Spring Featherweight Jacket Review

The featherweight jacket has become an indispensable item in any trail runner’s gear arsenal. Warmth, weather protection, packability, and weight all come into play when selecting a jacket for your particular weather patterns and altitude. Where one lightweight shell may shine at providing lightweight wind protection and a small degree of warmth, it may fail at providing any sort of rain protection. Knowing what a jacket is capable and not capable of can be the difference between being relatively comfortable and slightly hypothermic in certain conditions. The featherweight jacket is a piece of gear that we have no excuse for not stuffing in our packs or the back of our shorts when heading into the high country, or on any day when less-than-ideal weather is on tap.

Here I review some of my favorite offerings which have been released thus far in 2016 with the goal of helping runners pick the ideal lightweight jacket for their needs. Keep in mind that all jackets are not created equal, and while the lightweight offerings may seem sexy, they may lack the protection to do much for us in the middle of an alpine thunderstorm.

Best All Arounder

Outdoor Research has been making quality gear, not necessarily aimed at the trail running market, for many years. The Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket ($159) is a perfect example of a lightweight jacket capable of handling most spring and summer conditions. At 6.4 ounces it’s not ultralight, but the combination of Pertex and nylon ripstop fabric creates one of the best waterproof barriers at this weight on the market. I’m also incredibly impressed with how this jacket breathes, to the point that I’ve even started using it as a warm-up jacket for workouts on warmer days.

Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket 1

The Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket front view. All photos courtesy of Tom Caughlan unless otherwise noted.

The Helium II also has fully taped seams and the fabric seems to have a little bit of a stretch to it. A well-fitting hood with a small and pliable brim keep rain at bay, and somehow Outdoor Research was able to create a zipper that isn’t stiff and doesn’t scratch up your chin when fully zipped. There are also small thumb loops inside the cuffs which keep the sleeves pulled down over the wrists. Combine that with an absolutely ingenious stowaway design, the Helium II has a velcro pocket which sits on the small of the back and can be used for storage. It also has a elastic strap with a clip on it that allows the jacket to be stowed inside the pouch and worn around the waist when not needed.

Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket 2

Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket side view.

Additionally, I found that keeping the elastic strap fastened around my waist allows me to take the jacket on and off while simply stuffing and wrapping the jacket around the belt when not in use.

Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket 3

The stowed Outdoor Research Helium II Jacket.

Runner-Up All Arounder

The Patagonia Houdini Pullover ($89) has long been a favorite of many trail and ultrarunners. The stylish good looks of the pullover (this jacket also comes with a hood) were so coveted that mine was nicked in rural India, and I promise the recipient is getting much more use out of it than I ever could. Made of nylon ripstop fabric coated with Durable Water Repellent (DWR), the Houdini works great for cool mornings or in storms that don’t get colder than 50 degrees Fahrenheit or so. It also packs down incredibly small into its own chest pocket, and even has a loop that can be used with a carabiner. At 3.1 ounces, you don’t even notice you’re carrying it.

Patagonia Houdini Pullover 1

The Patagonia Houdini Pullover front view. Photo: Patagonia

Of note are the incredibly handy snaps which work as more than a fashion statement. When I was warm I appreciated the ability to unsnap, and keeping the pullover fully snapped actually provides a good deal of warmth and weather protection around the neck.

Patagonia Houdini Pullover 2

The author (right) putting the Patagonia Houdini Pullover to use in India.

The Featherweight Champion

For the last two months my Montane Featherlite 7 Jacket ($149) has been my constant companion. Weighing in at 2 ounces with the capability of stowing in a tiny pouch built into the collar, the Featherlite 7 is your barely there friend for alpine starts and windy ridges when the weather isn’t too hairy. Again, nylon ripstop fabric is combined with a durable water repellent (DWR) coating which provides water resistance, but with such a thin material the Featherlite does get soaked through in downpours. While fairly breathable this jacket material does stick to my arms when I’m sweaty, but it’s the kind of gear that I’ll have in my pack all summer just in case.

