The Outdoor Research Interstellar wins our Best Bang for the Buck award because it combines competition-beating performance with a very affordable price tag. This is made possible by the proprietary AscentShell membrane, which doesn't cost Outdoor Research, or the consumer, nearly as much money as a membrane developed and licensed by W.L. Gore. Besides this distinct advantage, the matrix of spun polyurethane fibers that make up the membrane also allows for air-permeable breathability, stretchy mobility, and a super light overall weight, making this one of the highest scoring hardshells in this review. We must point out that we don't think it offers quite the same level of nasty weather protection as some jackets that use Gore-Tex Pro, but for the outdoor enthusiast who appreciates its strong suits, and doesn't live in a constant downpour, we think this is a nearly ideal hardshell — especially for the price.
Outdoor Research Interstellar Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Stretchy, light, very packable, affordable, quite breathable
Cons: Hand pockets are a bit low, hood is a bit shallow with a helmet on
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Our Analysis and Test Results
In the spring of 2018, the Outdoor Research Interstellar was introduced to replace the OR Realm jacket, which had also won our Best Bang for the Buck award. Compared to that jacket, it uses the same AscentShell membrane paired with the stretchy and light 20D stretch ripstop nylon face fabric in an almost identical design. In fact, the only noticeable differences between the two are that the Interstellar now has double zippered handwarmer pockets. One serves as a reversible stuff sack, has only a single chest pocket compared with two in the past, and the pockets are now mesh lined to aid with ventilation when the going gets hot. The price has also increased by $20.
While this jacket has many apparent advantages, it also has a few flaws. Most notably, the features on this jacket, taken as a whole, are just not up to the fine-tuned level of design and performance found on the majority of other hardshells in this review. More info on specifics can be found below. Also, incorporating very light and thin face and backer fabrics, we question the ability of this jacket to hold up to years of intense abuse as well as heavier, Gore-Tex Pro designed jackets.
On most occasions, the weather protection offered by this contender was plenty enough for most winter weather situations, but don't feel like it protected us as well for long periods of rain as those jackets with a bigger hood did, such as the Arc'teryx Alpha FL, or even The North Face Summit L5 FuseForm GTX.
In particular, we found that while the hood was deep enough and offered enough protection from a downpour in our shower test, it just didn't cut it once we added a climbing helmet into the mix. When wearing our helmet, we found that the brim of the hood didn't effectively cover our face, allowing water to flow off the top and at times down the collar. We also found that the DWR coating wore off pretty quickly, especially in areas of wear as we wore a pack, like on the back, chest, and shoulders. On the other hand, the length and fit of the hem, sleeves, and even the collar was pretty much ideal for keeping us protected from blowing snow on stormy ski missions.
Our size men's large weighed in at a mere 11.5 ounces, making it the lightest three-layer hardshell in this review.
While this jacket weighed in about 0.4 ounces heavier than its predecessor, the OR Realm, this is a minor detail considering it added in the weight of two handwarmer zippers and the associated material. We also loved how it can stuff into one of its hand pockets turned inside out and has a clip-in loop for this function.
While we could imagine a smaller stuff-sack for this purpose, we still love how packable this jacket is, a significant selling point when considering whether it will fit in the pack (it will!). As the lightest and most packable jacket, we gave it a perfect 10 points for this metric.
Mobility and Fit
Our head tester is 6'0" tall and weighs around 160 pounds. He has fairly broad shoulders but a skinnier frame, and for this jacket, we ordered him a men's size Large; this was a good call, as it fits him perfectly. There was plenty of room to layer underneath, but it wasn't too baggy at all if worn without under layers. In no way did we feel like this jacket impeded our vision or movement while wearing it. That said, for those who usually need to size up, or who have a big torso or wide shoulders, we would recommend sizing up.
When it came to mobility, the Interstellar might be the most perfect hardshell we have ever tried. In direct contrast to any jacket that uses a Gore-Tex Pro membrane, such as the Arc'teryx Beta AR, this jacket is supple and quiet, without any crinkly noises when you move. The fabric is soft and stretchy, giving no resistance of any sort when ice climbing or skiing, and allowing the fit to be a bit more athletic without compromising movement at all.
Venting and Breathability
When considering venting and breathability, we felt that the Interstellar certainly needed to rely more on its ability to breathe than on its ability to vent. It doesn't have any pit or arm vents but instead lines its three pockets with mesh on the inside, so in a heat or moisture emergency, one can open the pockets up wide to allow for some extra air flow.
Typically, we find that the ability of a jacket to vent is far more critical to the wearer's comfort level than its ability to breathe. However, we must say that on our stationary bike test, where we tested the breathability of each jacket side-by-side, we got noticeably less hot and sweaty in this jacket than almost any other. We aren't entirely sure if this has to do with the air-permeability of the AscentShell membrane, or just because the weight of the fabrics is so much less than, say, the 40D fabrics found on the Patagonia Pluma. We verified this finding by wearing this jacket for the full uphill on many skin track ascents and can say without a doubt that it does a great job of keeping one cool and dry.
Unfortunately, the OR Interstellar has a flaw, and that is the design and performance of its features. Don't get us wrong, the features on this jacket certainly perform as advertised and likely won't let you down in a pinch, but compared to the unique and optimally designed features found on other jackets that we tested, like the Mountain Hardwear CloudSeeker or Patagonia Pluma, they were not quite up to par.
This jacket has two huge handwarmer pockets with mesh backing, as well as a single external cross-over chest pocket, also mesh backed. While the handwarmer pockets are accessible with a pack on, the waist strap of the pack still sits over the lower part of the pockets, a bit annoying if you are carrying items in there. Inside the single chest pocket is a hanging cell phone pouch made of mesh, but curiously there is no media port, or hole, for your headphones to run inside the jacket up to your ears, as it seems there should be. We also wonder about the purpose of this hanging cell phone pocket at all, because it is pretty hard to get the phone into it. We also took issue with the location of the drawcords on the hood: they reside deep inside the collar against the cheek, a location that is not convenient or easy to access for fine-tuning a hood fit.
Additionally, the drawcord buckles used on the hood, as well as the single hem drawcord, are small and very difficult to release if wearing thick warm gloves. The Cohaesive drawcord buckles found on jackets such as the Arc'teryx Alpha FL are our favorites for this sort of application. It can stuff into its pocket but does not have a two-way front zipper.
With a low weight, easy packability, and super mobility, there is almost no excuse for leaving this jacket at home. We think it thrives for snowy winter use in dry climates, and especially for sweaty, aerobic activities where weather protection is still needed. Due to its very light materials, we wouldn't recommend it for someone who is looking for a workhorse, and we would probably recommend a jacket with a Gore-Tex Pro membrane for someone who is looking for the ultimate in rain protection.
This jacket retails for $299, making it the second most affordable jacket in this review. Since it was one of the highest scorers, we think it presents a great value.
The Outdoor Research Interstellar is a very light hardshell jacket that combines fantastic mobility with great breathability. It is also one of the most affordable hardshells that we have tested, making it the logical choice for our Best Bang for the Buck Award.
— Matt Bento