Gear Guide 2012: Outdoor Research Helium II Shell

Reliable weather protection in a light-weight package.

[featherweight bargain]

You always have room for an apple in your pack, right? That’s all you need to carry—size- and weight-wise—for legit storm protection with this wispy shell. “It kept me bone-dry in everything from a summer squall in Seattle to a cold November shower on Washington’s Tiger Mountain,” reports one tester.

The 2.5-layer Pertex Shield DS—a nylon face laminated to a polyurethane membrane—is lighter and cheaper than a three-layer fabric. And while it sacrifices some breathability, it delivers reliable weather protection with a barely-there feel. The Helium also saves weight with the oldest—and still one of the most effective—tricks in the book: less stuff. You get one chest pocket and one inner pocket, one hem toggle, no pit zips, and simple, nonadjustable elastic cuffs (which still sealed out drips and didn’t ride up when testers raised their arms).

Testers also praised the stay-put hood, which cinches tight and preserves excellent peripheral vision (but won’t fit over a helmet). “The hood never got floppy on me, even while I was bouncing around on a trail run,” says one tester. The athletic cut allows for layering with a light puffy, but this shell works best for milder temps, as the 30-denier fabric doesn’t seal out cold wind like burlier material. It also doesn’t have the tear strength of a heavier fabric, and the lightweight zippers might need TLC over time.

Bummer: We steamed up during highly aerobic hiking and trail running. Bonus: This is the lightest and least expensive shell here. $150; 6.4 oz.;