Breathable Insulated Jacket
Outdoor Research Uberlayer Hooded Jacket
$299, 1 lb. 2 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, women’s XS-XL
The explosion in breathable-insulation garments has changed the way we think about insulation in the backcountry. But in an increasingly crowded field, some jackets still rise above. I wore OR’s new Uberlayer Hooded Jacket for numerous days of backcountry skiing—including, at times, as an outer layer while skinning uphill—and as a middle layer skiing downhill both in the backcountry and for hours at a resort And I wore it in temperatures ranging from around freezing to wind chills below zero Fahrenheit, and came away convinced this is a jacket you could legitimately use into the backcountry every month of the year.
The first and most obvious measure—and benefit—of puffy jackets with breathable insulation is how much time you spend wearing them rather than carrying them in your pack. In cold temps, on the go, this jacket lived on my back. But the secondary benefit is how this jacket traps heat to keep you from getting chilled after you’ve sweated hard (most likely not wearing the Uberlayer, but in shirtsleeves when pushing hard uphill), while it moves moisture out so efficiently that wearing it over a sweaty base layer allows your body heat to dry out that base layer quickly.
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One example: After ski touring steadily uphill for more than an hour in Idaho’s Boise Mountains, on a mostly sunny day around 20° F with some wind—breaking trail at times—I reached the top of my climb with a wet shirt. So I pulled the Uberlayer on over a middle layer (that had also gotten damp on the climb) for the 20-minute descent; by the time I reached my car, my base and middle layers were as dry as when I put them on that morning. On long days of alternating between sweating and rapidly cooling down in sub-freezing temperatures, that’s a game changer.
A few components explain the Uberlayer’s performance. Water-resistant, highly compressible, Polartec Alpha Active synthetic insulation breathes well while trapping warmth. A breathable, polyester stretch-mesh lining (same as in OR’s Superlayer Jacket) wicks moisture from the inside when you’re producing excess heat; that moisture passes through the Alpha insulation and the breathable and highly durable, weather-resistant, nylon stretch-woven shell on the exterior. Voila: dry and warm.
The athletic fit (read: not overly wide) leaves room to layer a vest underneath, and just feels and looks good. The adjustable hood (one cord, in back) has a slight, flexible brim and elasticized opening for a close fit, but I also easily layered it over a heavyweight balaclava and under a shell hood. Two big, mesh stuff-it inside pockets hold climbing skins. Of the three, mesh-lined external pockets, the zippered chest pocket is a bit bigger than a phone, and the zippered hand pockets each have space for drying out a winter glove. Elasticized cuffs and an adjustable hem seal out drafts. For its warmth, it compresses to a fairly small package.
It’s definitely a warm jacket—too warm for me to wear skinning uphill except in temps substantially below freezing, in low wind chills, or when moving at an easy uphill pace. (I heat up fast.) But with its hood and warmth, it delivers more four-season versatility than many competitors: It’s warm enough for summer campsites in the mountains, and breathable enough for a wide range of uses in colder temps—making it potentially the one piece of insulation you own.
BUY IT NOW You can support my work on this blog by clicking any of these links to buy a men’s or women’s Outdoor Research Uberlayer Hooded Jacket at moosejaw.com, ems.com, outdoorresearch.com, or rei.com.
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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.