Lighter, more compressible and more eco-friendly than its predecessor, we found the Heli R to be warm, comfortable and check all our boxes for a lightweight down jacket that performs well as both an outer layer and a mid layer
Great warmth-to-weight ratio
Uses recycled materials throughout
Lightweight and packable
Superlight and incredibly packable
Works as a mid layer or outer layer
Plenty of pockets
No hood adjustment
No two-way zip
No water-repellent treatment
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Kathmandu Heli R Hooded Down Jacket: first impressions
New Zealand brand Kathmandu has taken one of its most popular down jackets and given it a makeover for 2023. The new-and-improved Kathmandu Heli R is lighter, more packable and more environmentally-friendly than its predecessor, delivering a superlight, warm and versatile layer for hiking, camping and rock climbing.
This lightweight jacket packs 600FP duck down in an ultralight, non-bulky package which means you can layer it under a waterproof jacket on a frigid hike or throw it on as an outer layer on cool nights at camp. The whole thing packs down to about the size of a Nalgene bottle so it’s worth throwing in your pack anytime you’re heading outdoors in case the weather turns.
• RRP: $219 / £155
• Gender specification: Men’s and women’s sizing available
• Sizes: XS - XXL Men’s, XXS - XXL Women’s
• Weight: 10.2 oz / 290 g (women’s medium)
• Materials: Shell: 100% Recycled Polyester, Lining: 100% Recycled Polyester, Fill: 80% Duck down 20% Duck feathers
• Colors: Mustard Yellow, Black Stingray, Deep Lagoon/Jam/Light Quartz, Lolly/Night Misty Mountains Print, Undertow, Beech/Dark Moss, Night/Canvas Misty Mountains Print
• Best use: Hiking, Camping, Rock climbing
The big story here, of course, is the reduced environmental impact of this jacket, which uses recycled materials in the shell, lining, zip, trims, labels and packaging and all down is certified to the Responsible Down Standard. It comes with a QR code sewn into the lining where you can find out more about the sustainable story behind your jacket, though for more transparency we’d love to know how much recycled material goes into each component.
When you’re wearing it, the shell fabric is super soft and the design is comfortable, from the standard fit and roomy hand warming pockets to the adjustable hem and cozy hood. There are a few tiny details we might change, like adding adjustability to the hood and a two-way zipper, and it’s not treated with DWR, but all in all we like this as a go-anywhere, do-anything down jacket at a nice price.
Kathmandu Heli R Hooded Down Jacket: in the field
We’re not exactly having the coldest weather ever recorded here in Scotland, but we’ve had a cold October followed by a cold November and now that it’s December we’ve already been out sledging because it’s been cold and snowy, with temperatures hovering at or below freezing for days even down in the lowlands. So, it’s been the perfect time to test out this new-and-improved Heli R jacket.
Here’s how it performed:
Sizing and fit
I’m usually a size small but I was sent a medium jacket to test so I can’t really speak to the fit and sizing all that accurately. The medium size is wearable but there’s definitely extra fabric bunching up around my shoulders so it doesn’t look as nice on as it should. I’d say it’s best to go with your regular size if you want this to fit well.
It’s a thinner down jacket so while it makes an excellent warm jacket on a frosty day, it’s really easy to turn into a mid layer and wear under my waterproof jacket and since it’s been so cold here, that’s what I’ve been doing with it when I've been wearing it for hiking.
Weight and packability
This jacket really is astonishingly light. Until now, my lightest down jacket has been my Rab Infinity Microlight but this one tips the scales at just under 300 grams – not quite as light as advertised but it’s definitely made from feathers.
It’s advertised as packing into its own pocket, and though I can sort of force it into the inner pocket, it’s not very neat and definitely doesn’t look the way it does on the website, where it seems to have come with a small stuff sack that I don't have. Regardless, I have a stuff sack for my Rab jacket that I can use and this does pack down really small (about the size of a Nalgene when you’re scrunching it with your hands) and that makes it an easy choice to throw in as an emergency layer.
Temperature regulation and breathability
Being on the lighter end, I wouldn’t necessarily wear this as an outer layer at the top of a mountain on a freezing cold day, but as I’ve said, it provides excellent insulation for the weight when it’s worn with a shell and when you’re at lower elevations, it’s warm enough. It’s been really cold here lately and I’m not the sweatiest hiker on the planet, but the breathability has been good on my hikes so far, with me only having to unzip the pit vents on my waterproof jacket.
Storage and other features
Two well-placed, deep zipped hand warming pockets plus a deep inner pocket are great for carrying gear and the hood is big enough to provide protection without being too big. It’s elasticated but not adjustable, and in a Scottish wind it does blow back a bit more than I’d like. The cuffs are elasticated and the hem adjustable which makes it pretty easy to seal out any drafts.
It’s a fairly straightforward design and I don’t think there’s too much to add. It isn’t treated with DWR and doesn’t use hydrophobic down so I need to be sure to have my waterproof layer with me, but since I can see myself wearing this more as a mid layer, I don’t really see that as a problem.
Kathmandu Heli R Hooded Down Jacket: the bottom line
For a light, warm and versatile down jacket, this is a straightforward solution to insulation. The big story is really the eco-creds, and it’s great to see popular jackets being enhanced in a more planet-friendly way. You can find an even lighter jacket with a higher Fill Power in the Arc’teryx Cerium SL Hoody, but that one has a more fragile shell and a higher price tag. All in all, there’s really not much to grip about with the Heli R.
Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.