The 2023 Ora Xpore ski shell hit Black Crows’ lineup with an eco-friendly material in a jacket that brings performance and style.
It was not going to be a warm tour to the top of Meadow Mountain. A storm had rolled in early and we’d gotten a slow start.
It was approaching 12:30 p.m. and 20 degrees by the time we clicked into our skis. Snow was already falling. If we wanted to summit at the Line Shack and make it back down before dark, we were going to have to push the next 5 miles. We’d work up a sweat on the way up, which could make for cold descent if our gear wasn’t up to snuff.
This was the first day of testing my Black Crows Ora Xpore Ripstop jacket. Black Crows made the jacket with recycled and PFC-free 3L Xpore mechanical stretch ripstop material. Translation: It’s an eco-friendly jacket that’s supposed to be waterproof, windproof, lightweight, and breathable during high-energy activity.
The jacket is also decked out with all the features that make any ski jacket worth wearing: a removable powder skirt, pit zips, convenient pocket placement, chevron-designed seal tape, a helmet-compatible hood, and the whole 9 yards.
But I had my reservations about the Xpore technology and the Ora’s “cutting-edge” material — especially before that cold hike up Meadow Mountain. Would it breathe enough to let my sweat evaporate? As light as it felt, could it still trap enough heat to keep me warm on the descent? Can an eco-friendly recycled material really be as wind- and waterproof as conventional alternatives?
I put the Ora Xpore through the wringer to find out. And the jacket has pleasantly surprised me again and again.
In short: I tested the Ora Xpore Ripstop jacket through November, December, and into January of this year. I saw wet, stormy, cold, clear bluebird days, and everything in between. Wind couldn’t touch me. Water never soaked through. The uninsulated winter shell kept me warm enough when it was cold and allowed sweat to evaporate when I was working hard.
This jacket rocks. It’s absolutely on par with the ski shells competitive brands like Arc’Teryx and Picture are turning out.
Black Crows Ora Xpore Ripstop Review
Ora Xpore: High-Performance and Eco-Friendly?
Before diving into the jacket itself, it’s worth taking a look specifically at Xpore. We’ll be blunt here: Xpore seems to perform well, but so do dozens of other waterproof-breathable membranes, like the venerable GORE-TEX. So what makes Xpore different?
The company’s catalog of fabrics offers natural/synthetic blends that use a mix of pineapple leaf fiber and recycled polyester. Others are made from bio-nylon, which is generated by microorganisms renewably, instead of being refined from crude oil. And others still are made from a blend of bio-nylon and recycled polyester.
For the Ora Xpore Ripstop jacket, Black Crows used the 3L Xpore Xtreme Power fabric with a 149 gsm weight. The tech behind which, is functionally similar to other waterproof-breathable textiles. It has a membrane permeated with nanopores, 20,000 times smaller than water droplets. Water cannot pass through them, but perspiration in the form of water vapor can.
Thus, Xpore breathes but is also waterproof and windproof.
Any fabric can incorporate Xpore. That includes natural ones like wool or cotton, or unique ones like denim or leather. As illustrated in the graphic (above), the client’s customized layer goes over the top of the PFC-free, solvent-free, and eco-friendly Xpore membrane. That makes it possible to add Xpore waterproofing, windproofing, and breathability to any textile, and any apparel.
And again, that sounds pretty familiar. We know that many laminate brands (including GORE-TEX) are incorporated across myriad product categories. It’s a proven business model that puts Xpore’s logo on brands like Black Crows’ products. Then Black Crows gets to market those products as eco-friendly and sustainable.
The Ora jacket is made with Black Crows’ customized 46% recycled polyester 3L Xpore fabric. When you grab it, it feels very durable, and it didn’t snag, rip, or tear when I skied through tight pine trees or pushed through the brush. The material is lightweight but clearly tough.
The Ora Layout and Style
Like most Black Crows jackets, this one is dripping with skier steaze.
The wrist cuffs have colorful push-through lycra sleeves with bright Black Crows logos. The interior of the jacket is embossed with more colorful Black Crows logos along the seam tape. Wear the low hem straight, or unsnap a couple of buttons on the back and it’s got tails. That’s fancy.
