Review: Outdoor Research Superlayer Jacket

Outdoor Research Superlayer Jacket
Outdoor Research Superlayer Jacket

Breathable Insulated Jacket
Outdoor Research Superlayer Jacket
$225, 15 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL

What would you think if I told you that I went for a backcountry ski tour that involved climbing uphill for an hour, sweating enough to get both my base layer top and my hat wet, then skied for a while along rolling terrain, and finally turned around and descended fast to my car—all without making any layering change? That was just my first outing wearing OR’s new Superlayer Jacket. Over the course of several winter days field-testing it, in temperatures ranging from the low single digits to the 30s Fahrenheit, I found it so remarkably breathable that it often never left my body.

The Superlayer represents a new addition to a small but growing class of insulated jackets that breathe, for active use in cold temps. That first day I wore it was cold: 13° F when I left my car, and it didn’t warm up at all. I heat up easily, so I often wear only a warm shirt on a sustained uphill climb in temperatures in the 20s Fahrenheit or higher. But with temps in the teens or colder, despite the fact that I worked up a moderate sweat, I never felt the need to take this jacket off.

I wore it on several other occasions, including at various times on a four-day, January ski trip to a backcountry yurt in Idaho’s Boise Mountains. Backcountry skiing laps up and down a slope near the yurt, I wore the jacket constantly: when I stopped to dig a pit to evaluate avalanche conditions, while skiing down, and while skinning uphill in temps just a few ticks below freezing (skiing with my 14-year-old son, I was ascending at a moderate pace that kept me warm without overheating).

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Outdoor Research Superlayer Jacket
Outdoor Research Superlayer Jacket

I never felt uncomfortably clammy from perspiration, as long as I wasn’t working so hard that I was too warm to wear any jacket; and my shirt and the jacket liner would both dry out fairly quickly once my exertion level dropped—i.e., when moving on more level terrain or downhill—an indicator of good breathability. On occasion, I also wore the jacket as an outer layer, forgoing a shell, because the Superlayer’s shell fabric sheds snow well.

The secret is a balance of warmth and breathability delivered by the PrimaLoft Silver synthetic insulation and the Superlayer’s outer and interior fabrics. The PrimaLoft Silver’s continuous-filament construction means it won’t leak through the shell, allowing OR to use a looser-weave, soft-shell outer fabric that’s breathable and wind- and water-resistant, and a highly breathable, interior mesh liner. Combined, they make the jacket very breathable—unlike traditional insulation pieces.

Outdoor Research Superlayer Jacket
Outdoor Research Superlayer Jacket

Details are basic but functional. The hand pockets are what they should be: big enough to stick gloves and a hat inside, and they warm cold digits quickly. The single chest pocket fits a map and phone or a light hat. The elasticized cuffs kept cold air out, and the thumb loops inside the cuffs keep the sleeves from sliding up my arms when I pull a shell on over the Superlayer. The hem drawcord effectively traps body heat, too.

The Superlayer Jacket’s breathability and warmth makes it ideal for when you’re active and sweating but still need insulation in cold temperatures. I think it has year-round versatility that’s rare for insulated jackets, because it’s also warm enough to use as campsite insulation from late spring through early fall.

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See my other reviews of breathable insulated jackets, all of my reviews of outdoor apparel that I like, and all of my reviews of Outdoor Research clothing and gear.

NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.

—Michael Lanza

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