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Reviews > Rain Gear > Jackets and Pants > Outdoor Research Helium Jacket > Test Report by Tom Callahan

OUTDOOR RESEARCH HELIUM JACKET
TEST SERIES BY TOM CALLAHAN
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - February 26, 2010
FIELD REPORT - May 22, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT - July 22, 2010

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Tom Callahan
EMAIL: tcallahanbgt AT yahoo DOT com
AGE: 51
LOCATION: Seattle, Washington, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 11" (1.80 m)
WEIGHT: 170 lb (77.10 kg)

For the past 20 years I have lived off and on in Washington State, backpacking in the Cascade Mountains. I get out regularly on day hikes and multi-day trips and usually try to include a good off trail scramble. During the winter I get out snowshoeing at every opportunity. I also enjoy glacier climbing, summiting prominent peaks like Mt. Rainier (14K ft/4K m) and Mt. Baker (10K ft/3K m). My pack weight will range from 15 - 50 lbs (7 - 23 kg) depending on the season and the length and type of trip.


INITIAL REPORT

PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS

Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
Year of Manufacture: 2010
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.outdoorresearch.com
MSRP: US$140.00
Listed Weight: 6.8 oz (193 g) Size Large
Measured Weight: 7.0 oz (198 g) Size Medium
Color: Pilsner

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The Outdoor Research Helium jacket is made with waterproof/breathable 2.5-layer 20D Pertex® Shield DS ripstop fabric. This fabric is smooth to the touch and upon opening the packaging I was immediately struck by how light the jacket felt. The jacket came with two hang tags, one from OR and the other from Pertex.
OR Helium - Full View
OR Helium - Full View

This jacket has a hood with a reinforced brim and is adjustable with an elastic draw cord and toggle. The jacket cuffs are elastic. The jacket's hem has an elastic drawcord and toggle to seal out wind and snow. There is a chest pocket on the left side which is closed with a water-resistant zipper. The jacket has a water-resistant full front zipper. A curious feature with this zipper is the pull is on the left side. Usually the zipper pulls in men's jackets are always on the right side. So having the zipper pull on the left is not a problem. It just feels a little different compared to all my other jackets.
OR Helium - Stuff Pocket
OR Helium - Stuff Pocket

On the inside of the jacket is stuff pocket with a hook and loop closure. The jacket stuffs easily into this pocket and packs down to a very small size.
OR Helium - Packed in Stuff Pocket
OR Helium - Packed in Stuff Pocket

The color of the jacket (Pilsner) is a darker yellow than the Pilsner jacket pictured on the OR web site, which makes it look more like a canary yellow. The jacket's actual color more closely resembles the small sample color block in the upper right of the web page.


TRYING IT OUT

I initially ordered a size medium, which is my typical size for a jacket. My chest is 41 inches (104 cm) so I just exceed the medium size listed in the OR sizing chart. When wearing the jacket with only a t-shirt, the size medium in the OR Helium Jacket was a close fit and snug across the shoulder when I extended my arms. Since this size was just a bit too snug and did not leave me much room to wear a fleece vest or some other layer under the jacket, I will be exchanging the size medium for a size large for field testing.

Even though the fit was snug, the jacket was very comfortable and the cut of the body and sleeves were in good proportion. The elastic cuffs fit loose around my wrists and were not constrictive. The light weight of this garment makes it feel like I am hardly wearing a jacket at all. The jacket was comfortable when zipped all the way up, fitting well around my neck. The hood was also a good fit, and easily adjustable with the elastic drawcord..

SUMMARY

The Outdoor Research Helium Jacket is an incredibly light weight garment. And while it does have a light weight, the fabric feels strong and durable. The jacket packs down very small and the stuff pocket is a nice feature which will facilitate cramming it into my backpack. The jacket has other nice extra features including a chest pocket, adjustable hood and adjustable hem. The jacket's Pertex material is described as waterproof and breathable and I am very anxious to see how it performs in this regard. The jacket does not have pit zips so I will be relying heavily on the Pertex to provide sufficient breathability.




FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

During Field Testing I used the Helium Jacket on:
- 3 day hikes in the Cascade Mountains,
- a 4 day back country ski trip in the vicinity of Mt Rainier,
- a climb of Mt. St. Helens, and
- an overnight trip in the Royal Basin area of the Olympic Mountains.

Temperatures encountered on these outings ranged from a low of 20 F (-7 C) to a high of 65 F (18 C). The weather I experienced was a mix of sun, partly cloudy and light rain. I did not encounter snowfall or heavy rain during this phase of testing. A few of the day trips were on dirt trails. The rest of the trips were on snow and I was predominantly using either snow shoes or back country skis. Average elevation gain ranged from 1,000 to 3,000 ft (300 to 900 m)/day.

Winds were generally light on these trips. The exception was a day hike where summit winds were 20 mph (32 km/h) and on top of Mt St. Helens where winds were upwards of 30 mph (48 km/h).
Out in the snow with the Helium Jacket
Out in the snow with the Helium Jacket



PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The Helium Jacket performed very well during Field Testing. The lightweight material of the jacket enabled me to pack it down very small and so it did not take up much room in my pack. Also, its light weight helped lower my total pack weight.

