Redesigned Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit Review

The Outdoor Research Helium rain jacket and pants are a favorite among bikepackers as an impressively packable emergency outer layer. After hearing that they updated the line to be a claimed five times more tear-resistant and twice as abrasion resistant than the previous version, we had to check it out for ourselves. Find our review here, featuring a side-by-side comparison with the old Helium jacket…

Riding shots by RJ Sauer (@RJSauer)

Many years ago, when I was first researching lightweight rain gear for bikepacking, the Outdoor Research Helium jacket and pants seemed to be among the most popular options on the market. Their popularity was warranted as they were 100% waterproof, packed down to a very reasonable size, and didn’t weigh much. Not to mention that Outdoor Research isn’t a cycling brand, so they didn’t cost as much as a similarly specced cycling-specific option would. Over the years, Outdoor Research has expanded the Helium line with new colours and more items in the collection, but the core design of the jacket and pants has remained relatively unchanged. In February 2020, they updated the 2.5-layer Pertex fabric to a new Pertex Shield Diamond Fuse fabric with unique diamond-shaped filaments that lock together to create a durable and highly abrasion-resistant fabric. They claim the redesigned Helium Rain Kit is five times stronger without any additional weight.

Although the original Helium collection functioned fairly well as a lightweight, emergency waterproof layer for bikepacking, its lack of abrasion resistance was particularly noticeable in the pants while riding. My original Helium Pants developed holes quickly after a bit of grit got onto my saddle during a particularly sloppy ride. Mind you, they aren’t designed with cycling in mind, and hiking wouldn’t see the same type of wear, so it’s not entirely surprising. Still, the idea of a more abrasion resistant fabric was exciting, and I’ve been wearing the updated Helium Rain Kit—which consists of the jacket and pants—on and off since last summer.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit Review

First Impressions, Weight, and Pack Size

Just like the original Helium jacket and pants, the redesigned versions are lightweight and packable—perfect for bikepacking trips where a heavy-duty shell isn’t needed or when an emergency rain layer is suitable. Both the jacket and pants pack into their own pockets, but unlike the original version, they now use a zipper instead of a velcro pocket. They also both stuff away a little easier as the pocket itself seems bigger, which was a little annoying when trying to cram the original Helium Jacket away into its pouch. Uncompressed, as you can see below, the new Helium Rain Jacket is larger than the original (orange, on the left), but it is loosely packed so it can squish down to the same size easily, which I see as a benefit.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit
  • Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit
  • Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit
  • Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit

My original Outdoor Research Helium Jacket weighs 187g (size large), and the updated version weighs 188g. The updated pants weigh 192g (size large), but unfortunately I no longer have my original Helium Pants to compare, though we can assume the weight remains relatively unchanged. Compared to other ultralight, non-cycling rain gear, the Helium Rain Kit is impressively lightweight and packable and doesn’t come with an astronomical price tag.

The Pertex Shield Diamond Fuse fabric, the heart of the updated lineup, is visually different from the original Pertex fabric. Although I can’t speak to the “diamond shaped filaments,” there is a ripstop-like grid and less slippery finish to the fabric that feels more durable to the touch. The interior of both garments remains quite smooth and provides a similar amount of stretch to the original version, but during milder outdoor pursuits isn’t the most comfortable next-to-skin option out there and can sometimes feel clammy.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Jacket

The Helium Jacket looks and fits similar to the original, but includes a few additional updates beyond the new fabric. The pattern of the jacket itself has changed, which now includes a redesigned front chest pocket, a slightly less shaped hood beak, and some new reflective details on the sleeves. Since it’s not designed with cycling in mind, it doesn’t have a dropped tail or roomy hood to work with helmets. The Helium Jacket keeps toggles and straps to a minimum with a single cord lock cinch for the waist, another for the hood, and non-adjustable elastic wrist cuffs.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit Review
  • Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit Review
  • Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit Review
  • Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit Review

The Helium Rain Jacket is comfortable and roomy while on the bike, making it perfect for throwing over whatever you’re already wearing. Even with no cycling-specific features and a more general purpose fit, it’s become my go-to rain jacket over the years because I’ve learned to trust it in unexpected weather. Despite its lightweight construction, it does a great job at keeping me dry as long as I’m careful to vent regularly using the main zipper, since it lacks pit zips. However, if there was a chance of prolonged rain or back-to-back days of wet weather, I’d opt for a proper hardshell, as I tend to run on the warmer side. For cooler temperatures or for folks who don’t heat up as quickly, the Helium Rain Jacket might be all you need.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit
  • Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit
  • Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit
  • Material: 100% Nylon
  • Weight: 188 grams (mens large)
  • Place of Manufacture: Bangladesh
  • Price: $159 USD
  • Manufacturer’s Details: OutdoorResearch.com

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Pants

I owned the original Helium Pants and mostly used them for bikepacking and the occasional sloppy day ride. However, they wore through at the bottom from rubbing against my saddle fairly quickly. Just like the updated version, they were great for emergency use, but not much beyond that. Since they are primarily designed for hiking, the fit is roomy and intended for layering, which makes them feel pretty excessive on the bike. I was quick to cut and sew my original pants into 3/4 length, which I’ll soon do with my new set as well, and will put together a how-to guide for the site. It’s actually a great way to convert lightweight general purpose (and often more affordable) rain pants for cycling.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit Review
  • Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit Review
  • Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit Review

Truthfully, I’ve only pulled out the updated Helium Rain Pants on a few occasions during my time with them. The one good thing about their loose fit and shin zippers is that they are easy to pull on without removing your shoes or any layers, which is great for emergencies. There’s not much in the way of articulation, so the excess fabric has a tendency to bunch up in places, which can be uncomfortable. With all that said, they do feel more durable than the original version, and for the price, they are a great option for anyone living in areas where wet weather generally doesn’t last that long or rain gear is reserved for emergencies only.

Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit
  • Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit
  • Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit
  • Material: 100% Nylon
  • Weight: 192 grams (mens large)
  • Place of Manufacture: Bangladesh
  • Price: $119 USD
  • Manufacturer’s Details: OutdoorResearch.com
Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit Review

Wrap Up

The Helium Rain Kit is great value for anyone looking for lightweight, packable rain gear, but has no intentions of spending all day wearing it. The kit’s lack of features, including ventilation options, pockets, and cycling-specific touches, keeps the overall weight down and makes the jacket and pants clean and simple to use. The Helium Rain Jacket has become a personal favourite of mine over the years, and the updated, more durable version is that much better—I’ve packed it on almost all of my bikepacking trips over the last few years and it has never let me down.

The Helium Rain Pants provide a similar story, but the loose fit and lack of articulation feel more awkward than the jacket. Still, for under $300 for the top and bottoms together, and a total weight under 400 grams, the Outdoor Research Helium Rain Kit is hard to beat. It doesn’t hurt that Outdoor Research offers their Infinite Guarantee on all of their products, which covers all defects for their expected lifetime. I’ve only had to claim a warranty once, on a pair of gloves, and the process was straightforward.

Stay tuned for more rain gear coverage, as we’re currently testing several of the most popular options available and look forward to sharing our thoughts soon.

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