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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Helly Hansen Odin Fastpack Jacket > Owner Review by Ray Estrella
Helly Hansen Odin Fastpack Jacket
November 09, 2014
November 09, 2014
I've been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, Minnesota, and many western states. I hike year-round in all weather, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I make a point of using lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. Doubting I can ever be truly ultralight, I try to be as light as I can yet still be comfortable. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring/chilling. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot evening meals. If not hiking solo I am usually with my brother-in-law Dave or my twin children.
Manufacturer: Helly Hansen AS
Quick & Dirty Nitty Gritty
The Helly Hansen Odin Fastpack is one of the best lightweight rain coats I have used to date. The waterproofing is top notch. Breathability I guess is on a par with other 2.5 construction coats, I really can't tell a difference as if I am moving I am sweating. Since it survived a monster of a rainy day while both my rain pants and pack cover stopped working I'm going to call the Fastpack a keeper. Please read on for the details.
The Helly Hansen Odin Fastpack Jacket (hereafter referred to as the Fastpack or jacket) is what the manufacturer (whom I will occasionally refer to as HH) calls a "minimalist technical shell jacket". While I think of a technical shell as something that is heavy, strategically reinforced, and super tough for mountaineering, the Fastpack does have some design elements seen on Helly Hansen's bigger shells. And the Odin part of the name could use some mention too. Odin, the Norse "God of Gods" is the tag they give to their cream-of-the-crop "Expert" rated gear. I own other gear from the Odin line, including a true hard-core mountaineering shell that I will write up this winter.
A quick primer on 2.5 layer fabric. In the past few years many companies have come out with their "own" 2.5 waterproof/breathable (WPB) fabrics. The two and a half layers are as follows. First is the shell material of the garment, usually some type of breathable nylon. Denier (think thickness) can vary greatly. A waterproof/breathable membrane (layer two) is laminated to one side (what will be the inside of the garment). Over the membrane the "half layer" is actually a raised pattern made by printing a polymer onto the membrane. This saves the weight of a true liner and is supposed to aid in transferring moisture away from the skin and to help alleviate the plastic clammy feeling of the membrane.
The Fastpack is made from Helly Hansen's Helly Tech Performance, their version of 2.5 layer waterproof breathable fabric. The outer face is made of polyamide, another name for nylon. The inside tag says that the back (inside) is made of polyurethane. From what I can tell this is the laminate. Helly Hansen's web site and packaging are very hard to glean technical information from. The printed layer is done with hexagons as may be seen to the right. I'll talk more about them later.
All of the seams of the Fastpack are taped and seam sealed. Although there is no mention of it there is definitely some stretch to the fabric which makes it more comfortable to me. The fabric has been treated with a durable water repellent coating also.
In sticking with HH's "technical" tag the Fastpack has some nice winter-specific features not normally seen on rain gear that only weighs a fraction of a pound/kilo. One is the helmet compatible three-panel hood. Not only will it fit a climbing or mountaineering helmet it also has great adjustment options. There is a cord-locked elastic cord on each side of the hood down by the collarbone/throat area, which threads through sleeves letting the nylon-ended pulls be easily yanked down, even with gloves on. There is also a back mounted adjustment cord that allows the hood to be formed to the helmet or my thick skull. The hood has a reinforced brim to protect the eyes from falling rain, hail, and snow.
Another nod to winter is the double pulled elastic waist cord that acts as a wind and/or snow skirt. Unlike many of my other high end coats that employ this, Helly Hansen doesn't put it next to the zipper but instead starts them just forward of the hip bone. Not only does this use less cord (read "less weight" my fellow gram-weenies) but it keeps the front flatter when pulled tight, making for a more stylish look.
The Fastpack closes by means of a YKK Aquaguard water resistant zipper. The zipper tab has a nice nylon pull attached to make it easier to grab. The zipper has a small "parking garage" at the collar to keep water from finding its way in. More protection comes by way of the 0.6 in (15 mm) wide draft/weather stop that sits behind the zipper.
The same Aquaguard zippers are used for the combination pockets/vents. These slanting 14 in (36 cm) long openings are backed with huge sections of mesh as may be seen above.
While the sleeves are not gusseted or reinforced at any spots they do have a small area at the elbows that has been stitched separately around the arm. I'm guessing this is to create a hinge area to keep stress off the lightweight fabric. At the end of the sleeves are the slightly stiffened cuffs. The cuffs adjust with hook-and-loop patches applied to the cuff and pull.
Finally the HH Fastpack has the Helly Hansen name on the left breast, the HH logo on the front of the hood, the Odin name and triangle logo on the left sleeve, and a larger version of the triangles on the back of the jacket. All of these trims are reflective.
