Outdoor Research Refuge Air Hoody Review
Our Analysis and Test Results
Outdoor Research takes a whack at the breathable, non-fleece layer with the Refuge Air, and the results are mixed. This jacket is quite comfortable (if you order the correct size), and as far we know, it's the only breathable insulator that stuffs into its own pocket with a clip-in loop and thumb loops for slipping easily into a hardshell. On the other hand, the Refuge Air isn't as weather-resistant, as most of the competition is a few ounces heavier.
The Refuge Air derives its warmth from a layer of VerticalX Air insulation, sandwiched between an outer layer of Pertex Quantum Air and an inner layer of tricot lining for moisture-wicking. The VerticalX layer is very thin, and the word "lofty" doesn't come to mind. While the light insulation makes this jacket very breathable, it's not very warm. The elastic cuffs and hem cinch add to the warmth in terms of draft protection, but on truly cold days where you'll be standing around a lot, this jacket is only suitable as a midlayer, under a big puffy jacket.
Weight and Compressibility
With a clip-in loop, the Refuge Air's left handwarmer pocket doubles as a stuff sack for the jacket. Our rock climbing testers are always happy to see this feature, especially when it's well-executed; the jacket also fits in the pocket, which isn't always the case. This jacket stows away with refreshingly little effort. In terms of weight, the Refuge Air is not at the front of the pack. We measured 15.25 oz for a men's medium, which is several ounces more than similar models from Arcteryx and Patagonia. We're not sure where the extra ounces are coming from since there isn't a ton of insulation in this jacket.
The Refuge Air is very comfortable, thanks to its softshell fabric and fuzzy inner wicking layer. If fitted correctly, it's not restrictive and still fits nicely under a shell or a heavier insulated layer. Thin, elastic thumb loops help you slip this jacket into a shell or heavier layer and help close the gap between your cuffs and gloves. Don't like thumb loops? That's okay; you won't even notice them.
The Refuge Air has three pockets. One large chest pocket that almost extends all the way to the left shoulder is great for pens, topos, phones, batteries, notepads, or anything else you want to keep warm and access quickly. Two generously sized handwarmer pockets are more than large enough to accommodate a pair of gloves, and of course, the biggest, coldest of hands. The hood fits snuggly and comfortably, but it doesn't have an adjustment cord, and it doesn't fit well over a climbing helmet.
We'd be doing a disservice if we didn't mention fit. Our lead tester is 5'9" and 150 pounds. In most technical outerwear, he fits well in a size small. In OR clothing, he's consistently a medium. For this jacket, a medium is a perfect fit, and he doesn't feel like he's in between sizes, while a size small Refuge Air feels undoubtedly too small.
This jacket can keep the wind away, and is excellent for running in on chilly, windy days, or climbing in perfect temperatures with the all important "sending breeze". If there is rain in the forecast, do not expect to stay dry while only wearing this jacket. It does not have a DWR treatment, and in our shower testing, it became completely soaked in about 10 seconds. While no breathable jacket is enough for a downpour, the amount of water this thing soaks up is particularly concerning, as it will take longer to dry out.
Breathability is where the OR Refuge Air shines. With its thin layer of insulation and air-permeable shell fabric, it's one of our favorite pieces for running and backcountry skiing. It's more breathable than a lightweight fleece and feels much less constricting since it doesn't fit tightly against the skin.
This jacket hits a nice price point, often retailing for less than its main competitors. We found it was durable, as we wore it while bushwhacking to out-of-the-way crags and skiing through thick forests. While it's no "quiver of one" model, it's a good value for someone who needs a breathable layer for aerobic activities.
If you're stoked to move away from your ratty old fleece and into a more comfortable and versatile breathable layer, the Refuge Air is an effective and affordable way to go. If comfort is more important than counting ounces, and you don't mind carrying a lightweight waterproof layer, this jacket should fit your needs nicely.