Shells now occupy a significant market share for ski jackets. Some are burly and stiff, great for stormy days at the resort. Others are lightweight and packable yet fully weather-resistant, like the Outdoor Research Hemispheres Jacket. This Gore-Tex shell makes no compromises regarding weather resistance, owing to its seam-sealed construction and waterproof zippers. This jacket is very comfortable, with a good fit and stretchy fabric panels near the shoulders and neck. It is the lightest ski shell we have reviewed, which makes it appropriate for backcountry use. During the storm, it will protect you while allowing you to move efficiently and ski happily. And when the weather clears up, the Hemispheres will disappear into the depths of your pack. It's important to note that there are no large internal pockets for stashing climbing skins, which many skiers utilize in the backcountry. While not our absolute favorite for backcountry use, it's darn close, and we would readily recommend this model to most folks looking for a high-end backcountry shell. For everyday resort use, we recommend a heavier shell for better wind protection.Editor's Note: Outdoor Research released an updated version of this jacket called the Hemispheres II.
Outdoor Research Hemispheres Jacket Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Excellent weather resistance, lightweight, breathable
Cons: Lacks warmth, style could be better, light on features
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Hemispheres is not a warm jacket on its own. Like other shell jackets, it is just the exterior component of a layering system that allows the user to wear exactly what the weather demands on any given day. If it's cold outside, you'll need one or maybe two insulating layers underneath. If it's warm, you might only wear a thin layer of insulation underneath. On spring afternoons, you might get away with just wearing a thin base layer shirt under the Hemispheres. When wearing this jacket, warmth is all up to you.
Some features of the jacket help you stay warm. Although other jackets in the competition have larger hoods, the adjustable hood on the Hemispheres offers good coverage. The sleeve cuffs use velcro closures to keep the cold out, but other jackets feature stretchy cuff gaskets that create a skin-tight seal. In the backcountry, we trade these features for lower weight, and we end up generating a lot more heat than inbounds skiers. So, a thin shell jacket is all that is needed. For inbounds skiing, we'd reach for a slightly thicker shell for added warmth.
The Hemispheres provides excellent weather resistance, as any ski jacket should. Gore-Tex is used in the shell fabric, offering uncompromising waterproofness while also ensuring a sound design, waterproof zippers, and taped seams. The design is great for weather resistance because the sleeves and hem are long enough not to expose your torso or wrists when you raise your arms. The hood fits over a helmet and cinches down tight.
Throughout our testing period, the Hemispheres demonstrated excellent weather resistance, and we would trust this jacket in the gnarliest of conditions. Outdoor Research's DWR treatment is pretty good, and we did not experience any wetting out of the shell fabric, even during extended spraying in the shower test. The hood is smaller than other shell jackets we reviewed, but a stretchy panel in the hood fabric allows a good fit with any helmet.
Comfort and Fit
We found the Hemispheres to be a comfortable jacket. The fit is good, but not great, compared to other high-end shells. The torso felt slightly boxy, but the jacket fabric is comfortable.
Overall, the comfort and fit of the Hemispheres are above average for shell jackets. This jacket features stretchy panels inserted in the hood and back of the shoulders, which gives it a more comfortable range of motion than other shells. Pockets and zippers are positioned to not interfere with backpack straps, which is a must for backcountry use. There is a small fleece patch where the chin rubs against the inside of the collar.
Ventilation is another category where the Hemispheres shines. In the backcountry, we spend a lot of time traveling uphill to earn our turns. If the weather is nice, we can ditch the shell layer, but if it's snowing or blowing, the shell stays on, even if we generate a lot of heat in uphill travel. As such, a breathable jacket is a necessity in the backcountry. The Hemispheres provides excellent breathability and ventilation.
The breathable Gore-Tex fabric will help transport water vapor away from the sweaty interior. Furthermore, the DWR on this jacket is great, which prevents water from soaking the outer shell fabric and making the jacket feel stuffy. On top of all that, this jacket features side vents that open from the armpit down to the hem. The side vents have big two-way zipper pulls that are easy to operate one-handed. We took this jacket on several ski tours in blizzard conditions and never needed more ventilation out of the Hemispheres.
This jacket looks sharp and fits well, but we didn't love the style for some reason. It's not a bad-looking jacket, but it's not winning any fashion contests either. The cut could be more tailored around the hem and up through the torso for slim users, as backcountry skiers tend to be. That said, style is subjective, and although we didn't love the style, you might.
The two-tone color panels help this jacket stand out from the crowd, but not necessarily in a great way. Furthermore, the color options are limited and not that inspiring. The zipper colors don't seem to match the colors of the fabric. You be the judge, but we were more inspired by other jackets in the review that colored the zippers to blend in with the jacket, not stick out.
Outdoor Research uses bright but standard colors in their designs, like bright red, blue, green, etc. Other manufacturers are using either "earthy" hues that mimic natural colors or bright neon colors that look cool. A bright jacket can be useful beyond fashion in the backcountry, increasing visibility between group members or potentially attracting attention in an emergency.
The Hemispheres is light on features compared to other ski jackets, but the features in this jacket are adequate for backcountry skiing. There are two large handwarmer pockets, one large chest pocket, one internal chest pocket, and two internal mesh stash pockets. The pockets are made of very thin mesh, which feels a little flimsy. We slightly worry that pointy objects like car keys might be able to poke right through it.
There is a headphone port for easy listening, which many skiers enjoy. The internal mesh stash pockets are big enough to hold goggles or snacks but not big enough to hold folded-up skins, which is surprising. Large internal stash pockets are useful in backcountry skiing when your skins get wet. Folding them up and stashing them inside your jacket during a downhill run is a great way to warm up the skin glue and get them to stick again. We are bummed that OR missed this feature, but it's not a deal-breaker.
Other features that this jacket lacks are a sleeve pass pocket, a goggle wipe, and a RECCO reflector. These are nice for resort skiing, but they are not missed in a backcountry jacket because they all make the jacket heavier. This jacket has good features for backcountry skiing, without overdoing it.
Should You Buy the Hemispheres Jacket?
Highly weather-resistant, lightweight, and breathable, the Outdoor Research Hemispheres Jacket is a strong option for avid backcountry skiers and riders. The style and features are not as good as other ski jackets that we have reviewed, and you'll have to keep yourself warm by layering underneath. But this jacket excels at what it is designed for: everyday use in the backcountry, in any weather. Outdoor Research also has a great warranty program, so if anything goes wrong, you will be covered.
What Other Ski Jackets Should You Consider?
This jacket is not cheap, but the Outdoor Research Hemispheres Jacket is a good value for the everyday backcountry skier for the performance and weight. As we have already discussed, style is subjective, but we weren't thrilled with the cut of this jacket. Alternatively, the Arc'teryx Rush is likely one of the best-fitting and most stylish jackets out in the backcountry. The Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell features just outstrip the Hemispheres jacket but trade a bit of weather resistance for increased functionality. It may be worth looking at an insulated option like the award-winning Helly Hansen Alpha LifaLoft if you are more of an in-bounds skier.
— Jeff Dobronyi
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