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Outdoor Research Refuge Air Hoody Review

This is an exceptionally breathable jacket for stop and start activities, but its isn't the best choice for colder weather
Outdoor Research Refuge Air Hoody
Photo: Backcountry
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Price:  $230 List | $114.48 at Backcountry
Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros:  Breathable, durable
Cons:  Somewhat heavy, not very warm
Manufacturer:   Outdoor Research
By Matt Bento ⋅ Senior Review Editor  ⋅  May 12, 2021
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59
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#13 of 13
  • Warmth - 25% 5
  • Weight and Compressibility - 20% 4
  • Comfort - 20% 8
  • Weather Resistance - 20% 5
  • Breathability - 15% 8

Our Verdict

Runners, skiers, and anyone else on the hunt for an active-use midlayer should consider the Outdoor Research Refuge Air. With its highly breathable Pertex quantum shell fabric and moisture-wicking liner, it kept our testers fairly sweat-free on cool early spring runs and late winter ski tours. However, it falls short of the competition when it comes to its warmth-to-weight ratio and isn't our first choice for fast and light backcountry missions. If you're not concerned about rocking the lightest gear available and need breathable insulation, it's worth a look.

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Pros Breathable, durableLight, easily stowable, very weather resistantWarm, good water resistance, comfortable, excellent mobility, stylish, durableLightweight, warm, great wind protection, sheds water well, affordableVery warm, great features set, packs away easily
Cons Somewhat heavy, not very warmDoesn't breathe, expensiveExpensive, annoying hem cinching buckles, not the lightestDoesn’t breathe well, fit isn’t very athleticNot the lightest
Bottom Line This is an exceptionally breathable jacket for stop and start activities, but its isn't the best choice for colder weatherWhen it comes to features, this jacket has everything you need and nothing you don'tThe top overall performer among the active insulating jacketsThe best lightweight insulated outer layer is highly wind resistant and impressively warmWith hi loft, water-resistant insulation, this jacket is a great option for staying warm on cold, damp days, and doesn't break the bank
Rating Categories Outdoor Research Re... Arc'teryx Nuclei FL Arc'teryx Proton LT... Rab Xenon Hoodie Rab Nebula Pro
Warmth (25%)
5.0
8.0
6.0
7.0
9.0
Weight And Compressibility (20%)
4.0
8.0
7.0
8.0
3.0
Comfort (20%)
8.0
7.0
9.0
6.0
8.0
Weather Resistance (20%)
5.0
8.0
6.0
8.0
8.0
Breathability (15%)
8.0
5.0
7.0
5.0
5.0
Specs Outdoor Research Re... Arc'teryx Nuclei FL Arc'teryx Proton LT... Rab Xenon Hoodie Rab Nebula Pro
Measured Weight (size) 15.25 oz (M) 10.5 oz (S) 12.8 oz (S) 11.0 oz (S) 20.3 oz (S)
Insulation VerticalX Air Coreloft (65g/m²) Coreloft Compact 80 60 g Stratus Cirrus HL
Outer Fabric Pertex Quantum Air (59% recycled nylon, 41% nylon mini ripstop) Arato (10D nylon ripstop) Fortius Air 20 Atmos ripstop Pertex Quantum Pro (30D recycled nylon)
Stuffs Into Itself? No Yes Yes, clip loop Yes, clip loop Includes stuff sack
Hood Option? Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Number of Pockets 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest 2 zippered hand, 2 internal 2 insulated zippered hand, 1 zippered chest 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered internal chest 2 zippered hand, 1 zippered chest

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.

Performance Comparison


Though we weren't impressed by the warmth to weight ratio, this...
Though we weren't impressed by the warmth to weight ratio, this jacket is durable and breathable; it's ideal for side country scrambling or missions around town.
Photo: Jason Peters

Warmth


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.

When worn with a shell on a chilly day, this jacket does well...
When worn with a shell on a chilly day, this jacket does well against the cold, but alone, it's just not enough.
Photo: Jason Peters

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.

For the weight, we don't feel like this jacket is particularly warm.
For the weight, we don't feel like this jacket is particularly warm.
Photo: Matt Bento

Comfort


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.

Little features go a long way towards comfort and convenience, like...
Little features go a long way towards comfort and convenience, like cuffs that are secure enough to stay in place, but stretchy enough that you can pull the sleeves out of the way.
Photo: Jason Peters

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.

Of all the thumb loop designs, ORs really take the cake. If you like...
Of all the thumb loop designs, ORs really take the cake. If you like a thumb loop, it works great; if you don't, you'll never know it's there.
Photo: Jason Peters

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.

Weather Resistance


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.

Of the breathable insulated jackets in our fleet, this is one of the...
Of the breathable insulated jackets in our fleet, this is one of the least water-resistant.
Photo: Matt Bento

Breathability


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.

Drop-in pockets for snacks and gloves are cool, but the tricot...
Drop-in pockets for snacks and gloves are cool, but the tricot lining is also worth some attention. The furry lining pulls moisture away from the body so it can pass through the Pertex shell fabric.
Photo: Jason Peters

Value


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.

Hem cinches can be a nice feature for sealing in the warmth, but...
Hem cinches can be a nice feature for sealing in the warmth, but they do little to make this jacket feel warmer.
Photo: Jason Peters

Conclusion


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.

Matt Bento