Julie Schoenfeld is a freelance designer, digital marketing expert and former professional climbing instructor. Julie has worked as the Director of Digital Development of Rock and Ice Magazine before recently switching to a freelance career, while spending her free time sampling the steep limestone of Rifle Canyon Mountain Park.
Last summer I had the opportunity to spend a few weeks climbing in Washington’s North Cascades. The rock was amazing, the approaches lush and beautiful and the weather was stellar for nearly the entire trip. But, on our last day, midway up our last route, I looked to the horizon and saw the unmistakable boiling clouds of a storm heading right towards me.
Unfortunately, I’d opted to leave my older, bulky rain shell behind in an effort to climb as light as possible. I spent the next few hours shivering through a chilly combination of pelting rain, icy gusts, and self loathing as we finished the route.
With that unpleasant episode in mind, I was really excited to check out the featherweight Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket, and to never again have to choose between weight or proper storm protection.
Comfortably dry on sweaty hikes with steady rain
The first thing I noticed about The Helium II was that it kept me really dry. Not only was I fully protected from hammering rain, but I also felt like moisture moved away from my body fast enough that my torso didn’t turn into a steam room. I was comfortably dry on sweaty hikes and steep trail runs in steady rain.
In stop-and-start storms, I was able to leave the Helium II on between flurries without getting clammy, and even broke it out a few times to use as a wind layer when a breeze kicked up. The adjustable, roomy hood kept drops off of my head and face, so I was never annoyed by rain in my eyes. I also appreciated the rubberized water resistant zippers that kept my phone safe from seepage.
Lightweight and packable
I hate carrying extra weight, but at 5.8oz, the Helium II is so light I’d feel foolish to leave it behind. Also, it packs down to the size of a hamburger, into it’s own pocket complete with a small clip loop, so it was easy to toss into a pack, clip to my harness or strap to a hydration vest when the sun came out. The Helium II struck an ideal balance of performing perfectly when I needed it, and then pretty much disappearing the rest of the time.
Fit and features
The fit of the Helium II was nice and roomy through the middle, which allowed plenty of air to circulate around my torso. I also liked the hip length cut that stayed above my harness and didn’t get in the way while belaying. The hood also slipped over a climbing helmet easily, and stayed in place even in strong winds. My only complaint about the cut is that it was slightly snug across my broad shoulders, and I would have appreciated an extra inch of material.
I really appreciated the simplicity and pared-down features of the Helium II. It had everything I needed, without any bulky or heavy extras. Comfortable elastic wrist cuffs did away with velcro closures, and a single chest pocket held my phone. Drawstrings on the waist and hood allowed just enough fit customization, and stiff brim on the hood kept drips off my face. The only addition I would make to the Helium II is pit-zips or even better, velcro-closed pit vents to let even more air circulate.
Best of both worlds
Overall, the Helium II provides the best of both worlds by providing full rain protection in a small ultralight package. I’m always a bit more confident knowing that I have this little tiny lifeline with me if the weather turns wet, or even breezy and I need an extra layer. I’d highly recommend this jacket to anyone looking for a streamlined, essentials-only rain shell. I know that I won’t be caught on the side of a cliff without my Helium II again.