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Reviews > Rain Gear > Jackets and Pants > Outdoor Research Helium Jacket > Test Report by Pamela Wyant

OUTDOOR RESEARCH HELIUM JACKET

Initial Report - March 11, 2010
Field Report - May 18, 2010
Long Term Report - July 20, 2010



Tester Information:

Name:  Pam Wyant
Age:  52
Gender:  Female
Height:  5 ft 5 in (1.65 m)
Weight:  175 lb (79 kg)

E-mail address:  pamwyant(at)yahoo(dot)com
Location:  Western West Virginia, U.S.A.

Backpacking Background:

I enjoy a variety of outdoor activities, including backpacking,
day-hiking, car camping, and canoeing.  Most of my excursions
are confined to weekends, although I try to fit in at least one
longer backpacking trip each year, and have started section
hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT), accruing a little over 300 mi
(483 km) so far.  My style varies with the activity, but since
becoming a lightweight backpacker, I've noticed I tend to pack
somewhat minimally even on trips where I have more space.
Still, I don't like to sacrifice warmth, comfort, or safety.


Initial Report - March 11, 2010


  Photo Courtesy Outdoor ResearchPhoto courtesy Outdoor Research website

Product Information:

Manufacturer:  Outdoor Research
Year of manufacture:  2010
Model:  Helium

Color:  Fossil
Size:  Men's Large

Advertised Weight:  193 g (6.8 oz)
Measured Weight:  184 g (6.5 oz)

MSRP:  $140 US

Website:  www.outdoorresearch.com

Product Description:

The Helium is aptly named.  While it obviously isn't truly lighter than air, it is the lightest durable waterproof breathable jacket I have ever had the privilege of holding in my hand.   When I received the envelope from Outdoor Research, my first thought was that it was too light and small to contain a rain jacket.   When I opened it, I was amazed that it was indeed the super light weight Helium.

Although the Helium is made of a 2.5-layer fabric (20D Pertex Shield DS ripstop), it is so thin and light that it feels like a single layer.  Closer examination reveals at least two layers - a dark gray silky outer layer with a small gridded pattern, and a slicker white inner layer with a tiny diamond pattern.  The website indicates the face fabric has a PV film laminate, so I assume this is the  invisible 1/2 layer.

The jacket features a full length water resistant front zipper, measuring about 29"/74 cm long.  The thin zipper is designed to be light weight, and measures only about 1/2" (1.3 cm) wide.  As with other water resistant zippers I have used in the past, the zipper has a small amount of resistance when it is opened and closed.   The top of the zipper is covered by a small triangular piece of fabric (a 'zipper garage') that extends down into a 6" (15 cm) storm flap that backs only the upper portion of the zipper.  The combination of zipper garage and small storm flap keeps the zipper from pinching my chin when the jacket is completely zipped up. 

The jacket has a very large Napoleon style chest pocket that is formed from a second layer of the fabric in the upper left chest, running from the front zipper to the sleeve seam.  The pocket has a 6.5" (16.5 cm) long water resistant zipper.  Although the zippers look somewhat orange in the photo above, obtained from the manufacturer's website, they are actually more of a brick red color.

The jacket features raglan style sleeves with artistically curved seams, and front yoke styling.  The sleeves forgo an adjustable wristband, ending simply in an elastic cuff.

The articulated hood is well shaped to snug around my head without the irritation of elastic around my face.  It features a stiffened brim that will hopefully help keep water out of my eyes when hiking in the rain.  It also features an elastic pull at the back, just above the point my skull attaches to my vertebrae.  The elastic runs from the center back to the jawbone area in the front of the hood.  Tightening the pull adjusts the depth of the hood, which seems like it might be useful to allow more visibility in light rain and better coverage in heavier rain.  I will observe whether the adjustment has a useful effect as I test the jacket in various conditions.

All seams are taped on the interior with a very light and thin transparent tape.  The seams appear to be sewn with a very light thread.  The stitching is very small and even in appearance.  The jacket features adjustable elastic in the hem, with a pull on each side.  A 6" x 6" (15 x 15 cm) interior pocket that fastens with a small strip of hook and loop fastener is located on the bottom left side of the jacket.  The pocket can be turned inside out and the jacket stuffed inside the pocket for storage.  A small thin webbing loop is located at the bottom of the pocket and can be used to attach the stuffed jacket to a carabineer or clip.  The inside of the pocket is the same fabric as the exterior, and is imprinted with the words "Designed By Adventure" near the webbing loop.

A similar webbing loop is located just under the hood on the interior, in the tag area, and can be used to hang the jacket over a hook.  The neck tag of the jacket actually is heavier and thicker than the jacket fabric, and is reinforced with an extra patch of the jacket fabric.  The thickened area of the tag can be observed from the outside of the jacket.  If possible, I think it would be preferable to use 'tagless' technology.  This would not only shave another gram or two by eliminating three different tags at the neck {name/website tag, size tag, and country of origin (China) tag}, but would also make the jacket softer in this area.  It might not be possible to have the hang loop if this were done, however the jacket could just as easily be hung from the back of the hood using the adjustable elastic cord, so this is a feature I would gladly sacrifice for a more comfortable feel.

