I’ve noticed a trend in WildSnow hardshell or rainshell reviews; a good number of them come from people living and recreating in the backcountry of the upper left portion of our country, or more specifically, what I like to call the Pacific Northwet (emphasis on the lack of s). What you’re about to read is no exception to that trend. This review, though, is for the ladies. But men, don’t be disheartened, the Helium comes in a men’s version too.
This summer, my line of work (and to be honest, play) took me into the mountains and islands where I grew up. Knowing the weather here in Washington well, I knew that I needed a rain shell that I could rely on to protect me for days on end and that wouldn’t mind the abuse of being stuffed into a backpack three or four times a day. Having put my old rain jacket through years of daily use during college, it was time to try something different. This time around though I wanted something light and simple. Wildsnow needed a reviewer for Outdoor Research Women’s Helium HD Jacket. Soon I was wearing the Helium, with enough rain to find out if it really worked.
With a fairly dry and hot summer, I was beginning to wonder if I would be able to test the Helium jacket at all this season or if I was just going to keep packing it out of habit. Let me tell you, my chance arrived.
The day I started instructing a fifteen-day sea kayaking and alpine backpacking course for Outward Bound, the weather changed for the wetter. We spent every day in the San Juan Islands kayaking in wetsuits and paddle jackets. Then we would roll into our campsites, change into our dry-land clothes and endure the rain. Wearing a wetsuit all day tends to saturate your skin enough that it makes your dry clothes clammy and your rain shell just acts like a greenhouse as you bake off all the excess moisture. However, wet day after day, I was delighted to come onto shore, put on a fleece and my Helium HD over wet skin and quickly become warm and dry. None of that greenhouse business, most probably due to the breathability of the Pertex® Shield+ fabric.
Our first afternoon in the North Cascades we had beautiful skies that quickly turned into a thunderous downpour. With lightning, heavy rains, and hail, we got the works. The Helium HD kept me dry while sitting in lightning position and was unobstructive while I was running around collecting rainwater for dinner that night. Soon the clouds parted and the jacket was completely dry before bed.
The fully adjustable and helmet-compatible hood cinches down tight in high winds and features a formable wire rimed visor that directs water out of your eyes. Along with a drawcord hem and velcro style wrist closures, it is easy to keep the weather out. However, because this is a jacket for women, it would be nice if the wrist closure velcro was extended so that it is capable of fitting snugly on smaller wrists.
Having a +2.5 inch ape index (a person’s arm span relative to her height), I often run into problems finding jackets that fit my long arms and torso. The size medium jacket accommodates me well with room for layering and movement.
Two zippered hand pockets, a chest pocket, and standard style pit zips are probably what contribute most to the Helium HD’s slightly heavier weight. But at a still svelte 7.9 ounces, I love having the ability to access snacks while wearing a harness or quickly rid myself of excess heat while cranking on a wet uphill. For those of you who would happily live without some of those features, sister jacket Helium II weighs in at 5.5 ounces and packs down a little smaller.
What I like most about this jacket is its ability to perform while keeping a simple form. Outdoor Research didn’t try to add any crazy features, but rather took a basic rainshell and made it as light and functional as possible. The Pertex® Shield+ fabric does a terrific job of keeping the wet out at rating of 20,000 mm and is amazingly durable for its thinness. One more thing that makes this girl happy is the set of colors that the jacket comes in. I find it hard to find technical clothing for women that is not all pinks and purples. Don’t get me wrong, I love bright colors, but I’ve always envied the men’s color schemes. I’m stoked to be testing a black and blue accented jacket that is women specific. I can’t wait to try it on the skin track!
Shop for Outdoor Research Helium shell here.
WildSnow Girl, Rachel Bellamy, skis, snowboards and does just about everything else that’s fun. Rachel calls the Pacific Northwest home but is often romping around the mountains and crags of other states she loves. Whether on snow, rock, or in the sea, this WildSnow Girl will frequently have a camera in hand to capture the bliss of adventure through photography. See her beautiful images on Instagram: birdrachel.