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OUTDOOR RESEARCH HELIUM JACKET WOMEN'S

TEST SERIES BY CHERYL MCMURRAY

INITIAL REPORT  March 7, 2010
FIELD REPORT  May 18, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT
July 20, 2010

TESTER INFORMATION

Name:  Cheryl McMurray
Age:  51
Gender:  Female
Height:  5 ft 8 in (173 cm)
Weight:  145 lb (66.6 kg)
Waist:  32 in (81 cm)
Chest: 36 in (91 cm)
Torso Length: 18.5 in (47 cm)
Sleeve Length: 22.5 in (57 cm)
Email Address:  cherylmcmurray2ATgmailDOTcom
City, State, Country:  Garden Grove, California, U.S.

BACKPACKING BACKGROUND

I've been backpacking and hiking for four years, mostly on weekends year around.  Overnight trips are usually long weekend trips in the Eastern Sierras with 32 lb to 40 lb (15 kg to 18 kg) loads depending on the season.  One class two rock climb with a day pack is common.   Day hikes are 10-15 mi (16 km to 24 km) in the San Gabriel Mountains with loads of 15 lb to 20 lb (7 kg to 9 kg).  I'm a tent style camper and have experienced snow, freezing temperatures, winds (once was gale force), light rain, but mostly fair weather.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION

Manufacturer:  Outdoor Research
Manufacturers Website:  www.outdoorresearch.com
Year of Manufacture:  2010
List Weight:  5.8 oz (164 g) medium
Actual Weight: 6 oz (170 g) large
Size Tested:  Women's Large
Other Sizes Offered:  XS, S, M
MSRP:  $140 US

PRODUCT DESCRIPTION

The Outdoor Research Helium Jacket is a waterproof (seam sealed), breathable, ultra lightweight jacket that will pack into it's own pocket located at the back left side of the waist hem.  It's made with 2.5-layer 20D Pertex® Shield DS ripstop fabric that claims to be waterproof, breathable, windproof and lightweight.  The jacket features a front full length and chest pocket water-resistant zipper, a hood with a single-pull adjustment, napoleon pocket, elastic cuffs, single draw cord hem adjustment and comes in three colors, salsa, reef, and black.

Salsa color Jacket (taken from website)
Pertex Fabric/Elastic Cuff
Jacket in salsa color (take from website)
Pertex fabric/elastic cuff

Inside Stuff Pocket
Jacket Compressed Into Stuff Pocket
Inside stuff pocket
Jacket compress next to regular size Snickers

INITIAL IMPRESSION

The jacket arrived in the Salsa color which is bright red and for a stormshell I'm impressed with how incredibly light it is but not light on features.  It includes a full length front water-resistant zipper that comes all the way up to the chin, and a chest pocket water-resistant zipper, both complete with zipper pulls.  There is a storm flap that extends 5.5 in (14 cm) down from the chin, a draw cord at the back of the hood and one at the hem for a single pull custom fit along with elastic arm cuffs that are not adjustable.  The chest pocket is quite large measuring 8 in x 9 in (20 cm x 23 cm) and the inside stuff pocket measures 5 in x 6 in (13 cm x 15 cm) with a hook/loop closure.  The fabric is made from Pertex® Shield DS ripstop nylon that feels soft to the touch, claims to be waterproof, breathable and does indeed compact down into its own stuff pocket with the ability to hook it onto a pack with a reinforced loop.  The jacket came with two tags attached.  One tag described the Pertex Shield DS material and it's qualities and the other tag listed the Helium Jacket features along with the Outdoor Research company contact information.

INITIAL FIT

I got a size large in the women's version and it fits me well.  I can wear a fleece jacket and a down vest underneath and still have no problem zipping it up.  My arms measure 23 in (58 cm) from shoulder to wrist and the jacket sleeves come down 3 in (8cm) below my wrist but when I'm extending my arms out, they fit nicely at the wrist.  The elastic around the cuff area is large for my small wrists so that could be an area where water could enter when my arms are up using hiking poles or reaching up for something.  The hood brim extends about 2 in (5 cm) beyond my forehead when not cinched and about 1.5 in (4 cm) when cinched.   I found the single pull cord on the hood works better with two hands than with one but the hem cord works well with one hand.

WASHING INSTRUCTIONS

There is one attached tag inside the jacket stating that the jacket should be machine washed in cold water and tumbled dry on a low setting.  It also states not to iron, bleach, soften, or dry clean the garment.

