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ProView – Outdoor Research Gear for Denali

Dialing my Denali Kit

We struggled to put one foot in front of the other, gasping for every single breath. Digging deep and fighting for each foot, we finally, after what seemed like a never-ending stair climb from hell, reached the top of the ‘pig hill’, the last formidable incline leading to the summit ridge. It was there that it finally dawned on me…I’m about to stand on the top of North America! I’m about to summit Denali!

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Outdoor Research Refuge Hooded Jacket, Alti Mitts, and Ninjaclava

Product Description: The Refuge Hooded Jacket is the pinnacle release of VerticalX™, the new technology from Outdoor Research that delivers resiliency, breathability, and stretch in a synthetic insulation piece that keeps you warm even when wet. VerticalX™ combines a superior warmth-to-weight ratio with breathability and moisture management that's defining a new category of protective temperature control for the active adventurer. Plus, the Refuge doesn't skimp on purpose-built functional details, like a brushed tricot interior, internal shove-it pockets, and elastic cuffs and hems that trap in warmth. Water-resistant and resilient against harsh climates, the Refuge Hooded Jacket combines the best of weather protective ruggedness with lightweight compressibility that packs into its own pocket.

Price: $32-220 MSRP

  • Durability
    (5)
  • Fit
    (4.5)
  • Features
    (4)
  • Quality
    (5)

Summary

The Refuge Hooded Jacket is a jacket that will stay in my everyday guiding and personal kit for the life of the jacket. It is a warm, yet lightweight, midlayer and a workhorse that seemingly does it all. Outdoor Research has won me over, yet again, with this jacket!

For most folks dabbling in cold-weather adventures, the Alti Mitts are overkill as they are a premier piece of equipment that is overbuilt for all but the harshest conditions humans can survive in. In order to survive, however, one must be prepared with the best gear possible. The Alti Mitts are just that, well made, long-lasting, durable and extremely warm. If you plan on being in extreme cold and windy conditions, with a high probability of frostbite if skin is exposed, I would highly recommend spending the money to save your digits and give you the peace of mind that you have the best gear possible!

Overall
4.6

Pros

  • Jacket is incredibly versatile, warm, and lightweight
  • Gloves are extremely toasty
  • Ninjaclava worked well while interfaced with goggles for a “no skin showing” fit

Cons

  • Poor dexterity while wearing gloves
  • Hard to breathe/fogged glasses in Ninjaclava 

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As a professional mountain guide, I am constantly evaluating my kit, dialing it to suit my needs and the needs of the specific trip. Working an expedition on a mountain such as Denali requires a veritable ton of gear and clothing for the three weeks of the expedition and every piece is meticulously chosen so my focus can be on the needs of my clients to safely usher them through this expedition without worrying about if my gear is the right gear. Needless to say, I had my work cut out for me in selecting the perfect kit.

Three new items I decided to take on this years Denali expedition were the Refuge Hooded Jacket, Alti Mitts, and the Ninjaclava all by Outdoor Research.

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Leading up to my expedition, I was able to test the use of the Refuge Jacket by putting it through the gamut of “milder” weather here in the Cascade Range during several trips I guided.

Refuge Hooded Jacket

Initial Impressions

I first pulled the Refuge jacket out of the box and my excitement shrank just a bit. The feel of the fabric used on this jacket initially felt quite plasticy, stiff, and frankly cheap. I was less than stoked. I tried it on and immediately was questioning my decision to bring this jacket on Denali. The sleeves on the lower arms seemed quite large and bulky as opposed to the tighter fitting wrists and sleeves of other modern mountaineering layers I was used to using. Nevertheless, I had a few trips that I wanted to use this piece during to see if it warranted a coveted spot in my Denali kit. Time will tell.

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The Refuge Hooded Jacket is marketed as a synthetic “active insulation” piece that uses OR’s VerticalX™ insulation technology. Many other outdoor companies have similar pieces in their lines and this class of layer is extremely common among outdoor recreationists and professionals alike. Better than down at keeping you warm when wet, synthetic insulation is a must-have for sustained output, bad weather, and long trips in the mountains.

Overview

Starting with the first trip I brought this jacket on and through the entirety of my Denali expedition, I wondered how I had failed to have a piece as versatile as the refuge jacket in my everyday kit until now. The ease at which I would grab this layer for all but the most extreme weather was surprisingly uncanny. I began to use this layer literally every day and it was replacing some of my tried and true layering pieces. This was due to the incredible versatility of this jacket.

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Features/Fit

I have used many different insulation pieces over the years, both down and synthetic, and have my own biases in regards to the features that I want in a jacket. The Refuge Jacket, on paper, had many of those features.

As a self-proclaimed “pocket guy” I am a fan of good pocket orientation. The hand pockets on the front of the jacket are well placed, large enough to put gloved hands inside, and high enough to use while wearing a harness and/or a backpack. The left chest (napoleon) zippered pocket was plenty big to fit a phone and sunscreen into without having to stuff it in too tightly. The pockets on this jacket were perfect for me!

