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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: Front zipper can be difficult, drawstring buckles hard to manipulate
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
Whether you are lapping the powder in the trees in the backcountry, skinning up that alpine line you have had your eye on all season, or simply riding the lifts at your favorite resort, there is no better hardshell jacket than the Outdoor Research Axiom. For this reason we are happy to give it out Top Pick Award for Skiing. The Axiom was the best fitting and most mobile jacket in this review. We loved how the combination of a GORE-TEX Active waterproof/breathable membrane and stretchy ripstop 20 denier face fabric made for a quiet and supple fit that never constricted. The hood, sleeves, and low hemline all did a great job of keeping out snow and provided great weather protection. We also liked the specific features, like two-way zippers and a media pocket and port, that set it apart from the competition. It is worth saying that while we did give it an award for how functional it is as a ski jacket, we also think the Axiom is a great all-around option, whether you are climbing ice or alpine routes, or simply hanging out in the snow, or even backpacking.
Outdoor Research updated the Axiom for the winter of 2015-16. The newest version includes a handful of new features, like a different front zipper, wire-brimmed hood, media pocket, and longer sleeves. It still features GORE-TEX Active, a lighter and supposedly more breathable version than GORE-TEX Pro.
RELATED: Our complete review of hardshell jackets
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
When we reviewed the old version of the Outdoor Research Axiom several years ago, we cited several design flaws that caused us to recommend it primarily for hiking or backpacking, instead of climbing and skiing. The handwarmer pockets were too low and resided under a hipbelt or harness, the hood was severely restricted while wearing a helmet, and the drawstrings buckles, especially on the hood, were hard to manipulate. Additionally, our reviewers simply didn't like the fit.
The newer Axiom has addressed many these problems and more. The hood fits great, even with a helmet on, and now includes a wire-lined brim that provides great weather protection and adjustable fit. The handwarmer pockets, while still residing a bit low, extend so high vertically that even if pinched by a waistbelt, provide plenty of room for hands and accessories. We still think that the drawstring buckles could be improved, especially the one on the back of the helmet.
What makes the Axiom such a great jacket for skiing is its mobility and fit. Like the Arc'teryx Alpha FL, the hemline is low enough to give good protection if you wipeout in the powder, and the sleeves are long and articulated. The handwarmer pockets and chest pocket with media port are handy features, comparable to the ones on the Patagonia Refugitive. It is also far lighter and more nimble than other affordable jackets like the Mountain Hardwear Torsun.
We awarded the Outdoor Research Axiom 8 out of a possible 10 points for weather protection. We found the GORE-TEX Active to be perfectly waterproof and had no complaints with its performance. The wide brim of the hood was one of our favorites, although we wished that the moldable wire extended further around the edges of the face opening. In the shower test, the slightest splashes of water were able to dribble off the corners of the hood and into the neck, although nothing so egregious as what happened with the REI Shuksan II or Patagonia M10. The zippers showed no signs of leaking. After three months of steady testing by many different users, we will admit that the DWR coating had worn off on the front of the jacket, causing some wet out of the face fabric. This was a common phenomenon, though, occurring in 8 out of the 10 jackets that we tested in this review.
See our Buying Advice guide for tips on reapplying your DWR.
Our men's size large Axiom weighed 14.7 ounces, which put it in the middle of the pack overall, but tied with the Patagonia Refugitive for the lightest of the "all-around" jackets. The combination of lightweight 20 denier face fabric and the GORE-TEX Active membrane also made the jacket extremely packable in comparison to many others. More importantly, the light weight meant that it was more than suitable as a backcountry skiing shell as well as a resort skiing option.
If you're really counting ounces, we recommending checking out our Editors' Choice winner, the Arc'teryx Alpha FL. This fast and light jacket offers exceptional performance in many activities.
Mobility & Fit
Arc'teryx Theta AR or Arc'teryx Beta AR, the Axiom fit our chest and torso perfectly, while including plenty of room for extra layers. Finally, we loved the fit of the sleeves and hem. Compared to the Marmot Nano AS, the other jacket in this review that had GORE-TEX Active as its membrane, the fit of the Axiom was perfect. Where the sleeves and hem on the Nano AS were much too short, the Axiom had those departments perfectly covered.
The exemplary fit and perfect mobility of the Axiom is the primary reason why this jacket earned our Top Pick for Skiing. Our testers loved wearing it whether they were heading to the backcountry or the resort.
While we thought that the Axiom was no doubt a breathable jacket, we couldn't include it in our grouping of jackets that we thought were "most" breathable in our treadmill test. In that test, we were perhaps a little hotter than while wearing the Arc'teryx Alpha FL, and after the time was up we found the slightest traces of moisture on the inside of the cuffs and neck. It was interesting that in this test the GORE-TEX Pro seemed to outperform the Active Shell, something that in theory should not have happened. However, it is worth noting that the conditions in the workout room where the test took place included no wind or moving air of any kind to aid in direct vapor transfer that may have favored the Active Shell jackets. So take the results with a grain of salt. Regardless, we awarded this hardshell a 7 out of a possible 10 points.
The Axiom included a number of features that we really liked and in general did not find on any other jackets, but also had some real annoyances. We will point out both. We loved the double front zipper that allows you to unzip it up from the bottom, handy for accessing garments underneath the jacket. Only the Mountain Hardwear Torsun also had this feature. We also loved the special pouch and headphone cord port found in the high chest pocket designed to hold your smartphone for listening to tunes while skinning or resort skiing. No other jacket had that feature, and it worked well and wasn't gimmicky. However, like many of the jackets we tried, we didn't like the drawstring cord buckles, especially the one on the back of the hood. We also found the main front zipper to be a bit hard to get started at times. With the quantity of cool features but difficulty using some of them, we awarded 7 points.
We believe that the best use for the Outdoor Research Axiom is highly mobile activities like skiing. It especially thrives in the backcountry environment, where lightness, breathability, and mobility are necessary attributes. We also believe that it is a perfectly adequate layer for all winter activities, including alpine and ice climbing. That said, with its lighter weight face fabrics and membrane, we would not choose to work in it, or put it in highly abusive situations intentionally. If you're looking for the most bombproof hardshells (and you're willing to shell out the big bucks), consider the Arc'teryx Alpha SV or Arc'teryx Theta AR.
The Axiom will run you $389.00. This makes it one of the more affordable jackets in our review; price-wise, it's second only to the Mountain Hardwear Torsun in the all-around category. Since it won our Top Pick Award, we certainly think that it represents a good value for your money.
The Outdoor Research Axiom is our Top Pick for Skiing of all sorts. We enjoyed this jacket while lapping the powder in our backyard playground – the San Juan Mountains of Colorado – and also used it for some bumps and groomers at nearby Telluride. We loved its mobility and fit and lightweight breathability for backcountry skiing. During our tests, we also put it through the ringer while out ice climbing at the Ouray Ice Park and it was one of our favorite jackets for climbing as well. This is a perfect all-around layer that really can protect you while you're winter adventuring.
Outdoor Research Clairvoyant $325.00
— Andy Wellman
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: March 2, 2016
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