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ProView – Outdoor Research Helium AscentShell Jacket

I’ve been using Outdoor Research hardshells for a long time, starting with a soft and stretchy Ascentshell model years ago, and opting for one of their Diamond Pertex ones as my ultralight summer shell. When I saw a new model coming out that combined both fabric technologies, I was excited to test it out and compare it to my old OR shells and other brand’s proprietary fabrics. Adding to my anticipation was the promise of a lightweight, yet feature heavy dichotomy that could ease my decision of which to prioritize on long missions into the mountains.

Outdoor Research Helium AscentShell Jacket

Product Name: Outdoor Research Helium AscentShell Jacket

Product Description: The product of collaboration with fabric technology partner Pertex® and athlete team members Graham Zimmerman and Emilie Drinkwater, the Helium AscentShell jacket combines Helium lightweight durability and AscentShell™ breathable comfort. High-mobility fit and low-bulk functional features make it perfect for fast and light alpine adventure.

Offer price: MSRP: $399.00

  • Quality
    (5)
  • Features
    (5)
  • Fit
    (5)
  • Durability
    (4)
  • Eco-Friendly
    (5)

Summary

A well made jacket that seems to create a goldilocks bridge between feature-set, low weight, and solid durability. This jacket will really narrow down my decision making process when choosing what shell to bring along on a climb. It’s hard to complain when Outdoor Research, a known heavyweight of the industry, decides to leverage some amazing athletes to design a knockout piece of gear. Add to that some fancy fabric technology, and you have yourself an absolute champion of a jacket.

Overall
4.8

Pros

  • Lightweight
  • Feature-heavy
  • Well made
  • I love the hemline features to keep the jacket from pulling out from under a harness

Cons

  • The chest pockets seem too small to fit medium to large phones, and there are no pit zips

I have to say, my first winter spent in the Wasatch really left me with a bad snowpack taste in my mouth. It seemed like months of cold dry weather, very unlike my home in the Northwest. Thankfully, ol’ Winter seemed to take a chunk out of Spring just in time for me to test a hardshell in some real weather. I was left with a nice spread of storm skiing, rocky ridge routes, and requisite taco eating.

Fit/Comfort

When it comes to sizing a hardshell there isn’t much to consider right? Small, medium, large; whatever has two holes for the arms and one for the head pretty much makes the cutoff. But there may be more to the fit of these hardshells than just getting a layer or two underneath. Outdoor Research really exceeded expectations on this shell when it comes to the fit and cut in certain key areas. First off, and perhaps the most important, is the hem line. As a climber, I am constantly annoyed by my jacket pulling out from underneath my harness as I reach high above my head for holds. OR worked around this by making the hemline longer, and also stitching some foam balls around the hemline to prevent the jacket from sneaking up under the harness. Secondly, the wrist cuffs seem to easily slide over my gloves at the wrist, and then lock down with velcro to help keep snow out. I’ve had my fair share of jackets where getting the gloves underneath the cuffs is like getting the toothpaste back in the tube, but not so with this shell. Finally, and perhaps the least important if you don’t have a giraffe neck such as myself, the hood doesn’t seem to restrict neck movement when worn over a helmet. Another thoughtful consideration which means you can keep your neckline sealed up while still looking around desperately for something to grab on to, or looking over your shoulder to see if your ski buddy is farming the line behind you.

Look/Style

The jacket looks great, although certainly on the more “American” baggy side of things. It probably won’t turn any heads at the Euro spandex skimo event, but I prefer the ability to walk into a taco shop post-ski and not turn any heads with garish streaks and patterns. The color choice is really a personal preference thing, but I liked rocking the steely-blue color as it doesn’t seem to show up often in colorways. I was unfortunately unable to test if it could stop a shuriken mid-air with a single glance.

Features

Feature set is another stand out of this shell. Normally, or at least in my experience, lightweight shells mean sacrificing features. Not so with the Helium Ascentshell, as it nearly has every feature I could imagine on a technical hardshell. Full length hand pockets stay above the harness when climbing. Cinch closures on the hood back, hood opening, and hemline keep the weather out. Internal drop pockets can stash gloves inside the shell to keep them warm. And two zippered chest pockets (one internal and one external) keep valuables close. The only losses in this category are pit-zips to help vent heat, and the fact that the chest pockets don’t seem to fit modern phone sizes. But maybe I should go back to a Nokia anyway.

Weight/Packability

Weight and packability should certainly be one of the focal points of this jacket, and a large reason to get one. Coming in just over 300g means that this jacket won’t slow you down much on the uphill, and stashes small inside the pack. Considering the features it comes with, it’s amazing how low the weight is, and it is a real testament to Outdoor Research’s Ascentshell fusion with the Pertex Diamond fabric. The fabric does have the characteristic crinkle of most 3 layer hardshells, but it certainly isn’t quite as loud as Gore Pro.

Function/Performance

In terms of hardshell performance the Helium Ascentshell seems to compare well to any heavier fabric competition. I was able to slog uphill in a thick snowstorm and stay relatively dry, at least from any outside precipitation. The outer layer did display some “wetting through” after snow started to really come in heavy, but it didn’t ever make it through the waterproof membrane. While all of these 3 layer jackets advertise some moisture escape facilitation, I think we all understand at this point that if you are actively working with a hardshell on, you are going to get a fair amount of condensation buildup inside. This jacket is no miracle fabric, and I certainly sealed in some of my own flavor while buttoned up on the climb. 

Durability/Construction

Whatever the Pertex Diamond technology is, durability seems to be a common theme when bringing it up. As with any fabric, a good thrashing on sharp objects is bound to make its way through, but this shell certainly seems to punch above its weight class. For something that feels more like one of my windbreakers to the touch, I felt no anxiety when schwacking through scrub oak, thrutching up quartzite corners, or tussling with a scratchy alpine pine. Fabric aside, the zippers and seams all appear well taped. I have my fair share of lightweight jackets where the zippers seem to pull begrudgingly and are always on the brink of derailing, but well chosen YKK’s on this shell leave little to fear in that department.

Friendliness to the Earth

While this jacket itself doesn’t boast any individual sustainability technologies, Outdoor Research is a responsible manufacturer that works to lessen their impact on the environment in many ways. This includes recycling and repurposing materials, subjecting themselves to standards like Bluesign or Responsible Down Standards, and working with the outdoor industry Climate Action Corp to advance sustainability across the field.

The Final Word

A well made jacket that seems to create a goldilocks bridge between feature-set, low weight, and solid durability. This jacket will really narrow down my decision making process when choosing what shell to bring along on a climb. It’s hard to complain when Outdoor Research, a known heavyweight of the industry, decides to leverage some amazing athletes to design a knockout piece of gear. Add to that some fancy fabric technology, and you have yourself an absolute champion of a jacket.

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About the Gear Tester

Outdoor Prolink Pro
Evan Watts
Seasonal Worker

Evan grew up in the small hometown of Boring, Oregon, where he cut his teeth hiking and backpacking in the local Cascades. He now enjoys ice climbing, backcountry skiing, and trail running around in the Western States, and manages to fight off permanent employment despite an environmental engineering degree and perturbed parents.

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