are sufficiently lightweight to be competitive with the Helium Jacket. While the enhanced durability of the Pertex Diamond Fuse material used in the Helium Jacket is a welcome upgrade, I’d recommend carrying a different rain jacket if you expected sustained rain or colder temperatures, where having wet base and mid-layers clothes becomes a greater safety issue.
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