Saturday, April 21, 2012

OR Helium vs Marmot Super Mica--Ultralight Rain Jacket Review

There are many lightweight rain jackets on the market, but few that are lighter than the OR Helium and the Marmot Super Mica.  I have been using the Helium for about two years, and Phil has been using the Super Mica for about a year.  Mostly out of curiosity, I am going to compare the two jackets to see which, in my opinion, is the better jacket.

The Stats and Facts

                        OR Helium                                                      Marmot Super Mica
          6.7oz  (Med) according to my scale                            8.4oz (Med)  my scale
                Pertex Shield WPB Membrane                          Marmot Membrain Strata 
                    No Reinforcements                                      Reinforced Shoulders & Hips
                   One Zipper Chest Pocket                                    Two high hand pockets
               One internal stuff pocket with loop                         No internal pockets
                   No adjustable cuffs                                                Adjustable cuffs
                    Full hem drawcord                                             Partial hem drawcord
            Two-way adjustable hood                                    Two-way adjustable hood
                       No Pit Zips                                                              Pit zips
               Helmet Compatible(?) Hood                               Helmet Compatible Hood


Marmot Super Mica on the left, OR Helium on the right.  Super Mica has two front pockets that are mesh-lined (could work as vents for better breathability) and out of the way of a harness or hip belt.  OR, to save a few ounces, opted for one fairly small chest pocket.  The Super Mica's two chest pockets are each significantly larger than the Helium's chest pocket.

Super Mica has pitzips, Helium doesn't.

OR Helium has an internal stuff pocket with a loop for clipping to a carabiner.  The pocket is a good size for a wallet or cell phone, but is under a harness or hip belt if wearing a backpack.

Super Mica's front pockets are mesh-lined on the inside so they can be used for venting.  They don't work very well for venting, however, because the pockets don't let much air in.  Better than nothing, I guess.

Super Mica fabric is reinforced on the shoulders and at the hips to increase wear with a pack.  Also, the hem drawcord on the Super Mica only actually cinches the back half of the hem.  The Helium's hem drawcord cinches the whole hem.

Super Mica has a drawcord around the brim of the hood.

Super Mica has a second drawcord pull from the back of the hood.  This adjustment works pretty well in all conditions.

The Helium has one drawcord pull on the hood that pulls from the back and also tightens a small section of the brim of the hood (the section between my fingers).  It's an easy system, but the hood doesn't stay on very well in high winds.

Elastic cuffs on the Helium

Adjustable cuffs on the Super Mica, though the velcro patches are so small that it doesn't hold extremely well.  When I reach above my head with the cuffs tight, they come undone.

Helium packed into its own pocket with a loop for clipping to carabiner.  The whole package is small enough that it's great for clipping to a harness for use against wind or rain.

OR Helium in a size medium.  I'm 6'2" and 185lbs.  The fit is comfortably trim and will accommodate a thin mid layer, but that's about it.  It does fit over my Arc'teryx Atom LT hoody, but it's snug.

Marmot Super Mica in size medium.  The fit is about the same as the Helium with my arms down and would accommodate a thin mid layer.  When I wear this jacket under a harness, it pulls out of the harness slightly when I put my arms above my head.  The OR Helium feel great under a harness.  It easily stays tucked in and there is full range-of-motion with my arms.

Helium is kinda helmet-compatible.  With the jacket totally zipped up and the hood over a helmet it is really tight across my chin.  When I use it with a helmet I don't keep it zipped up.  The brim, though reinforced, is pretty flimsy and doesn't keep its shape very well.

Super Mica feels better over a helmet.  There is actually room inside the jacket to breathe.  The brim is also reinforced a little better and keeps its shape better.  Neither of the hoods are big enough to allow much head movement laterally with a helmet when the jacket is fully zipped.  Though they technically fit over a helmet (which is nice), neither work well with a helmet.

MY Verdict

First of all, let me say that both of these jackets are good.  Both are extremely light and breathe decently well.  Hiking uphill in either of these jackets will definitely lead to clamminess, but the Marmot handles that slightly better than the OR, thanks mostly to its pit zips.  Though neither of these jackets has seen harsh, prolonged rain storms, both have been through moderate rain and haven't had even the slightest problem dealing with it.  Both have a great DWR and neither have wetted out.

