“An office jacket – for those who work in the mountains.” That’s how Outdoor Research bills their flagship Maximus alpine Gore-Tex Pro shell; a fully-featured workhorse for those who go hard day after day in the alpine. I recently took a little jaunt to Banff to poke around one or two multi-pitch waterfalls up yonder, and the Maximus came along to keep out the flying Canadian ice.
Outdoor Research Maximus Features:
- Fully seam-taped, laminated and hybrid-mapped construction
- Movement-mirroring stretch
- Helmet-compatible hood that stows away
- YKK® AquaGuard® Vislon zippers
- TorsoFlo™ venting goes hem-to-pit
- Two internal Shove-It™ pockets
- Exterior zip chest and hand pockets with a single internal chest pocket
- Integrated hood cordlocks
- Dynamic Reach™ underarm panels
- Double-separating front zipper
- MSRP: $550
King of the Mountain?
The Maximus is an interesting jacket for a number of reasons. For one thing, it really is Outdoor Research’s baby, its gift to the world. Outdoor Research is one of the best manufacturers of alpine shells, and the Maximus is, well, their most burly offering. So you know it’s going to come with some Oomph in the design department at the very least. For another, it’s not even pretending to be one of those prissy ultralight alpine shells. Ultralight? Minimalist? Pfffft. When I’m getting sleeted on at 9,000 feet and can’t see the next guy on the rope team, let’s just say I would rather be in a fortress than a single-wide mobile home. Or at least that’s the line Outdoor Research is taking with the Maximus: maximum performance, maximum features. It’s a fortress.
Fortresses, by the way, are a little heavy. The Maximus clocks in at 22.9oz, just 1.5oz short of a pound and a half. That, friends, is one chunky baby. Where does all of that weight come from? Well, it seems that Outdoor Research wanted to see if it was possible to cram every single useful feature into a single alpine shell. The result is the Maximus and, just like I said, it promises maximum performance from the maximum amount of features. So let’s dive right in with those features, then we’ll talk fabric and then real-world results.
The Maximus has every feature you can think of, and then some. For starters, there is plenty of storage around the jacket with two inner mesh stuff pockets (which are quite narrow and deep = good for bars), and internal zippered security pocket and two baffled crossover pockets which can expand to take more gear rather than pulling tight across your chest. These pockets feature YKK Vislon zippers, which are dual tone for looks and have big teeth so they pull easily. There are also two sealed hand pockets which are mesh-lined for venting.
The hood design is classic OR: Burly, bomber, defined by function. At the peak of the brow there’s an enclosed wire which will hold the hold’s shape against just about any amount of wind. The downside to the wire is that it’s basically impossible to keep the wire in a regular, smooth shape. But that’s just looks. The hood has the standard adjustments with simple exposed cordlocks that are fixed to the fabric for ease of use with gloves. The hood’s biggest selling point is the panel of GORE-TEX Stretch fabric at the base of the neck.
This is a big help in looking side-to-side when wearing the hood over a helmet, which can often be quite constricting. The hood, by the way, can accommodate chunky monsters like my Mammut Alpine Rider ski touring helmet. It becomes a big tight around the neck and chin but the stretch panel is a big improvement over comparable designs. You’ll also be glad of the zipper garage and fleece-lined chinguard if you have the jacket zipped all the way up with a hood, too.
The Maximus doesn’t have conventional pit-zips, and instead has TorsoFlo™ Venting zippers. These run from the hem of the jacket to the middle of the pit, so they’re placed quite a bit lower than traditional pit zips. There is one major advantage to this placement, and that is how much more easily they pull when the sleeve of the jacket is loose. With conventional pit zips you often have to grab a bit of the fabric in your hand and then use your other hand to pull the zipper. Since these zips start just below the pit, the fabric is quite a bit tighter to start with and they pull easier.
The downside is that they’re not quite as directly over your actual armpit, so presumably you won’t be able to dump as much heat. Plus, with a harness or backpack, the bottom range of the venting is unusable. It’s also a two-way zip, so if you wanted you could do something funky like unzip these from the bottom and drape the front of the jacket over a backpack harness for mondo physical ventillation. There are options. In the mean time, the hem of the jacket has an extra snap-button to take strain off of the zipper heads.
