Summer is coming, protective gear may seem less necessary – but when you go out into the mountains, a light and highly protective layer may only become all the more necessary:
You will bring it only if it is light enough and packs small enough to be brought along easily; but if you get caught in storm or rain or hail – or all of the above – especially above the tree line, it could be a life-saver.
Outdoor Research’s Helium II jacket is an excellent candidate.
I was able to do a year plus of testing before writing a review – and probably won’t have anything new to report on such rain jackets since this one piece looks set to last and serve me well.
Such good things disappear, such good things are (often too) late to get reviewed – but with the Helium, we have a standout piece that isn’t being changed completely with the seasons and to drive new sales, but has remained on the market for years already.
This waterproof shell made of Pertex Shield+ is light, packs small, and, given the right layering, protects just as well as beefier jackets. But, let me tell you about it directly:
For some details that are good also in writing:
The Helium II jacket (size M) weighs in at 180 grams; it has a normal, relatively loose cut that works equally as well over a light short-sleeve shirt or over a bulkier sweater (or something like an undershirt and a Windstopper layer, which is how I’ve been wearing it in winter).
The cuffs are elasticized on the inside of the wrist and just right – or just wrong, depending on how you want to see it – to barely allow them to slip over a sports watch like an Ambit or fenix well, keep out most wind and water (but not all, especially if you have to reach up), and work well with gloves.
So, if you wear a sports watch, either leave it under the jacket and don’t look at it too much or move it to sit on the outside of the jacket (or wear the jacket with the cuff below the watch, as I did in the video).
Hem and hood can be cinched tight with drawcords; the one for the hood is at the back of the head but tightens the hood all around its front in an excellent way; the one in the hem can also be used with just one, also gloved, hand without problems.
I have seen the drawcord in the hem get longer, but it’s still far from being a problem.
The rain pants I have been using (and mention in passing in the video) get Montane an honorable mention here; they are their (also Pertex) Minimus rain pants. Nice, too, with a zipper so that one can put them on without having to take off shoes; a drawcord in the waist (outside) to cinch them tight; light and nicely protective.
(I would have loved to do a comparison review of Montane’s and Outdoor Research’s products (or others), but things didn’t work out that way.)
Wear and Tear
The pants have already suffered two rips, but those are explained by the simple fact that the legs suffer more abuse than the top part of the body (and they were nicely patchable by Gore-Tex patches; Tenacious Tape would also have been recommended).
Neither the old nor the new Helium II jacket of mine shows signs of wear and tear; I have not needed them constantly, but when I did, it was in uncomfortable conditions and while also wearing a running vest, if not a backpack, and often scrambling across mountains and running mountain trails. No problems from that so far.
On the Via Natura 100-miler last year, the Helium II jacket first protected me through hailstorms on top of a mountain, later kept me warm enough while lying off a forest road sleeping… I’ve been through a bit in that ;)
(The only recommendation regarding something akin to wear: When not in use, keep the jacket hung up on its – well-done – inside hanger loop. If you keep it stuffed into its pocket, the visor keeps something of the shape into which it was folded, making it have some edge somewhere rather than go round your face in a nice and unobstructive line.)
Finally, after a few years of use and several washings, the red Helium II of mine delaminated. Possibly, it was also the rubbing against a backpack or running vest which was partly responsible.
Anyways, Outdoor Research came through with their Infinite Guarantee:
I sent them a photo of what was happening, and a little while later, I had a completely new red Helium II jacket in my mail. Quite the service!]
The Helium Radar Rain Cap
For additional or alternative protection in rain, another piece to consider would be the Outdoor Research Helium Radar Rain Cap….
It is quite a mouthful to say that full item name, but the cap itself is, again, highly protective and highly packable.
One can fold it up to a size similar to a bandana (and smaller than a banana); it’s just 12 g (in L/XL; mine is an S/M – my head circumference was just at the limit between the two…), and it keeps rain off the head and out of the face.
Your ears and sides of the head would still get wet, unlike with the Helium jacket’s hood, of course, but if all you need is to be able to continue running through some summer rain that you don’t want to have in your eyes constantly (I actually had that problem before…) while it’s still warm enough and everything will dry soon, then this is a piece to consider.
Also, in worse conditions, I have found the combination of the Rain Cap, with its even stronger (or so it feels to me) visor and close fit (with a wicking headband that is adjustable via a drawcord in back) with the Helium II jacket a worthwhile one. Add the Versaliner gloves, and you’re set even for wet conditions in colder temperatures – but we’ll be getting there in the fall.
First, however, we’ll go over night and into summer heat with some more OR gear… and if you don’t always bring a rain jacket when you are out and about, check out the Helium II!
If you want to support me, you can get it (or the new Helium HD) via these affiliate links and support me; thank you!