Preliminary Impressions:

The Helium has a very trim fit.  Since the women's version was not available in my normal x-large size, I chose the men's large.   In most jackets or shirts, I find a men's large rather similar in size to a women's x-large, other than the sleeves are usually longer and the chest and shoulder area will usually be overly loose.  The Helium fits slightly different than I expected.  The chest and shoulders fit me perfectly.  The stomach and hip areas are actually a bit snug.  While I am used to a looser fit in a rain jacket, I am still able to wear a base layer and a light weight insulated jacket underneath the Helium without the insulation appearing to be compressed.

The jacket has a pleasant, light and soft feel.  The fabric makes a slight, whispery sound when I move around, but it isn't very loud or annoying.  I was somewhat surprised how comfortable the sleeves felt against bare skin when I wore a short-sleeved shirt underneath the jacket, as I often find rain gear clammy against bare skin.

The only thing I really missed as I've worn the jacket around the last few days is hand pockets.  While the chest pocket seems to provide ample storage area for things like gloves, or even a knit cap, in casual wear I miss having a pocket for my hands.  Most likely this will not be a feature I miss while wearing a pack, as pack belts and straps usually block access to these type of pockets anyway.

Summary:

The Outdoor Research Helium appears to be a well constructed waterproof breathable jacket that uses advanced fabric technology, trim cut, and a few well thought out features to shave ounces/grams over a more traditional durable rain jacket.  The fabric has a great feel and in preliminary wear seems pretty breathable, given it did not make my bare arms feel clammy.

Things I like:

Super light weight
Soft feel of fabric
Nice fit in chest, shoulders, and articulated hood

Things of concern/things I dislike:

Fit overly snug in stomach/hip area
Neck tag heavier than jacket fabric

Field Report - May 18, 2010

Field Locations and Conditions:

Canaan Valley State Park, April 2010 ~ 6 mi (10 km) overnight backpacking trip.  While backpacking normally isn't allowed in West Virginia state parks, we were given special permission as part of the Department of Natural Resources Becoming an Outdoor Woman program.  I wore the Helium during one rest break and in camp that evening and the next morning, in light rain.  Temperatures ranged from about 40 F to 70 F (4 C to 21 C).  I wore the Helium over a short sleeve wool base layer shirt, with a long sleeve wool base layer shirt added as a mid-layer later in the evening.

Ramsey's Draft area of George Washington National Forest, May 2010 ~ 17 mi (27 km) overnight backpacking trip.  Temperatures ranged from about 60 F (15 C) during the day, down to freezing at night, with heavy wind.  I wore the Helium during breaks and immediately upon arrival at camp, over a short sleeve wool base layer.  I later added a long sleeve base layer shirt and a Montbell UL Down Inner Parka under the Helium.  I also wore the Helium over both base layer shirts for hiking the next morning, removing the long sleeve shirt later in the hike, but wearing the Helium for the duration of the hike as a windbreaker.

Other ~ I also have worn the Helium on about 3 day hikes of 3 mi (5 km) each in western West Virginia, and for about 4 days of work, as a rain jacket.

Use and Conclusions:

I have really enjoyed testing the Outdoor Research Helium jacket.  I am still amazed at how light weight it is.  So far the jacket has been very durable.  I can't find any signs of damage to the fabric even after pushing through a good bit of  trail overgrown with brush and berry bushes on the Ramsey's Draft trip.  While the water resistant zippers are slightly stiff to work, this is common for this sort of zipper, and they work smoothly and don't snag on the jacket fabric.

The Helium is also very breathable.  It was very comfortable to wear in the windy conditions I experienced during the Ramsey's Draft trip, and even when the wind died down, I didn't feel overly hot or clammy.  Well, at least I didn't overheat other than on one uphill shortly into the second day's hike, while I was still wearing a long sleeve base layer top and base layer pants under my nylon hiking pants, and the jacket was not the cause of the overheating.   Once I removed the extra layers, I was very comfortable for the remainder of the hike, with only minimal sweating on the uphills, as I would expect even if I had only worn a base layer for hiking.

One thing I have missed is having hand pockets, especially when I am using the Helium as a windbreaker or for a minimal amount of warmth while taking a break or sitting around camp.  However, the Napoleon style chest pocket is roomy.  I was able to fit a light wool beanie and pair of polypro gloves in it, which came in useful while I was hiking at Ramsey's Draft.  During calm warmer spells in the weather I could store the hat and gloves away, while keeping them within easy reach so I could pull them back on as the wind kicked up, or the trail changed from a sunny exposed area to a cool shaded area.  I could also tuck an energy bar in the pocket, so that it was handy if I wanted to pull it out to munch on when my energy level flagged.  So, I have plenty of room to store the things I might need during the hike, it is just that I don't have somewhere to put my hands when at rest.

