Review: Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket

jacket1Outdoor Research is in many ways light-years a head of its competitors when it comes to drilling down on the utility side of their products. Most of the big names in outdoor apparel are offering gear made with new technical fabrics that address the issue of water-resistance and breathability, but OR also considers weight a key design/material sourcing factor—a clue that they’re not only designing and manufacturing this gear but actually testing and using it.

Functionality ★★★★★
Sewn from ultralight Pertex Shield fabric, a durable breathable and 100% waterproof 300D ripstop nylon with a PU (polymer) membrane, you’d be hard-pressed to find a lighter jacket, especially one that performs as expected. It’s waterproof and yet you won’t look, sound or feel like you’re wearing a plastic garbage bag (but, dang, it’s nearly as light). Fully taped seams and water-resistant zips prevent water from skidding down the shell and seeping through fabric junctures. Available in gender-specific versions, the men’s weighs around 7 ounces and the women’s only 5.5 oz. Wear as an outer shell over a wool or fleece layer for active cold weather activities or present rainstorms, or as a precautionary stowaway for those times when you don’t know which way the weather will roll.

Design and Aesthetics ★★★★
This is an attractive jacket, albeit simply designed without a lot of unnecessary added frills—just a single separating front zipper, a hood and a zippered breast pocket (often referred to as a Napoleon pocket).This pocket allows you quick access to everything from a bic lighter, protein bar and keys to a cellphone, digital camera or spare camera battery. The hood has a small foldback visor and single-pull drawcord on the back. The wrist cuffs feature a ¾ elastic band (instead of a full band) so you can push the sleeves up if you need or want, but overall the multisport enthusiast (re: hiker-cyclist) will especially appreciate the extra long sleeves. The whole thing easily compresses into an internal Velcro™ pocket placed on the interior of the jacket’s front. The storage pocket also has a barely noticeable ‘biner loop which makes it easier to pull the jacket back out quickly or clip to a hip pack, climbing harness or backpack belt. It purportedly has a straight cut, but the women’s version is fitted at the waist a bit so you don’t look like the Michelin Man. Both men’s and women’s Helium II jackets are available in an assortment of vibrant long-lasting colors. The only issues noted were the lack of handwarmer pockets or a longer tail (which would have made this more suitable for cycling), but both would have added weight.

Durability ★★★★
Be careful around rhyolite or other abrasive rock. It will puncture or otherwise abrade, but this is going to be an issue no matter what superlight jacket you’re wearing.

Value ★★★★
If you want a multi-functional jacket, this is not exactly it. But if you’re someone for whom every-ounce-counts and you’re looking for a superlight rain-busting jacket or a superlight wind-breaking outer shell, this is IT. You might wonder how something so simple and light can be so spendy. But then you pack it in your carry-on bag, bike pannier or backpack and end up needing it; that’s when you realize how valuable and diverse this piece of gear really is and why it is a worthwhile investment. The thing is ultralight gear is not cheap for a good reason—most consumers have no idea how well this stuff works. As that changes, the price is bound to come down. But don’t sit around and wait for that to happen. This is a jacket you will wear for years to come.

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Jo Ostgarden

Jo Ostgarden is a freelance journalist who has traveled around the world by plane, train, thumb, bicycle and automobile. She bicycled across Canada, the Pacific Coast Highway from Oregon to British Columbia and throughout 14 countries abroad. Additionally, she's an enthusiastic longtime backpacker who calls the Grand Canyon her own personal energy spot. She's also expert on travel in the Pacific Northwest, Hawaii and Ireland. She edited and re-wrote the final edition of Best Places Northwest Travel Guide, and has written about travel, health, nutrition and endurance sports gear for dozens of magazines and newspapers, including Bicycling Magazine.

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