Ultralight Wind Shell
Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie
$129, 5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL, women’s XS-XL
If, besides very low weight, versatility counts for everything in an ultralight wind shell, the variety of places, weather, and seasons I’ve worn OR’s wafer-thin Helium Wind Hoodie speaks volumes about its value. From hiking up and sometimes running down crazy-steep trails in fall and the earliest days of spring in Utah’s Wasatch, Canada’s Banff National Park, New Hampshire’s White Mountains, and Idaho’s Boise Foothills, to the breezy heights of Hawaii’s high point, 13,803-foot Mauna Kea, and the windblown depths of the Grand Canyon, this shell fended off cool wind while taking up no more space in my daypack than my long-sleeve jersey.
A midweight among ultralight wind shells at about five ounces, the highly packable Helium Wind Hoodie also falls in the middle of its field of competitors in terms of striking an appealing balance between weight, breathability, weather resistance, and durability—making it an ideal choice for dayhikers and trail runners who will work up a sweat while possibly encountering a wide range of conditions short of a full-on rainstorm.
But I also wore it in strong, cool morning wind at times on a six-day backpacking trip in the Grand Canyon, when the forecast indicated only sunny weather and I didn’t need a waterproof-breathable rain jacket (and its added weight and bulk)—only a light shell for wind.
The bluesign-approved, wind- and water-resistant, 30-denier ripstop nylon Pertex Diamond Fuse shell fabric blocked wind very effectively in many situations, including at windy Cory Pass on the Cory Pass-Edith Pass loop in Banff, in the Canadian Rockies, where I hit the wind after sweating through a steep 3,400-foot ascent. The fabric uses yarns with diamond-shaped filaments woven together in an interlocking pattern, lending it very good durability and abrasion and snag-resistance for a fabric this light—and better than virtually all other jackets in this weight class—while its flat surface helps the fabric shed water. If you want an ultralight shell for rock climbing, while that may risk tears in really gnarly situations, it’s probably the best choice.
Breathability is good, enhanced a bit by laser-cut underarm perforations. I pulled it on after hard, sweaty ascents of Mount Carrigain in the White Mountains (3,000 feet in the last three miles), Cervidae Peak in the Boise Foothills (2,000 feet in 2.2 miles), and Grandeur Peak in the Wasatch foothills on the edge of Salt Lake City (3,200 feet in 2.2 miles) and the fabric allowed my body heat to push moisture out, quickly drying my wet base layer to prevent me from getting chilled in wind and temps in the 40s and 50s Fahrenheit.
The adjustable hood uses a small strap in the back and wraps snugly around your head and the low-profile brim provides better face protection than some ultralight shells. The jacket has a comfortable, close fit with space to wear two base layers or light insulation under it.
The Helium easily stuffs into its one zippered chest pocket—which is large enough for a smartphone with room to spare—squishing down to the size of an orange(and has a carabiner loop). The elasticized hem and cuffs, while not adjustable, adequately seal out drafts.
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Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie
Just an ounce or two heavier than the lightest wind shells and still highly packable, the Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie hits a sweet spot for weight, breathability, weather protection, and durability, making it a great pick for dayhikers, trail runners, climbers, and backpackers looking at a forecast of little to no rain. And it’s one of the most affordable ultralight wind shells you’ll find.
You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these affiliate links to purchase a men’s Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or outdoorresearch.com, or a women’s Outdoor Research Helium Wind Hoodie at backcountry.com, moosejaw.com, or outdoorresearch.com.
Rather have a rain jacket that’s just an ounce heavier than the Helium Wind Hoodie (although less breathable)? See my review of the Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket.
See my picks for “The Best Ultralight Hiking and Running Jackets” and “The 7 Best Rain Jackets for Hiking and Backpacking,” and all of my reviews of ultralight wind shells, ultralight rain jackets, trail-running gear, hiking apparel, and outdoor apparel at The Big Outside.
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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.