Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket & Pants 2020 Review
Highlights | Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket & Pants
The Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket has long been a key item for the company and is one of our favorite ultralight rain jackets. The 2020 update to this 6-ounce jacket means it’s more durable for the same weight. This is the first upgrade to the Helium in eight years, boasting a new, super-strong Pertex Diamond Fuse fabric. Outdoor Research claims this new update is five times more tear-resistant and twice as abrasion resistant than the old Helium — that’s a big deal for a 6 ounce rain jacket where durability can frequently be an issue. Also OR relaxed the fit on the Helium. For 2020 it’s a mid-fit jacket and pants and the standard sizing will comfortably layer over a fleece mid-layer top or fitted hiking pants. The matching Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants have the same Pertex Diamond Fuse material update for 2020. They also have lace loops to attach to your shoes which turn the pants into a semi-gaiter.
We field-tested the Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket and Pants in a wet and snowy trip north of the Arctic Circle in Alaska, in cold and wet fall conditions on the East Coast — and probably its most challenging test, three days of bikepacking in 35 to 45 degree rain, where wind and near freezing rain can quickly get you super wet and chilled to the bone.
2021 Long Term Update
Not surprisingly, our Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket & Pants are going strong through spring of 2021. The new super-strong Pertex Diamond Fuse fabric is proving its durability in the field. And with it we are gaining confidence to even do some fairly abusive hiking — something we’d never dream of taking a 6 ounce rain jacket in — and the pants and jacket are up to it. This greatly expands where you can go and what you can do with a rain jacket and pants at this weight and to our mind is a game changer for versatility in UL rainwear.
Again, the only slight downside, is that while the Helium is decently breathable, there are more breathable jackets in this weight range (the Enlightened Equipment Visp and Zpacks Vertice and both have pit zips) but they lack the durability of the Helium Jacket and Pants. But they lack the durability of the Helium rainwear.
How it Compares
Be sure to check out our: Best Lightweight Rain Jackets For 2020 for a complete overview of the best rain jackets on the market including the competition for the Helium Rain Jacket and Pants.
Full Video Review | Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket and Pants
If a picture is worth 1,000 words what is a comprehensive video of the rain jacket and pants review worth? There’s stuff in here that we can’t begin to cover in words.
Overview | Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket & Pants
This ultralight, sleek rain system was built with movement and weight savings in mind. The whole kit comes in around 13 ounces, a nominal weight and incredibly compact system for the amount of protection and increased durability you get with this set. The pants are more fitted than other, bulkier models, and the system stands up incredibly well to both rain and wind, offering comfortable protection from inclement weather.
Oftentimes hiking in rain pants can feel restrictive, as they aren’t as optimized for movement as stretchier hiking tights or technical pants. These pants are relatively easy to move in, and the mid-size fit of the jacket and pants make them perfect for layering over base or mid layers. If you want to layer over an insulated jacket, we do recommend sizing up in the rain jacket.
We’ve given the Helium Pants and Jacket a good test in the wilds of Alaska, and also backpacking in dreadful conditions of multiple days of rain in the mid 30s. Overall, Outdoor Research has done a lot of design work with this update, creating a rain jacket and pants with the light weight and increased durability of a much more expensive system.
Also See: our Best Lightweight Rain Jackets For 2020 for a complete overview of the best rain jackets on the market including the competition for the Helium Rain Jacket and Pants.
Key Specs | Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket
Design: Hooded, lightweight rain jacket with a new Pertex Diamond Fuse material
Features: Adjustable hood, full zip, single chest pocket, waterproof materials, elastic drawcord hem, slightly longer fit to keep rain out
Weight: 6.3 oz/179 g
Material: Pertex Shield Diamond Fuse; a 2.5-layer waterproof breathable laminate. Ripstop nylon
Key Features | Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket
- Single Chest Pocket: This jacket has just one pocket, easily accessible at the chest. This is good for people with backpacks as oftentimes the hip belt on a pack makes side pockets inaccessible. This pocket also doubles as a stuff sack.
- Elastic Cuffs, Elastic Drawcord Hem: Tighten or loosen for comfort or necessity. The elastic cuffs are fitted without feeling constricting, and the drawcord hem helps keep blowing rain out.
- Waterproof Zipper: The YKK AquaGuard Zippers are a water-repellent zipper model made with a polyurethane laminated tape to seal rain and other precipitation in the most vulnerable spots on any rain gear. The pants also feature this same zipper.
- Fitted, Adjustable Hood: The hood is deep but fitted, which means you won’t turn your head to look behind you and just see the inside of the hood. It’s also large enough to fit over a bike helmet, perfect for our recent rainy bike tour.
