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Hands-on Gear Review
Cons: DWR doesn't hold up as long
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
The Outdoor Research Southback hails its name from the popular side-country/backcountry area adjacent to the Crystal Mountain Ski area in Southern Washington. They are a solid and price pointed product that is our OutdoorGearLab Best Buy award winner because they are very durable, very dexterous and scored as well as many of the other more expensive options in the warmth and water resistance categories. All this while costing a below average $85. While they only just barely edged out the Black Diamond Squad for our Best Buy award, they won the award because they have a little more durable palm, are slightly more dextrous, and a little warmer. They were noticeably narrower than the wider fitting Black Diamond Squad, which we feel could be a bigger difference for some people rather than the comparison categories which they scored so close in.
RELATED: Our complete review of ski gloves - men's
OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Southback was one of the more average scoring contenders during our dexterity testing. They could preform many of our basic and moderately difficulty tasks, like buckling boots, zipping jackets, tying shoe laces, opening a locked car door, and taking photos with a traditional point-and-shoot camera. During our side-by-side tests they struggled with our most difficult tasks like attaching a lift ticket to a jacket and writing with a pen on paper. Like several others in our review, they use thinner insulation (133 grams of Enduroloft) on the palm and slightly thicker insulation (265g of Enduroloft) on the back of the hand to help maximize warmth without reducing dexterity. We thought they had about the same dexterity as their more expensive ($145) and touch screen sensitive cousin the Outdoor Research Northback Sensor. They weren't quite as dexterous as our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice the Arc'teryx Alpha SV Glove or others like the Black Diamond Rebel, Rab Guide Gloves or Outdoor Research Magnate. They were however, slightly more dexterous than the similarly priced Black Diamond Squad and better than several of the other more price pointed options like the Columbia Air Chamber or the Da Kine Scout.
Warmth and Breathability
The Southback was average in warmth and we felt most users could comfortably use them while resort skiing and snowboarding down to around 10-15F. They were a little less warm and had a little less insulation than either the Black Diamond Legend (133g of Primaloft on palm and 170g on the back plus a thicker shell and foam) or our OutdoorGearLab Top Pick, the Outdoor Research Magnate (133g of Primaloft on palm 266 on back). The Southback uses Outdoor Research's propitiatory EnduraLoft instead of Primaloft. We thought the EnduroLoft was good, but when comparing similar amounts of Primaloft and EnduroLoft in some of the models we tested we didn't think EnduroLoft was quite as warm. That said, OR still packs a lot of EnduroLoft into their Southback with 265g on the back of hand and 133g on the front which still makes it relatively warm. Its also good to keep in mind that they are $40+ less than most other options that featured Primaloft. We though they were around the same warmth as the similarly designed OR Northback Sensor, Black Diamond Rebel and BD Squad, but wern't quite as warm as all of the double layer options we tested like the Arc'teryx Alpha SV or the Black Diamond Guide. We thought they were breathable enough that we could boot-pack in them for shorter distances and we used them as our "down glove" while backcountry skiing on several stormy days. Though you could ski uphill in them, it would have to be pretty cold to ski uphill or hike for very long time in them.
The Outdoor Research Southback was among the most waterproof products we tested both in real world applications and in our side-by-side bucket of water comparison. The Southback along with the Black Diamond Squad were the only product we looked at under $100 to use a Gore-Tex insert instead of a proprietary waterproof breathable insert. This combined with their well treated goatskin leather palm, made them one of the most water resistant options under $100. Even after 10 days of skiing in wet conditions we were very happy with how they preformed. We think they are as water resistant as the much more expensive Outdoor Research Northback Sensor as well as the Black Diamond Rebel and more water resistant than the Hestra Heli or the DaKine Scout.
The Southback is a fairly tough design with goatskin leather covering the whole palm and fronts of the fingers. We thought the Southback ($85) was easily one of the more durable options under $100 with only the Black Diamond Squad being as tough for the price. Overall when compared to all the more expensive contenders they were average for longevity and durability. While we didn't think they were as durable as many of the all leather or mostly leather models like the Black Diamond Rebel, the Arc'teryx Alpha SV or the OR Magnate because of Southback's back panels. These panels are pretty tough but the fabric and the abundance of seams make them less durable than other options. If you are someone who is super hard on gloves then it could be worth spending a little more, but for average resort skiers and snowboarders logging 10-20x a year these will last you at least a few seasons and likely more.
Features and Ease of Use
The Southback is a fairly no frills option with only a few extras, it has all the more common basic features like removable wrist leashes and a comfortable nose wipe. They have a fairly easy to use one hand tighten and loosening system on the gauntlet of a design. Another small feature that we really liked was pull strap. The pull strap on them is just a small loop of webbing to help pull them on. This doesn't seem like a big deal at first but when our hands were really cold or wet it made getting them on much easier and we missed this feature on competitors.
The Southback is best for more resort oriented skiers and snowboarders who ride in temps. down to around 10-15F. They are so water resistant that they make for an excellent choice for folks who ride in wetter areas like the Pacific Northwest. You can use them for touring but mainly as a down option. They are too warm for most people to ski uphill in and don't breath quite well enough for most people. They have enough dexterity to be an okay mountaineering option and we have seen several people use them to climb Mt. Rainier, but you wouldn't want to use them for anything too technical and you wouldn't want to ice climb in them.
The Outdoor Research Southback is $30-$40 more than some of the other more price-pointed products we tested, though we thought they were far nicer in every way. While we don't think you'll get twice the life out of them as the Da Kine Scout ($47) or the Columbia Air Chamber ($50) we do think you will be happier later in the day when your hands are both warmer and drier. You could spend more money to get something that is warmer, more dexterous or has more appealing features like the touch screen enabled Outdoor Research NorthBack Sensor Guide, but for $85 the Southback will do great for most people.
The Bottom Line
The Outdoor Research Southback is our OutdoorGearLab Best Buy winner because it is one of the best options for under $100. The Southback is durable, dexterous and very waterproof. They are pretty warm but if your hands get cold easily or you are an East Coast or Upper Mountain West skier or snowboarder you might want something warmer like the DaKine Scout, the Hestra Heli or our OutdoorGear Lab top cold weather pick the Black Diamond Guide. The Black Diamond Squad was almost our Best Buy winner being nearly as good or the same in nearly every category and fits a little wider.
Outdoor Research Southback - Women's
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— Ian Nicholson
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: February 17, 2014
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