Breathability vs Weather Protection
When evaluating waterproof, breathable outerwear, the question is rarely how waterproof a jacket is, rather it’s whether the jacket is actually breathable enough to keep you comfortable while working hard on the skin track. Breathability, however, is a somewhat relative term. We all heat up and sweat at different rates, and some breathable membranes are simply more breathable than others. My ski touring shell preferences typically lean toward breathability versus weather protetction. But there are days when truly waterproof outerwear is a must. Here in the Pacific Northwest, it’s the days when the freezing levels are high and the snow is wet. The best way to stay dry in these conditions is to ‘tex up – as in GORE-TEX – as a guide pal once suggested as he pulled out his shell.
There are lots of GORE-TEX alternatives on the market, but few really rise to the same weather and breathability performance that GORE products offer. So I was keen to give Outdoor Research’s Ascentshell fabric a test. According to Outdoor Research, Ascentshell is designed with breathability as its priority while still maintaining high waterproof standards. Rather than calling it waterproof and breathable, Outdoor Research actually calls it waterproof and air permeable. In their words. “… air permeability and breathability are two different things. Breathability describes the ability of a jacket to move moisture from the inside out, but it doesn’t describe how the moisture moves. This is important because in traditional waterproof jackets, that airflow doesn’t even start to work until you’ve already started to sweat uncomfortably. … Air permeability is when a small amount of airflow allows moisture to move quickly and easily from the inside of the jacket to the outside, before building up to sweat levels that create discomfort and clamminess.”
Outdoor Research Skyward II Jacket
So what’s all the tech talk mean? It means that the Outdoor Research Skyward II Jacket with Ascentshell (available for men and women) is designed for being active and to let heat and moisture escape more easily than shells using more traditional waterproof, breathable membranes. For those who are not familiar, GORE and most other waterproof, breathable products are built on a sandwich-style construction that layers a waterproof, breathable membrane between fabrics or simply laminates one to another fabric. Ascentshell is built around an air permeable membrane that offers a high degree of waterproofness.
The language differences are likely splitting hairs for most skiers, and the bottom line is that the Skyward II jacket is a fully-featured ski shell with a good degree of breathability and plenty of weather protection. It has weathered multiple stormy lift ski days without wavering. And following multiple ski tours, the Skyward II Jacket is easily on par with GORE membranes for breathability. To get specific, it feels more breathable at low end activity levels and equally as breathable when working hard. It also shines on the waterproof storm protection front.
Outdoor Research Skyward II Pants
Like the jacket, the Skyward II Pants (available for men and women) are made with Ascentshell. They offer the same versatility with breathability and storm shedding powers. Overall, the pants have a lighter feel than the jacket, and the stretch nature of the Ascentshell is more pronounced in the pants. They feel great skiing and let you walk or tour without restriction. Zip side vents are well placed for some added air flow. While the jacket feels a bit heavier than necessary due to extensive zippers, the pants actually feel pretty tour friendly. While not as breathable as softshell pants (here’s a couple of our fave softshell ski pants), they walk the dual-duty of resort riding and ski touring pretty nicely, though I do give the overall design a resort bias. For example, the front thigh location of the cargo pocket is chairlift friendly (versus a side cargo pocket that is more walk friendly), and built-in gaiters keep your boots nicely sealed up, while for touring a built-in gaiter simply one more layer between you and your buckles. Nonetheless, they breathe and move well enough for breaking trail.
Quiver-of-One Ski Shell and Ski Pants
The Outdoor Research Skyward Jacket II jacket and pants make for a balanced quiver-of-one ski outerwear combination. They are the jacket and pants you can wear day in and day out at the resort and pack for a backcountry tour, too. They are stout enough to handle stormy days on the lift and breathable enough to keep you comfortable on the boot pack or skin track when layered right. Vents – top and bottom – let you dump heat during strenuous efforts.
They may not be light-is-right style gear. But they offer durable shell coverage with bomber zippers, fully taped seams and multiple features. The jacket pit zips extend all the way to the hem creating a unique open, vented feel and combined with a two-way front zip, let you easily access a harness or beacon. The jacket’s slightly extended length is nice at the resort, and it weighs in at 25oz/725g – similar to other bomber 3L waterproof, breathable shells. The pants include a beacon pocket with a leash (read more about putting your beacon in your pocket here). The face fabric is soft, and both jacket and pants have enough stretch for natural feeling movement.
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