Outdoor Research Refuge Hoody Review
Cons: Heavy, bulky, sleeves a tad short
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Outdoor Research Refuge should not be confused with the OR Refuge Air, which is a much lighter active layer using many of the same materials. The Refuge is a beefy, burly insulated jacket that may incorporate all of the same breathable technologies found on the Air, but which is simply too warm for us to consider wearing when working out. We put this jacket on when we stop moving to trap the heat that our body is generating.
This jacket uses OR's VerticalX insulation, which is layered in sheets that don't need to be baffled and is arranged vertically to allow moist air to escape easier ("breathe"). It has two zippered hand pockets and another zippered chest pocket, while also sporting a helmet compatible hood that can be tightened via three separate drawcords. This jacket works best as a belay jacket on cold winter ice climbing or ski missions, as a stand alone jacket on spring or fall days when climbing in the shade or hanging outdoors in the mornings or evenings, or as an around-town piece all winter long.
We tested the warmth of this jacket through the course of three late winter months, and on one day, took it to a local ski hill in a blizzard. We tested it side by side with the other jackets in this review to see how it performed. Our side-by-side tests revealed that this is indeed one warm jacket, easily warmer than most, especially all of the lightweight active layers, and even warmer than most of the heavier insulated jackets as well.
The Refuge accomplishes this with panels of 60g/m VerticalX insulation, which is notable because most it doesn't require baffling like the Rab and Patagonia competitors, while still managing to stay in place and highly lofted. Since this jacket is designed to be breathable as well, we think a bit of warmth may have been sacrificed by choosing to use breathable fabrics, but the large amount of thick, heavy insulation ensures that this is a jacket that will do a great job keeping you warm.
Weight and Compressibility
On our independent scale, we weighed this jacket at 19 ounces for a size large, which is curious because the weight listed on OR's website is 20.1 ounces for a size medium. Regardless, it tips the scale as one of the heaviest jackets in this review. Ignoring the scale and just going off of feel, it also feels present on the body when wearing it. That said, we are confident that most of the weight of this jacket will be found in its insulation, so at least the price in ounces is directly given back in heat.
It's possible to stuff this jacket into its left-hand pocket, which is zippered. We found that it takes a bit of time and effort to do so because the insulation in this jacket is so lofty, it simply doesn't want to easily compress. Additionally, the opening of the pocket isn't super large compared to the size of the finished package when stuffed, so you have to massage it into all the distant corners as you stuff. There is a keeper loop for clipping it on. While we think stuffing the jacket to get maximum compression for traveling or packing into a tight bag is appropriate, the effort required means that this isn't a jacket we are going to be stuffing every day just to carry in our daypack.
This is a very comfortable jacket, and the comfort of wearing it day in and day out is one of the principal reasons we would recommend it. In particular, we like how the soft interior fabric feels against our skin. It has a similar matte finish and look to the ripstop polyester used on the outside, and feels nicer and more natural than the many super slippery, techier nylon fabrics common on puffy jackets such as these. We also like the tricot fleece-lined handwarmer pockets, as well as the patch that serves as a chin guard when the front is fully zipped up. The large hood is deep and comfortable, and the hem is comfortably low to keep us protected.
If we had to complain a little, though, it would have to be about the fit of the sleeves. We found them to be a bit short, especially if we reached our hands over our heads, but also if we crossed our arms in front of us, or bent our elbows while raising our arms. Simply stretching our arms straight out to the sides was not enough to cause the sleeves to ride up our wrists; you can find some complaints about these problems in online customer reviews. Our head tester has long arms and broad shoulders, so he often encounters problems such as these, and indeed, OR is one brand whose sizing is often slightly problematic for him when it comes to the sleeve length and shoulder tightness.
Compared to many other OR jackets we've tested and reviewed over the years, this one fits well. That said, if you happen to fall on the threshold of sizing, you should probably opt for the larger option (in the Refuge).
While the Refuge will certainly keep you warm, our testing reveals that it is by no means one of the most weather resistant. Due to using fabrics and technologies that emphasize breathability, we found that the wind cut through this jacket a bit more than the jackets we tested that had a tightly woven, wind-breaker like nylon outer fabric. The thickness of the insulation itself does a solid job breaking the wind.
When it comes to water resistance, no insulating layer is designed to be as resistant as a shell. This one comes with a Durable Water Resistant (DWR) coating applied to the face, as most do, that causes a light amount of water to bead up and drop off. When we tested it by spraying it with a hose after many months of use, the DWR coating on the front of the jacket had mostly worn off, and the fabric quickly wetted out and allowed water absorption. Left in the sun and breeze after this test, we found that it dried very quickly.
The combination of VerticalX insulation and OR's ActiveTemp polymer treatment makes this a jacket that is designed to breathe well. These technologies are combined with air permeable face fabrics that do a good job of allowing some level of air transfer. Despite this, we found this to be one of the most intolerable jackets to wear once we had worked up a sweat, due in large part to how heavy and hot it is.
Frankly speaking, breathable garments and fabrics are great on lightweight layers that are thin enough to not superheat you while working out. However, big thick puffy jackets are simply too heavy and warm to consider wearing once you are sweating profusely. We were very hot the moment we started exercising in this jacket and immediately opted to vent heavily, or simply take the jacket off. No matter what technology is used on the inside to aid in breathability, we are stripping this thing off once we get warmed up.
While one or two jackets in this review can be had for a bit cheaper, the fact is this is one of the most affordable insulated jackets you will find. Considering it is very warm, and also comfortable and stylish, we think it is a solid value purchase and one that will not likely disappoint.
The Outdoor Research Refuge is one of our favorite warmth layers, not only because it's really warm, but also because it's comfortable to wear and looks great. We think it makes an ideal jacket for your everyday winter usage, but can also be pulled into service as a belay coat or as a warmth layer for under the shell when skiing on the lifts. To top it off, it comes at an affordable price, making it hard to go wrong.
— Andy Wellman
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