Outdoor Research is a Seattle, Washington-based outerwear brand producing practical and stylish (by Gorpcore standards) gear for outdoor adventurers, whether you’re climbing Mount Rainier or taking in a casual weekend hike. The "Patagonia of the Pacific Northwest," Outdoor Research is especially well-known for its wet weather gear — after all, it rains around 150 days a year here.
As someone who also calls the PNW home and writes about outerwear for a living (amongst other things), I’ve been eager to get my hands on Outdoor Research’s well-regarded and super-lightweight Helium Rain jacket to see if it can live up to the hype.
As luck would have it, a loaner arrived this week.
Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket: Performance
To most folks, $170 is a lot of money for weather protection when you can easily find a rain jacket from a reputable outdoor brand like Columbia for around $50. So what does the Helium jacket offer that a more affordable jacket doesn’t?
While both are packable, the Outdoor Research jacket, at just 6.2 ounces, is less than half the weight of the roughly 12.8-ounce Columbia jacket. When it comes to materials and moisture protection, the two also vary. The Columbia Glennaker is made from 100% Nylon and features minimal seams for water to seep in. Columbia makes no mention of a water-repellent coating — just that it is “water resistant” — but the jacket has likely been treated with one.
The Outdoor Research Helium jacket also uses Nylon in its design, as well as a fancy proprietary material, called Pertex Diamond Fuse fabric, which boasts excellent moisture and abrasion resistance, as well as breathability. Seams on the Outdoor Research Jacket are also minimal and, better yet, fully taped — the zipper track is also moisture-resistant. Lastly, the Helium jacket comes treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) coating, which is an industry standard among high-end outerwear brands. This coating makes water bead up and roll right off the jacket.
In terms of reliability, the Outdoor Research Helium jacket has an unlimited lifetime warranty with free jacket replacements. Meanwhile, the Columbia jacket has a limited lifetime warranty against defects.
How long each lasts depends on many factors. But it’s good to know that if you get in a fight with a bear in the Helium and survive with only a shred of jacket material left, Outdoor Research will almost certainly issue you a new one. Don’t forget, it’s supposed to be abrasion-resistant.
With that, on to our shower test!
Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket: The Test
According to Outdoor Research, the Helium Rain Jacket is a three out of five on the brand's waterproof scale. This actually surprised me a bit given that “rain” is in the name. Nevertheless, I wanted to test its waterproof capability in a manner that is repeatable with other rain shells in the future. So, I turned to social media for help.
One of my favorite TikTok trends of the past several years involves putting on an expensive rain jacket, the pricier the better, and stepping into the shower to flex its waterproof capability. Presumably, the longer you stay dry, the more clout you get.
I don’t often jump on viral video trends, but purely for the journalistic sake of testing the Helium Rain Jacket, I made an exception.
Being mindful of my water consumption, I decided to limit my shower test to no more than three minutes, stopping at each one-minute interval to assess my dryness — I wore a cotton t-shirt under the jacket to easily spot any signs of moisture. With the Helium fully zipped up, the hood deployed and one very confused dog observing, I stepped into my tub.
Using my trusty Casio G-shock dumb-watch to time the intervals, I closed my eyes and let the “rain” fall down over me. (Shout out to Hillary Duff).
Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket: Test results
After the one-minute mark, I remained 100% dry — a good start.
After two minutes, a tiny bit of water started to seep in around my chest. At first, I thought it was coming through the zipper track. But upon further inspection, drippage off the hood and directly down the front inside of the jacket also appeared to be a possible culprit. Adjusting my position to avoid the latter, I stepped back in.
After three minutes, I let out a sigh of relief, shut off the water, donned a towel and checked my T-shirt for further signs of water absorption. My back — which spent most of its time facing the showerhead — and my head, covered at all times by the hood, both remained entirely dry after three minutes. My shoulders did, too. In fact, except for the moisture down the front of my shirt, I was completely dry and happy.
Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket: Verdict
This being my first time wearing a rain jacket in the shower — and with no baseline to compare — I’m impressed with the waterproof performance of the Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket. I’m also now asking myself: If this is a three out of five on the Outdoor Research waterproof scale, how long can I stand in my shower wearing a five out of five?
Ultimately, I can’t imagine too many scenarios where I’d be out in the open under a level of rainfall equal to my showerhead’s output. But it’s good to know that if I do ever find myself in torrential downpours, I’ll remain dry for at least three minutes in the Helium Rain Jacket, maybe longer.
Now, please excuse me while I go cash in my newly-minted social clout.
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Dan Bracaglia covers fitness and consumer technology with an emphasis on wearables for Tom's Guide. Based in the US Pacific Northwest, Dan is an avid outdoor adventurer who dabbles in everything from kayaking to snowboarding, but he most enjoys exploring the cities and mountains with his small pup, Belvedere. Dan is currently training to climb some of Washington State's tallest peaks. He's also a big photography nerd.