One thing I really like is the brim on the hood.  It has been just right so far to keep the rain out of my face, without obscuring my vision.  It works especially well when I pull the hood adjustment somewhat tight, which keeps the brim further above my eyes than when the adjustment is looser.

I also like the soft and silky feel of the fabric.  It has a slight rustle when I move, but nothing really distracting or annoying.  Another plus is that the Helium beads water well and dries quickly, which allows me to shake it out under a tarp or in a vestibule and get rid of most of the moisture, so I don't have a sopping wet jacket to deal with in a tent or hammock.  It is easy to stuff the jacket into the designated inner pocket, forming a small package that is easy to store in my pack.

The fit of the jacket is slightly trimmer than I would like at the hem area, but the chest, shoulders, and arms are a perfect fit for me.  The sleeves are a nice length ~ not too long, but I can pull them down over my hands easily if I want.  The hood fits well, and the adjustment cord locks nicely in place to hold the fit.  The fit of the neck area is nice too, especially with the soft flap of material over the zipper head, which keeps my chin from getting irritated when the jacket is fully zipped up.

Oh, and I almost forgot ~ the Helium has also been totally waterproof so far.  I have worn it in prolonged drizzle while at camp, in moderate rain while day hiking, and in the pouring rain while measuring houses, and haven't had it leak yet.

Summary:

The Outdoor Research Helium is living up to its early promise.  I've found it very breathable, light weight, waterproof, and easy to store in minimal space.  The lack of hand pockets has taken some getting used to, but the chest pocket provides ample storage for items I may want while hiking.  So far, the Helium is a winner in my book.


Long Term Report - July 20, 2010

Field Locations and Conditions:

Girl Scout Camp Sandy Bend, Elizabeth, West Virginia, May 2010 ~ weekend (2 night) tent camping.  Light evening rain.  Overnight temperatures were around 60 F (15 C).

Girl Scout Camp Sandy Bend, Elizabeth, West Virginia, May 2010 ~ overnight lodge camping.  Clear, dry weather.  Overnight temperatures were around 60 F (15 C).

Cranberry, Monongahela National Forest, West Virginia, May 2010 ~ 25 mi (40 km) weekend (2 night) backpacking trip.  Overnight temperatures were in the 50 F (10 C) range, high humidity, light rain one night.

Miscellaneous use - I've also worn the Helium on 3 different occasions as a rain jacket while inspecting/measuring homes.

Use and Conclusions:

Although the weather did not cooperate to the point of being able to use the Helium jacket for hiking in the heavy rain, I am really impressed with this jacket.  Although the weather was relatively warm on all of my trips during this phase of the test, I did wear the Helium in the late evening and early morning on each of these trips.

The Helium is light enough that I did not overheat when wearing it hiking in wind, and it was very comfortable around camp in light rain while doing chores, sitting around, and those middle of the night trips.  An added bonus was that the Helium added just enough light warmth to substitute for a long sleeve base layer or light fleece.   This saved me a few ounces of weight in my pack, since even in the summer I typically pack one or the other when backpacking in the mountains, but the Helium is breathable and sturdy enough that I felt safe relying on it for extra warmth as well as protection from rain.

I continue to miss having lower hand pockets on the Helium, but this is a relatively small inconvenience, and offset somewhat by the roomy Napoleon style pocket.  It has just been hard for me to get used to a pocket in the chest area, as this is not something I have typically used.  I have not used the interior mesh pocket for storing anything, but I do like it for neatly packing the jacket away for storage in my pack or duffel.  This does take a little time and effort, and I have to admit I sometimes just stuff the loose jacket in when I am in a hurry, but having the integrated storage makes for a nice way to store the jacket without having to keep up with an additional stuff sack (or, as a dedicated gram weenie, having to carry those extra few grams of stuff sack weight).

So far the jacket shows no signs of wear, although I have only worn it about 8 hours under a pack, and the zippers still operate smoothly.  One thing that I really like about the jacket is the smooth, almost silky texture and soft hand of the fabric.

Summary:

The Outdoor Research Helium is a fantastically light weight shell with good breathability, great packability, and (so far) truly waterproof.  It will most definitely be my 'go to' rain jacket for future hiking and backpacking trips.  The slight downside to the Helium for me is the trim fit in the hip/stomach area, and the lack of  hand pockets.  For the light weight, small packed size, and breathability, I can live with these drawbacks.

Likes:

Light weight
Breathable
Comfortable
Ample storage in chest pocket

Dislikes:

Miss having hand pockets
A little trimmer than I like in the hip/stomach area.


Thanks to Outdoor Research and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test the Helium.




Read more reviews of Outdoor Research gear
Read more gear reviews by Pamela Wyant

Reviews > Rain Gear > Jackets and Pants > Outdoor Research Helium Jacket > Test Report by Pamela Wyant



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