About the 2020 Pertex Diamond Fuse Fabric Updates
This is the first major update to this rain system in eight years. Outdoor Research claims that this major fabric update makes the rain jacket and pants five times more tear-resistant and twice as abrasion resistant than the old Helium. The Pertex Diamond Fuse fabric is lighter weight and stronger than previous iterations of this popular system. This is done by modifying the actual shape of the yarns. Materials built with this technology use yarns with “diamond-shaped filaments,” which essentially lock together to help create the weave. This creates an incredibly durable fabric with exponentially more resistance to abrasion without the weight penalty of a higher-denier material.
Key Specs | Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants
Design: Lightweight, full-coverage rain pants with a zippered ankle opening and new Pertex Diamond Fuse material
Features: Zippered ankles, elastic drawcord waist with gripper elastic, hem hooks into shoe to form a semi-gaiter, back pocket, gusseted crotch
Weight: 5.4 oz/153 g
Material: Pertex Shield Diamond Fuse; a 2.5-layer waterproof breathable laminate. Ripstop nylon
Key Features | Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants
- Single Back Pocket: The convenient back pocket on these pants has the specialized waterproof zipper, and also doubles as a stuff sack—similar to the chest pocket on the Helium jacket.
- Elastic Drawcord Waist: These pants come in the basic sizes (small, medium, large) but have a reasonably adjustable waist with a forgiving elastic and a convenient drawcord.
- Gusseted Crotch: The articulated stitching on the crotch makes movement easier while wearing the rain pants. This makes it easier to have full mobility, including sitting for breaks and squatting to take care of camp chores.
- Zippered Ankles: The pants have a zippered opening at the ankle which makes them easy to pull on over boots. The loops at the bottom can also hook onto your shoes, which makes these rain pants into almost a gaiter-like unit.
What’s Great About These Jackets and Pants
Low price and low weight:
The Helium rain jacket and pants are in a unique position in the backpacking apparel market. Typically, rain gear with this advanced material technology and such low weight would be priced at a ridiculous premium, but $159 for the jacket is very reasonable and is usually more along with the price range of a heavier, lower-tech jacket.
2020 update for weight and durability:
This is one of the main benefits of buying the 2020 updated version of the Helium. The major increase in durability while not paying a weight penalty is a huge selling point. It boasts a new super strong Pertex Diamond Fuse fabric. Outdoor Research say it 5x more tear resistant and 2x more abrasion resistant than the old Helium. That’s a huge deal for a 6 oz Rain Jacket where any increase in durability is most welcome. Since this set was only released this year, we’ll have to see if it lives up to the company’s promise, but so far it’s looking good.
Jacket is longer at the hemline than other models:
A rain jacket with a slightly longer hemline in the front and back means more protection for active users. Whether you’re biking or hiking, having the extra coverage over your butt keeps rain from dripping down, and can help protect from splashes from shoes or bike tires.
Easy layering for the pants:
The pants have both snaps and an ankle zipper, which means you can pull them over your other clothes. This is fantastic for folks who don’t want the hassle of taking shoes and base layers on and off in on-again-off-again rain. In addition they have a nifty gaiter clip that attaches to the laces on your shoe providing much better ankle coverage than most rain pants.
Finally, we like the gripper elastic on the waist that keeps them up! In contrast we find most many UL rain pants tend to slide down due to light-duty elastic corder and no waist gript feature.
What Could be Improved
No pit zips:
Pit zips are great for venting when you’re moving fast in the rain and your heart rate increases enough to bring up your core temperature, and some people might miss having the pit zip options in this jacket. (On the downside they add weight and cost, and introduce another place for your jacket to leak and fail. So there are people in both camps.)
If you’re going to have such a lightweight jacket and pants, you’re also going to have streamlined features. Some might miss the side pockets in the jacket and pants, but if you’re backpacking, you’re probably carrying a pack with some sort of accessible pockets anyway. You just won’t be able to put your hands in them at camp.
Less breathability than other jackets/pants combos:
There are more breathable membranes out there—many people tout the unsurpassed breathability/waterproofing of ePTFE membranes like eVent and Gore-Tex, or some of the new and thinner PU membranes, e.g. Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Jacket (75,000 g/m2/24h), and the Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket (43,000g/m2/24h). The Helium’s membrane is still highly breathable, just less so than other (more expensive) rain systems.
Be sure to check out our:
- Best Lightweight Rain Jackets For 2020 for a complete overview of the best rain jackets on the market including the competition for the Helium Rain Jacket and Pants.