Durability is a toss up between these two jackets.  Though the Super Mica is reinforced, the fabric on the Helium feels slightly more robust.  I mentioned in the previous post that I worried about climbing in my older OR Zealot jacket for fear of tearing it.  I don't worry about that with the Helium.  I've scraped it against Ogden quartzite without any problems.  The other reason I don't hesitate to climb in it is because OR has an unconditional lifetime warranty.  Though I try not to abuse the system, it is nice to know that I'm covered if I ruin the jacket.

Obviously the Super Mica is a full-featured jacket at a super light weight.  That comes at a price.  $200 retail for this jacket, compared to $150 for the Helium II (the updated version of my jacket; it's more waterproof, more breathable, and 0.4oz lighter than my jacket.  Yep, you heard right, 0.4oz lighter!  How do they do it?).

So, if I had to choose one of these two jackets, I would choose the OR.  The main reason for this is because it is better to climb in, in my opinion, and the majority of what I do is climbing.  It stays put under a harness, can pack into its own pocket and clip to a harness, and OR's unbeatable warranty allows me to climb without worrying that I may ruin it.  

The Super Mica is probably the better jacket for hiking and backpacking, however, because it vents better which makes it more versatile when hiking, especially uphill.  The fit is great as well, when you don't have to lift your hands above your head or when you're not wearing a harness, and the hood is more adjustable for using in bad weather.

So, it's kind of a toss up between which of these jackets is better.  If the comparison was between the OR Helium and the Marmot Mica (not the SUPER Mica), I wouldn't hesitate to say that the Helium is better because of its more robust material and OR's warranty, but the Super Mica offers a few extra details for not much added weight that, if you're a backpacker or hiker, may be worth the extra money.


  1. You should check out the Marmot Essence. I think it's their jacket more designed to compete with the Helium. Comes in at 6 oz. which is pretty light, although you do get a slightly thinner fabric and no reinforcements. I always find it to be a difficult line between the jacket being light and not durable enough. I've settled on a 13 oz. Stoic eVent shell. I haven't wanted to move on for a couple reasons: first, I got it at 70% off, and replacing it with a similar quality jacket is prohibitively expensive. Second, eVent breathes really well. Third, the fit is incredible. I can stretch out my arms over my head as high as they will go and the jacket doesn't move, at all. I've seen well articulated jackets, but nothing close to it. What do you think of the Pertex Shield fabric? It's still pretty new, and I haven't heard much about how it performs. Pretty much the same as the Membrain Strata on the Super Mica?

    As a side note, I've written a couple articles on my blog about the perfect bits of outdoor gear for various purposes (like this one:, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter, as it sounds like you've got a lot of good insights. Feel like writing a post for me?

  2. I've seen the Essence jacket and I like it, but it's a little too light for me. The Helium is made of 30 denier ripstop nylon and the essence is made of 12 denier nylon so the helium should be quite a bit more durable. The Mica is a slightly more robust material, which is why I compared it to the Helium (plus the price and weight are about the same). I think any of these jackets are comparable to the Helium. But until there is some sort of warranty to back up my own stupidity with a jacket this light, I'll probably be sticking with OR.

    As for your blog post, you have some interesting ideas. I'd be interested to see what a jacket like that would weigh and look like. I personally am not a fan of scuba hoods on an outer layer, because I find it a little annoying to buckle a climbing helmet over a scuba hood that extends up to the face. I've done it and it works, but it's uncomfortable to me. Others may not be bothered by something like that and would like the scuba hood. I prefer a hood that goes over the helmet.

    This Pertex Shield fabric is pretty breathable, but it is no match for the likes of eVent, neoshell, gore-tex, dry-Q, etc. But it's a lot lighter. I'm not sure how P Shield compares to Membrain in a lab, but I'd get pretty sweaty in both of them if I'm doing any real work in it. If I was planning to be out in wet, cold weather for an extended period of time, I would take one of my more breathable shells. I mostly use this as a warm weather shell or an emergency shell if I'm not expecting bad weather.

  3. Wow! Absolutely fantastic review and comparison. Thank you!

  4. I wear a 14 dollar dri-ducks under under an Arctery'x Squamish wind shell and this is the most versatile and breathable solution I've found. the wind shell protects the rain jacket from everything.

  5. I have the Marmot Super Mica and its biggest flaw is the thin floppy brim on the hood. I've worn the jacket in the rain and the water rolls off the brim right down in front of my face. I have to wear a brimmed hat underneath to make up for the flimsy brim on the hood. I would have expected more from Marmot (and for the price of the jacket). I'm looking for the discontinued Marmot Nano (8oz and goretex paclite).