Ski touring in the Intermountain West day-in and day-out generally calls for soft shell everything. You will usually find me touring in light, breathable clothing for the ascent and a warm puffy jacket for the descent due to frosty temps, sunny days, and cold storms. When I put on hard shell pants or jackets its generally for high winds or wet storms. Hard shells have never been breathable enough for me when I’m out front breaking trail and working hard for my turns.
Outdoor Research’s Skyward Jacket is the first hard shell I’ve tried that has allowed for uphill travel in cold temps and kept me dry from the inside out during ski descents. I headed up to Sun Valley Trekking’s Bench Hut in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho to test out the jacket. I was met with deep powder turns and frigid temps, perfect!
Outdoor Research Skyward Jacket: Fit and Color
OR’s Skyward Jacket fits just as I would expect. I am 5’7”, 140 pounds and the size small fits me great. I wear a fairly tight fit for my soft shell jackets. The Skyward Jacket is a bit more of a relaxed fit and perfect for tossing on over my other layers before I ski. I found that it has just enough extra room to not restrict my movement yet is not overly bulky like many hard shell jackets. I really like that Outdoor Research is making this jacket in both red and blue to go along with the standard black color. The brighter colors lets your partners see you while skiing trees and in stormy conditions.
Pros of the Outdoor Research Skyward Jacket
I usually ski tour in my base layer with maybe a soft shell on top if it is very cold. I tend to run very warm and do whatever I can to avoid sweating on the up track. I wanted to test out the Skyward Jacket’s breathability so I tossed it on for the uphill tour.
While I was in front breaking trail, neither the jacket’s breathability nor its gigantic underarm zips were able to keep me from sweating, even though it was below zero outside. To be fair the only way I was able to avoid sweating was to strip down to my base layer. When following in the skin track I was able to wear the Skyward Jacket no problem.
The underarm zips are huge and you can almost turn the jacket into a cape! This allowed for maximum airflow and kept me comfortable in frigid temperatures. This is an amazing feature for touring during big storms. I found the breathability of the jacket to really shine on the downhill. After arriving at the top of our ski descent I was able to put on the Skyward Jacket while sweating and dry out without freezing. By the time I was at the bottom and ready to go up again I was dry and comfortable.
A few other pros are the large hood, high collar, and many pockets. I pulled the hood on over my helmet while resort skiing when the winds kicked up and was still able to comfortably move my head and look around. The high collar was also great to tuck my chin and nose into when the wind was whipping on the chairlift. I love having lots of pockets on my jackets. I want room to stash snacks, cell phone, camera, snow covered skins, wet gloves – you name it – and the Skyward Jacket had ample pockets for these things and more.
Drawbacks of the Outdoor Research Skyward Jacket
The biggest problem I found with the Skyward Jacket is its weight and packability. Since I generally am not touring in it unless it is very cold, I want a lightweight and packable jacket for everyday touring. If I were using this as my main jacket it would be no problem. For Washington and Coastal Canada I think this would not be an issue due to the wetter conditions and generally stormier weather. It is not an extremely heavy jacket, but heavier than the very lightweight single layer shells I usually carry.
The other problem is the low hand pockets. I am not able to use the hand pockets since I am carrying a backpack everyday and sometimes skiing in a harness. Moving the pockets up high enough so that you can access them without your backpack’s waist strap getting in the way would be a big improvement.
I have only been using the Skyward Jacket for a few weeks, but it has been holding up very well. The three layer AscentShell material seems durable and I think the fact that it stretches a bit will help keep seems from splitting. No problem with the zippers yet either.
So far am I impressed with OR’s Skyward Jacket. I like how I can dry out while wearing it on ski descents after sweating on the up track. The Gigantic pit zips are great for staying dry while ski touring on storm days. The bright colors and good fit keep me looking snazzy and staying comfortable in the backcountry. The weight of the jacket is a bit of an issue, but it is not heavier than most other three layer hard shells so I will continue to use it this winter.
The low hand pockets can be an annoyance, but there are enough other pockets on the jacket than I am not particularly worried about it. I am very impressed with the breathability of the Skyward Jacket. It is not as breathable as my soft shell, but it is by far the most breathable hard shell jacket I have come across. I’m excited to keep trying out the Skyward for my main touring jacket as the storms keep rolling in up here in Idaho.
Make sure to check out our review of the matching Skyward Men’s Bib Pants.