The Outdoor Research Helium blew the competition out of the water with its featherlight weight and packability. It weighed in at a scant 5.6 ounces, around half the weight of many of its competitors. The ultralight fabric compresses into its only pocket, forming a tiny triangle that you will be hard-pressed to not find space for. For such a light and minimalistic jacket, we were impressed with its performance in the elements, keeping us dry, comfortable, and venting internal heat and moisture. This is the ideal jacket for those seeking a compact, lightweight rain jacket to take anywhere when the ounces and size really matter. There are a few other great rain jackets that are slightly more water resistant, but it is hard to find another one that can hold a flame to the Helium in terms of lightweight packability.Editor's Note: This review of the Outdoor Research Helium was updated on October 4, 2022, to reflect additional testing and data.
Outdoor Research Helium - Women's Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Exceptionally packable, lightweight, breathable, good mobility
Cons: No vents, no hand pockets
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Outdoor Research Helium - Women's
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|Pros||Exceptionally packable, lightweight, breathable, good mobility||Comfortable, breathable, versatile, not crinkly, soft hand feel||Waterproof fabric, protective storm flaps, stowable||Excellent breathability, great mobility, comfortable||Simple but functional, hood packs away, good value|
|Cons||No vents, no hand pockets||Hood doesn't offer great coverage||Crinkly and stiff, zippers not waterproof||Zipper catches storm flap, pit zips felt stiff at first, fabric took up water||Small zipper pulls, internal fabric can stick to bare skin|
|Bottom Line||A great emergency layer that is feather-light, compresses into a tiny stow pocket and punches above its weight for breathability and water resistance||An exceptionally breathable and comfortable jacket for active adventures offering a full range of motion while repelling light moisture||A solid rain jacket offering excellent water resistance that will hold up through many rainy adventures||This comfortable, breathable jacket has great mobility and is a good fit for those looking to explore in light to moderate precip||A solid rain jacket that offers decent performance at a price point that won't break the bank|
|Rating Categories||Outdoor Research He...||Mountain Hardwear S...||Patagonia Torrentshell||Rab Downpour - Women's||Marmot PreCip Eco -...|
|Water Resistance (25%)|
|Comfort and Mobility (20%)|
|Weight and Packability (15%)|
|Specs||Outdoor Research He...||Mountain Hardwear S...||Patagonia Torrentshell||Rab Downpour - Women's||Marmot PreCip Eco -...|
|Measured Weight||5.6 oz||9.7 oz||12.2 oz||10.6 oz||9.2 oz|
|Number of Fabric Layers||2.5||2.5||3||2.5||2.5|
|Material||30D Ripstop Nylon||50D Stretch Ripstop||100% Ripstop Nylon||50D Polyester||100% Ripstop Nylon|
|Pockets||1 chest||2 hand, 1 chest||2 hand||2 hand||2 hand|
|Pit Zip Length (in)||N/A||11||11||14||10|
|Helmet Compatible Hood||No||No||No||No||No|
|Stows into Pocket||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Carabiner Loop in Stow Pocket||Yes||No||Yes||No||Yes|
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Outdoor Research Helium is constructed from Pertex Shield Diamond Fuse fabric made of 30D ripstop nylon. This impressive outerwear technology delivers a water-resistant and breathable garment that is exceptionally lightweight and compact.
The water resistance of this featherweight fabric is stellar for its weight. The sealed zippers also performed very well in our standing water test, keeping water from penetrating through the front zipper as well as through the chest pocket zipper.
However, a few of the top contenders could keep moisture from soaking through for twice as long as the Helium in our shower test, and we found that the hood was a little lacking in coverage. The visor was small and flimsy, and the hood hugs the edge of the face, which didn't offer as much protection from the rain. While this jacket is not the most water-resistant in an extended deluge, we were impressed with its protection from the elements, considering how we barely noticed it at the bottom of our packs.
The membrane of the Helium's 2.5-layer construction does a formidable job of letting perspiration escape while keeping the rain out. The lightweight fabric doesn't trap a ton of heat. With all the zippers up, this is one of the most breathable rain jackets in our uphill walk test.
In an effort to keep this jacket ultralight, OR omitted pit vents from the design. Despite the quite breathable fabric, the Helium lost points here because of the lack of vents. When overheating, we were forced to unzip the main zipper, which may be fine in a mist or light drizzle, but it's not very practical when it's actually raining.
Comfort and Mobility
This rain jacket fits well, is quite comfortable, and allows for a full range of motion. The featherweight fabric is so light that it's easy to forget you're wearing a piece of outerwear. It moved easily with the body and didn't feel restrictive, no matter what activity we used it for. Though on the slimmer side, we could still comfortably layer a smaller synthetic insulated jacket underneath. The inner felt fine against the skin hiking on a warmish windy day, and the cuffs and neck were also comfortable against the skin.
One other attribute that keeps this jacket light is the lack of hand pockets. We kept trying to put our hands in the non-existent pockets out of habit. The chest pocket is very small; a smaller cell phone fits in at an angle, but larger phones won't fit. The chest pocket has a handy key clip for securing keys while wearing the jacket, and this clip doubles as a clip to attach the jacket to a backpack strap, belt loop, or harness when the jacket is stowed.
Weight and Packability
This is where the Helium really shines as an ultralight rain jacket. The garment only weighs 5.6 ounces. For comparison, the next lightest jacket weighed 9.2 oz, and the heaviest was 12.3 oz. This puts the Helium at about half the weight of most of our test fleet. Though we recognize that 12 oz is still quite light, for those looking to really shave weight, it's hard to beat a 5.6 oz rain jacket —especially one that performs this well across the board.
When stashed in its stow pocket, the Helium compresses into a triangle measuring 6" x 5.5" x 3", the smallest package tested. It's effortless to pack into its pocket, and once packed, the key clip can be used to attach it to any loop to keep it accessible. As far as a lightweight, packable rain jacket, we're super impressed and think the Helium really can't be beat.
We wondered how this ultra-lightweight fabric would hold up to months of testing in the outdoors. We're known to be a bit hard on our gear, and thus we were somewhat worried we would rip or tear the thin, delicate-feeling material. After putting this jacket through its paces, we were pleasantly surprised by how well it held up. Outdoor Research uses a Pertex Diamond Fuse fabric, which uses diamond-shaped nylon yarn that locks together with the intention of creating a more durable fabric without adding weight, and it seems to be doing the trick.
The components used in this rain jacket are well made. All of the zippers run smoothly and consistently, and drawcords are durable and easy to use. All structural seams are double stitched, and seams are seam-sealed to prevent leakage. It is evident that care and time have been taken in the design and manufacturing of this jacket.
Should You Buy the Outdoor Research Helium?
The Helium is a great ultralight jacket, perfect for those looking for an emergency just-in-case layer to stuff into the bottom of their pack. While this not the most water-resistant jacket tested, we were impressed by how protective it was considering its weight. If weight and space aren't top concerns, you might be seeking something with more bells and whistles than this jacket. This also might not be the jacket for those frequently getting outside in a region with long, heavy rain seasons. Overall, we recommend the Helium for those looking to keep their packs light so they can go further faster and not let variable weather forecasts get in the way of a good adventure.
What Other Rain Jackets Should You Consider?
For those seeking to stay out for longer in heavy rain, the Outdoor Research Aspire II or Arc'teryx Beta LT offer better protection from the elements. The Mountain Hardwear Stretch Ozonic is another good option for those looking for a lightweight, breathable rain jacket. It includes additional features such as hand pockets, more hood coverage, and pit vents.
— Jessica Albery
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