Kathmandu Heli R down jacket: Tested
I admit, as a long time Aus Geo ADVENTURE contributor and gear tester, it’s not uncommon for me to find myself in weird and wonderful places around the world, often with very little pre-planning and frequently, committed to at the last minute. So, when it comes to packing there’s a simple rule I follow: “Stuff in a down jacket and board shorts, then worry about the rest”.
While these two items might appear rather contrasting, they’re both ridiculously useful, whether it be an impromptu gathering at a hot spring in the alpine regions, or a want for a travel pillow on a dodgy Bolivian airline. Rarely is either item left unused. But what if I was limited to only one item? Well, it would be the downie of course; most likely because the word ‘prudish’ is not often associated with myself. So, when the opportunity to use and abuse Kathmandu’s lightweight, eco-friendly Heli R jacket was thrown my way I feigned impartialness whilst my subconscious started planning the next adventure.
The Heli has been a staple of the Kathmandu range for years, and for good reason; it’s an affordable, general use all round lightweight down jacket designed for a range of activities. The Heli R is, put simply, a Heli, but better. At a regular retail price of only $220 the R is lighter, warmer, stronger, and more eco-friendly than its predecessor. It offers the right balance of warmth for weight for a multipurpose insulating layer, and importantly also has an ace up its sleeve, or more importantly a QR code in its lining.
The Heli R’s QR code is Kathmandu’s new high-tech approach to delivering greater transparency on the way a garment is manufactured. A digital ID is sewn into every single jacket. Scan the code and your phone will take you to your jacket’s design, history, impact & sustainability story.
What you’ll soon learn is that your new Heli R is just pretty bloody good for the planet. The face fabric and lining are made from bluesign® certified 100% recycled polyester, accompanied by recycled plastic trims, recycled zip-tape and traceable and Responsible Down Standard (RDS) certified 600 fill power (80% duck down/20% duck feather). You can check the origins of the RDS down used in the jacket by scanning the QR code printed on the paper swing-tag.
What all this means is the Heli R is not only better for the environment, but also keeps our torso toasty. The DWR coated, recycled, ripstop polyester is softer, stronger and 33% lighter than original Heli materials. In fact, a medium Heli R weighs in at a mere 300g, a massive 25% lighter than its predecessor.
And the great news is if you happen to be a fashionista, the Heli R comes in five different colour ways with sizing from XS to XXXL, and even stuffs nicely into its own pocket for storage.
In the field
The Heli R is the kind of jacket you throw on, no matter what, and our Beech/Dark Moss (with orange lining) colour meant it was just as wearable in the wilds as it is at the local microbrewery or checking the surf in the morning.
Knowledge of the Heli R’s environmental impact story is a bonus and solid reassurance we’re not killing the places we might use the jacket to visit.
Sizing might be a little on the small side, I’m usually a large, but the extra-large fitted my 188cm frame rather perfectly and I was happy to note a long enough sleeve length to fit over gloves. At just over 300g the Heli R was super light and ridiculously ‘stuffable’ into its own pocket. Certainly, compact enough to throw into even the smallest of daypacks.
Importantly for a down jacket, the YKK zips remained snag-free and zipped up high on the neck to offer a snug collar to keep out the cold. Pocket placement and size were nice, big enough for gloved hands and/or a load of trail mix and a beanie. A nice touch is the external hand warmer pockets doubling as an internal goggle sleeve. I’m not sure if that’s what they were designed for… but it works a treat
The stitched-through baffles performed admirably and were more than adequate for multi-day winter hiking excursions or mild weather ski touring/snow shoeing but as with any stitched through garment there is possibility of cold spots, and/or wind ingress, particularly in subzero conditions. I’ll reserve judgement until I head out on the main range.
I love the idea of the digital ID which offers a great insight into recycled materials and ethically sourced down. Simply scanning the QR code on the paper-card swing tag takes you to info on the species of bird used to source the down from, the location, the fill power and the test report code and the RDS certification code. It’s impressive and ensures you’ve made a conscientious purchase when buying the Heli R.
The final word on the Kathmandu Heli R
From winter wanderings below the snowline to Wanaka wine bars, the Heli R ticks the right boxes. It’s bloody good for Mother Nature, is fantastic value for money (on sale at present for $132) and offers a great universal downie for three-season activities – and even a selection of four-season forays. If you’re headed to an 8000-metre peak, the Arctic or Antarctica, then this is not the jacket for you, but for adventures where a lightweight compact insulating mid-layer is a must, then the Heli R might be the most affordable box ticker we’ve come across to date.
RRP: $220 (on sale for $132) See Kathmandu for more info on this and other gear.