Gear Review: Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket

Introducing a rain jacket that is made with ultralight backpackers in mind: The Outdoor Research Helium rain jacket is extremely durable, lightweight, and minimalistic in every sense of the word. Even at first glance, it’s clear that this jacket was creatively designed to shave the bells and whistles wherever possible, which translates into major weight savings in your pack. From eliminating unnecessary pockets, to coming up with clever, lightweight ways to make the jacket adjustable, this REI exclusive is an innovative option for minimalistic backpackers who are looking to shed a few ounces from their load.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket At-A-Glance

Price: $160
Weight: 5.6 ounces
Material: Bluesign-approved nylon
Type of Waterproofing: 2.5-layer Pertex Shield

Intended Use

This jacket is intended for minimalistic backpackers and hikers, and was tested with that in mind. If you are looking for rain gear that has lots of room for storage, has a little bit of warmth to it, and is also great while running to work, then this isn’t the jacket for you.

Circumstances of Review

I tested this jacket on numerous hikes throughout both the Colorado and Pennsylvania mountains. Hike lengths varied from full day hikes to only a few hours, and temperatures ranged from high 30s to low 50s.

Features

  • 2.5-layer Pertex Shield offers breathable protection from wind and water
  • Adjustable hood, fitted elastic cuffs, and elastic drawcord hem to seal in warmth
  • Fabric is 5x more durable and tear resistance than previous version of jacket
  • Chest pocket turns into a convenient stuff sack
  • Waterproof zipper

Choosing a Rain Jacket

Waterproofing: When determining the waterproofing quality of a rain jacket, there are a few notable features to look for: Waterproofing of both the zippers and seams are a great way to ensure water stays out, and the Helium has waterproofing on both of these key areas. Throughout the testing period, I have had very few issues with water penetrating through.

In addition, you should look for fabric waterproof ratings of any jacket you plan on buying. This is an industry standard to help gauge the water repelling capabilities of a certain fabrics, and the number essentially represents the amount of water that is added in a lab to a vertical tube with a one-inch diameter before water leaks through. The Helium is rated at 15,000mm, which means it should stand strong in moderate rain, average snow, and light pressure.

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Breathability: Next to water-resistant capabilities, breathability is one of the most important things to consider before buying a rain jacket. For example, hiking in a rubber jacket will certainly keep you dry from rain, but you will likely be covered in sweat by the end of your hike because your skin can’t breathe through the fabric. It’s about finding the happy medium between waterproofing and breathability that works for you.

Pros

Jacket packed into stuff sack. Clif Bar for size comparison.

Small Packed Size: This jacket is small and compact, which is great for those looking to keep their pack streamlined. The chest pocket doubles as an effortless stuff sack, which makes it easy to incorporate this jacket into your long-distance setup, or to throw into a day pack. In the stuff sack, the jacket only takes up about 5 inches of space, which makes it ideal for backpacking trips.


Lightweight and Durable: Outdoor Research describes this jacket as “stronger than diamonds, lighter than air.” Even during my first impression while taking it out of the bag, I was amazed at how strong the material felt for being so light. I haven’t had the gear fail in any way, and the material has been free of tears so far on my trips.


Breathable: Probably my favorite thing about this jacket is how breathable it is. With this breathability comes minimal warmth, but I personally would rather have a rain jacket be breathable on my skin, and wear an extra layer beneath if it’s a colder day. Although there are no ventilation zippers, I never felt like I was overheating. The nylon does a great job of sealing water out, but allowing air to come through the jacket. I’ve worn multiple rain jackets throughout my years backpacking, and I can easily say that this is the most breathable jacket I have taken on trail. Aside from the fact that you remain dry, the jacket is almost unnoticeable on your skin which is a big plus for me.

Minimalist: Outdoor Research really took the idea of minimalism and ran with it when designing this jacket. They cut out pockets that aren’t necessary, made the sleeve cuffs out of elastic instead of a fully adjustable system, minimized the adjustment cords on the hood, and made the waist drawcord as compact as possible. I really am shocked at just how streamlined and minimal this jacket is–and how dry it keeps you for being so sleek.

Cons

Runs Small: I definitely feel like this jacket runs small. I am typically a size small in almost every piece of gear, but think I would actually prefer a medium in this jacket. It’s a little bit tight in the chest, and the overall jacket feels like it needs to be slightly longer (it doesn’t cover the bottom half of any insulating jacket I wore beneath it). Just be mindful to probably size up when buying.

Know That This Jacket Is Designed for Minimalist Hikers: Although I did just write about how minimalism was a positive feature of this jacket, I am slightly torn about OR cutting certain features that are standard in most rain gear. I found myself frequently missing having two front pockets to put my hands in. This wasn’t as much of an issue when using my pack with a substantial hip belt, but often left me without a place to put my phone or snacks on shorter hikers when I either had a small pack, or no bag at all.

Overall Value

Overall, this jacket is streamlined, breathable, and minimalistic. Outdoor Research did an excellent job at shedding weight wherever possible, and keeping the price lower than other comparable models. The jacket is compact, yet durable, and is a solid option for ultralight backpackers looking to lighten their load.

Shop the Outdoor Research Helium Here

Comparable Rain Jackets


*This product was donated for the purpose of review.

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