Every spring, all the big names in the outdoor industry release a new slew of products to take over the world. There are new puffies, pants, shoes and shells – and it’s often the shells that garner the most hype. One of the brightest stars in this year’s constellation of new shell jackets is the Interstellar Jacket, from Outdoor Research.
Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket Features:
- Movement-Mirroring Stretch
- Fully Adjustable Helmet Compatible Hood
- Wire-Brimmed Halo-Hood
- YKK® AquaGuard® Zippers
- Dynamic Reach™ Underarm Panels
- Fabric: Ascentshell™ 3L, 100% nylon20D mechanical stretch ripstop face with 100% polyester 12D backer
- Average weight: 11.6oz (Large)
- MSRP: $299
Something new in the cosmic realm:
The first time I used Outdoor Research’s proprietary Ascentshell fabric, I got stuck out in some really nasty spring weather on Mt. Baker and was not happy about it. The reason I wasn’t happy was that I had left my big burly Gore-Tex jacket at home because I needed to test ‘the newest thing’ – the Realm jacket, from Outdoor Research. The thing weighed less than 11oz and I was confident that a slow death by exposure was coming for me. But then, to me surprise and delight, the Realm jacket kept me totally dry and protected. It completely out-performed my expectations for such a light fabric.
The reason I begin this review by mentioning an old product is that, when it comes to shells, perhaps the three most important traits are fabric, fit and construction quality. The Realm jacket and the Interstellar jacket share the same fabric and the same construction quality. So, for example, how did the Realm fair over time? As I mentioned in the initial review, the piece’s only failure was in the brim stiffener, which snapped. OR responded by simply sending a new jacket. Otherwise, the Realm held together during around 60 consecutive days of outdoor activity as I worked another season guiding with Peak 7. The ‘high point,’ literally and figuratively, was summiting Eldorado Peak’s knife-edge snow summit with eight scraggly teenagers from around the West. The Realm was there for that, and it was trustworthy.
All that to say, this new-fangled lightweight material that OR is using in some of their shells isn’t all that new-fangled, and in fact it performs very well and holds up over time. And this is true of the Interstellar jacket, which we turn to next.
The air permeability ratings for this jacket, a proxy for how ‘breathable’ it will feel, is 30,000g/m2/24hr. That’s definitely the high end of the spectrum. This jacket is ideal for people who run warm, and it’s hard to find a comparably protective shell that offers this level of breathability and durability.
The difficulty with comments about breathability, water resistivity and durability is that they are all a little relative to some degree. For example, I call this jacket ‘durable,’ but it’s not as durable as the most durable shells out there. That’s because it’s an 11.6oz, 20D fabric. You can buy 100D shells, if you really want durability. Similarly, this fabric’s hydrostatic head is 15,000mm; that’s more than enough to be waterproof, but is that enough for you as you’re contemplating 10 days of backpacking in the Olympic rain forest? Maybe you’ll want something burlier.
Acknowledging these qualities, where I really love the Interstellar is for fast and light alpine endeavors. That’s the tagline of 90% of products these days, but honestly, the Interstellar really lives it.
And this is why: maybe the most important feature of Ascentshell is that it’s incredibly light and truly waterproof. Generally, when we find 20D weaves that are this light, they are PU-coated. That means that they will start off strong and fade quickly, letting in lots of water after a season or two. Or, if it’s a 20D face fabric, the membrane and lining are bulky and add a substantial amount of weight. However, in the case of Ascentshell, the 20D face and 12D polyester liner are both very light AND structurally waterproof (instead of merely treated).
Anyway, that’s my treatise on the fabric and what I think its pros and cons are. If you wrap your crampons in this jacket, it’ll rip. If you treat it well, it’ll keep you dry for several seasons. That’s all.
Now let’s talk features a little. The Interstellar is built with everything you need, trimmed to the standards of a minimalist alpine piece. For example, there are two fairly generous sealed pockets that are large enough to stash your mitts in. They’re mesh-backed, meaning that they act as effective vents. They also act as effective spouts to get your base layers wet, if you let snow get in there. There’s also a zippered chest pocket that has a phone-sized inner insert. This pocket is plenty big enough to hold several bars.
There’s also Outdoor Research’s signature Halo Hood, with its two-way adjustments. I find that this hood design works very well with or without a helmet, staying in place and keeping the hood out of your peripheral vision. When you zip the jacket all the way up, it feels like a fortress around your neck and chin. Always a good thing. The brow is reinforced by a flexible, plastic-coated wire that holds its shape. There’s also a single-toggle hem adjustment.
One of the Realm’s best features is its use of a YKK AquaGuard main zipper. These zippers are very weather resistant (and this one is backed up by a storm flap) but they pull much more easily than a standard sealed zipper. I love these zips. Up top, there’s a trim little patch of felt and a zipper garage to protect your delicate chin.
The one feature that I feel ambivalent about is the cuffs. They’re a mix of elasticized fabric and a Velcro tab. They definitely work, and create a nice, tight seal that slides under gloves easily. But, I am firmly convinced, the elastic bit looks dorky.
I’ll end with a brief discussion of performance. The Interstellar did really well during testing. I’ve already discussed the fabric, but I’ll re-emphasize that it gives reliable protection from the elements despite its excellent low weight and bulk. The jacket fits very well underneath a harness and, crucially, moves with your body thanks to its inherent 4-way stretch. The jacket is trim without being obnoxious, and I was able to wear a fleece under it comfortably while skinning this winter.
All told, I have two issues. The first is a small place where the fabric at the base of the chest pocket zipper started to degrade. At first I thought this was because I horsed the zipper too far down, but in fact it can’t go down far enough to interfere with the fabric. Additionally, I have found two pieces of seam taping whose edges are not completely attached to the jacket. Over time, this will worsen and the seam taping will start to fail. I don’t know exactly what to say of the first problem, I haven’t seen an issue like it before. The seam taping thing, though, is just quality control – after just two months, we can’t have the seam taping start to fail.
- Awesome Ascentshell fabric is light, packable and totally functional
- Breathability is exceptionally good
- Full feature set, no compromises for functionality
- Halo hood is a perennial winner
- YKK main zipper is particularly good
- I like the mesh pocket vents
- Very light – 11.6oz for great protection
- I’ve found two areas of ‘damage’ at an early stage
The Bottom Line: Outdoor Research Interstellar
The Interstellar is a great, functional jacket. It has what you need, and it’s built out of a fabric you can rely on (without hauling around a ton of weight). I love the built-in stretch and the way the jacket moves — it disappears during use the way a good jacket should. I am submitting my two small issues to OR’s warranty department, which I totally expect to have a good experience with. Their Infinity Guarantee might be the best in the business.
Buy now: Available from Backcountry.com