Montane Featherlite 7 Jacket 1

The Montane Featherlite 7 Jacket front view.

I also think that Montane crafted the fit of this jacket well, with elastic waist and cuffs the Featherlite 7 doesn’t feel too form fitting, and it fits comfortably over a race vest with bottles up front. This is an absolute requirement for me with a racing jacket as it allows me to unzip and take the jacket on and off with ease on the fly. After taking a superman-style fall several weeks ago directly onto the elbows of the Featherlite 7, I am amazed that it shows absolutely no wear or damage. If you’re looking for absolute minimalism, this is your jacket.

Montane Featherlite 7 Jacket 2

The author (right) wearing the Montane Featherlite 7 Jacket at the Behind the Rocks 50k.

Featherweight Runner-Up

Weighing in at 2.75 ounces, I’m really splitting hairs by giving the Dynafit React Jacket ($174) the runner-up position here. With a excellent hood that hugs the head nicely to keep weather out, the React Jacket also works well for colder conditions in the 30’s or 40’s degrees Fahrenheit. Extra-long sleeves provide some extra hand protection when needed and the transparent nature of the nylon fabric allows aid stations and checkpoints to see your bib number. The stowaway pocket on the React Jacket is on the left sleeve which theoretically allows the wearer to store their jacket on the go, but a fairly small pouch made securing the jacket feel tenuous at best. Potential U.S. buyers should also be aware of the European-style zipper which zips from the left as this threw me off on the run.

Dynafit React Jacket 1

Brandon Stapanowich (right) wearing the Dynafit React Jacket.

Hardrock Ready

I’ve been wearing The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket ($250) for quite some time now, and I’m continually impressed with how well it does in even the heaviest downpours. For colder weather down to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, I can layer underneath it and cinch the hood down to feel absolutely cozy in fairly horrendous conditions. This jacket features taped seams throughout to keep out moisture but somehow manages to breathe remarkably well thanks to a perforated membrane and venting in important areas. Additionally, the nylon fabric seems to have just enough stretch to allow it to be worn comfortably over a race vest.

The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket 1

The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket front view.

For training and race conditions during which I may encounter heavy downpours, massively cooling temps, and even hail, the Fuse Jacket offers just enough protection while still feeling incredibly minimal and lightweight. It is important to note that this jacket does not come with a stow pocket and won’t be available to consumers until this fall.

The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket 2

The North Face Flight Series Fuse Jacket side view.

How to Choose the Right Lightweight Jacket

Honestly, minimal rain/wind jackets are one of my favorite pieces of gear due to their versatility. They can keep me warm without adding layers, they’re easy to take on and off and stow with a bungee or tie around my waist, and they make me feel a little more secure when heading into the high country, even on bluebird sunny days. It’s important to figure out what is going to work best for your needs, and especially your upcoming races. While minimal weight may look sexy, escaping hypothermia in a driving rain storm on a mountain ridge is nearly priceless. This is a piece of gear that I personally wouldn’t skimp on, and with proper care it may be a piece of gear that you can weatherize repeatedly (spray-on DWR coating) and may never have to buy again.

It’s also important to understand that not all nylon/DWR combos are created equal and they may keep water out variably. Test your jackets by spraying some water on them and seeing if the water beads and does not cause a darkening wet spot which means it has penetrated the fiber. Additionally, you should be able to shake a lightweight shell and the water should run off. However, if water resistance isn’t as important to you, and you’re just looking for lighweight wind protection and a bit of warmth, then the lightest jackets mentioned here will work for you.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Are you wearing any of these featherweight jackets? Can you speak to how and in what conditions they function best for you?
  • What is your favorite featherweight jacket for trail running?

[Editor’s Note: If you’re affiliated (i.e., an employee, ambassador, etc.) with a brand that produces running apparel, please share your relation in each of your comments on this article. Thanks!]

Tom Caughlan

is iRunFar’s Minimalist Gear Editor. Tom’s passion for trail running and specialty running retail experience shine through in all of his highly technical reviews, which do range outside minimalist shoes.

