Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket Review

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket Review

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.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket

Waterproofing
Breathability
Comfort & Mobility
Hood Adjustability
Weight
Durability
Packed Size

Ultralight Rain Jacket

While the enhanced durability of the Pertex Diamond Fuse material used in the Helium Jacket is a welcome upgrade, the jacket's poor breathability prevents this jacket from being a home run for use in sustained rain.

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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

Waterproof/Breathable Fabric

The Helium has a DWR coating which makes rain bead up and roll off the jacket.
The Helium has a DWR coating which makes rain bead up and roll off the jacket. Reflective stripes on the jacket increase nighttime visibility.

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 jacket has a wide front bill and a single chest pocket
The jacket has a wide front bill and a single chest pocket large enough to hold an iPhone X.

Jacket Features

The Helium Jacket strikes a good balance between functional features that enhance the performance of the jacket but don’t add much weight.

Hood

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.

Zipper

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.

Pocket

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.

Wrist Cuffs

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.

Hem Adjustment

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 / ModelPit ZipsAdjustable HoodWrist CuffsAvg WeightPrice
Marmot Precip ECOYesYesYes10.9 oz$100
Black Diamond Stormline StretchYesYesYes9.9 oz$149
Outdoor Research HeliumNoYesNo6.3 oz$159
Enlightened Equipment VispOptionYesYes5.3 oz$190
Montbell VersaliteYesYesYes6.4 oz$200
REI DryPointNoYesYes10.5 oz$249
Zpacks VerticeYesYesYes6.2 oz$259
Montbell Storm CruiserYesYesYes10 oz$299
ArcTeryx Zeta SLNoYesNo10.9 oz$299

Recommendation

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.

Disclosure: The author owns this jacket.

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5 comments

  1. No pit zips and less breathable? Yikes! Pit zips are about the only thing that makes my Helium HD with the older material useable.

  2. You seem to be a lot harsher on the Helium for poor breathability than you were on the LightHeart Gear rain jacket which is not breathable at all. The latter does have pit zips but open pit zips are not that much fun in heavy rain.

    • I have completely different use cases and expectations for my breathable and non breathable rain jackets. Something that claims to be breathable should be breathable. The LHG works as advertised.

      • Did you read the review of the LHG? Aside from the comment about it being warm at higher temps it was pretty much, *give up on breathability, it doesn’t matter and for the most part doesn’t work*. Either it matters or it doesn’t (as a general point, people and conditions of course vary). All I’m suggesting is consistency in the reviews here. LHG of course does make it clear their rain gear doesn’t breath. I’m concerned because I am considering the LHG for moderately long trips (3-4 weeks). I have jackets that do breath fairly well and are water proof but they weigh close to 1 lb and as I get older I’m looking to shave weight. The lighter supposedly breathable jackets I’ve tried have all failed.

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