At times the trails I hiked on were very steep, requiring a fair amount of exertion. This was especially true on my day hikes when I was carrying a full pack (40 lbs / 18 kg) for conditioning as well as on my overnight trips. On the day hikes when I encountered rain I was very pleased with the breathability of the jacket. Though I was sweating quite a bit, I felt comfortable and never clammy. The Pertex material of the jacket seemed to breath as well or better than GORE TEX jackets I have owned. It also shed the rain with the water beading up and never soaking into the material.

Despite the light weight fabric of the jacket, it did a reasonably good job of blocking the wind. The most extreme conditions I encountered were at the top of Mt St. Helens where winds were +30 mph (48 km/h) and temperatures were around 25 F (-4 C). This was a wind chill of around 8 F (-13 C). With a fleece vest under the Helium jacket I was fairly comfortable while on the summit. While it was certainly cold and I felt the pressure of the wind, I did not feel it blowing through the jacket.
Cold and Windy on Mt St Helens
Cold and Windy on Mt St Helens

Under less extreme conditions the Helium made for a great summit jacket. I would often be damp with sweat upon reaching my destination. Putting the jacket on would keep in some of my body heat, while still allowing for evaporative drying. This really helped keep me comfortable and warded away a chill as I relaxed, ate and took in the views.

The cut and size of the jacket worked well for me. The jacket's trim fit allowed for good freedom of movement without a lot of extra material or without feeling baggy. The sleeve lengths fit me well. I liked the size of the elastic cuffs. They helped keep the sleeves in place, yet were loose enough to allow for good ventilation. The hood fit well and it cinched down securely on my head. I did have trouble with the hood, though, when I was wearing a ball cap. The hood easily fit over a ball cap but when I tried cinching down the hood it would just slide over the cap and so would not sit securely. This was frustrating as I often hike with a ball cap to keep the sun out of my eyes and for the little bit of warmth it provides on chilly mornings. Other rain shells I have used had a small lip on the brim of the hood to catch on the brim of a ball cap. I was wishing the Helium jacket had this feature.
Overlooking Mt Rainier
Overlooking Mt Rainier

SUMMARY

Overall I have been very pleased with the Helium Jacket. It packs down extremely small and weighs very little. I found the jacket to be very versatile, keeping me dry in the rain, cutting the wind and being quite breathable. I would not rely on this as a heavy weather winter jacket, which is not its intended purpose. However I have found it perfect to have on early spring outings in the Pacific Northwest, allowing me to leave my heavier rain rain shell at home. The jacket fit me very well, allowing full freedom of movement while not being baggy or too loose on my body.

Things I like:
- Light weight
- Small pack size
- Good breathability

Things I don't like:
- Zipper pull on the left side, different from all my other jackets
- Hood does not fit securely over a ball cap

This concludes my Field Report. Check back in about 2 months for my Long Term Testing report.


LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

I used the Helium jacket on three overnight trips during this phase of testing.

The first trip was a solo outing in the Cascade Mountains. This trip was at a relatively low elevation, 1,500 ft (450 m) because I wanted to avoid the lingering snow pack and associated high avalanche hazard. I camped on damp, bare dirt. It was misting to steady drizzle for most of the trip. Temperatures ranged from a high of 50 F (10 C) to a low of 35 F (2 C).

The second outing was an overnight trip with my daughter to Camp Muir in Mt Rainier National Park. We left from the Paradise Visitor Center at 5,000 ft (1,500 m). We were on snow the whole way, finally making it to Camp Muir at 10,000 ft (3,000 m). We had sunny weather, calm wind and temperatures around 50 F (10 C) during the day and down to around 30 F (-1 C) at night.

The third trip was a ridge top bivy outing in the central Cascade Mountains. We camped around 5,000 ft (1,500 m). The winds howled that night gusting to over 35 mph (55 km/h) and there was intermittent rain from late afternoon through the night. The next morning, skies had cleared a bit but it was cold (30 F/-1C) and still quite windy.

Up at 5,000 ft (1,500 m)
Up at 5,000 ft (1,500 m)

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

The Helium jacket did not disappoint during long term testing. I continued to put it through its paces, relying on it to keep me warm and dry under some very windy, damp and cold conditions. I also continued to appreciate the breathability of the jacket. It really performed well on steep trails when I was sweating and still needed some protection from the rain.

The jacket has kept a good shape despite being packed and stuffed down in my pack numerous times. The jacket material through the shoulders and back, where my pack rides, shows no signs of wear and tear. The elastic cuffs are still nice and stretchy. The jacket's front and pocket zippers still run just as smoothly as the day the jacket arrived.





SUMMARY

I continued to be thoroughly pleased with the Helium jacket during the Long Term Testing phase. The jacket fit me well and afforded good protection from wind and rain when I needed it.

After these additional 2 months of testing my likes and dislikes remain the same:

Things I like:
- Light weight
- Small pack size
- Good breathability

Things I don't like:
- Zipper pull on the left side, different from all my other jackets
- Hood does not fit securely over a ball cap

I will definitely continue using the OR Helium Jacket. It is a great 3 season jacket. It breathes well, sheds water and provides a good break from the wind in the conditions I encounter in the spring, summer and fall. Plus the jacket's small size and light weight makes it easy to stuff in my pack.

My thanks to Outdoor Research and BackpackGearTest for the opportunity to test this jacket.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.

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