And for a little extra flair, the inside of the Velcro wrist straps have one of Black Crows’ signature mottos: “The food looks amazing.”
The parka-style layout has four big pockets with magnetic buttons on the front. Those can store a surprising amount of snacks, beer, gear, and loose items.
The powder skirt’s zipper makes it easy to remove when you don’t need it. And the hood easily fits over and cinches down on a helmet. Only your goggles are visible when it’s zipped all the way up, with the hood on.
Inside there’s also a zipped Napoleon pocket and a mesh pocket that’s the perfect size to fit your skins in after transitioning for a descent. I also used it to hold my gloves when walking to and around the resort.
Stretch tabs make the hem and hood easy to cinch, the pocket zips are water-repellant, the main zip is waterproof, and there’s a RECCO reflector embedded in the hood.
The Ora Xpore comes in dark blue and gold, and Black Crows sells a matching set of bibs.
- Weight: 810 g
- Waterproof: 27,000 mm
- Breathability: 13,000 g/m2
- Outer material: 3L 56% recycled polyamide, 44% polyamide
- Lining: lycra jersey, 80% polyamide, 20% elastane
To be frank, I got cold on that Meadow Mountain skin. We topped out at Line Shack around 4:15 p.m., transitioned, wolfed down an old summer sausage I found in my backpack, and by the time we were actually skiing down, we were racing daylight. The storm was dumping cold wet snow on us and the temperature was dropping. By the bottom, I was shivering.
But that was because I hadn’t quite figured out the layering requirements for this jacket. It was my first time wearing it, and I overestimated the shell’s ability to hold 15- to 20-degree cold weather at bay.
It only took a little more experimenting to dial that in, though. Once I knew which layers worked well under my Ora, and what kinds of conditions I’d need them in, I was untouchable.
That shouldn’t have surprised me. This is a shell, after all, that doesn’t have any built-in insulation.
And as a shell, the Ora performed exceptionally well. The waterproofing never gave out on me. With adequate layers underneath, I stayed warm and I never once felt freezing gusts of wind penetrate the fabric. And I looked fly ripping down the mountain.
There were just two parts of the jacket that didn’t perform great for me. The first was one of the hood cinching tabs — it popped straight off the elastic string the first time I grabbed it. Despite repeated attempts to reattach that, I haven’t been successful.
The second was the main YKK waterproof zipper. YKK is the best zipper maker in the world. But with this jacket, I find myself manhandling the zipper tab every time I put it on to line it up perfectly. And still, about once every three zips, it misthreads on me.
Maybe that will change over time, as the waterproof zipper breaks in — but for now, it’s just annoying.
Either of those issues could be anomalous manufacturing defects. Another Ora jacket might not have those problems. But the third drawback of the Ora is an intentional feature from Black Crows: the price. At $840, this shell is more expensive than every other ski jacket on GearJunkie’s roundup of The Best Ski Jackets of 2023.
And if you also get the matching bibs ($720), you’re over $1,500 in the hole. Skiwear is expensive in general, but Black Crows’ is undoubtedly on the steeper side.
Ski shells are one of those articles of apparel that seem like they should be so simple and similar across brands. It just needs to block wind and water. It requires no insulation. And ventilation is essentially reduced to pit zips.
But in the Ora Xpore jacket, Black Crows made a ski shell that goes well above and beyond that baseline. The lycra wrist cuffs, the well-thought-out pocket layouts/sizes, the removable powder skirt, and the big helmet-compatible hood combined — this shell was clearly designed by skiers for skiers.
Then on top of all that, it also has eco-friendly, recycled, durable material that’s every bit as breathable, windproof, and waterproof as other leading 3L fabrics. It looks good, it performs well, and it also uses sustainably sourced and designed materials.
That’s a win-win-win in my book.
I’ve fallen in love with the Ora Xpore Ripstop jacket this season. Enough that I actually retired my trusty old Summit L5 Shell from The North Face. This is now my go-to shell for resort skiing and cold or wet backcountry days.