There is no way to list all of the places I have carried or used the Odin Fastpack jacket. I got it in June of 2013 and it has been on every 3-season hike since then as, for the first time in a long time, I did not have any rain gear tests to do. It has been on at least three backpacking trips in North Dakota, probably twenty (or more) in Minnesota, and just spent six days in Oregon, where it saw heavy use. The picture above is in the rain at an Oregon Trailhead. The Fastpack has been used at elevations from near sea-level to about 7000 ft (2130 m). It has seen plenty of rain and hail, and even some light snow. Temperatures have been from about 80 F down to 25 F (27 to -4 C). Here's a tale of two rivers, 110 miles (177 km) apart. Crossing the Sheyenne in North Dakota, and the Wild Rice in Minnesota.
Unfortunately, though it is my most worn piece of rain gear ever, it is also the least photographed. This is because I used to hike about 400 miles (650 km) a year with Dave who could snap a quick pic and put the camera away. Now I spend 95% of my hiking solo and must find a place to set up the camera to use a timer. Most of the pictures don't turn out from water on the lens or worse, the camera dies from interior moisture. In the shot below the rain has stopped for a while and I was able to get a dry pic crossing a river.
I have had a lot of 2.5 layer rain gear over the past ten years. I believe that I have tested or reviewed seven pieces here and at other publications, plus have owned a few others that I never wrote about. I feel that I have a good take on 2.5 layer technology, its good points and its drawbacks. The Fastpack has become my favorite rain jacket for many reasons.
The second thing that jumped out at me was the weight. This puppy has a lot of great design elements yet weighs the same as a famous "Lite" jacket I owned that was a barebones, stripped-down piece. It didn't last a season before "wetting-out", a term that describes a piece of waterproof breathable gear that stops working.
Which brings up number three. The waterproofing. On a very memorable trip with Dave we encountered three straight days of rain. As we had a mid-point camp that we would use again I brought extra rain gear with me. (The perks of buying way too much gear each year…) Both jackets succumbed to the dreaded wetting-out, letting water finally pass right through. I kept my jacket on just as a wind block but watched water run out of my sleeves with every trekking pole plant and my shoes filled with water running from inside my WPB pants.
I have had the Fastpack for two full seasons of hiking. By that I mean late spring to fall, for two years. I have never washed, let alone retreated, the jacket. Yet when I went to the mountains outside normally dry Bend, Oregon I was surprised to get clobbered by a long duration storm. One of the days saw rain that went for 24 straight hours. By mid-day the trails were looking like creeks. My WPB shoes failed first, then my very expensive "Lite" rain pants started wetting out. I tried taking pictures of the difference between my pants and coat but by then my camera was giving up the ghost from exposure to the rain. By the time I found a place to make camp I was soaked from my waist down as the pants completely failed. I found that my pack cover had wetted out too! The Fastpack never leaked a drop.
The next day I had to go back to town as I was meeting a friend for my last two days of hiking. As I had sweated a lot in the Fastpack I took it in the shower and tried to rinse out the sweat from the interior laminate as the forecast was calling for more rain. I dried it overnight in my room and headed out the next day. And it rained. We had to eat dinner sitting in the rain as we did not want to get the inside of the tent wet or dirty. The Fastpack kept me dry again but my pants, which I washed and even put into a dryer for a few minutes to reactivate the DWR (durable water repellent coating), started wetting-out again on the top of the thighs. (Sighs…)
I was so mad at the pants that I threw them away instead of packing them in my suitcase for the flight home. I'm so impressed at the Fastpack that I may get pants to match, although I haven't been able to find a matching version yet. Maybe HH needs to get on that.
OK, let's talk about breathability. Manufactures love to spout the "water vapor transmission rates" of their fabrics. (Helly Hansen is not one of them.) These numbers come from about five different tests, so really Joe Consumer (me) has no way of knowing how they really compare to anything else. I have taken rain gear and just sat in light rain and had it stay just fine inside. But that same jacket on the trail in Cleveland National Forest in light rain turned into a mobile sauna in a matter of minutes.
When I'm backpacking I'm putting out a lot of heat. That adds to the vapor content inside the jacket that the material needs to pass to claim to "breathe". The air temperature and humidity levels can skew the transfer rates too. In the picture above, taken on the North Country Trail near Waboose Lake, it was lightly raining off and on. It wasn't that bad but it was about 75 F (24 C) and 95% humidity. I remember it well because when I got back to my car my shirt was wetter than if I didn't wear the Fastpack. I guess that I'd say the Fastpack breathes as well as anything else I have owned, but I have yet to find any technology, not just the 2.5 versions, that can actually breathe well enough while I hike to be noticeable.
The venting pockets work well, but if it is raining hard they will let water in. I'd like to see pit-zips myself, with maybe smaller high placement venting pockets that would work better for backpack wearers.
Does the Fastpack have any downsides? One, if money is tight. It is a very expensive piece of gear. When I look at the other nearly as expensive pieces I have/had that only lasted a season I suppose I can say that "you get what you pay for", but the initial sticker shock should be prepared for. ;-)
At this point it is time to switch to winter gear. But next year I plan to stick with the Fastpack if not reviewing or testing something else. Now it's time for snow! I leave with a picture taken setting up a wet camp on the Red River.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.
Read more gear reviews by Ray Estrella
Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Helly Hansen Odin Fastpack Jacket > Owner Review by Ray Estrella
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