Ground Effect Helter Skelters Review: 3/4 Length Rain Pants
Expecting inclement weather on your next bikepacking trip? Think full-length waterproof pants are overkill? Cass suggests taking a pair of Ground Effect’s minimal, three-quarter length Helter Skelters for a whirl…
I’ve long been a big fan of three-quarter length waterproof pants. I even made my own. By that, I don’t just mean I cut down full length ones; a friend and I went to the effort of sewing a couple of pairs of our own design for a bike tour across Tibet in 1999. They looked terrible, but they worked.
Later, Scotland’s Endura released an eVent model that I wore and loved for many years. Its butt eventually blew out, and when I went to buy another, I saw the line had been dropped. Clearly, the world wasn’t quite ready for the Three Quarter Length Waterproof Short Revolution. So, I went back to chopping down old pairs of rain pants (and even sewing in elasticated leg pulls or adding velcro), until I recently spotted Ground Effect’s take on the subject: the Helter Skelter. And, after a few weeks wearing a pair, I’m singing their praises in the hope that they stick around!
My obsession with three-quarter lengths stems from the belief that, whilst full-length waterproof pants are occasionally extremely useful (especially for raining season touring and long, wet descents), they’re rarely worth their weight and bulk for minimal bikepacking. As someone who warms up quickly, I spend my time forever hopping off my bike to put them on and pull them off (and generally hopping around on one leg by the roadside). This is particularly the case for mountain touring, where conditions flip between arduous, sweaty climbs and long, chilly descents.
Enter the three-quarter length rain pant which is, by its very nature, so much more breathable than the conventional trouser, no matter how high tech a material it’s fashioned from. Once it’s on, it’s on. No more boil in the bag, sweaty pins. Yes, the three-quarter length rain pant is no match for its full-length counterpart, should a biblical-style downpour sweep in across the horizon. And your shoes will bear the brunt of the action. But still, the Helter Skelters do a remarkably good job at keeping your thighs and butt completely dry from both rain and (most importantly) cruddy, muddy, road splatter, which is what I want when I’m touring in inclement weather. If your local roads are subject to melting snow/slush, they’re great for general day rides too.
In terms of cut, I’m a 32″ waist, so opted for a size medium, which worked out just right. It’s nice to see a fairly broad range of options, from XS to XL, which should mean the Helter Skelters cater well to women too. The shorts feature two snap buttons; I use the outer one when I wear them over a set of baggy riding shorts, but I’d probably use the inner button if wore lycra, or if I forgot to have lunch. A simple, grippy elasticated waistband holds them in place and keeps pressure light on the belly. I’m 6’1″ and the leg length comes down well below my knees, protecting them from cold breezes. Of course, fit will vary depending on your build and the size of the shorts. My mediums measured around 72cm (28.3in) from the top of the waist to the bottom of the leg, so you can figure it out from there, by comparing it with your favourite shorts.
Note that there are no velcro tabs or draw cords to cinch in the leg openings, as I had on my old Enduras. Still, I found the cut just so; they never flapped around and caught on anything, like water bottles in a frame. Nor do you have to worry about them being gobbled up in your chain, which is often the fate of non-bike-specific, full-length rain pants.
The openings are wide enough that if I need to pull them off, it’s easily done, even over a pair of shoes. Neatly, the shorts pack away into their own zip pocket, making a small parcel that weighs around 220g. When packed, they’re compact enough that there’s never much need to leave them at home.
In terms of materials, the Helter Skelters use a lightweight, waterproof, and breathable three-layer HydroFoil, with articulated knees. According to Ground Effect, they’re rated to a 23,000mm hydrostatic head, with a durable water-repellent finish. So far, so good: they certainly feel more durable than some of the flimsy, ultralight rain pants on the market. Their breathability rating is 33,000 gm per sqm per 24hrs. What that means, I can’t really say, but it’s not an issue anyway, given the wonderful airiness around the knees. Detailing includes reflective piping and a reflective patch, ticking the box for safe commuting. The material is seam sealed, the crotch is gusseted, and there’s a zippered pocket at the back.
The shorts ship from New Zealand, which is where they’re made; there’s a dropdown menu on Ground Effect’s site with pricing for different countries. For instance, their $199 NZD price tag currently equates to US$135.75, or £105 for Brits. In the case of the UK, price includes tax and delivery takes 1-2 weeks. In the US, parcels generally fly under the taxman’s radar, being a low-value item. Shipping cost is based on weight; typically around $20-30 Kiwi dollars for the UK and 10-15 Kiwi dollars for the States. The website has all the details, including expedited delivery options.
- Good cut that’s comfortable in the saddle
- Light and easy to pack, with a zip-away pouch
- Much airier than full-length waterproof pants
- Ground Effect play an active role in bike advocacy
- Not as deluge-friendly as full-length waterproof pants
- No velcro tabs at the bottoms of the legs to tune fit (not that this was an issue for me)
- You’ll need to factor in some shipping time and costs
- Weight 220g (7.7oz)
- Price$135 USD (depending on exchange rate)
- Place of Manufacture New Zealand
- ContactGround Effect
Granted, I haven’t yet had a chance to put my Helter Skelters through the grinder on a multi-week tour. When they’ve had more use, I’ll update this review. But so far, they’re doing just great. Yes, I could keep chopping down old pairs of rain pants and save myself some dollars. But to give credit where credit’s due, the Helter Skelters offer everything I want from this style of rain pants. They’re waterproof, have a good cut for cycling, allow room for baggy riding shorts underneath, and pack down very small. If things are as slushy in your part of the world as they are in mine right now, the Helter Skelters are a godsend (shame on me for not running fenders).
I’ll admit that if I was planning a bike tour into the heart of a cold, miserable, monsoon season mountain range (which, to be honest, I do my best to avoid these days), I’d definitely stick with full-length waterproof pants. But for everything else, the Helter Skelters are just about perfect. Plus, they come from a Kiwi company with good ethics and a reputation for bicycle advocacy. Having used several Ground Effect products over the years, I can vouch for the durability of their gear.
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