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 http://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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