The Outdoor Research Illuminate is a solid down mid layer. Don't expect much in the way of weather protection, but do expect a slim fitting low bulk jacket that feels great under a shell. Stuffed with 800 fill power down housed in a 10 denier nylon shell, the Illuminate is lightweight and packable, with a climber-centric stowaway pocket to keep you warm pitch after pitch or mile after mile.
Outdoor Research Illuminate Hoody Review
Compare prices at 4 resellers Pros: Lightweight, great layering piece
Cons: Poor weather resistance
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Illuminate is a faster, sleeker, dare we say a sexier version of the classic OR Transcendent, using higher fill power down and a thinner shell material than its heavier cousin. This comes with the sacrifice of weather resistance and durability, but if you're disciplined and refrain from bushwacking, offwidth climbing, or emergency automotive work in this jacket, you'll be rewarded with a light and relatively warm mid layer at a nicer price than competitors like the Arcteryx Cerium LT and the Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer.
800 fill down has great insulating power for its weight, but the Illuminate isn't as warm as other jackets with the same type of insulation. Both the Patagonia Down Sweater Hoody and The North Face Summit L3 Hoody use the same type of insulation but felt warmer. Manufacturers don't generally list fill weights as they do for down sleeping bags, but we can assume that the extra warmth comes from there being more down in these jackets and keep their weight lower with lighter shell materials.
Tipping our scales at 10.9 oz for a men's small, this jacket is one of the lightest in our review. Only the super light 7.4 oz Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer is significantly lighter, while the 10.3 oz Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody is only slightly lighter. The 11oz Feathered Friends Eos is barely heavier, but much warmer thanks to its 900+ fill down.
You don't want to get caught in the rain without a hardshell or a rain jacket while wearing the OR Illuminate. This jacket is one of the last weather resistant models we've tested, as it doesn't have a DWR treatment on its shell fabric or a hydrophobic treatment on it insulation. In our shower testing, all the jackets we tested eventually leaked, causing the feathers to lose their loft. The Illuminated soaked through faster than the rest and took the longest to dry out and re-loft.
This jacket is slim fitting, making it great if you're wearing it as a midlayer, but limited if you want to throw it over all your other layers, parka style. The hem length isn't as long as the Editors' Choice Award-winning The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody or the weather-resistant Rab Microlight Alpine, but it provides a little more bum coverage than the Arc'teryx Cerium LT Hoody.
We've had some trouble in the past with the stowaway pockets on OR jackets being too small to fit the jackets. Maybe they were listening because the Illuminate fits easily into its pocket and it includes a clip-in loop. Only the Black Diamond Forge Down Hoody packs away more easily because of its stretchy stowaway pocket.
The Illuminate has several features that add to its comfort and functionality. Starting from the bottom, one hem cinch does a fine job sealing out the cold, though you need to be mindful to tuck the slack loop up into the jacket so it won't catch on anything. The zippered hand warmer pockets have a microfleece lining. While this move isn't in-line with ultralight, it is in line with comfort! The hood is a little small to fit over a helmet, but it's warm and held in place comfortably with a cinch cord in the back. The sits high on the forehead, and while it will keep your neck and ears toasty, it provides little weather protection.
When backpacking, climbing, and ski touring, light is right, saving your knees and back and keeping moving fast. The Illuminate makes a great mid layer for any of these activities, particularly if you live in a dryer climate like the southwest.
The Illuminate will set you back $260, not bad at all for a jacket with high quality down and lightweight shell fabrics, especially considering the high price tags on the Arcteryx Cerium LT ($379) and The North Face Summit L3 Down Hoody ($350). This jacket's face fabric is very thin, but we didn't manage to put any holes in it or lose any feathers during the testing period. Our testers report a fast response and excellent support when dealing with Outdoor Research's warranty program.
While not a top performer compared to some of the more expensive jackets in our review, we are pleased with the Illuminate's features and design for its price. It's much warmer for its weight than most synthetic competitors, without putting a large dent in your bank account.
— Matt Bento