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Outdoor Research Optimizer Review

A great choice for folks who need weather protection while wanting to go light
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outdoor research optimizer hardshell jacket review
Credit: Outdoor Research
Price:  $400 List
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Manufacturer:   Outdoor Research
By Matt Bento ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  Mar 28, 2019

Our Verdict

As of Autumn 2019, the Optimizer is discontinued.
Breathes well even without pit zips
Drawstrings more difficult to use with gloves on compared to models with cohesive cord locks
The Outdoor Research Optimizer is (for lack of a better word) the optimal jacket for folks who need bombproof weather protection while constantly on the move. Running, hiking, or ski touring in cold rain or heavy, wet snow is the Optimizer's forte. This jacket doesn't have pit zips, but its thin shell fabric and Goretex Active membrane more than makeup for it, and the Optimizer is one of the most breathable models we tested this winter. Its face fabrics aren't as tough as workhorse models like Arcteryx Beta AR, so you'll want to save this jacket for when weight savings and breathability is paramount.

Our Analysis and Test Results

The Optimizer inhabits the same niche as the Arcteryx Alpha FL. Both jackets are lightweight and packable and forego a few features to keep the ounces down. The Alpha FL is lighter and stuffs into a very small stuff sack, but lacks hand pockets and pit zips. The Optimizer weighs only an ounce more but has handwarmer pockets, and exterior and interior chest pockets.

Performance Comparison

outdoor research optimizer hardshell jacket review - the optimizer keeps the powder out for sure, but where it really...
The Optimizer keeps the powder out for sure, but where it really shines is going uphill, thanks to the very breathable Gore-Tex Active membrane and jersey backed venting pockets.
Credit: Miranda Oakley

Weather Protection

The Optimizer didn't score as well as the Arcteryx Beta AR, though keep in mind that our scores are relative. This jacket will keep you dry as it claims thanks to its waterproof membrane, it just lacks a durable water repellent treatment. These are by no means deal breakers, but they do boost the scores for weather protection for some of the other models. Without a DWR treatment, the Optimizer "wets out" more quickly than treated models.

outdoor research optimizer hardshell jacket review - what's more fun than standing in the shower? lots of things...
What's more fun than standing in the shower? Lots of things actually...but we keep doing it since its a solid way to test weather protection. Here the hood keeps our tester dry, though this jacket doesn't have a DWR treatment and doesn't shed water as well as other models.
Credit: Matt Bento

That doesn't mean its leaks. It means that in torrential precip, the outer fabric can get soaked, making the jacket less breathable, since moisture can't diffuse out through the membrane when the face fabrics are wet.

outdoor research optimizer hardshell jacket review - the hood fits easily over a climbing helmet and is even roomy enough...
The hood fits easily over a climbing helmet and is even roomy enough for a ski helmet.
Credit: Miranda Oakley

Weight and Packability

The Optimizer is super light, while still featuring a smattering of useful pockets and a fit that allows for comfortable layering. The men's size medium we tested weighs 12.3 oz, making it a solid four ounces less than most of the jackets in this category. Only the Arcteryx Alpha FL can compete with the Optimizer in terms of weight savings.

outdoor research optimizer hardshell jacket review
Credit: Matt Bento

The Optimizer's supple 20 denier fabrics fold and pack away better than the REI Co-op Stormbolt GTX. Since it's so breathable, you might not need to take this jacket off as often as heavier models, but if you do, it will also take up less room in your pack.

outdoor research optimizer hardshell jacket review - at 12.4 ounces, this is one of the lighter models we've evaluated.
At 12.4 ounces, this is one of the lighter models we've evaluated.
Credit: Matt Bento

Mobility and Fit

We read several accounts of this jacket having a funky fit, and we settled on a size medium, though our head tester usually goes for a small. In our experience, the Optimizer fit perfectly in the length of the sleeves and hemline but is baggy in the torso. Since its fabrics are on the thin size, the extra material doesn't bother us as much as it does on the burlier Arc'teryx Beta AR. If you're considering this jacket, we'd suggest sizing up for layering, which is concurrent with other clothing we've tested from OR. The Optimizer doesn't feel as mobile as the stretchy Patagonia Galvanized Jacket, which offers a great range of motion, even when strapped down under a climbing harness. However, the Optimizer has a roomy cut in the shoulders and underarm panels that allow for plenty of mobility. Even with a few layers underneath, we didn't few restricted.

outdoor research optimizer hardshell jacket review - we feel like this fit is a touch on the baggy side, but that means...
We feel like this fit is a touch on the baggy side, but that means it accommodates under layers well, and it barely rides up when in the arms up position.
Credit: Miranda Oakley

Venting and Breathability

No pit zips? No problem. We didn't miss them because of the thinner 20D fabric and the Gore-tex Active membrane. Additionally, the handwarmer pockets can act as vents in a pinch. Like the Arc'teryx Alpha FL, the Optimizer is a jacket we can leave on, even while skinning up steeper terrain. OR gear is designed by folks in the Pacific North West, where it rains so much they had to invent coffee shops, so even on a good day, you're going to want to leave your hardshell on.

One of our testers brought along the Optimizer for a short ski tour in central Oregon. The day started out barely cold enough to be snowing, and after gaining elevation, water bottles were icing up. Our tester left the Optimizer on the whole time with a light fleece underneath; he stayed dry, never overheated, and didn't need to add any layers, even during a summit transition, while another in his group was soaked in sweat that eventually froze on the inside of her heavier shell.


We like that the Optimizer can keep the weight down while still possessing standard features like hand warmer pockets. Though the Arc'teryx Alpha FL is lighter and more packable, a few of our testers really missed the hand pockets. This jacket also features an external and an internal chest pocket for securing small items. It has a hood with three points of adjustment that stays in place with plenty of room for a helmet. We wished it had the same internal cohesive cord locks as the Patagonia Galvanized Jacket and the Black Diamond Sharp End since they are low profile and easier to use while wearing gloves.

outdoor research optimizer hardshell jacket review - the cinch cords on this model are difficult to loosen with gloves...
The cinch cords on this model are difficult to loosen with gloves on. Make sure you shove the extra slack up under the hem or it will catch on branches, or carabiners on your harness.
Credit: Miranda Oakley

We also didn't like the big loop of slack that can hang down when the hem cord is fully tightened, and had to constantly shove it back up underneath the jacket.

outdoor research optimizer hardshell jacket review - we feel the sleeve length is perfect and the hook and loop closures...
We feel the sleeve length is perfect and the hook and loop closures help seal in the warmth.
Credit: Miranda Oakley

Best Applications

Designed for fast and light adventures, we'd recommend this jacket for alpine climbing, backpacking, and ski touring, though it's light enough for everyday rain protection. We'd hesitate to use the Optimizer for ripping through the trees at the resort. While it will keep you dry on storm days, it feels a little fragile compared to heavier models.


Gore-Tex products often demand top dollar, and the Optimizer is no exception at $400, though some models in this category run upwards of $600. It's lightweight and versatile, which means you'll be able to use it for a variety of activities - and it's backed up by OR's excellent warranty.


For folks looking for weather protection on the lighter side, the Optimizer is a solid choice. It has a good fit offering full coverage with a lengthy hemline and plenty of room for layering. If weight and packability is your top priority, we suggest the Arc'teryx Alpha FL, but the Optimizer only weighs a little more and offers a roomier fit.

Matt Bento

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