When it comes to raingear for hiking and backpacking, especially in the West, lighter is generally better. We don’t see the sustained, heavy rains of the Boundary Waters or the Northeast. So, while it may make sense in some environments to have burly, heavy-duty rain gear, it doesn’t make much sense for a large portion of the country. After four months in the Outdoor Research Helium II shell, we can say that this is how a 2.5-layer, light weight, waterproof/breathable jacket is supposed to be.
Outdoor Research uses Pertex Shield 30d ripstop nylon with a laminated membrane and printed protective layer to create a completely waterproof jacket that weighs 6.4 ounces (list and on our scale). Fit of the OR Helium II is average, with adequate room in the chest, waist, and shoulders without being flappy anywhere. Cuffs are half-elastic with slightly more length on the back of the hands. A single hood adjuster splits over the brim and down toward the neck, tightening around the entire face while pulling the hood back. It cinches well and moves with your head. One napoleon pocket rounds out the storage capabilities.
The Helium II packs into its own stash pocket. Oddly, Outdoor Research chose to add a separate, non-functional pocket for stashing instead of using the chest pocket for double duty. Eliminating the stash pocket would probably reduce the jacket weight by half an ounce without reducing function.
Our testing consisted of a two-day backpack through the Lost Creek wilderness, day hikes in the Colorado Mountains, and a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater. It disappeared into packs and tote bags. It did its job in keeping us dry, with no leaks. In addition to being a great emergency shell, we can envision the Helium II pulling double duty as a rain shell for both mountain and road biking. A drop hem and the cuff design make it possible.
Issues? The zipper was sticky at first. While it broke in, we discovered that the initial stickiness was due to slightly mis-applied seam tape getting stuck under the zipper slider. Other than that, which we haven’t noticed in other examples of the Helium II, the jacket is made well.
While there are lighter 2.5 layer jackets out there, many sacrifice function or fit to achieve weight savings, or cost an arm and a leg. With 30d fabric and a proven membrane from Pertex, we expect the Outdoor Research Helium II jacket to be a reliable backcountry companion. And, with a list price of $159 (and on sale for under $112 at some retailers!), it’s hard to think of a better deal in waterproof/breathable jackets.