Outdoor Research designs and manufactures a plethora of high quality gear for the backcountry crowd. Their ski collection offers up jackets and pants that can be used both for resort laps and longer backcountry excursions. The Skyward II jacket and pants are one such combo that are mid-weight, waterproof/breathable and feature laden. These hardshell’s are made to excel under all mountain conditions.
Softshell or hardshell, which is it? With the Outdoor Research Skyward II jacket and Pants, it's kind of both.
Both the Skyward II jacket and pants are made from an 88/12 nylon/spandex material which utilize Outdoor Research’s AscentShell technology. This allows for unprecedented breathability and waterproofness. AscentShell has an Electrospun Membrane which is essentially made up of small polyurethane short staple fibres that are electrically charged and then randomly laid to create a waterproof barrier that is actually air-permeable. Water vapour escapes through many holes of different sizes and allows sweat to dry very quickly because it’s in a constant air circulation chamber.
Compared to Gore-Tex, AscentShell keeps users drier as it moves moisture out faster. The fabric itself is also softer, more flexible, and much quieter. AscentShell incorporates stretch into the material, something Gore-Tex hardshells don’t do. In terms of pricing, Outdoor Research works directly with suppliers for the fabric which enables them to create AscentShell products at a lower cost.
Shell: 88% nylon 12% spandex 50D stretch plain weave face with 100% polyester 50D knit backer
Dual Chest pockets with an inner mesh card holder on the left side which can accommodate an RFID pass.
Mesh inner liner jacket pockets, big enough to stash your skins.
Two way underarm zippers which go all the way to the waist allow for opening up the jacket for ventilation.
Hook Lock allows for a customizable fit with or without a helmet
Outdoor Research bills the Skyward II pants and jacket as a combo for high output backcountry activities. After testing both riding the chair lifts and also skinning up in early season, I’d be inclined to say that the Skyward II pants and jacket are more at home in the resort and on short side country excursions rather than long days out in the backcountry gaining large amounts of vertical. Which isn’t a bad thing. Although 731g and 650g for the jacket and pants respectively is by no means portly, it’s almost double the weight of the Black Diamond Active Helio jacket and pants. I am definitely a fan of lightweight shells that I can layer up under and when necessary toss into my backpack on the uptrack. The Skyward II is a little too heavy and bulky to be such a jacket unless you like to carry a bigger backpack. On the other hand I found the pants to be extremely comfortable in weight and didn’t notice any negative effect on performance.
Weight aside this is an extremely comfortable jacket/pant combo. The feel of the AscentShell fabric is almost like a softshell so although the fit is on the slim side there is excellent range of movement. Breathability is also very impressive. On a sunny, warm day when I was wearing a few too many layers underneath the jacket and my heavy long underwear under the pants I never once felt clammy. When I took the jacket off at the end of the day I was expecting it to be wet on the inside but other than some minor condensation it was pretty much dry. That was even after I had forgot to undo the underarm zippers. One thing to note in the pants is that they only have a zipper vent about halfway down the thigh. In a heavier pant such as these I would expect at least a zipper down to the knees as I like to unzip the sides of pants as much as possible while climbing so having such a small vent isn’t ideal. However, the AscentShell breathes so well I felt overheating wasn’t much of a concern.
There hasn’t been a lot of precipitation to test the kit in heavy snow conditions so I took it out for a long walk on a cold and rainy night in town. As expected no moisture managed to penetrate either the jacket or pants. The YKK AquaGuard Zippers did an impressive job sealing out any moisture.
Overall the Skyward II kit is an extremely comfortable jacket/pant combo that stands up to the elements yet remains extremely breathable. The AscentShell fabric more resembles a softshell rather than a stiff crunchy hardshell and the flexibility of the material is outstanding. If you are looking for a reasonably priced kit for inbounds days and shorter sidecountry tours the Outdoor Research Skyward II should definitely be on your radar.
Outdoor Research Skyward II Jacket
Price: $450CAN / $350US
Weight: 731g / 25.8oz (size Large)
Colours: cobalt/naval blue, storm/black, firebrick/carob
Size: S, M, L, XL
Outdoor Research Skyward II Pants
Price: $400CAN / $299 US
Weight: 650g / 22.9oz (size Large)
Colours: black, cobalt
Size: S, M, L, XL
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