I've owned and used the Outdoor Research Helium Jacket for over a year now. I first bought it to fulfil a gear requirement in an ultra event but it has since become my go to shell for cragging days in the Blue Mountains, light hiking, travel and every day use.
I remember helping a friend buy an umbrella once and he was debating how much to spend or whether to get the crazy bit strong one or the light one that fits in a little satchel. In the process he quoted the wise saying of "the best umbrella is the one you have with you". I couldn't agree more and it sounds like a insignificant passing statement but when you start applying it to items it makes a lot of sense.
I own a great Gore-Tex Pro Alpine shell. It's bomber. I've ice and alpine climbed to high altitudes with it, I've pushed through the scrub with it, I’ve skied with it, it's been great to rely on. However, if I'm heading up to the Blue Mountains for a climb or hike, and the weather says 5% chance of rain, I don't take it. It just uses up space in my pack and gets in the way most of the time. This is where the Helium is different. My size small is about 160grams and packs down to the size of your fist. No matter what the weather report says, it's always in my bag. And I've appreciative this on a number of occasions. Mainly as a wind shell to block the wind and make my fleece feel oh so much warmer, but also on a few occasions where the weather just un-expectantly rolls in. Having a piece of kit that you always have with you makes sense.
Trail running in colder weather is also great. It's much lighter and less bulk than a fleece or synthetic filled jacket but can really boost warmth when you may be getting tired or hungry on long trails. This also applies to a multi-pitch rock climbing. I'd never take a fleece or puffy belay jacket up a multi-pitch unless it's bitterly cold. However for the weight of two quickdraws I can justify taking the Helium. On belays it cuts out the wind and therefore helps a lot for warmth.
I think when the guys from Outdoor Research where designing the Helium jacket, I imaging they thought they were creating a niche piece of kit for trail runners, light and fast hikers and climbers. This is the reason I first bought it. But it's since been my go to shell on many occasions simply for the fact that I have it with me. As it is less durable, it's not going to last very long carrying a 20kg pack with ice picks hanging off it, but for most other things it's my pick.
- Compact pack size
- Cut is not too bulky
- Stuff pocket
- String loop to hang off harness
- Compact Pack size
- Less durable than other waterproof breathable fabrics
On the technical end of things, the Helium II jacket is among the smallest and lightest things that ticks all the boxes for trail running events (waterproof, seam sealed, hood) and is small and light enough to carry up multipitch climbs as a wind/water shell. On the general use end of things (hiking, travelling, cragging, running under sprinklers), because of its pack size and weight, you will always have it with you. And that makes it a great shell.