Outdoor Research Realm Jacket
$279, 10.5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s XS-XXL
Carrying a heavy pack in intermittent, strong gusts of cold wind and hot sun—that’s actually one of the best tests of a rain shell, because you’ll discover how breathable it is, which dictates whether you can stay dry (read: not sweating up a personal storm inside it) and comfortable while exerting hard. On a four-day, spring ascent of The Mountaineers Route on California’s Mount Whitney, I wore the Realm Jacket while lugging a pack weighing over 40 pounds to our high camp at 12,000 feet—as the alpine sun created a solar oven with the snow-covered ground, and a biting wind ripped through every few minutes. Going repeatedly from freezer to broiler, I stayed completely dry. That’s just one of several reasons to like the Realm Jacket.
To achieve that breathability, OR’s proprietary AscentShell fabric arranges very fine polyurethane fibers in a random pattern to create air-permeable micro-pores, while the membrane and laminated, seam-taped construction render the jacket fully waterproof. In lieu of pit zips, the underarm panels have mechanical stretch for mobility that complements the jacket’s athletic fit, although I could also layer a fleece underneath it. The supple, very light, 20-denier ripstop fabric has a soft lining and a shoulder design that prevents the jacket from riding up when you reach overhead. At under 11 ounces, the Realm is packable enough to keep in your pack on dayhikes, backpacking trips, and climbs in good weather, just in case (as I did for three bluebird days in mid-August backpacking in Idaho’s Sawtooth Mountains).
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Still, it doesn’t sacrifice on technical features, including a fully adjustable, helmet-compatible hood with a moldable brim that acts as a good face awning in rain. The high zipper protects your lower face when closed up, although that excess fabric can flap around in wind when partly unzipped (it didn’t bother me). The two roomy, zippered chest pockets are positioned above a pack hipbelt or a climbing harness, and one is mesh, so it doubles as a vent and a good place to dry gloves or a hat with body heat. A hooded inside pocket with a hook-and-loop closure offers a safe, dry place for valuables; the jacket stuffs inside that pocket, though not very easily, and a fabric loop allows clipping the stuffed jacket to a climbing harness with a carabiner. The Realm also has elasticized, hook-and-loop cuffs and a drawcord hem.
With four-season versatility, exceptional breathability, and technical features in a shell weighing 10 ounces at a reasonable price, the Outdoor Research Realm Jacket presents an excellent value.
NOTE: Outdoor Research has replaced the Realm Jacket with the Interstellar Jacket ($299, 11 oz.), which OR describes as an overhaul of the Realm, for only $20 more; and unlike the Realm, it also comes in women’s sizes. I’ve picked up an Interstellar, and first impressions following a six-day backpacking trip through Glacier National Park (where we got plenty of cold wind but no precipitation) are very positive. It’s made with the same highly breathable, waterproof AscentShell 3-layer fabric used in the Realm, and has an adjustable hood and other features of a fully technical, four-season shell. I’ll post a complete review of the Interstellar Jacket after more field testing.
BUY IT NOW Can’t wait for my review? You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to purchase a men’s Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket at Moosejaw.com or outdoorresearch.com, or a women’s Outdoor Research Interstellar Jacket at Moosejaw.com or outdoorresearch.com.
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See my “5 Pro Tips For Buying the Right Rain Jacket for the Backcountry” and all of my reviews of outdoor apparel and rain jackets that I like.
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See also my story “Gear For Climbing Mount Whitney” for reviews of all of the mountaineering and backpacking gear we tested there.
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.
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