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Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket

rated 4 of 5 stars
photo: Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket waterproof jacket
Version reviewed: Helium II Jacket

Fantastic lightweight rain jacket, but at the cost of adjustability.


  • Lightweight
  • Waterproof
  • Windproof
  • Chest pocket
  • Packs into pocket
  • Adjustable hood
  • Internal pocket


  • No wrist adjustment

I picked up the Helium II as a replacement for my old RedHed rain jacket which finally gave out after 7 years of abuse. While I have only had the Helium II for a few months now, the amount of rain and wind we've had lately has given me plenty of opportunities to test it!

FIT:  I ordered my Helium II one size too large with the intention of layering it over a down jacket while hiking. Even with this in mind, the fit is very nice. The jacket doesn't balloon out the way some other lightweight windbreakers / rain jackets do. However, this is really only true when the jacket is zipped at least halfway. Anything less than that, and the fabric is too slick / the jacket too light to stay in place.  


COMFORT:  With regards to comfort, this jacket is fantastic. It is very lightweight, so you don't really notice it too much when layered over a t-shirt. While the fabric does feel a little clammy, it isn't as bad as other plastic / wax rain jackets I've owned in the past.

ADJUSTABILITY:  This is one area where I wouldn't mind a few extra ounces. The Helium II was designed to keep it as lightweight as possible. In this endeavor, Outdoor Research took out the wrist adjustment straps in favor of elastic wrist openings (only half of each opening is elastic). You do still get a waist adjustment strap (hidden on the right hand side), and a hood adjustment bungee (hidden at the back of the hood), but that's about it.  

I haven't found that I really need any other adjustments, but they would certainly be nice to have. For instance, the wrist openings are just a little larger than my wrists, so I get water running in if I have my arms angled upwards. This hasn't proved to be too big of an issue so far, but I would much prefer dry(er) arms.

CONSTRUCTION:  I have been fairly impressed with the construction of the Helium II so far. It uses Pertex Shield+ 2.5L 30D ripstop nylon and all the seams are well sealed. What this means is a lightweight and thoroughly weatherproofed jacket.

DESIGN:  The design of the Helium II includes a lot of nice features. The hood and waistband have adjustable bungee cords. The sleeves include partially elastic wrist openings. There is a zippered pocket on the chest and a velcro pocket inside the left-hand side of the jacket body. The internal pocket also includes a small loop for attaching your keys. All in all, the Helium II is very well outfitted for a minimalist rain jacket.


WATER RESISTANCE:  I have worn this jacket a few times on the trail when it started to spit, but nothing too serious. Then, a few weeks ago, we got hit with a rainstorm the likes of which I haven't seen since I left Kansas. Much to the surprise of my coworkers, I grabbed my Helium II and asked if anyone wanted drinks from Starbucks (about .75 miles away). The rain was coming down so far that you could hardly see across the parking lot, so I figured this would be a perfect test!  

After walking to Starbucks and back, my torso (with the exception of my forearms — I was carrying a tray of coffee) was perfectly dry. My pants could have been wrung out and used to create a small reservoir, but all told I was very impressed with my new rain jacket's weather resistance abilities.

BREATHABILITY:  Unfortunately, the water resistance of the Helium II does come at the cost of breathability. While the Helium II is more breathable than the plastic ponchos I used to use when I first started hiking, it doesn't breath as well as heavier, more feature-rich jackets out there. I don't notice this too much as mine is a size larger than I would normally wear, but it does become apparent while hiking in the rain.

In spite of the fact that the jacket keeps the rain out, I end up getting a little damp from perspiration. In the end, the tradeoff of breathability for weight is worth it in my eyes. I have never found a jacket that allowed me to stay 100% dry while walking in the rain. This one does about as good a job as any, but at a fraction of the weight, which makes it easier to carry and makes me more comfortable when it's packed away.

