Review: Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket
Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket
$299, 11 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
Anyone who’s spent enough hours in waterproof-breathable jackets while on the move in rain knows that the second half of that hyphenated adjective looms as critical to performance as the “waterproof” part. When OR introduced the Interstellar as an overhaul of a personal favorite, their Realm Jacket, for only $20 more—and unlike the Realm, also in women’s sizes—I was immediately eager to put it through the paces. After wearing it in weather ranging from rain and snow to strong winds, from a mid-September backpacking trip through Glacier to backcountry skiing at home in Idaho, I’m convinced the Interstellar has succeeded the Realm as a leading, top-value backcountry rain shell—but it does have one Achilles heel.
I wore it, often with the hood up, at wind-blasted passes and in strong, cold gusts on the alpine traverse from Pitamakan Pass to Dawson Pass while backpacking almost 100 miles on the Continental Divide Trail through Glacier National Park. It never left my body on a December day of backcountry skiing in Idaho’s Boise Mountains: Moving both uphill and downhill through steadily falling snow for several hours, with temps in the low to mid-20s, the jacket kept me dry while the hood kept the wind and snow off my face. In fact, the fabric moved moisture quickly enough that my base layer, which got damp skinning uphill, would dry out while I skied down.
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The Interstellar features OR’s proprietary, supple, 20-denier AscentShell three-layer waterproof-breathable fabric—the most breathable, fully waterproof fabric OR uses (found in other OR jackets, including the Realm and a personal favorite for backcountry skiing, the Skyward). Fully seam-taped, the Interstellar sheds heavy rain and rises to the challenge of the worst conditions most backpackers encounter. But it isn’t really intended for the severe, wind-driven precipitation of, say, mountaineering—it’s not the equal of high-end Gore-Tex shells in that regard.
Among the lightest fully featured rain shells at just 11 ounces, the focus on packability is evident in design elements like the lightweight pocket zippers (that have pull tabs for easily grabbing with gloves)—although a sturdier front zipper for better durability—and laminated construction. The Interstellar stuffs into its left hand pocket (which has a carabiner clip), packing down to the size of a cantaloupe.
OR’s dynamic reach underarm panels and the inherent mechanical stretch in the fabric deliver very good mobility—the jacket body barely rises up when raising my arms overhead. There are no pit zips, and while I didn’t miss them because of the jacket’s excellent breathability—and I sweat quite a bit—some prodigious perspiration producers may feel they need a shell with underarm zippers.
The two zippered hand pockets and one chest pocket have mesh linings, but they can never replicate the venting of pit zippers. All three are spacious enough for drying out winter gloves or keeping a map out of the rain.
The fully adjustable, helmet-compatible hood has a flexible brim that extends far enough to keep rain off your face, and the hood turns with your head; but as with many lightweight shells, the cordlock in back is tiny, so it’s easy to pull tight but hard to loosen, especially when wearing gloves. Elasticized and adjustable, hook-and-loop cuffs are secure, but also hard to manipulate while wearing heavy winter gloves, and an adjustable hem helps seal out the elements.
The flip side of the low weight and supple feel is some compromise in fabric durability: It will tear more easily than heavier—and stiffer—fabrics like standard Gore-Tex (including some of OR’s higher-end shells). The Interstellar sports ideal breathability and weather protection for three-season hiking and backpacking and winter outings with little risk of high-speed contact with sharp objects like rocks and branches, but I’d recommend a burlier shell to use primarily for ski touring or climbing.
Breathability, solid waterproofing, and a fully technical design define the consummate backcountry shell, and the Interstellar is, well, stellar in those departments—as well as one of the lightest and most comfortable rain jackets with this level of performance.
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See “The 5 Best Rain Jacket for Hiking and Backpacking,” “5 Pro Tips For Buying the Right Rain Jacket For the Backcountry,” and all of my reviews of rain jackets and outdoor apparel and that I like.
NOTE: I tested gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See categorized menus of all of my gear reviews at The Big Outside.