Gear Reviews

Outdoor Research Helium II Rain Jacket

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Name: Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket

Specs:

  • Weight: 5.5 oz (M)

  • Pockets: 1 chest, 1 small inner

  • Wrists: Elastic

  • Waist: Drawstring

  • Hood: Yes, helmet compatible. 1 adjustment.

  • Packable: Yes, into interior “pocket”

  • Lined: No

  • Fabric: Pertex Shield+ Ripstop Nylon 30D

  • Construction: 2.5 L waterproof breathable laminate, fully seam taped

  • Zippers: YKK AquaGuard - highly water resistant, taped.

  • MSRP: $159

What I Like:

  • Weight: This is the lightest rain jacket you can find in most major outdoor retailers like REI or Backountry.com, while still having some features.

  • Hood: Some people think the hood is awkward, but I actually think the hood is pretty good for only having one adjustment point. I’m able to cinch it does enough to where the hood stays on, the brim isn’t floppy, and I still have decent peripheral vision.

  • It’s Waterproof!: Well, thankfully, the rain jacket is waterproof! At least, it is for light-moderate rain for a few hours. I haven’t tested it in driving rain for hours on end, but this jacket wasn’t exactly designed for that.

  • Price: For the weight, function, and features, this jacket is very well priced. For similar jackets, you’d be looking at $325 for the Arc’teryx Zeta FL, $199 for the Montbell Versalite, or $249 for the Patagonia Storm Racer.

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What I Don’t Like:

  • Breathability: We could talk about the merits of waterproof/breathable jackets all day long (many people do, actually), but moral of the story: no rain jacket will be incredibly breathable during strenuous activity and completely waterproof. And depending on what you’re doing, this will be terrible news or fine. This jacket isn’t very breathable, and doesn’t have pit zips to dump heat, so you will find yourself sweating in it. For what I use this jacket for (emergency rain shell/ warmth layer/ windbreaker for cold mornings/ evenings), I don’t really care about breathability, so this doesn’t really bother me, but you should be aware that you’ll probably sweat in this jacket if you’re moving.

  • Pockets: Not having hand pockets is kind of a bummer, but it helps cut down on the weight. Also, I don't think the inner pocket is very functional at all. It falls at a place where your backpack hip belt would block it from use, and otherwise its just for packing the jacket into itself. I think it would be more wise for OR to change the chest pocket into a stow pocket and get rid of the inside pocket all together.

  • Elastic Wrists: These can get really baggy, really fast so its possible rain will enter the jacket and run down your arm if you’re using trekking poles.

  • Inner Fabric: As with most laminate rain jackets, the inner material isn’t very comfortable on bare skin. If you’re wearing a short sleeve or tank, the fabric can feel sticky.

  • Sizing: I found the sizing to be slightly awkward, and I’d recommend sizing up if you think you’ll be wearing this over layers, or if you’re in-between sizes.

There are some glaring downsides to this jacket, as you can tell. BUT, as with all gear, it’s important to realize what the piece was designed for, and what its limits are. This jacket is an ultralight, waterproof emergency shell. It is not an alpine shell, and it is not intended for use in prolonged rain. It’s a “maybe” jacket. It’s great to throw into your pack on the off-chance you’ll see rain (for a day hike or backpacking trip), or to have for a thru-hike of a dry trail like the PCT, and its downfalls are still not deal-breakers even if you do need to wear it for longer than anticipated. I also really enjoyed this jacket as a windbreaker/ warmth layer for cooler times of the day when I was on the PCT. The jacket trapped in enough heat to get me warm in the morning after ~1 hour of hiking, and when it was cold during the day in Oregon and Washington, I’d wear this and it was great. But, that doesn’t really help market the jacket’s breathability.