Jacket wearing t-shirt underneath
Hood cinched around my face
Wearing a t-shirt underneath
Hood cinched around my face

TRYING IT OUT

I took it for an outing to the local outdoor shopping center and as luck would have it, it rained.  I walked for about 10 min with a good rain falling down and if it wasn't for my jeans and sneakers getting soaked, I would have spent longer in the rain.  As it was, I was completely dry under the jacket, water was still beading up on the outer surface and the zippers did not leak at all.  I had my wallet, cell phone, and keys in the chest pocket and they also stayed dry.  I walked into the wind/rain, cinching the hood and although my head stayed dry, my face became wet as the brim coverage reduces when the hood is cinched which left my face a little more exposed.  I then took a 30 minute walk later in the day with very light rain falling and stayed dry.  I did notice on this walk that the hood cinched gave me better visibility than when it wasn't cinched.

I put my wallet in the stuff pocket to begin with but since it was located on the left back panel of the jacket became awkward to reach so then I moved it to the chest pocket.  The back pocket will be fine for items that I won't need frequently. 

SUMMARY

I like how light this jacket is considering that it has two pockets along with hood and hem adjustment cords.  The zippers seem sturdy and except for the elastic cuffs, it looks like I can customize the fit for different weather conditions.  It's pretty amazing how small it packs down and can be clipped onto my pack for easy access and stowing.  The color is very bright but I actually like to wear high visibility clothing so I see that as a plus. 

I do have a concern of rain possibly dripping down into the sleeve when using hiking poles or moving my arm to a more upright position.   

This concludes my Initial Report and want to thank Outdoor Research for the opportunity to test  the Helium Jacket.   Check back in a few months for my field  report.


FIELD REPORT

FIELD CONDITIONS AND LOCATIONS

I used the Helium Jacket a total of 12 days in the field with conditions that were mostly windy and cold.  I had  a few occasions to test the jacket in some light rain along with a test in my shower.  The following field test information is the actual temperatures and conditions that the jacket was worn in.

Trip #1
Location:  Eastern Sierra Mts near Bishop, California
Elevation:  9,000 ft (2,750 m)
Trip Duration: 2 days, 2 nights
Conditions:  Snowing, breezy to high winds, sunny and windy
Temperature:  30s F to 40s F (1 C to 4 C)

Trip #2
Location:  San Gabriel Mts, Southern California
Elevation:  10,000 ft (3,050 m)
Trip Duration:  Day hike
Conditions:  15-20 mph (24-32 kph) winds with 30 mph (48 kph) gusts
Temperature:  High 30s F (1C), 24 F (-4 C) on summit

Trip #3
Location:  San Bernardino Mts, Southern California
Elevation:  7,200 ft to 8,300 ft (2,200 m to 2,500 m)
Trip Duration:  2 day, 1 night
Conditions:  Cloudy, breezy to windy
Temperature:  40s F (7 C), 38 F (3 C) at summit

Trip #4
Eastern Sierra Mts, near Lone Pine, California
Elevation:  11,500 ft (3,500 m)
Trip Duration:  2 day, 1 night
Conditions: Sunny, breezy with some wind gusts
Temperature: 30s F to 40s F (1 C to 4 C)

Trip #5
San Jacinto Mts, Southern California
Elevation:  9,200 ft to 10,800 ft (2,800 m to 3,300 m)
Trip Duration:  2 day, 2 night
Conditions:  Sunny and breezy
Temperature:  30s F to 40s F (1 C to 4 C)

FIT AND COMFORT

I wore the jacket over as little as one baselayer and as much as a baselayer, light fleece, fleece hoody, and light down jacket.  It felt comfortable over both combinations along with layer combinations in between and my movement never felt constricted.  The hood fit easily over a fleece hat and even my climbing helmet.  The hood felt a little constrictive with the helmet on when I had the jacket zipped up to the chin but was fine when I left the zipper down to just the base of my neck.  During the dayhiking trip to Baldy that required ice axe and crampons to ascend, I wore the jacket most of the way up to the summit which was 2 mi (3 km) and 2,000 ft (600 M) of climbing and never felt that it impaired my movement at all. 

Cinching the hood took two hands for me until I finally figured out that I could do it with one hand by pulling up on the cinch cord.  Loosening it also worked with one hand if I pulled the toggle upwards.   The only time that I cinched the hood was in strong winds to block out the chill.  The brim of the hood never seemed to impair my visibility when the hood was cinched or uncinched.  On one cold but sunny day I noticed that the brim did provided some sun protection which I found nice when I only had a fleece cap on underneath. 

Cinching the hem was easy to do with one hand but I found that it was never necessary to use that feature, even in high winds.

Cinch cords with toggles and plastic pull tab
Cinch cords with toggles and plastic pull tabs

I have found the jacket to be very comfortable to wear, even when the zipper was all the way up to my chin.  The material is quite soft and felt comfortable against any skin parts directly touching it.

