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Gear Review: Outdoor Research Helium Jacket

About a month ago I garnered the 2010 women’s Helium Jacket (a shell) from Outdoor Research. I was desperate to find a waterproof shell that I could take on spring mountain bike rides. The weather is incredibly schizo this time of year, so having a waterproof, lightweight shell is must in your gear arsenal. A high-performance shell provides the freedom to ride regardless of the forecast.

This was my first experience with Outdoor Research gear and a perfect piece to start off with. I have to admit, I fell. in. love. Here’s a review:

About Me: I’m 5’5″, 115lbs. I asked for a size Small, which OR’s sizing chart recommends for a 34 bust and 26 waist. Turns out their sizing chart is accurate. Also, I’m always cold!

Conditions: I rode in this jacket on days that ranged from 45 to 50 degrees. On days that threatened rain; that had constant heavy mist; and that downpoured.

The Helium Jacket is impressive on the tech side. It’s also chic and stylish. Its waterproofness held up even in pouring rain. It’s comfort and ultra light weight (5.8 oz, 163 grams) make it ideal for long, demanding rides (or hikes, climbs). Strategically-placed seams encourage great flexibility in bending and stretching, perfect for when you’re hunched over on the bike and getting your schralp on. The elasticity at the wrists and waist keep it from getting all bunched up and weird.

I personally love the aesthetics. The design gives it more of a jacket-looking feel, as opposed to a lot of the ugly poncho-looking shells out there. Subtle cross-stitch design on the exterior gives it a nice creative outerwear look that revivals street-wear pieces.

The hood is one of the best assets of this jacket. It’s roomy, yet wraps about you for great shielding protection. It has a slightly stiffened visor to keep the rain from dripping down your face. The chin comes up extra high so that you can tuck your nose into it. Basically, there’s an astronaut feeling going on–except that you can hardly feel it’s there.

And when you don’t want it, the jacket folds into itself in a 5×4 inch pouch by way of a pocket on the interior, which comes with a loop to attach to clips.

Things to keep in mind: If you’re riding in this jacket in anything over 45 degrees and pushing up mountain trails, you’ll want to wear as little as possible underneath as it warms up pretty quickly. I was almost hot in 45-degree weather with just this jacket and a short-sleeved jersey on. Because it’s waterproof, you’re not going to have the breathability you’re used to with, say, pitzips, obviously. But for a shell it keeps your body temp at a bearable warmth.

My one complaint with the jacket is that there are no side pockets. I am always trying to force my hands into the sides of this jacket to no avail. I’m not a fan of chest pockets like this jacket has because putting anything other than credit cards in it will look funny, and, on girls, lopsided.

That said, the waterproofness, light weight, smart engineering and attractive aesthetics of the jacket outweigh little annoyances like those. Did I mention it’s super comfortable?

Tech:

5.8 oz. / 163 grams

2.5-layer 20D Pertex® Shield DS ripstop fabric: This laminate 1.) is excitingly waterproof 2.) incredibly light 3.) pretty breathable for a shell.

Fully-taped seams: A necessary in the Northwest. Don’t settle for anything less. They keep water and wind from getting through those vulnerable areas.

Single-pull hood adjustment: Unless you have an itty-bitty helmet, this hood will not fit over your lid. But the bungy on the back of the hood allows you to adjust it to your head size so that sans-helmet, it’s not flopping down in your face.

Ultralight, water-resistant zippers: Your zippers are your lock-tights to keeping water and wind out. These perform highly and have an added bonus: At the top of the main zipper is an extra flap of fabric to guard your chin when zipping up in a hurry.

Zippered napoleon pocket: I actually don’t care for these. I think filled with anything other than credit cards/IDs they look funny, especially on girls, who will be lopsided. I prefer pockets at the sides for the hands.

Stuff-pocket inside with hook/loop closure: This is the pocket into which the jacket stuffs—and does so very easily. I couldn’t believe how quickly my bombshell disappeared into this tiny pouch that measures out to 5×4 inches. It also has a strong loop to attach to carabiners, etc.

Elastic cuffs: They hang on to you, while you hang on to the handlebars.

Single drawcord hem adjustment: The drawstring around the waist is perfect for locking in that heat and locking out moisture. Of course with the drawstring pulled tight, it will creep up on you while hunched over on your bike, so in that case you’ll probably want to consider a longer under shirt.

The Helium Jacket comes in both men’s and women’s. OR provided this jacket for my testing. As always I say whether it’s worth the price. This jacket retails for $140—expensive, but if you’re going to splurge on a piece of gear, make it one that allows you to be adventurous regardless of the weather patterns. I find myself now living in this piece —on or off my bike.

+ Ultralight, waterproof/breathable
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