Perhaps the Maximus’ most unique feature are the zippered cuffs. There are two functions here: one is additional ventilation, the other is to make it easier to interface with gloves. On the ventilation front, I often start sweating in my forearms first for whatever reason. Sweat is hard on GORE-TEX and it makes me cold, so any time I can dump cold air onto a sweaty part of my body I get excited. On the other hand, the zippers make it so that the cuffs can expand greatly to go over bulky gloves and mitts. So you can avoid taking your your gloves off if you have to pull the shell off, or you can zip the cuffs over bulky gauntlets. There are plenty of possibilities.
The locking waterproof zippers have a big fat pull tab too, so they’re easy to grab with gloves. I read someone complaining that the zipper heads irritated the skin of their wrists if they weren’t using gloves. I can see the possibility, but I can close the cuffs such that there’s a fold of fabric between my skin and the zipper heads. So it wasn’t an issue for me.
Alrighty, on to the fabric! It’s a 70D GORE-TEX Pro weave, which means it’s incredibly strong and water resistant. There are stronger fabrics out there, notably the 100D face fabric on the Arc’teryx Alpha SV, but 70D is better than what you see on many backpacks. Except in extraordinary conditions, it’ll do the job well. GORE-TEX Pro is, of course, prime. In my opinion it’s the industry-leading fabric in terms of durability and waterproofness, though there certainly are more breathable options out there. The Maximus just tries to offer physical ventilation instead. The 70D Stretch panels don’t seem to compromise the waterproofing at all, though I wonder if there will be extra wear over time at those seams. The seam taping is what you’d expect of Outdoor Research – flawless.
In terms of real-world testing, I got to thrash this jacket on waterfall ice in Canada. The fabric proved absolutely bombproof against trickles, sprays and the never-ending splatter of ice and water from swinging my tools. What was key, though, was Outdoor Research’s intelligent movement-mirroring stretch. Those panels under the arms and the articulated elbows make sure that there’s no pulls or tugs from fabric when you need to get a critical pick placement. The jacket climbs very well. This is hugely significant on difficult ice or traversing maneuvers.
Something worth talking about is the fit of this particular jacket. It’s really not cut very generously: while some alpine shells are very generous to allow layering and provide range-of-motion, the Maximus is trim. This is especially noticeable at the waist, where the trim fit allows it to slide easily underneath a harness. That said, once I put on insulated pants and my bibs, it became hard to zip the jacket up simply because the hem was so tight. Similarly, throughout the torso there just isn’t a lot of space.
The benefit here is that, well, it’s trim – you don’t have extra fabric getting in your way or obscuring your vision of your crampon points, for example. The downside is that, well, it’ll squish all the loft of your insulation. Take home lesson: try it on before you spend $550 on this shell. Consider what temperatures you’ll be operating at and what insulation you’ll require beneath the shell. Remember that wearing a puffy over a shell is very inefficient. Consider sizing up. For what it’s worth, though, for such a heavy shell it feels very sleek thanks to the trim cut.
Note: I wore a size medium and I’m 5’11” and 185lbs.
- Holy features, Batman. They’re all here.
- I like the hem-to-pit zippers and how easily they pull
- Cuff zippers are a great way to dump heat and work with gloves
- Stretch panels in key places do everything you’d hope for
- Tons of pockets+lots of mesh backpacking = breathable
- 70D GORE-TEX Pro is a solid performer
- Trim alpine fit is quite refreshing for such a heavy-duty shell
- It’s really heavy
- All of those zippers could break one day and leave you out (needing) to dry
- Hem was oddly tight, doesn’t play nicely with layering
- Hem-to-pit zips could stand to rise a little higher for added ventilation, especially when wearing harness
The Bottom Line: OR Maximus
This really is the Bells and Whistles jacket for alpine folks. The features are well-design, sturdily built and they all serve a great practical purpose. The only downside is that hefty weight penalty, but if you’re a guide then your legs should be plenty strong enough for those extra ounces anyway. The Maximus is a workhorse and it comes highly recommended – Outdoor Research has done very well indeed.
Buy Now: Available from Backcountry.com