The Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie is a lightweight synthetic insulated hooded jacket that’s great for sweater season hiking and backpacking in the spring and autumn. While you can use it as a mid-layer under a waterproof shell, I like wearing jackets like this as an outermost layer for more laid-back passive activities, like sleeping, cooking dinner in camp, or admiring a summit view when it’s chilly out.
Specs at a Glance
- Gender: Men’s and Women’s
- Insulation: Recycled polyester (65% recycled)
- Shell: Pertex Quantum with Diamond Fuse (nylon), 15d x 30d
- Lining: 20d ripstop nylon
- Weight: 12.5 oz, men’s XL
- Center back length: 28.5″
- Pockets: 6 (two external zippered handwarmer, four interior “drop” pockets)
- Adjustable hood: Yes
- Wrist cuffs: Elastic
- Hem adjustment: Yes
- Helmet compatible: Yes
The Helium Insulated Jacket is a lightweight synthetic insulated jacket that’ll keep you warm down to about freezing when worn over a baselayer. It’s a nice layering piece that can be worn over a fleece or wool sweater, but it’s still thin enough that you could wear it under a hard shell for extra warmth. The jacket can also be worn to augment your sleep insulation if you sleep cold. However, it is not what I would classify as a parka-class winter jacket for use in true winter conditions where you want a hooded jacket that can keep you warm in temperatures well below freezing.
Synthetic Insulation and Shell
The Helium Insulated Jacket is insulated with polyester, which is the primary insulation used by other manufacturers that make lightweight synthetic insulated jackets. Outdoor Research uses a proprietary blend of polyesters which they call “VerticalX ECO SR” which includes some recycled and non-recycled components.
Synthetic insulation does insulate better than down when it gets damp or wet which makes this an attractive jacket for backpacking and hiking use. Despite this, I’d still encourage you to go out of your way to keep this jacket dry because the exterior Pertex Quantum shell is not waterproof. While it is lightly coated with a durable water repellent finish, that will rub off quickly if you stuff and unstuff the jacket repeatedly
(all DWR jackets do this). The main benefit of using Pertex Quantum on this jacket is the superior heat retention and windproofing it provides because it has a very tight weave. The interior fabric on the jacket is plain old ripstop nylon which has a silky feel.
The exterior and interior shells are “sewn thru” trapping the insulation into a quilted diamond pattern. While this construction does create many needle holes where heat can escape, it’s the norm for lightweight down jackets and helps keep costs lower. It also serves to keep the insulation in place, allowing for a zonal distribution of added warmth where it’s needed most.
One thing worth noting, especially if you’re comparing lightweight jackets from multiple companies, is the durability of the Pertex Quantum shell in terms of its denier (15d x 30d) and the fact that it’s been augmented with Diamond Fuse fibers which are twice as abrasion-resistant as regular Pertex Quantum nylon. I’ve found that lightweight insulated jackets with ultralight exterior shells (10d or less) wear through quickly, particularly around the wrist cuffs and lower hem, exposing the interior insulation. If you’re shopping for a jacket that is going to last for a few years, it’s an important consideration.
The Helium Insulated Jacket has an adjustable hood that can reduced in volume at the rear by pulling on a webbing strap to gather the sides closer together. It works pretty well, but you may still want to augment it with an insulated cap or fleece hoodie to prevent wind from blowing into the sides. The front hem of the hood does not stretch but is fixed in size, so it may not completely seal out the weather, depending on your head size. While the hood can be worn over a climbing helmet, it shrinks down small enough that it’s also human-compatible and not annoyingly oversized.
There are two zippered handwarmer pockets on the exterior of the jacket that are partially hipbelt compatible. When I wear a backpack hipbelt, it covers the lower third of the handwarmer pockets, but I can still get my hands inside the upper two-thirds if I want to warm up my hands.
There are also four deep drop pockets inside the jacket, two on either side of the zipper. They’re map-sized in width, providing a convenient way to organize their contents and keep the pockets from bunching up awkwardly along the torso. Many jackets just provide two wide drop pockets which can be a pain to use because stuff “clumps” inside them awkwardly…kind of like strapping bowling balls to your torso. These are much better.
However, I do wish there was a chest pocket because I like to put my cell phone in it, especially when I’m lying in a hammock or tent so I don’t lose it amidst my insulation. But the zippered handwarmer pockets are sufficient for this purpose too.
Wrist Cuffs and Hem
The jacket has elastic wrist cuffs to seal in your arm warmth and a dual elastic drawcord hem to prevent updrafts from chilling you. Nothing fancy here, but still quite functional.
Lightweight Synthetic Insulated Jacket Comparison Table
|Make / Model||Insulation||Weight||Gender|
|Patagonia Nano Puff Insulated Hoodie||Primaloft Gold Insulation Eco||12.8 oz||M | F|
|Arc'teryx Atom LT Insulated Hoodie||Coreloft Compact||13.2 oz||M | F|
|Mountain Hardwear Ghost Shadow Insulated Hoody||PrimaLoft Silver Hi-Loft Ultra||11.7 oz||M | F|
|Enlightened Equipment Torrid Jacket||Climashield Apex||8.4 oz||M | F|
|Kuiu Kenai Hooded Jacket||3DeFX+||15.5 oz||M|
|Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie||VerticalX ECO SR, Polyester Insulation||11.5 oz||M | F|
|The North Face Thermoball ECO Hoodie||Thermoball ECO||15.9 oz||M | F|
|Montbell UL Thermawrap Parka||Stretch Excelloft||9.3 oz||M | F|
|Mountain Hardwear Compressor Insulated Hoodie||Thermal.Q Elite||14.8 oz||M | F|
|LL Bean PrimaLoft Packaway Hooded Jacket||Primaloft Gold, aerogel||15 oz||M | F|
If you prefer wearing a synthetic insulated jacket over a down insulated one for its superior performance in wet and damp weather or because you’re allergic to down insulation, OR Helium Insulated Hoodie should be on your shortlist. It is a surprisingly warm jacket, it layers well with other garments, and has a competitive feature set. I particularly like the six exterior and interior pockets on this jacket which provide a unique degree of storage and organization that is often lacking in this class of garment. While they are useful for hiking and backpacking, I think they also lend themselves to use by climbers and skiers. The enhanced durability and denier weight of the Pertex Quantum with Diamond Fuse shell is also worth considering.
Disclosure: OR provided the author with a sample jacket for this review.
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