WIND RESISTANCE:  The Helium II has proven itself to be virtually wind-proof. It won't keep you warm (given how thin 30D fabric is), but by cutting out the wind, you can dramatically improve the performance of other layers.  

LAYERING:  Outdoor Research sizes the Helium II for "normal fit". By ordering mine one size up, I got a jacket that layers perfectly over my down jacket. I went out yesterday in ~40°F weather with 12mph winds. While my down jacket was warm enough by itself, adding the Helium II on top of it really boosted the warmth! When layering, the Helium II's collar zips high under the chin to keep water from getting in and soaking your other layers.


PACKABILITY:  The Helium II weighs in at 6.4oz, so it's easy to find a space in your pack for it. If you like keeping everything nice and neat in your pack, you can also stuff the Helium II into its own pocket. To do this, you have to turn the pocket inside out and pull the rest of the jacket into it. The zipper is a little awkward when the pocket is turned inside out, but it works well enough as a storage pouch. Even when packed, the jacket has plenty of room for further compression.


Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $95.65

Version reviewed: Helium II Jacket

The Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket is a an ultralight, breathable, and compressible rain/wind shell. The shell is made of 2.5-layer 30D Pertex Shield DS ripstop fabric (100% nylon) with clear laminate. While this jacket is very lightweight, it still has an impressive array of features! I use it as a three-season rain shell and as a wind shell when cold weather hiking. The most impressive thing about this jacket is that it only weighs 6.4 oz!


  • Nice fit
  • Very breathable
  • Very lightweight
  • Stuffs into its chest pocket
  • Stylish


  • Thin
  • No exterior hand pockets
  • No pit zippers
  • Expensive


Fit and Comfort:

I would say that the OR Helium II is true to size. I am 5'9" and 175 lb and a medium fits me just right. The arm and torso lengths are perfect for me. Some who are taller might would say that the torso should be longer. I can fit a baselayer underneath it, but definitely not anything bigger than a light fleece.

OR Helium II. This photo accurately displays the length of the jacket.


The hood and waist both have drawcords for adjustments. The hood's drawcord is in the rear. It would be nice if there were some adjustable cords in the front  as well, but it would add weight. The cuffs do have elastic in them, but are not adjustable.

Adjustable hood in the rear.

Cuffs have elastic on the bottom.


Water Resistance:

Considering the weight, this jacket is very waterproof. It can handle light to moderate rain. I would not personally choose it in a downpour, but I do not have expectations for this to be a Gore-Tex shell. It is also pretty wind resistant. Again, you do have to consider that it only weighs 6.4 oz and is very thin, so don't expect it to keep you warm and toasty in the 40's. The zippers are all also waterproof. 


This jacket is much more breathable than a regular shell. I hiked several times in the rain during the summer while wearing this. Obviously it did hold in some heat, but it did breathe substantially better than your average rain shell. I would say that it is about as breathable as a hard shell can get.


I have not exposed it to any very rough surface, but it has held up well to briars and tree limbs.


I am really impressed with all of the features that this minimalist shell has. It has a visor, adjustable hem and hood, chest pocket that doubles as a stuff sack, velcro interior pocket, waterproof zippers, and elastic cuffs. If it only had pit zippers and exterior hand pockets, it would be pretty much perfect.

Interior pocket with velcro closure

Visor hood

Stuffed into chest pocket



This is a great three season rain/wind shell. I never think twice about bringing it because it only weighs 6.4 oz. I wouldn't take it as my primary shell in the winter, but it is great to cut down wind while hiking in cold weather. I definitely recommend it if you are looking for an alternative to your 12oz+ shell.

Source: received it as a personal gift (Birthday gift from my "gear nut" wife)

Version reviewed: Helium II Jacket

Great for drizzle and "just-in-case" protection. All-out, sustained downpour gear it is not.


