The REI Heliovale jacket is waterproof, lightly insulated and has a number of features that outdoor enthusiasts will find valuable. It has all the small details you would expect in a jacket made for hiking. It is a great all-around jacket that can be adapted for pretty much anything but the coldest of treks.
To start out I want to say that after a few weeks of heavy use I'm officially a fan of this jacket. I started out skeptical because of a lack of reviews on the REI website and the feel of the outer layer of the jacket. I am, however, very willing to return items that I deem inferior and this wouldn't have been an exception. I wanted it because it filled a specific need I had… a lightly insulated waterproof jacket that I could use for hiking, snowshoeing as well as running around town.
Who should buy this jacket?
Anyone needing a lightweight, waterproof all purpose hiking jacket that wants some insulation and doesn't want to spend $200+. Granted the regular price on this is $200 but I wouldn't recommend buying at full price either. At a minimum wait for a coupon.
You're not paying for a ton of “hiking” features so I would say it's good for casual use but only if you're getting a good price. The pit zips, articulated arms and all the adjustable parts do add a little extra. If you're not concerned about the technical aspects I would recommend checking around at REI or Eddie Bauer for better deals.
The (top few) things I like about this jacket
- It's quite waterproof. When you look at it it seems like it shouldn't be. It's almost like that fabric that you want to assume is actually “water resistant” instead of “waterproof”. After a few weeks of daily late autumn use in the PNW, I can comfortably say this thing is waterproof – as advertised.
- It breaths well. There are two parts to this, the moisture drawing material and the pit-zips and they work well.
- Value. REI brand that comes with the standard lifetime warranty for 30-50% less than you would pay for comparable jackets from name brand companies.
The things I don't like about this jacket
- Style. Honestly it looks plain and I feel like the cut is intended specifically for a middle aged guy with a dad bod. Don't get me wrong, I'm that guy, but if you're looking to head downtown with it just know that this thing screams soccer coach.
- The outer shell feels flimsy. The feel of the outer shell makes it seem like I need to be careful with this thing. It's not so much that I think it is actually delicate… it's more like it feels thin enough that my mind tells me it should be delicate. Kind of like how my daughter is 3 and despite knowing full well how tough she is, I still cringe when she falls.
- I am still having problems getting the cuffs to seal well. I'm not sure if this is on me or the jacket, but after a heavy rain that seems to be the spot that has moisture on the inside. It's only a problem when I wear gloves with it.
Starting from the top…
The hood on this adjusts in two ways. First is above the zipper to tighten the closure around your face and the second is at the back of the head to limit how far forward hood goes. The zipper goes up pretty high on this, coming up to the bottom of my chin but not covering any part of my mouth if I'm standing up straight. I expect that the hood and high zipper would cover me in all but a direct wind, so a buff or a balaclava and snow goggles would still be required if you're heading into really foul weather.
The brim works well for keeping the rain out of your face. The hood itself is insulated as well. This can be very useful but something to keep in mind if you wear beanies. The hood feels like it could accommodate a helmet but is not advertised that way.
The marketing material indicates that the elbows are articulated to increase range of motion. I find that to be accurate. I have no problems with range of motion in the arms. At first I thought that the arms were too long relative to everything else but the more I used it the more I appreciated the extra room. Arm freedom is important when hiking, especially snowshoeing.
The cuffs at the bottom of the arms are good but I find myself having the sleeve folded a little when I'm not wearing gloves because the wrist holes are so large. It wouldn't really be much of a problem except that it can retain moisture after you use it in a heavy rain.
The pit zips on this jacket are pretty long, running from just above the elbow to the bottom of your arm pits. There is only one zipper, which starts at the bottom. A useful feature would have been two that would allow you some flexibility on where you unzip, but that seems to have been reserved for their heavier weight jacket. Zippers are easy to use by holding your arm up, no weird zip/unzip issues and easy to adjust on the move.
Side note, if you don't think you need pit zips you're wrong.
The insulation on this is lightweight, I'm typically comfortable in 40 degree weather with just a t-shirt on underneath. Anything much colder than that and you'll want to start layering accordingly. At most I expect to use a long sleeve base layer shirt, a pullover quarter-zip and a jacket.. I'm very much an advocate of wearing layers and not having any single piece provide too much of my insulation, so this jacket is about as heavy as I will go. The jacket is advertised to be windproof up to 60 mph… I haven't tested it in anything that high but can say it's been fine in any wind I've been in so far.
Top left chest pocket is easy to access but seems to retain moisture a little after heavy rain. I wouldn't trust paper or electronics in it, but it's good for my wallet. The hip pockets don't seem to suffer that issue and are placed up a bit, allowing decent access even with a backpack/hip belt on since the zippers start at the top and unzip down. My hip belt still stops the last little bit but isn't really restrictive as the holes are much larger than my hands.
The zipper on the front of the jacket is weatherproofed but the other zippers are not. It's not generally a problem on the sides but might contribute to some moisture in the chest pocket during heavy rain. The bottom of the jacket does have cords to tighten up to stop snow from getting in.