Ultralight Wind Shell
Outdoor Research Helium Hybrid Jacket
$165, 5.5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XL, women’s XS-XL
On a 7.5-mile trail run in Idaho’s Boise Foothills near my home, on an April morning with temps in the 50s and a strong, cool wind blowing, I stopped after climbing uphill for close to an hour. Sweating hard in that wind, wearing a lightweight, long-sleeve top that was now wet, I felt almost instantly chilled. Ahead of me were the last few, mostly downhill miles. So I pulled on this ultralight shell. While I was still perspiring for the rest of my run, the jacket delivered enough wind protection that I stayed warm. And when I finished, the inside of the jacket was only slightly damp.
Fabric and features distinguish the Helium Hybrid from other ultralight wind shells, as I discovered on numerous days trail running, road and mountain biking, rock climbing at Idaho’s Castle Rocks State Park, and biking around town in the full range of spring weather: temps ranging from the 40s to 60s Fahrenheit, wind, fast-changing conditions from sun to clouds, and spitting rain. The hood and shoulders are made with Pertex Shield fabric, which has a breathable, waterproof coating, while the rest of the jacket is made of a lightweight, nylon ripstop fabric with a little stretch to it. The shell repels a light rain effectively, while still moving moisture out at a rate that prevents the inside from getting more than damp from sweat. At times of highest exertion, it felt only slightly clammy.
The hood’s adjustability sets it apart in this jacket category—even strong gusts never yanked it off my head—while a low-profile, moldable wire brim shielded my face from spitting rain. The mesh chest pocket has an internal port for an ear buds cord. And the jacket stuffs into that pocket, leaving a sack that squishes down to slightly larger than my fist, with a short, external cord and clip for attaching to, say, a bottle belt if you’re not wearing a pack. Other details include taped seams in critical areas to enhance protection from precipitation, elastic cuffs, and a drawcord hem.
The Helium Hybrid Jacket delivers good weather protection and performance in a tiny package, making it ideal for fast-moving activities completed in a day or less, from bike rides and trail runs to ultra-hikes.
See my reviews of two other ultralight wind shells, The North Face Apex Lite Jacket and the Westcomb Crest Hoody. See also my other reviews of favorite apparel for dayhiking and trail running and all of my outdoor-clothing reviews.
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.