Recent dedicated DIII-D experiments in low-torque, ITER-similar-shape (ISS) hydrogen plasmas (at a plasma current Ip ∼ 1.5 MA and ITER-similar edge safety factor q95 ∼ 3.6) show that the L-H transition power threshold PLH can be reduced substantially (∼30%) with L-mode helium admixtures nHe/ne ⩽ 25%. In the ensuing H-mode, helium ion fractions nHe/nH remain below 25%. H-mode normalized pressure and confinement quality are only slightly affected by helium seeding, and Zeff ⩽ 2.15 (including helium and carbon content). The plasmas investigated here are electron-heat dominated, with temperatures Te(0)/Ti(0) ⩾ 1 and edge heat flux ratio Qe/Qi(ρ = 0.95) ∼ 1.2–1.5. Without mitigation, PLH is higher by a factor of 2–3 in comparison to similar ISS deuterium plasmas. ISS hydrogen plasmas with lower plasma current Ip ∼ 1 MA (increased edge safety factor q95 ∼ 5.1) exhibit a substantially lower power threshold. This plasma current dependence, also observed previously on ASDEX-U and in JET, is not accounted for by the commonly used 2008 ITPA multi-machine threshold scaling, but could potentially allow H-mode access at marginal heating power during the initial plasma current ramp-up. Attempts to reduce PLH with low-field- and high-field-side hydrogen pellet injection, using 1.7 mm diameter pellets, have not demonstrated a robust threshold reduction, in contrast to successful earlier experiments with larger 2.7 mm pellets. Techniques for reducing PLH are very important for ITER, in particular for accessing H-mode in hydrogen plasmas during the Pre-Fusion Power Operation-1 (PFPO-1) campaign with marginal auxiliary heating power (20–30 MW of ECH).