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Performance

Having the ability to throw on this layer and keep moving or when stopping for a break was a dream! I was able to put it over 2-3 other layers without feeling too stuffed. I could also wear this simply over a baselayer and it did not feel too baggy. The overall fit of this jacket for me at 5’9” 175lbs is perfect in a size medium. The initial impression of the stiff outer fabric is completely gone as the jacket has become quite soft a supple after many many days of constant use. I also have a new appreciation for looser cuffs as it makes pulling up your sleeves or checking your watch that much easier. However, because of the loose cut lower sleeves, the jacket is getting abnormally dirty around the cuffs.

Quality/Durability

I have put this jacket through the wringer. I have worn it car camping, sitting around a fire, through driving rain in the cascades and in -25-degree weather in Alaska. With the exception of a few discoloration spots of the sleeves and around the zipper, the Refuge Hooded Jacket is still looking sharp and performing as if it were still new.

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Room for Improvement

The inside drop pockets I was super excited to have until I actually used them. They were quite narrow and didn’t fit larger gloves or mittens well and were placed so they dropped in front of the two zippered hand pockets making it uncomfortable to have your hands in the pockets while something was in the drop pockets. A minor inconvenience, but annoying nonetheless.

The hood design fit well with or without a helmet, but the hook on the back of the hood to make it less voluminous was another minor annoyance as it constantly hooked the tab on the back of the hood not allowing the hood to fully deploy over my helmet. I feel that this “frill” is unnecessary and could be eliminated.

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Final Word

The Refuge Hooded Jacket is a jacket that will stay in my everyday guiding and personal kit for the life of the jacket. It is a warm, yet lightweight, mid-layer and a workhorse that seemingly does it all. Outdoor Research has won me over, yet again, with this jacket!

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Alti Mitts and Ninjaclava

Initial impressions

Both of these pieces of kit are designed for cold weather. I was very familiar with the Alti Mitts as they are one of the most popular options for a high altitude mitt available today. My initial reaction was “Yup, these are huge, warm, and will be perfect when the time is right.” Not much more you can ask for in a high altitude mitt without trying it out in the extreme cold.

The Ninjaclava was quite thick and I was worried it wouldn’t allow me to breathe through the fabric without fogging up my glacier glasses or goggles.

Overview

The Alti Mitts are a specialized piece of equipment that is overkill for all but the coldest conditions. Durable and well constructed, these are a necessary piece of equipment that needs to perform when called upon. The Ninjaclava felt like a step backward in terms of my head layering system I have become accustomed to.

Features/Fit

Both of these items were a part of my high mountain kit that I would bump higher and higher up Denali with each cache we dug and camp we progressed to until finally reaching the upper mountain (above camp 3 at 14k feet).

The Alti Mitts (size M) have plenty of room to wear a liner glove inside of the mitts as well as had plenty of room for hand warmers if needed. The bulk of these mitts made it difficult to do anything that required any type of dexterity. I would end up taking them off at breaks to eat or use my hands and using the built-in wrist straps to keep them attached.  The extra-long cuff made it easy to not have cold spots while wearing but made it difficult to access my altimeter watch when needed.

The Ninjaclava always felt too restrictive and although fit well under my helmet was too warm to wear while moving with heavy packs and sleds. The overlapping construction of the piece allowed me to breathe and eat easily with the face portion pulled down. This face mask was too thick to wear over my mouth and nose without added holes and hindered my already labored breathing by putting pressure across my nose bridge. I found that I did not choose to use this Ninjaclava as much as I had hoped for it had more downsides than up for my needs.

Additionally, the Ninjaclava worked well while interfaced with goggles for a “no skin showing” fit, however was terrible when paired with glacier glasses as it cause my glasses to fog up super quickly, virtually blinding me on the semi-technical terrain of the aptly named 16 ridge (ridgeline before arriving at high camp at 17k feet).

Quality/Durability

Only having used the Alti Mitts and the Ninjaclava in for a matter of hours in total, it’s difficult for me to speak to the longevity or durability of these pieces. However, they both have very high-quality materials, have shown no wear and tear from the use I have imposed on them.

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Final Word

For most folks dabbling in cold-weather adventures, the Alti Mitts are overkill as they are a premier piece of equipment that is overbuilt for all but the harshest conditions humans can survive in. In order to survive, however, one must be prepared with the best gear possible. The Alti Mitts are just that, well made, long-lasting, durable and extremely warm. If you plan on being in extreme cold and windy conditions, with a high probability of frostbite if skin is exposed, I would highly recommend spending the money to save your digits and give you the peace of mind that you have the best gear possible!

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Personally, I would not use the Ninjaclava on another expedition. I prefer the versatility of a standard buff coupled with the warmth yet ability to breathe of a dedicated neoprene face mask with articulated nose and breathing holes.

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Seth White is an Instructor and Guide with the American Alpine Institute and has explored, climbed, and guided in mountains all across the globe from Chilean Patagonia to the roof of North America to Spain’s limestone meccas. He has worked as a professional guide for six years. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest he now calls Seattle, Washington home and spends his days off adventuring with his partner Carissa and their dog Arrow, drinking copious amounts of coffee, and searching for that next perfect piece of gear.

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