High Gear: Outdoor Research Helium II rain shell jacket review
Outdoor Research Helium II, $159
Type: Men’s lightweight rain shell
Sizes: Small to XXL
Weight: 6.4 ounces
Material: Nylon 30D ripstop laminated with Pertex Shield 2.5L coating
Closure: YKK AquaGuard front zipper
Pockets: 2, internal and external zip
Hood: Yes, fully attached
Packable: Yes, stuffs into internal pocket
Lifetime warranty: Yes
The outer material is breathable and windproof, with eight color options. Seams are fully taped. For more info or to purchase, see www.outdoorresearch.com.
Few trail mishaps are more frustrating than getting drenched in a freak rainstorm. Mother Nature’s summer temper tantrums are hardly unexpected — if you live here long enough, you learn to love 20 minutes of rain every August afternoon — but, if you know what’s coming and still get soaked, it feels like a slap in the face. We should know better.
The Helium II rain shell jacket from Outdoor Research will save you the embarrassment. At 6.4 ounces, this no-frills shell is light, compact and comes with everything you need for a summer hike — and nothing you don’t. There’s an attached hood, a waterproof front zipper, one exterior pocket and one interior pocket. That interior pocket doubles as a storage pouch for the jacket, which compresses down to about the size of a deli-counter potato chip bag.
Now, gear that folds into itself is hardly groundbreaking — see trekking poles, approach skis, mess kits, etc. — but I’ve come across more than a few rain shells that are either too bulky or too busy for such a nifty feature. It’s why, even if I know better, I sometimes find myself scrambling for shelter in a random downpour because I left my big, lumpy, inconvenient coat with insulated core sitting right where I left it: on a car seat. Why is it there? I didn’t want to strap it to my backpack, or I simply didn’t think I’d need it. Dumb.
If you’re like me (or the rest of the high-alpine public), you leave for an extended hike or ride with just enough layers to get you through the day: long sleeves, short sleeves, thermals, gloves and maybe a beanie, most of which are on your back. A rain layer is almost always a must in summer, but, when it doesn’t pack down small enough to fit comfortably in a backpack, it’s the first thing to go, like a second pair of socks, or those cans of celebratory Pabst. The simple fact the Helium II fits easily in a bag makes it a no-brainer — you don’t leave home without it because it’s always there, ready to go.
I know what you penny pinchers are asking: Why pay $159 for a rain shell when a cheap plastic poncho (or an even cheaper trash bag liner) does the same thing?
It comes down to movement. On a recent hike through high-alpine terrain, the Helium II fit snug and secure without limiting my arms and torso. It felt like just another layer, and I like that. Ponchos and trash bags, on the other hand, are last-minute solutions for last-minute emergencies. I try to prepare as well as I can before ever setting foot on a trail, and so relying on a last-minute option is like checking a map several miles after taking a wrong turn — it’s just dumb.
That’s not to say $159 is cheap. It’s a steep price tag for a bare-bones jacket, but OR includes a lifetime warranty against defects, and small touches like fully taped seams and myriad colors makes it worthwhile. The outer material doesn’t breathe as well as it could — what rain shell honestly does? — but I never once felt rain moisture inside the coat. I even shoved an expensive SLR camera inside when things got really nasty.
The Helium II jacket is everything you need in a rain shell and nothing you don’t. The price is high, but, with a lifetime warranty and rugged outer materials, chances are it will be part of your summer hiking and biking kit for years to come. Just leave it in your bag — you won’t even notice it’s there.
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