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Hands-on Gear Review
Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's Review
Cons: Expensive, a little heavier and bulkier
The Outdoor Research Aspire was not initially pegged by our reviewers as a category winner, let alone an Editors' Choice candidate. It looked different, and we resisted the changes it introduced--until we put it on and took it for a spin. The Aspire kept us impeccably dry, from the inside-out. The Gore-Tex Paclite is a top performer, but OR still recognizes that there is always a limit to breathability in waterproof garments, so they came up with a great innovation: the TorsoFlo ventilation system. Not only does this accentuate the jacket's ability to breathe, but it also transforms the jacket into a broad poncho, which presents a wider surface area to the rain (as long as you're moving forward and you're not fighting sideways sleet).
With a hefty price tag, this is not your budget rain shell. But it will last, and you will get your money's worth. For a great budget option, check out the Marmot PreCip - Women's or The North Face Resolve - Women's.
The Aspire is a jacket that will not disappoint, whether you're hiking, backpacking, climbing, skiing, traveling, biking, or heading to the office. This rain shell is optimized for mountain and even winter use. But it also has a certain, je ne sais quoi--on top of all of its rugged functionality, this jacket is outdoor chic.
RELATED: Our complete review of rain jackets - women's
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
At OutdoorGearLab, we throw hype and marketing out the door and take our test subjects outside, into their own element. For this review, that meant pairing our rain jackets with rain, wind, and the determined outdoor athlete.
But when the Outdoor Research Aspire arrived at OGL with a whopping $215 price tag, we instantly started judging it, amassing reasons why it shouldn't be worth double the price of so many other rain shells on the market--despite knowing little about it at the time. What is this excessive new venting system? we asked. That doesn't look comfortable and it just adds weight we thought.
Then we tried it.
The Aspire rain shell inspired the most confidence in our reviewers in terms of rugged, dependable water resistance. The Gore-Tex Paclite technology has long been an industry standard-setter, and in our field testing, it did not disappoint. This jacket offered top-notch protection from the elements, from the high quality of the material to the cut and fit of the jacket and hood.
This jacket has that classic Gore-Tex feel. It is a little stiffer and very sturdy--kind of like a pressed and starched shirt--but in a more lightweight jacket overall. The fabric is thin enough to feel highly breathable during even the most aerobic activities. However, where Outdoor Research really set this jacket apart is with its new TorsoFlo technology. That's a fancy way of saying pit-zips on steroids. Or "hip-zips," as some reviewers have referred to them.
We've said it before: breathability is the holy grail of modern rainwear technology. With this rain shell, OR acknowledges that, and as one of our testers put it, once you get warm in your rain shell, there is no turning back--you need to vent fast. The TorsoFlo venting system, essentially pit-zips that extend all the way to the hip and fully detach the front and back of the jacket, works impeccably. It is logistically easy and fast to manage (read: dump heat in a hurry!). But it also turns the jacket essentially into a poncho.
The poncho has come back into fashion among fast-and-light thru hikers in recent years because it does the work of three items in one: pack cover, rain jacket, and rain pants (okay, it may be a little short here, but it works). While the TorsoFlo vents don't magically transform the jacket into a full-length poncho, the concept is similar. When you unzip and detach the front of the jacket, it becomes broader, increasing rain protection as you speed forward, and creating excellent air circulation while still providing wind protection, so you don't get instantly chilled if you did manage to work up a sweat. You're not going to win the Tour de France with the added wind resistance, but you'll enjoy your bike commute much more.
When used in a backpacking setting, you can use the vents in the same way, or you can unzip them from the top and use them as extra-long pit zips, making these much more effective at dumping heat while on the trail than the smaller pit-zips on the Marmot PreCip. The Aspire also has mesh pockets for those times when you just need a little bit of venting.
This jacket feels like the cadillac of lightweight, waterproof/breathable rain shells. The fabric is supple and has a softer hand than the other jackets we tested. This made it the easiest to put on with wet hands (which notoriously stick to the inside of a rain jacket when you put it on). The cut is fitted well for use in warmer temperatures when you're wearing minimal layers underneath--but it is optimized for winter use (or lower aerobic activities in cool temps) with a little more space in the arms for warm layers, close-fitting and adjustable cuffs to keep snow out, and an outer arm stash pocket for your electronic ski pass. Or chapstick. Or Gu packet. But not much more than that. It's small.
Upon first inspection, our reviewers were sure that the TorsoFlo venting system would put those zippers in a horrible spot for a backpack hip belt. So we loaded up our backpacking and climbing packs--and found no issue. The zipper is well protected by a fold of fabric, and it falls on the fleshy part well behind your hip bones--and if there is any issue, it is still just as comfortable to un-tuck the jacket and let it "Flo."
The hood seats well with a helmet; however, it proved a little difficult and cumbersome for some reviewers. The cinch in the back of the head did not always prove adequate to get the hood's visor out of the way when not wearing a helmet. The more rigid visor acted a bit like a sail when biking, but OR was on top of this one--a velcro strap in the collar captures the hood and secures it behind your neck to keep that hood under control.
Lastly, this jacket has a classy, sleek, and professional look. This is a great choice for the outdoor professional, or the professional who is outdoors. Bike commuting to your office? This jacket is a great choice--it performs, protects, and looks good doing it.
The Aspire was the heaviest of the 2-layer jackets we tested, but only by a couple of ounces (excluding the phenomenally lightweight Outdoor Research Helium II - Women's). For the added features and the durability of the product, this wasn't a deal breaker for our reviewers.
Gore-Tex Paclite is among the more rugged waterproof/breathable technologies out there. The soft hand coupled with the pressed-and-starched behavior of the jacket keeps it from snagging on sharp objects. This is a jacket that will last a long time, even with heavy use (be sure to follow manufacturer's care instructions!).
Much as this jacket was not the lightest, it is also not the smallest when packed in a backpack or into its own pocket. But it was not the biggest either. Our reviewers found it acceptable.
The Outdoor Research Aspire is your jacket-of-all-trades, master of many! It is sleek and professional looking; it is super durable and very rugged; it is a powerful waterproof layer and an easy breather. At $215 dollars, however, we probably wouldn't cut back the blackberry bushes in this jacket. This is a jacket tailored to mountain use that will keep you looking and feeling good on any wet day in the hills or around town, and is an excellent everyday commute jacket.
The Aspire tops the charts in many categories, but affordability is not one of them when compared to the rest of the jackets we reviewed. That said, our reviewers feel that you get what you pay for. This jacket will last a long time--so you will get your money's worth in the end.
If funds are not an issue, and you're looking for the highest performing rain shell for mountain use, this is the best option of the jackets we reviewed. It is sleek, comfortable, durable, and all-around dependable. Who says you can't have your cake and eat it too? In this case, it is worth the extra dollars.
Aspire Pant - Women's
— Lyra Pierotti
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: April 1, 2016
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