Gear Review – Outdoor Research Helium II Women’s
Disclosure: The following product was donated for the purpose of review.
This article might sound more like an ode to Outdoor Research’s Helium II than a review, but for good reason. I really put this jacket to the test: I hiked during a downpour in Colorado, as the weather transitioned from hot and dry to cold and windy in the Wyoming desert, and for several hours of sustained high winds at 12,000 feet on the continental divide. In every situation, I was immensely grateful to be wearing the Helium II.
Size: average fit (center back length 26 inches)
Weight: 5.5 ounces
Material: Pertex® Shield+
Best Feature: Extremely light weight
Worst Feature: Material is thin
I am using a size small. I am 5’4”, about 155 lbs., and at the risk of over-sharing, my chest/waist measurements are 38” / 30”. What makes finding a jacket hard for me is my shoulder width and arm circumference, which are larger than most women my size. My arm length, however, is exactly average. This means that although men’s jackets have enough arm and shoulder room, the sleeves hang past my finger tips. And although women’s sleeves are short enough, they are too tight to allow range of movement. Outdoor Research does not have that problem. Even on the small, the seam lines up well with my shoulders and the arms have ample room for me to move, bend, and flex while I’m climbing or moving my trekking poles – probably because OR actually caters to climbers and hikers.
I have to admit that I preferred the men’s colors for this jacket to the female options, but after taking pictures with it, I did appreciate that the blue really pops and lends perspective to my hiking shots. It also has a flattering fit. The lightweight material isn’t too tight, but also doesn’t hang or bunch up like some rain jackets do. I like it so much, I’ve started using the helium II as my primary rain jacket for going out in town as well as on the trail.
The color really stood out against the landscape – You can spot me immediately in these pictures.
The jacket itself compresses down into an inner pocket that velcros shut, making it into a four-inch-wide square that is easy to carry. There is only one pocket on the outside, but it is in the exact spot I would want a pocket: on the left chest area, over your heart. I tend to never use the lower pockets on my rain jacket when I am backpacking (or even carrying a day pack) because the hip belt obscures their functionality. Given that I will usually have a backpack anyways when I am wearing a hiking rain jacket, I don’t need a lot of pocket storage. One is the perfect number for me, and having a pocket above my hipbelt that I can reach into with my right hand easily is ideal (sorry, lefties).
Almost everything about this jacket is a pro. The material is extremely breathable yet still waterproof and windproof, which means that I was able to hike for hours in it in both heavy rain and sustained 30 mph winds without feeling the usual clammy sensation I get from goretex. I’ve used it both in the desert and back home in the humid New England summer, and I haven’t found it restrictive in either climate. It is fitted enough to work as a layer despite its thin material, but it is also loose enough to fit my down jacket underneath so that, even in winter conditions, it becomes a necessary layer for dryness. I honestly don’t know how I lived without this jacket for so long.
I will definitely bring this on my next long-distance hike. It is so light it feels like it could float away; In fact, I almost lost it a few times when I pulled it out in the wind. Fortunately, OR seems to have thought of that as well, since the jacket compresses into a tiny pocket with a small loop that you can attach by carabineer to your backpack or climbing harness.
There are no cons for this jacket that can’t be dismissed as an intentional manufacturing design. The major con of this jacket is also the major pro: the material that is responsible for the Helium II’s shockingly low ounce count does feel like it is delicate. I haven’t used the product long enough to test the true durability of it for a thru-hike, but I did spot a thru-hiker in the White Mountains wearing this jacket (and it looked to be in good shape).
The jacket also does not have pit zips – zippers under the armpits to regulate temperature and keep you from sweating in the jacket. Despite its lack of these, however, it was breathable enough that I didn’t notice myself sweating.
Some people have criticized the lack of extra pockets, but I think one pocket is perfect. It is designed to be an ultralight hiking option, so most of the ‘cons’ are really just areas that OR has tried to shave off weight. If you add pockets, pit zips, and a hardy liner, the jacket has lost the ultralight potential that makes it stand out.
This jacket is absolutely worth the price. $159 sounds high, but it is comparable to (and actually cheaper than) a lot of other high-end hiking jackets out there whose prices are jacked up due to brand association and not quality features. Even the most ultralight thru-hiker should bring this along; I know I bring it with me now even when there isn’t a cloud in the sky. The only exception I can think of is trail work, where you would be struggling through heavy underbrush or carrying sharp rocks. You might want a more durable option in that case. For everyone else, this jacket rocks. I would change absolutely nothing about it.
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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 wind protection? 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!!