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, which earns our Top Pick for backcountry skiing. This Gore-Tex shell makes no compromises when it comes to 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 that 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. This is our recommended jacket for anyone looking for a backcountry shell, and also for backcountry and sidecountry skiers who spend up to 50% of their time in the ski resort. For everyday resort use, we recommend a heavier shell for better wind protection.
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
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Our Analysis and Test Results
This jacket performs highly in weather resistance, ventilation, and comfort, and it is also the lightest jacket in our review. All of these attributes make it the best option for backcountry skiing.
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. The adjustable hood offers good coverage, although other jackets in the competition have larger hoods. The sleeve cuffs use velcro closures to keep out the cold, 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 (and thus warmer) shell.
The Hemispheres provides excellent weather resistance, as any ski jacket should. Gore-Tex is used in the shell fabric, which offers uncompromising waterproofness while also ensuring a sound design, waterproof zippers, and taped seams. The design of the jacket is great for weather resistance as well, meaning the sleeves and hem are long enough so that they don't 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 in our review. In comparison, the torso of the Hemispheres felt slightly boxy, but not very much so. The jacket fabric is comfortable enough.
Overall, the comfort and fit of the Hemispheres are above average for shell jackets. This jacket features stretchy panels inserted in the hood and the back of the shoulders, which gives the jacket a more comfortable range of motion than other shells. Pockets and zippers are positioned in a way that will 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.
This 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 are generating 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 for some reason, we didn't love the style. 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 seems to use bright but standard colors in their designs, like bright red, bright blue, bright green, etc. Other manufacturers are using either "earthy" hues that mimic natural colors, or bright neon colors that look cool. In the backcountry, a bright jacket can be useful beyond fashion, increasing visibility between group members or potentially attracting attention in an emergency.
The Hemispheres is light on features compared to other ski jackets, but for backcountry skiing, the features in this jacket are adequate. There are two large handwarmer pockets, one large chest pocket, one internal chest pocket, and two internal mesh stash pockets. All of the pockets are made of very thin mesh which feels a little flimsy, 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 very 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.
This jacket is not cheap, but it's right up there in price with other high-end, technical Gore-Tex shell jackets. The quality of the jacket is good, and we only doubt the durability of the mesh pockets and the hood brim wire, which we have seen break in OR products before. The zippers are large and solid and seem durable. Outdoor Research has a fabulous warranty program, so if anything goes wrong, you will be covered. For the performance and weight, this jacket is a good value.
Highly weather resistant, lightweight, and breathable, the Outdoor Research Hemispheres Jacket is our Top Pick for backcountry ski jackets. 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. This jacket excels at what it is designed for: everyday use in the backcountry, in any weather.
— Jeff Dobronyi