The Helium Down Hoodie from Outdoor Research is an 800-fill light-to-midweight down jacket. Its stand-out feature is its Pertex Quantum Diamond Fuse outer which makes it extra durable and resistant to tears or rips. It also packs up surprisingly small for its size, making it equally ideal for lightweight backpacking and chilly belay duty.
If you're either a big Outdoor Research fan or a UKC/UKH Gear Geek you may immediately notice the similarities between the Helium Down Hoodie and the Transcendent Down Hoodie from 2018 (which we reviewed as part of our Lightweight Down Jackets group test). The Helium Down Hoodie comes across as an upgraded version of the Transcendent: it's got the same amount of down but with more fill power, with 110g of 800 fill power rather than 117g of 650fp. Whilst weighing almost the same (440g size M), it has a more durable outer fabric, and a more athletic fit.
I didn't expect it to be a good belay jacket, but the packed size and lightness make it a real winner, and I'll be carrying on lots of routes in future
As mentioned above the Helium does have a closer, more streamlined fit than the Transcendent, but whilst it's great for walking and general use, it's still a bit too bulky for rock climbing. That said, this is what you'd expect from an 800-fill down jacket. It's snug where you want it to be - around the waist, forearms/cuffs, and adequately roomy where you need it - in the upper arms, shoulders and chest.
In the past, I have found Outdoor Research's sizing to be on the large side - which is often the case with US clothing brands - but the Helium Down Hoodie in medium fits me exactly as I expect a medium would.
Weight and Fill
The Helium is filled with 110g of 800 fill-power responsibly sourced goose down. The insulation is an 80:20 mix of down:feathers and it's high quality down which lofts well. The jacket feels really warm. It has a nice balance between being suitable for either standing around comfortably when it's cold or wearing whilst being active when it's really really cold. Looking at other down jackets of a similar weight, it seems that competitors do manage to squeeze more down in whilst maintaining a similar overall weight, therefore providing a better warmth-to-weight ratio. I've found the Helium to be adequately warm for a midweight down jacket and good for general use in the UK, but if you're looking to maximize your warmth-to-weight for an expedition or winter mountain trip then you may wish to consider alternatives.
The Pertex Quantum Diamond Fuse outer fabric is worth talking about. It's a new technology which uses yarns with diamond-shaped filaments which lock together to create a durable fabric. It's also apparently a very lightweight fabric, which doesn't compress the structure of the down, allowing it to loft properly and thereby remain effective (and keep you warm) after repeated use. What's more, Outdoor Research say the Quantum Diamond Fuse prevents down from escaping through any nicks or tears in the jacket - which shouldn't be occurring with this new fabric anyway. I have had just one feather escaping from a seam so far.
I can't really vouch for the fancy sounding technology, but in use the outer fabric of the Helium certainly feels rugged to the touch and I have had no rips or abrasions after wearing it for months, although I haven't had any unexpected encounters with barbed wire or similar. Compared to the 100% polyester 20 denier outer of the Transcendent it is a lot thicker and inspires more confidence in its rip-stopping abilities.
The Helium also holds up surprisingly well in a shower, with water beading on the jacket rather than soaking in. The Helium has waterproof panels on the areas most susceptible to rain - the head and shoulders - to help keep you dry. It's a bit much to expect a down jacket to be good in the rain, but the Helium does pretty well in this regard, which is a selling point for UK use.
The Helium packs down in to its own pocket and, for an 800-fill down jacket, it packs up surprisingly small. On a trip to Gogarth for final August bank holiday (and I mention it because it was one of the coldest August bank holidays on record), the Helium pulled a blinder. It was going to be too cold to belay in a t-shirt but too hot to climb in a fleece. In fact, it was so chilly on the belays that a t-shirt plus my regular skinny belay jacket would be too cold. If only I had a magic weapon... On the off-chance I packed my Helium into its pocket and found that it packs only slightly larger than my regular skinny belay jacket and is way, way warmer. In fact the size is so reasonable that even with a double-rack of cams ready for Hunger (E5 6a) I could happily carry it.
The hood feels nice and snug, but for belay duty in really cold or windy weather, it does still fit over a helmet. I really didn't expect the Helium to be a good belay jacket, but the packed-down size and reasonable weight make it a real winner, and I'll be carrying it on lots of routes in the future.
Overall I really like the Helium Down Hoodie. The Pertex Quantum Shield fabric is very durable, the jacket is fairly warm for its weight, stands up well to a shower and looks really good. For me the stand out feature is just how small it packs up for its size and warmth, meaning that it's a brilliant belay jacket, and would equally appeal to lightweight walkers and backpackers. If you're looking for a solid, attractive general use light-to-midweight down jacket then the Helium is a good choice, and if you're looking for a larger-than-usual belay jacket then it's also a great choice. It's fair to say I'm a fan.
So, it's not filled with Helium? :(