Wearing Jacket with climbing helmet
Jacket with baselayer and fleece pullover
Wearing jacket with climbing helmet under the hood
Jacket fit with baselayer and light fleece pullover under.  Sunhat under hood

LIGHT AND COMPRESSIBLE

The 6 oz (170 g) weight of the jacket is pretty incredibly light to me since it is replacing a waterproof jacket which is three times heavier and a separate wind jacket.  It compresses so small that I hardly notice I have it with me and so light that I hardly notice I'm wearing it.

One of the features of the jacket is its ability to compress into it's own pocket, located on the inner back panel.  Although it does fit into this pocket, it is an extremely tight fit and requires a lot more effort to compress and close the hook/loop closure than I prefer.  If the pocket was a little bit larger, I think it would be easier and quicker to compress it.  Most times, after wearing it, I tend to put it into my pack uncompressed for ease and then compress it later when I need more room in the pack. 

POCKETS AND ZIPPERS


The chest pocket is a really nice feature for a jacket this light.  It is large enough to stash gloves quickly or hold my wallet and music player.  I can unzip it quickly with only one hand but need both hands to zip it up.  The zipper pulls are very easy to grasp and and do indeed make it easier to zip and unzip the jacket and pocket.  I have only used the rear stash pocket to compress the jacket.  The location on the back panel makes it awkward to access anything stored in it unless I remove the jacket.

BREATHABILITY

I wore the jacket during activities of uphill snowshoe backpacking while it was snowing, hiking, ascending a bowl with ice axe and crampons,  and setting up a few snow camping spots.   All of these activities had cold winds in common and a lot of exertion.  The only time that I had any condensation inside of the jacket was when I hiked uphill about 1 mi (1.5 km) with 1,000 ft (300 m) of elevation gain wearing a synthetic long sleeve baselayer directly under the jacket and nothing else.  If I wore a wool baselayer directly underneath, I didn't seem to have any issues.  I also had no issues when wearing multiple layers underneath but I was careful to regulate my body heat by removing unnecessary clothing when I needed to.

WATERPROOF AND WINDPROOF


I had a few occasions to wear it while we experienced the last of our Southern California rainy season.  The rains were light and at most I was only able to spend about 45 min walking in it until the rain stopped.  I never had any moisture leak through either the material, the zippers or the seams.  I also had my wallet inside of the chest pocket and it remained completely dry.  The brim of the hood did keep any light rain from hitting my face when either cinched or uncinched.  I was concerned about the gap at my wrists as the elastic did not fit snug but found that when it rained, I wore gloves and they filled any space gap that was there.  My last waterproof test took place in my shower since I was concerned that I might not get enough rain testing with the jacket.  I wore the jacket in my shower for a total of 20 minutes of testing.  I think the shower simulated a fairly hard rain.  Each test was 5 min in length, and I turned around to expose all areas and zippers.  After taking the jacket off, my clothing and the inside of the jacket remained dry along with the inside of the chest pocket.  I believe that after this test, I can confidently say that the jacket is waterproof. 

Most of my field testing confirmed the windproof feature of this jacket.  My first outing with it was backpacking to camp in strong headwinds while it was snowing.  I had a baselayer and two insulating layers on under the jacket and it kept the wind and cold out along with keeping me dry from the snow falling.  The temperature was in the high 20s F (-2 C).  I left the jacket on while setting up my tent since it was still snowing and blowing and it kept me warm and dry without overheating.  The second real test was on the summit of Mt Baldy in the San Gabriel Mts.  The winds were 20 mph (32 kph) sustained and I spent about 15 min on the summit, however, at a somewhat protected wind area.  I wore my baselayer and a fleece insulating layer under the jacket and was fairly comfortable.  The temperature, not including windchill, was 24 F (-4 C).  The jacket was completely zipped up and the hood was cinched blocking out all wind.  One more layer under the jacket would have been nice but I didn't dare take it off to make the adjustment. 

Backpacking while snowing
38 F (3 C)with 18 mph (29 kph)winds
Backpacking while snowing
38 F (3 C) with 18 mph (29 kph) winds

DURABILITY

So far the jacket has shown no wear in any area that my pack has come into contact with.  All of the seams are intact and the zippers are functioning like new.  The material has a wrinkled look to it from being compressed into the pocket but that's all. 

FIELD TEST LIKES

Lightweight
Color and feel of material
Waterproof and windproof
Large chest pocket for gloves, wallet or music player

FIELD TEST DISLIKES

Stuff pocket too small for easy compression and awkward location for quick access while wearing it
Elastic around wrist cuffs too large for my smaller wrists

FIELD TEST SUMMARY


So far I really like this jacket.  It's so lightweight and is proving to be waterproof, windproof, and durable.  My only complaint so far is the small size of the compression pocket makes for a very tight fit.  The elastic around the wrist area would have a better custom fit with the use of a hook and loop closure.