There are 18 comments

    1. Bryon Powell

      With the multitude of solid products in every trail running/outdoor category these days, we’re unable to include anything close to every product in our category roundups. That said, I was impressed with some of the lightweight shells Berghaus I’ve seen at the Outdoor Retailer show.

    2. Roger

      I used the Hyper Smock in the heavy-ish night rain at Lavaredo last week (yep, I’m slow!), and it was excellent.

      (Note that it’s more like 95g / 3.4 ounces in Large size. I wrote to Berghaus and they say they’ll update their website. Seems like a silly thing to get wrong, but I guess there’s a lot of competition to be the lightest etc.)

  1. Tim

    I read this on the OR website from a reviewer on the OR Helium II Jacket. “Nice idea for a light yet waterproof shell. Unfortunately, the quality is unsatisfactory. The zipper failed at the base as I was trying it for size fro the first time. Fabric appears fine, a bit tight as other have stated, but the cheap zipper is a major fail. Sorry but this does not hack it.” Any truth to that? Have you tried the Arcteryx Norvan SL with the Active Goretex?

    1. Nick Truax

      That’s one out of 27 reviews, with the average review being 4.5 out of 5 for the Helium II.

      Both myself and my wife have owned a Helium II for a couple years (or more) and have not had any zipper issues. As with any LW gear, some extra care should be exercised in use. Not to mention that OR has one of the best warranties in the business if something were to go awry. I have no affiliation with OR btw, just a long time satisfied customer.

      1. Tim

        Agree that it is 1 out of 27 reviews I rather read the negative reviews to see what gets identified and weed through them. Thanks for you feedback on the jacket.

    2. Bryon Powell

      While I don’t often wear a rain shell, I’ve had the OR Helium II for a long time. And, unconnected to this article, I have it in my pack right now (packed it last night) as I head out for a rainy run in Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. Of the rain jackets I have, this one feels the most durable and dependable for tough conditions despite being nice and light.

    3. Marcus

      I have the Arcteryx Norvan SL and it is just perfect, extremely breathable and fully waterproof. Upgraded from Montane Minimus Smock this year and it is better in every aspect (and I guess it should be since it is about 3x the price).

      1. Rich

        Agreed. The new Gore-Tex Active with permanent beading material is great, and the Norvan SL is very light and packable. Could be worth a review here!

        1. Sarah

          Another +1 for the Norvan SL. Great performance through a cold and wet MMT, No sweating issues (likely because I was moving so slowly!) but this 3.9oz Gore-Tex jacket put my OR Helium II out of business.

  2. BC

    How’s the fitting on that Helium II? I’ve been reading that sizing is a little on the small side, is that accurate? I’m 181cm and 84kg with a solid athletic build and hoping the Large would be right?

    1. Tom

      BC-
      I’m wearing a size small in all of the jackets pictured above, and the Helium II is pretty form fitting. Its got a bit of stretch to it, and the arms are long enough. If you actually have some muscle on your upper body (I do not), you may want to size up.

  3. Ben

    Big fan of UD’s Ultra Jacket so far. Seems to strike a good balance between carrying one jacket for colder weather, high winds, or rain / sleet / snow. It will undoubtedly eventually soak through in extreme downpours but I suspect it will take a couple of hours for that to happen.

  4. Rich

    I’m a bit confused as looking on the Outdoor Research webpage (and other websites/reviews of the jacket) for the Helium II I see no pocket on the back? I can only see a chest pocket and inside stow pocket. I also don’t see anything about the elasticated strap. Is this a new, unreleased version?

  5. Allen

    The OR jacket pictured and described here does not look/sound like the Helium II, unless it has been updated recently? My Helium II does not have thumb loops or an elastic strap as shown. It does pack into a small stow pocket inside the jacket though. Perhaps this is a Tantrum or some other jacket/prototype?

  6. Matt

    As per the above two previous posts, the jacket pictured with it’s colour and description given, lends it to being the Outdoor Research Tantrum, not the Helium II.

Post Your Thoughts