  • Lightweight
  • Packable
  • Slim fit
  • Dries quickly


  • Sticky waterproof zippers
  • Low breathability
  • No hand-warmer pockets

I used the Helium for a two-week series of outdoor excursions in Iceland. I decided on this shell for the trip because of its lightness and packability, and also because Iceland is known for wind and drizzle/ mist that tends to just keep everything moist. Well, unfortunately for me, this last summer was a particularly wet and cold summer, and there were weather advisories for all highland regions pretty much throughout.

On our first day backpacking, we hiked up quite a bit of elevation, and ended up hiking for hours across snowfield in a hard driving rain. This shell just did not cut it for that kind of weather. I don't think it leaked, but I know the face fabric wet out, and that likely meant little to no moisture moved through the membrane.

When I arrived at camp hours later, I was soaked — through my thin micro-check fleece shirt, right down to my underwear layer. In the following days, whenever the rain came in with a vengeance, I'd wear a thin PrimaLoft (Gold) jacket underneath and this not only kept the moisture largely off me, but also dried super quick when it did get wet.  (PrimaLoft really is amazing in cold & wet)

I originally bought this shell for backpacking in the Canadian Rockies, where I've backpacked for years and years carrying heavier rain gear which basically just sat in my pack or maybe got pulled out at night if I got cold. And for this kind of application, for the surprise rain shower, or thundershower, this shell is awesome and I continue to use it happily.

But for all day, relentless, driving rain, unfortunately this is not the shell to take — nor is it advertised as such. I was, perhaps too optimistically, hoping it would be. So I'm writing this review for anyone else who might've had the same thoughts.  If you're expecting a sustained deluge, grab a different shell.

The only real complaint I have is with the zippers, which are very stiff in contrast to the fabric. My front zip doesn't always open or close easily — and with cold, wet hands it sucks.

TL;DR: Great (as advertised) for a "just-in-case" shell, but inadequate for all-day, driving rain.


Source: bought it new
Price Paid: $195 CDN

Version reviewed: Helium II Jacket

Now my go-to trail running and tramping jacket. A great performer.


  • Very light
  • Takes up no room in your pack
  • Windproof
  • Waterproof


  • A bit on the short side
  • Runs to the cold side when you stop moving

This is a great jacket. I'm 6'3" and 110kgs (242 lbs). Naturally I wear the xl.  It is long enough in the arms and still allows some room in the body. The hood fits well and has a handy pull cord at the back to ensure a good fit.

It's a functional garment. It has one not particularly useful pocket at the chest and another internal pocket which doubles as the stuff sack. It is designed to be minimalist and it works perfectly for that purpose.

I've used this jacket in hard downpours and never got wet. That said, the lightness of the fabric means it 'feels' wet when it is against your skin. But that feeling is illusory. The jacket works. It is also extremely wind resistant.

That said, the lightness of the fabric means it's not the warmest when your stopped for camp in the evening. I was still able to wear it over my 650fill down jacket and thus was able to warm up again. 

I find it very breathable. I also trail and road run in it in winter. Here in Auckland we get some good rain in the winter and autumn and this jacket breathes well. I've yet to get truly wet inside from sweating.

Only gripe is that it is a bit short in a rainfall. Couple of times I've cursed not bringing my rain pants on the track. Upper body was completely dry but from my backside down — drenched. My older longer Goretx coat meant I maintained a dry backside (I'm a typical kiwi and tramp in shorts — even in the midst of winter. Wet legs are just the norm).

This jacket has replaced my heavier Gortex jackets on the trail. A great performer!

Source: bought it new

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Price MSRP: $159.00
Current Retail: $130.38
Historic Range: $58.83-$159.00
Reviewers Paid: $95.65
Weight 6.4 oz / 180 g
Fabric Pertex Shield 2.5L, 100% nylon, 30D ripstop
Center Back Length 30 in / 76 cm
Price MSRP: $159.00
Current Retail: $105.82-$158.95
Historic Range: $46.83-$159.00
Weight 5.5 oz / 156 g
Fabric Pertex Shield 2.5L, 100% nylon, 30D ripstop
Center Back Length 27 in / 69 cm

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