Outdoor Research packs stretch, weight savings, and comfort into its latest Interstellar Jacket. The key is an electrically spun waterproof-breathable membrane. We put the Interstellar to the test from Mexico to Alaska for this review.
Outdoor Research released the Interstellar Jacket ($300) in January, the fifth and pinnacle model of its jacket line. The big story is the brand’s proprietary AscentShell fabric, which OR said has never been used on a full production run. We’ve been testing a pre-production sample since last October.
The Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket should suit several activities. It’s a super lightweight hardshell that delivers improved breathability while being stretchy, soft, and quiet compared to traditional hard shells.
In short: After four months of rigorous testing, the Interstellar performed in hot and freezing temperatures, held up to a week of solid rain, and vented efficiently during high-output activity. The primary drawback was the durability of the DWR finish, which showed signs of wear by the end of our test.
AscentShell Electrospun Membrane: “Nano” Cotton Candy
AscentShell is nice stuff! It has a high moisture vapor transmission rate and is slightly air permeable thanks to the membrane’s physical structure.
To spin this fabric, Outdoor Research uses electricity. Electric charges attract polyester fibers from a liquid polymer mixture and spin them into a crystalline structure.
As shown in the image above, the result is a microscopic cotton candy-like matrix. This randomized web of nanofibers gives the membrane both mechanical stretch and the permeability to pass water vapor while still blocking outside water droplets.
Compared to other available waterproof-breathable membranes, AscentShell requires less of a humidity differential between the inside and outside of the garment to drive vapor through. In plain terms, the wearer won’t have to be as warm before the fabric allows air to pass through.
After the fabric is “electrospun,” the brand lines the interior with 12-denier polyester and laminates the 20-denier ripstop nylon exterior with mechanical stretch. This creates the Interstellar’s three-layer AscentShell fabric.
While this technology is not entirely new, OR claims it hasn’t been implemented on a large scale until now.
Outdoor Research Interstellar: Physical Features
The seam-taped Interstellar Jacket is currently the top dog in the Outdoor Research AscentShell line and possesses a host of features for this position. Notably for climbers, the jacket has a helmet-compatible hood, carabiner loop, and it stuffs into its own pocket. Here’s a full list of features:
Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket Features
- Fully adjustable helmet-compatible hood
- Wire-brimmed halo-hood
- YKK AquaGuard zippers
- YKK AquaGuard Vislon center front zipper
- Internal front storm flap
- Zip chest pocket
- Zip hand pockets
- Stuffs into left-hand pocket
- Carabiner loop
- Key clip
- Dynamic Reach underarm panels
- Single-separating front zipper
- Hook/Loop cuffs
- Elastic drawcord hem
- Elastic cuffs
All this on a full-length jacket (29 inches back length) that weighs 12 ounces.
Review: Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket ($300)
Before putting it on, the most noticeable qualities of the Interstellar Jacket are its light weight and seeming versatility. It has a “just in case” quality, a shell that could always come along for the ride. At first touch, the three-layer fabric feels thin and wispy compared to most hard shell fabrics. But the mechanical stretch allows a tighter cut that still provides excellent mobility.
I am 6 feet tall and weigh 167 pounds, and the large size allowed just enough room for an active insulation layer underneath. Still, it fits a little longer than most of my shells aimed at climbers. The stretchy underarm panels and generous sleeve length kept my arms covered during overhead climbing movements.
I used the jacket across a wide range of temperatures, humidity levels, and geographies this winter: Texas, Washington, Colorado, Mexico, and Alaska. Activities included rock climbing, ice climbing, ski touring, hiking, and aerobic training. I also used it as urban rainwear.
As a waterproof shell, the Interstellar performed well. A solid week of rain during outdoor activity didn’t penetrate the fabric. Though it’s worth noting the DWR finish began to falter toward the end of this test (more below). But the real selling point is the way this jacket handles air.
During high-output activity, the AscentShell’s breathability – along with venting via the zippered mesh-backed chest and hand warmer pockets – worked well in all but the most humid of conditions. Yet, the jacket still proved perceptibly windproof.
Overall, the low weight, stretch, suppleness, and quiet fabric made the shell a joy to climb in. It doesn’t restrict movement, even though it possesses a sleek, form-fitting cut. Traditional hard shells can feel stiff, crinkly, and less mobile; the Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket was the opposite.
Outdoor Research Interstellar: Drawbacks
The characteristics that make the Interstellar Jacket perform well during climbing and training also raise some questions about durability. Although the jacket suffered no visible damage during the testing period, the thin, wispy nature of the fabric hints at possible puncture and snagging issues in abrasive environments.
Further, the DWR coating lost some effectiveness over the testing period. With continued exposure to rain, large droplets would still bead, but smaller, mist or drizzle sized droplets started to soak into the outer face fabric. This was a concern, though no water soaked through in our rigorous four-month review.
The Outdoor Researcher Interstellar Jacket provides low weight, moisture vapor management, compressibility, and freedom of movement. These place it high on the list for any endeavor where a hard shell is required, total weight is a primary concern, and full features are still in demand.
AscentShell promises improved comfort through increased air permeability. The ability of this technology to match specific needs makes it a material worth wearing.