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 The North Face Summit L5 GTX Pro or the Arcteryx Beta AR, so you'll want to save this jacket for when weight savings and breathability is paramount.
Outdoor Research Optimizer Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Lightweight, packable, breathes well even without pit zips
Cons: Drawstrings more difficult to use with gloves on compared to models with cohesive cord locks
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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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.
The Optimizer didn't score as well as the Arcteryx Beta AR or The North Face Summit L5 GTX Pro, 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, and the hood doesn't fit as well as the hood of the Summit L5. 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.
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.
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.
The Optimizer's supple 20 denier fabrics fold and pack away better than the TNF Summit L5 and 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.
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.
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.
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.
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