Air permeable fabric and massive vents in the Outdoor Research Skyward Jacket help backcountry skiers stay dry while earning turns. We put it to the test for this review.
Moisture is the bugger of backcountry skiing and other aerobic, cold-weather athletics. If you soak clothes with sweat on the uphill, you’ll get cold once you’ve stopped.
Outdoor Research aims to keep backcountry skiers dry with huge mechanical vents and air permeable, breathable fabric in the Skyward Jacket.
I found the jacket to be a top choice after testing during two months of backcountry and resort skiing in Colorado and Utah.
Review: Outdoor Research Skyward Jacket ($350)
Short story: The Skyward is a great shell. It has all the little details skiers expect from a high-end shell jacket. See “details” below. But first, let’s look at the jacket from a mile-high perspective.
Hike up a mountain, and you’re likely to get hot and sweaty, potentially soaking insulating layers. The Skyward aims to address this problem.
The jacket is made of Outdoor Research’s proprietary AscentShell fabric. This fabric is not only breathable (meaning water vapor moves through it) but also air-permeable (meaning air actually moves through the fabric). Other air-permeable performance fabrics include eVent and Polartec Neoshell.
Even though you can force air through the jacket, it moves very slowly. You won’t notice wind, and the jacket is waterproof and seam taped.
Air-Permeable AscentShell Fabric Tested
To test the jacket, I have been skiing both uphill and down over the past couple months. Admittedly, all my use was in the low-humidity regions of Colorado and Utah.
Working hard on snowy days, I remained relatively dry even when working up a sweat in the Skyward. However, this was due not only to the fabric, but also the massive vents on the side of the jacket. The pit zips literally go all the way to the waist, allowing you to vent off heat and moisture fast.
This, to me, is a good thing. Too many people rely on fabric to automatically manage their moisture, a behavior that will likely lead to soaked insulating layers due to condensation.
For the smart user, the Skyward’s combination of highly breathable fabric and effective venting systems should lead to proper moisture management under most backcountry ski conditions.
OR Skyward: Details
For me, the devil of a jacket is most definitely in the details. With the Skyward Jacket, Outdoor Research knocks it out of the park.
Start with the zippers. The front zip is a big, strong, two-way YKK zipper. It won’t fail, and lets you open the jacket from the bottom or top. In a ski jacket, this is what you want.
The huge side zips and pockets have smaller waterproof YKK zippers. They’re bomber, and perfect for the job.
Another sweet detail is the detached (not detachable) hood. This means the hood and collar are separated completely. While it adds a little weight and cost to the jacket, it’s a wonderfully comfortable design, and in my opinion very worth it. The hood fits easily over a ski helmet, has a brim, and can snug down around the face.
The inside of the collar is lined with micro-fleece. It’s soft against the face. This is nice.
The stretchy inside “dump” pockets are big enough to easily stow your climbing skins, which is freaking awesome. Get to the top of the climb, pull your skins, and drop them in the pockets. Your body heat will help the glue warm up on your descent, and should help them stick back on your skis better for the next climb.
Skins slide inside two stretchy pockets to warm against the body and the main pockets are a great size for carrying lunch or a soft water bottle.
Outdoor Research Skyward: Great Jacket For Skiers
Overall, I really like the Skyward Jacket. While its breathability alone won’t keep you dry when working hard, Outdoor Research gave you all the tools you need to vent with big side zips.
The fit seems true to size. I’m 5’8″, 150 pounds, and a medium is just right. If you’re unsure, Outdoor Research has a sizing chart on the product page. The jacket comes with the brand’s Infinite Guarantee, which means it’s warrantied forever.
For those who ride in-bounds, the jacket works great at resorts, too. I’ve used it a half dozen days at ski areas, and found the backcountry utility completely at home in the less demanding environs of lift-served skiing.
While I haven’t used it for many other purposes, it seems like a good fit for ice climbing, mountaineering, snowshoeing, or many other outdoors pursuits when a shell jacket comes in handy.
It weighs 26 ounces, so is a little heavy on the backcountry spectrum but entirely reasonable for a fully-featured shell. Every little detail of the jacket adds to its utility. It’s a tough piece that should last a long time, and keep the elements at bay when the going gets nasty.
Check it out if you’re in the market for a shell jacket. I’ve been pleased, and suspect you will be too.