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Hands-on Gear Review
Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket - Women's Review
Cons: Lacks warmth, not very wind resistant, pocket zipper gets caught
Many of our testers fell head over heels in love with 2015's Best Buy Award winner - the new Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket. Not only is this baffled and colorful jacket breathable, it also features hybrid body mapping that moves with you, wherever you go. Its breathable side panels (which extend the length of the jacket, from hip to armpit to wrist) stretch with and mold to the body. The face fabrics are resistant to wind and water, while the zippers are large and craftsmanship is tight. The two-toned look of the jacket catches the eye and had many of our testers asking to wear it.
As a trade-off for fantastic breathability, the Cathode is not as warm or as light as last year's Best Buy winner, The North Face ThermoBall Jacket - Women's, but it makes up for those faults in having better weather resistance and style. For only $199, the Cathode is a steal.
If you are looking for an even more breathable jacket, check out our Top Pick for Breathability, the Patagonia Nano Air Hoody - Women's.
RELATED: Our complete review of insulated jackets - women's
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
The Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket earns our Best Buy Award for its breathable side panels, weather resistant face fabrics, eye-catching good looks, and, of course, its very reasonable price tag. As a trade-off for breathability, it lacks warmth as a stand-alone piece, but works wonders as a mid-layer.
The Cathode Hooded Jacket was well-loved among our testers for its breathability, comfort, style, and weight. However, most of our testers were not psyched on its level of warmth - which was seriously lacking. Even though this jacket has similar construction specs to our Editors' Choice, the Rab Xenon X Hoodie - Women's - including 60 g/m2 primaloft Gold insulation and a Pertex Quantum 22D outer fabric - the Cathode sacrifices warmth for breathability. The stretch panels extend from the hip, up to the armpits, and down the arm to the wrist and allows heat to escape through its length.
Our main tester wore this jacket while biking to work on a cold day and showed up in a frigid state. She later tried this with both the Xenon X and Arc'teryx Atom LT Hoody - Womens and arrived to work less chilled and much more comfortable. Given that this was one of the least warm jackets tested, it is a perfect stand-alone piece on warm fall and spring days and a great pairing option with a shell or insulated layer on colder days. If you're looking for a warmer option with a similar weight, check out the Patagonia Nano Puff Jacket - Womens.
Weight & Compression
Weighing in at only 10.9 oz, this isn't as light was the Mountain Hardwear Thermostatic Jacket - Women's or the Nano Puff, but it is lighter than most. Additionally, its left hand pocket doubles as a stuff sack with a nifty accessory loop.
This is a handy addition to clip on to your harness during alpine ascents. When compressed, it's about the size of a six-inch sub - making it a little larger than the Nano Puff, but smaller than the Xenon X. Overall, this jacket is light, highly compressible, and a great option for lightweight backcountry missions where breathability is valued over warmth.
Comfort & Coziness
We loved all the comfort extras that the Cathode has to offer, including mobile materials, lots of pockets, and many adjustment points. The lightweight material makes it feel like you're not wearing a jacket at all. The Schoeller stretchy double weave panels extend the length of the arms and torso which means the jacket doesn't pull up when your arms are overhead. We also appreciated the hybrid mapped construction that moves with your body, not against it.
The hood, like most of the insulated jackets tested, has a cinch cord on the back that you can pull to adjust around any climbing or biking helmet. The hem also has an adjustable drawcord for versatile fit, while all zippers have large, glove compatible pull tabs. One of our favorite features was the extra storage space in the form of pockets! These included two deep handwarmers, one chest, and two large internal (non-zipping) compartments. We had lots of places to stash food, gloves, and phones anywhere we went.
This jacket could only be made more comfortable with the addition of fleece lining in the pockets (to keep digits warmer) and around the collar (when snuggling in cold weather is necessary) like the Rab Xenon X. One major issue was the material of the pocket would get stuck in the zipper. This happened so often that some of our testers mentioned they wouldn't purchase this jacket just out of sheer frustration.
This jacket stands out as one of the most water resistant and quick to dry. That said, it is not very wind resistant. The Pertex Quantum 22D shell and lining does a great job at wicking away water. While walking through a light rainstorm one morning, one of our testers noticed the droplets of rain would bead and simply shed off. However, when exposed to torrential downpours, we were left soggy within minutes. This is not congruent to the performance of most jackets tested in this review. In addition, like the Rab Xenon X, it is extremely quick to dry, making it a good choice for wet alpine conditions.
While the Pertex Quantum face fabric does a good job in wind and rain, but the highly breathable Schoeller stretch panels make this jacket quite susceptible to the wind. During a cold early morning bike ride, our main tester felt this effect first hand. The wind cut right through the breathable vents and chilled her to the bone. As a result, we recommend wearing a wind jacket or shell in conjunction with this jacket if you anticipate nasty windy weather.
As mentioned above, the stretchy side panels that extend from the hips to the wrists (and under the armpits) provide fantastic ventilation and breathability. We also loved the handy ventilation strip at the top of the hood in case you decide to take a winter run through a storm. Take this jacket on your most aerobic winter days, but wear a shell if it gets nasty outside. It stands out as the most breathable jacket that isn't constructed with breathable insulation or a soft face fabric. If you want a jacket with even more breathability and softer face fabrics, check out the Outdoor Research Uberlayer - Women's or our Top Pick for Aerobic Adventures, the Patagonia Nano Air.
Style & Fit
The ladies that wore this jacket LOVED its stylish arching baffles and the stretchy fabric that wraps the waist and hips with feminine flattery. The fit is trim and athletic with many fun colors. This jacket fits true-to-size with arms and a torso a little shorter than the Arc'teryx Atom LT. Many of our testers were drawn to the two-toned and textured appearance. Overall, this jacket sports an athletic style that many of our testers loved!
Given this jacket's great breathability, most of our testers thought it was a great stand-alone piece for cool spring and fall days or for highly aerobic activities in winter. Given its low weight and bulk, as well as its breathability, this is a perfect mid-layer to wear in conjunction with a winter shell. With all this in mind, we think this is a highly versatile jacket perfect for rock climbing, ice climbing, backcountry skiing, camping, or hiking.
Beating out last year's Best Buy Award winner (The North Face ThermoBall Jacket), the Outdoor Research Cathode stands out as a high-performing and well-priced garment. At just $199, it is well below many of its competitors. During our testing period we didn't notice any stitching fly-aways or signs of wear and tear. Additionally, Outdoor Research backs up its products 100%. If your jacket is not performing the way you want it to, they will replace it with something else or fix it free of charge. This awesome guarantee is just one of the many reasons we recommend this excellent, affordable jacket.
The Outdoor Research Cathode was awarded our Best Buy Award for its versatility, low price, and fantastic style. We loved its breathable side panels, and water resistant face fabrics. It's not the warmest jacket, but at only $199, this is one heck of a deal.
Outdoor Research Cathode Hooded Jacket
— Amber King
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: November 22, 2015
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