Review: Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie

Breathable Insulated Jacket
Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie
$199, 11 oz./312g (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL

On a late-September backpacking trip in Yosemite, this lightweight and packable puffy jacket kept me warm on evenings and mornings in the 40s Fahrenheit—including one morning when a steady, chilly breeze blew through our camp beside Yosemite Creek, even though I wore it over just one midweight, long-sleeve base layer. But the story only begins there. The Helium’s breathable synthetic insulation greatly expands its versatility to four seasons, wet weather, and wearing it while hiking, climbing, or pursuing backcountry snow sports in cool to cold temps. And it’s made from partly recycled materials.

While backcountry skiing in low 20s temps in December in Idaho’s Boise Mountains, it provided a perfect amount of insulation for skiing downhill and similarly for a cold skin track on the climb up.

Considering its low weight and bulk, I was surprised by the Helium’s warmth. Its breathable and stretchy, 60g VerticalX ECO SR insulation delivers not only a high warmth-to-weight ratio and the usual benefit of synthetic insulation—trapping heat even when wet—but it derives from Repreve recycled polyester and 37 percent plant-based Sorona textile. Beyond its green creds, the combination of these materials produces an insulation that lofts more than some synthetics and 20 percent more than OR’s previous VerticalX iteration. It even gives the jacket an almost down-like appearance.

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The Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie in Yosemite National Park.
Testing the Outdoor Research Helium Insulated Hoodie in Yosemite National Park.

A hood always boosts an insulated jacket’s warmth proportionately greater than the additional weight and bulk it brings and the Helium’s adjustable, helmet-compatible hood seals neatly around your head and face to help keep warmth inside.

Likewise, the wind- and water-resistant, 15- by 30-denier Pertex Quantum shell fabric is made from 41 percent recycled materials. And Diamond Fuse technology, consisting of yarns with interlocking, diamond-shaped filaments that resist snagging, reinforces the shell’s strength: OR says it is twice as durable as fabrics commonly used in this category of insulated jackets, without increasing its weight.

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The standard fit leaves space for a couple of base layers and a light, insulated vest while remaining low-bulk—it’s very comfortable to wear on the move. The length extends to mid-butt. The two very spacious, zippered hand pockets hold winter-weight gloves and smaller items and are positioned above a backpack’s hipbelt or a climbing harness belt. Smart design details include an adjustable hem and low-profile stretch cuffs, which pull over light gloves or mittens or fit easily underneath the gauntlet of heavier handwear.

Weighing just 11 ounces (men’s medium), the jacket stuffs into its left pocket, packing down to slightly larger than a liter bottle—a valuable quality in any season.

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The Verdict

The lightest, most packable insulated jacket in OR’s collection, the Helium Insulated Hoodie could become the most versatile piece in your layering system, useful for wearing in camp on three-season backpacking trips as well as when exerting in cold-weather activities like hiking, climbing, and snow sports.


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See my other reviews of breathable insulated jackets, my picks for “The 10 Best Down Jackets,” and all of my reviews of outdoor apparel that I like.

And don’t miss my picks for “The Best Backpacking Gear” of the year.

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Whether you’re a beginner or seasoned backpacker, you’ll learn new tricks for making all of your trips go better in my “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” A Practical Guide to Lightweight and Ultralight Backpacking,” and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.” With a paid subscription to The Big Outside, you can read all of those three stories for free; if you don’t have a subscription, you can download the e-guide versions of “12 Expert Tips for Planning a Backpacking Trip,” the lightweight and ultralight backpacking guide, and “How to Know How Hard a Hike Will Be.”

NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See my Gear Reviews page at The Big Outside for categorized menus of all of my reviews and my expert buying tips.

—Michael Lanza

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