Check back in a few months for my Long Term Test.


LONG TERM REPORT


FIELD CONDITIONS AND LOCATIONS

Trip #1
Location:  Joshua Tree National Park, Southern California
Elevation:  4,600 ft (1,400 m)
Trip Duration:  1 night, 2 days
Conditions:  Calm
Temperature:  45 F (7 C)

Trip #2
Location:  Onion Valley, Eastern Sierra Mts near Independence, California
Elevation:  9,200 ft to 10,000 ft (2,800 m to 3,050 m)
Trip Duration:  Day hike
Conditions:  Breezy to windy
Temperature:  35 F to 48 F (2 C to 9 C)

Trip #3
Location:  Mt Baldy, San Gabriel Mts, Southern California
Elevation:  9,000 ft to 10,062 ft (2,750 m to 3,070 m)
Trip Duration: Day hike
Conditions:  Windy
Temperature:  40's F (7 C)

Trip #4
Cirque Peak, Eastern Sierras near Lone Pine, California
Elevation:  11,200 to 12,900 ft (3,400 m to 3,900 m)
Trip Duration:  3 day, 2 night
Conditions:  Cold, breezy, sunny
Temperatures:  36 F to 68 F (2 C to 20 C)

Trip #5
Muah Mt, Eastern Sierras near Lone Pine, California
Elevation:  9,600 ft to 10,900 ft (3,000 m to 3,300 m)
Trip Duration:  2 days, 1 night
Conditions:  Sunny, cloudy, thunderstorms
Temperatures:  48 F to 75 F (9 C to 24 C)

I have used the jacket on five outings since my field report.  The jacket was used mostly for windy cold conditions but the last trip I took had some thunderstorms for some rain testing.  I did perform one last shower test to see if any pack contact points compromised the waterproofness of the jacket.

LONG TERM PERFORMANCE

The jacket has continued to replace two jackets I would normally carry, a wind jacket and rain jacket.  Since it folds up so small into its own pocket, I have stored it inside my pack clipped in for easy access.  I've used it in the early morning hours during breakfast to cut the chill along with early evenings when the temperature dips and the mosquitoes appear.  It has also come out at the top of summits for a quick way to keep myself warm, hiking uphill in cold winds and during some thunderstorms in the Sierras.

The jacket really came in handy on the trip up at Onion Valley, Mt. Baldy (both day hikes), and Muah Mt with scattered thunderstorms.

I attended a snow practice up at the Onion Valley area where there was a lot of wind and cold temperatures.  Cramponing up 800 ft (250 m) produced a lot of body heat but winds also brought a chill.  The jacket, because of the light weight material, kept me comfortable, never overheating me but also kept the wind chill out.  There was also a lot of activity up at the final practice spot setting up belays, rope work and practicing knots and the jacket stayed on most of the time, again, never overheating me.  When I did need to take it off, it stashed very easily by stuffing it in an external pocket in my pack and came out frequently and easily when needed.  Stuffing the jacket in its own pocket, though, has still been more work than I like when I need to stash it quickly. 

Another hike that I used it on was the Mt Baldy day hike when at 9,000 ft (2,750 m) a strong cold wind developed and I needed to put something on quickly.  The jacket worked really well cutting the wind but not overheating me even though the final 800 ft (250 m) up to the summit was fairly steep. 

The last outing had some thunderstorms and although the rain never came down hard, I did encounter some light rain and the jacket kept me dry and comfortable,  never overheating me, even with a full backpack on.  Although the elastic cuffs do not fit snug against my wrists, I never had a problem with rain coming in when hiking with my poles.  I do wear fingerless gloves, however, and I have noticed that the gloves help fill that gap around my wrists. 
 

Light rain in the Sierras with pack on
Light rain in the Sierras

SHOWER TEST

The jacket has shown no wear at any of the pack contact areas but after wearing it a number of times under a pack, I wanted to see if its waterproofing was still effective.  I wore the jacket over a cotton t-shirt in the shower for 5 minutes, rotating to be sure all areas of the jacket and zippers were tested.  I'm happy to report that I remained completely dry and the jacket has remained waterproof. 

CONCLUSION

After testing this jacket through cold winds, snow and rain, I give it high marks for its windproof, waterproof and breathability features.  The chest pocket is a nice place to quickly store small items that need to remain dry but I still would like to see the stuff pocket made a little larger to make it quicker and easier to pack the jacket.  It is a very light, compact weatherproof jacket that I feel I can highly recommend.

This concludes my test series and I want to thank Outdoor Research and BGT for this opportunity to test the Helium Jacket.






Read more reviews of Outdoor Research gear
Read more gear reviews by Cheryl McMurray

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