Competition for Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket and Pants
Rain Jackets in the range of 6 ounces puts the Outdoor Research Helium in some rarified company. Not surprisingly, it is the least expensive of the lot, and with it’s new fabric likely the most durable in the 6 oz range. That being said, is does has some competition in terms of breathability and features.
WEIGHT: 5.4 oz – $190 ($200 with pit zips)
TECH: 3-layer custom Toyota fabric (75,000 g/m2/24h)
The Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket & Pants have a more durable fabric, cost less, and are available off the shelf from major retailers across the country and online. In comparison he Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Jacket costs a bit more, the fabric is less durable and there is usually a wait time after you order from Enlightened Equipment.
BUT the Visp Rain Jacket is one of the lightest and most breahtable WP/B rain jackets on the market and there is a pit zip option. The combo of high fabric breathability and pit zip venting makes the Visp is one of the best at preventing internal humidity buildup (sweat) to keep you dry on the inside. Also new for 2020 are the matching 4 ounce 2020 Visp Rain Pants which share the same highly breathable Toyota fabric.
WEIGHT: 6.2 oz – $259
TECH: 3-Layer “Ventum-WPB” fabric. high 56,000+ g/m2/24hr breathability!, Tricot lining, a waterproof, vapor permeable membrane, & 7 denier ripstop nylon on the exterior.
The Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket & Pants have a more durable fabric, cost less, and are available off the shelf from major retailers across the country and online. In comparison the Zpacks Vertice Rain Jacket costs almost $100 more, the fabric is less durable to external wear and tear (altho it may have a more durable WP/B membrane due to its 3-layer construction). And there is a wait time after you order from Zpacks.
BUT the Zpacks Vertice is one of the most breathable jackets on the market. Its 3-layer construction has a fabric liner to protect the WP/B membrane making it more suited for long term wear under a backpack vs. the 2 layer jackets (including the Visp and OR Helium). It’s also among the most fully featured jackets, with a large dual adjustment hood with stiffened brim, pit-zips, adjustable cuffs, a large chest pocket, & long protective hem.
NOTE: In case you hadn’t guessed the Zpacks Vertice and the 2020 Enlightened Equipment Visp Rain Jacket with Pit Zips are close competitors in this rarified territory.
WEIGHT: 6.4 oz – $199
TECH: 2-layer GORE® WINDSTOPPER® fabrics 10-denier Ballistic Airlight rip-stop nylon. [Breathability: 43,000g/m2/24hrs!]
The Montbell Versalite is a similar weight to the OR Helium but has far more features and has a super breathable fabric. We’ve had good luck with its 10-denier Ballistic Airlight rip-stop nylon — although we can’t say it’s more or less durable than the new Helium fabric. The Versalite can be had in stock, online from Montbell but is likely not available at local or online retailers.
The Montbell Versalite has an impressive number of features for its weight, far more than the Helium — pit zips, two chest pockets that are easily accessible with a backpack on, a deep drawcord adjustable hood, velcro/adjustable elastic cuffs, and a drawcord hem. A big bonus is that it is one of the most breathable jackets here with a breathability 43,000g/m2/24hrs! That and the pit-zips should make this one of the least condensing rain jackets.
REI Rain Jacket | REI Co-op Rainier
VALUE RAIN JACKET!
WEIGHT: 11 oz – $90 (currently $45 on sale)
TECH: 2.5-layer waterproof breathable laminate Bluesign Approved Nylon with DWR finish
While the REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket at 11 ounces is almost double the weight, it is frequently on sale for $45 so 1/4 the cost of the 2020 Outdoor Research Helium Jacket. As such, it is definitely worth a look for the budget and value conscious hiker. And while it may not have the most breathable fabric, it’s fairly sturdy and it has pit zips. The REI Co-op Rainier Rain Jacket’s utilitarian design keeps weight and cost low. Styling is a bit basic but the jacket has room to layer. The Co-op Jacket has a modestly sized, 3-piece hood with dual hood adjusts (but still best with a ball-cap under it), two zippered hand pockets, a drawcord hem and internal elastic cuffs allow a seal at waist and wrists. And the new model has pit zips and uses Recycled nylon ripstop (bluesign® approved).
Conclusion | Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket and Pants
So far this year the 2020 OR Helium Rainwear has done a great job of keeping us dry in some very challenging conditions — and for very little weight. Better yet they don’t cost an arm and a leg vs. most other UL rain jackets in its weight class. Finally, we are psyched about the increased durability as we spend a lot of time off-trail scrambling, and going thru brush. So a big thumbs up for the Pertex Diamond Fuse fabric which is 5x more tear resistant and 2x more abrasion resistant than the old Helium fabric. Our only gripe is that OR might have chosen a slightly more breathable technology for the WP/B membrane.
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