Earlier this summer, I made the bold decision to bring only the OR Helium II while instructing a 22-day mountaineering course in Colorado. But just to be safe, I did make sure my Wild Things Alpinist hardshell was in my resupply bag, in case the Helium II let me down.
Happily, the Helium II never did let me down, and the Wild Things hardshell stayed out of my backpack. The Helium II shrugged off all the precipitation we saw, including several unseasonable nighttime thunderstorms.
An unforeseen benefit of taking the lighter Helium II instead of a heavier Gore-Tex shell was that the Helium II dried significantly faster than a heavy hardshell. There is simply less fabric to get wet and subsequently have to dry out on the Helium II.
In addition to wearing the Helium II to stay dry in the pouring rain, I wore the jacket consistently as a wind layer on alpine ridges. While not as breathable as a layer like the standard Patagonia Houdini (as opposed to the Patagonia Alpine Houdini), the Helium II is light enough that I was able to stay comfortable so long as the wind stayed constant and the temperature didn’t get above ~60º F.
I wore the Helium II mostly while backpacking, but I also carried it with me when climbing both at crags and in the alpine.
The velcro stuff pocket has a small loop on the inside that allows the jacket to clip to the back of a climbing harness on multi-pitch rock climbs. I brought the Helium II up several climbs in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, and though thankfully I did not have to use it in a rainstorm, I never regretted taking it along.
The Helium II would also serve as a nice emergency layer for long bike rides. I wouldn’t take this jacket with me on a skiing or ice climbing excursion, since it would not perform as well under constant immersion in snow and ice, but again, that’s not what the jacket is designed for.
I’m often wary of ultralight rain gear. I’ve seen enough thin pairs of rain pants tear catastrophically from crotch to ankle to be tempted to stay far away.
But the Helium II is surprisingly durable.
I dragged my Helium II up chimneys clipped to the back of my harness, wore it through talus fields, and even taught a self-arrest class in it, where I had to repeatedly throw myself down a snowfield. After all this, there are no significant scuff marks, let alone holes in the fabric. The durability of the Helium II’s 30D nylon fabric has far exceeded my expectations.
The DWR coating on the jacket did wear off slightly faster than I’ve experienced on full Gore-Tex hardshells, but I’m not surprised by that. For comparison, the DWR coating on the Helium II was not significantly more or less durable than the Patagonia Alpine Houdini.
I also don’t feel like the loss of the DWR coating is as consequential as on a Gore-Tex shell. Since the Pertex Shield+ membrane is not a full breathable layer like Gore-Tex, the exterior of the jacket wetting out does not reduce breathability that much because the jacket isn’t very breathable to begin with.
That said, the Helium II is definitely less durable than a full Gore-Tex hardshell. The jacket is built with only a single layer of fabric with a welded membrane.
My Wild Things Alpinist shell’s heavier fabric (40d nylon with an eVent membrane) has shrugged off crampon points and ice axes for nearly three years with no significant holes. I don’t think I ought to expect the same toughness from the Helium II.
The Outdoor Research Helium II is an excellent ultralight rain shell. For summer and fall use, I would happily leave beefier shells at home and save significant weight and space in my pack by bringing the Helium II along instead.
The Helium II is not as breathable as a Gore-Tex shell, but I would never plan to wear the Helium II all day. I expect to only throw it on when I get surprised by a fast-moving summer storm.
For wetter environments, I would probably opt for a heavier shell due to the more consistent precipitation. But for relatively dry climates, the Helium II is an excellent choice for a light rain shell for all manner of outdoor activities.