Review: Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Jacket and Bibs

Winter Shell Jacket and Bibs
Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Jacket
$349, 1 lb. 5.5 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
backcountry.com

Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Bibs
$349, 1 lb. 9 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
backcountry.com

The waves of December snowstorms rolled through for days, dumping cold, dry, light powder in the mountains. In the backcountry, the skiing was epic—as were the weather conditions. That’s when high-quality shells demonstrate their value. On numerous days of ski touring through hours of heavily falling snow, temps ranging from the single digits to the teens and 20s Fahrenheit, and frequent wind, OR’s Skytour AscentShell Jacket and Bibs passed every qualifying exam to rank among the very best outerwear for winter.

I’ve tested the Skytour AscentShell Jacket on numerous days of backcountry and resort skiing from Utah’s Wasatch Range to Idaho’s Boise Mountains, and my 21-year-old son, a student and active backcountry skier, has worn the Skytour AscentShell Bibs on dozens of days of ski touring and resort skiing, mostly in Utah’s Wasatch Range. And we both tested them on a four-day trip ski touring from a backcountry yurt in the Boise Mountains.

The Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Jacket.
The Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Jacket.

The newest iteration of OR’s proprietary, three-layer, stretch, electrospun AscentShell waterproof-breathable membrane performs like a hard shell but feels and moves like a soft shell and is noticeably lightweight the first time you lift the jacket or bib. The fabric, consisting of a web of microscopic, polyurethane fibers that keep water out while remaining vapor-permeable, and reinforced by fully taped seams, kept both of us comfortable and dry (and our smartphones dry in a zippered pocket) through hours of nuking snow and frigid wind chills.

The Skytour AscentShell Jacket’s impressive breathability enabled my base layers to dry out completely after getting sweaty on long climbs, whether I wore the jacket alone or added a breathable, insulated middle layer. I rarely even felt the need to open the deep pit zips, although those are a nice feature on warmer days of touring.

The jacket’s fit permits space for an insulation layer and a couple of base layers underneath without feeling bulky or inhibiting full motion at all: I generally wore a lightweight T-shirt and a midweight hoody pullover under it, frequently adding an insulated jacket (models ranging from 11 to 14 ounces) and found all of those combinations comfortable for me (five feet, eight inches, 155 pounds). Its length extends over my butt, providing better coverage than other winter shells.


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The one-hand adjustable, helmet-compatible halo hood with a wire brim protected my face in blowing snow with and without a helmet on (adjusting the hood to fit both scenarios); and when fully zipped up, the jacket’s front shielded my chin from cold wind (and has a soft, brushed tricot chin guard). Two inside pull cords cinch the hood’s sides closer; but as I’ve seen in other shells, those loosen on their own too easily.

The two zippered chest pockets have space for keeping extra gloves warm and the two zippered hand pockets are large enough to stash skins or warm gloves or mitts. A zippered internal media pocket with a port has plenty of space for a large smartphone without being so wide that the phone tips over to lie horizontal, and the single inside drop pocket fits winter gloves or skins, too. All zippers areeasilymanipulated with warm gloves or mittens. Adjustable cuffs and hem complete the feature package.

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The Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Bibs.
The Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Bibs.

The Skytour AscentShell Bibs kept my son comfortable in a wide range of conditions. Skinning uphill on a sunny south face in temps from the mid-20s Fahrenheit to around freezing, he stayed warm enough without getting sweat-soaked sans jacket, with the bibs’ front and sides fully unzipped. (He always wore long underwear under the bibs.) Touring on a ridgeline at 15° F with winds of 20 to 25 mph, the bibs proved warm enough going uphill and not cold while transitioning to downhill. Not surprisingly, given that they’re designed mainly for backcountry ski touring, he found the bibs not adequately warm for riding ski lifts in temps below 10° F (including a -18° F windchill), as well as below 0° F ski touring without a layer underneath.

Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Bibs beacon pocket.
Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Bibs beacon pocket.

Waterproofness is excellent throughout the seat and legs, augmented by watertight zippers and sealed seams. They’re generally windproof—but can feel cold when wind plasters them against your body. The reinforced cuffs with a stretch-mesh internal gaiter protect against tears from crampons or ski edges and interface very well with ski boots, including a power strap slot to affix them securely over boots.

The exceptional breathability of AscentShell gets a boost from the ventilation enabled by deep, two-way front and side zips that areeasilymanipulated with warm gloves or mittens (except, oddly, the lower pull tab on the front zipper), with a “swing hatch” for answering nature’s call—all but eliminating moments of sweating profusely. He never noticed his base layer getting so wet that it affected comfort, partly thanks to use of a more breathable, stretch fabric front and back in the bib/torso area.

The men’s medium fit him well (five feet, 11 inches, 150 pounds) in the inseam, but are too wide in the waist and torso, a problem essentially negated by the adjustable suspenders. The gusseted crotch and articulated knees allow superior freedom of movement skiing up and down.

The bibs sport six pockets, five zippered, including two spacious hand and two cargo pockets. The beacon pocket, located smartly on the bib front between the shoulder straps and hipbelt of a pack—where it’s readily accessible after unzipping any outer layers and kept warm by body heat—has a beefy zipper and an inside mesh flap for secure beacon storage, plus a clip leash for safe, fast deployment.

The one stretch chest pocket with a hook-and-loop closure is more pouch than pocket: a convenient place to for temporarily stashing gloves or a hat to keep them warm (and dry them with body heat)—or a morning joe or tea—but the lack of a secure closure prevents storing anything there for a longer amount of time.

Neither the jacket nor bibs have shown any durability concerns, not even a fraying seam or loose strand of fiber, despite plenty of brush-whacking in low-snow depths of early winter. Typical of OR apparel, these display excellent construction.

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The Verdict

With superior weatherproofing and breathability, a complete set of highly functional features for backcountry snow sports, comfortable fit, promising durability—all at competitive prices—the Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Jacket and Bibs are hard to beat.

BUY IT NOW

You can support my work on this blog, at no cost to you, by clicking any of these links to purchase the men’s or women’s Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Jacket and/or Skytour AscentShell Bibs at backcountry.com, Moosejaw.com, or outdoorresearch.com.

See all of my reviews of outdoor apparel that I like at The Big Outside, including “The 10 Best Down Jackets,” “The Best Gloves for Winter,” “The Best Mittens for Winter,” “The Best Clothing Layers for Winter in the Backcountry,” plus “12 Pro Tips for Staying Warm Outdoors in Winter” and “How to Dress in Layers for Winter in the Backcountry.”

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 The Big Outside’s Gear Reviews page for categorized menus of gear reviews and expert buying tips.

—Michael Lanza

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