The Outdoor Research Skyward II does what every good shell needs to do: protect you from all types of weather while remaining light, ventilated, and comfortable. It does all this at a much cheaper price than other high-performance shells, earning our Best Buy Award for shell jackets. OR uses its highly breathable AscentShell 3-layer fabric for the Skyward II, which might not fend off the elements as well as Gore-Tex shells, but it breathes better and is still highly weather resistant. The style and features are nothing to write home about, but that is the case for most ski shells, which save weight by only including what is necessary.When you buy a shell jacket, you expect it to be completely waterproof. This jacket is less expensive than top-of-the-line shells, but it is completely waterproof. More expensive shells don't wet out as quickly and feel slightly more resistant to strong winds. That said, the lower price of the Skyward II is worth the compromise for shell seekers on a budget. And, you get added breathability and ventilation compared to Gore-Tex options.
Outdoor Research Skyward II Review
Compare prices at 3 resellers Pros: Massive vents, good pocket layout, great weather resistance
Cons: No powder skirt, fabric wets out quickly
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Our Analysis and Test Results
This well-designed shell boasts the highest levels of breathability and ventilation while remaining waterproof and resistant to wind. It does this at a great value, giving other Gore-Tex shells a run for their money. We also found it to be a versatile option that has great potential for both resort and backcountry skiers.
As with all shell jackets, the Skyward II offers little in the way of warmth for the wearer other than protection from the elements. People who choose a shell ski jacket also choose to take responsibility for their own warmth by wearing insulating layers underneath. Insofar as blocking wind, keeping you dry, and wicking moisture away from your insulating layers, the Skyward II performs these tasks well, which helps to keep you warm.
Overall, the Skyward II feels about as warm as other Gore-Tex ski shells in our review. The breathable shell fabric allows water vapor to escape, keeping you dry, and thus warm. Skiing demands a lot from outerwear because skiers will be highly aerobic when downhill skiing, then they'll sit on a chairlift for ten minutes. This chairlift ride allows all the perspiration inside the shell to cool down, but the Skyward II efficiently gets rid of this perspiration, reducing the amount of cold, wet chairlift rides.
During testing, the weather resistance of the Skyward II was quite good, although it did lose a little ground to the competition here. In both our shower test and use in the field, we found the AscentShell 3-layer fabric to be completely waterproof. During a hike in a light drizzle, it beaded water very well, although we did experience wet-out during the shower deluge. While we don't like the way a wet-out jacket looks or feels, we are confident that this jacket will keep you dry underneath no matter the conditions.
When you really need to hunker down in this jacket, you can, with adjustable velcro wrist cuffs, a barely helmet-compatible hood, and elastic cinches on the hem of the jacket. Testers were a little dismayed by the lack of a powder skirt. While it isn't a total deal breaker, it does take away from the Skyward II's weather resistance score. Other shell-only jackets consequently offer more weather protection for their inclusion of a powder skirt and greater weather resistance on stormy or deep powder days.
Comfort and Fit
The fit of the Skyward II is generally very agreeable. It isn't especially contoured, nor is it overly boxy, it falls into that "just right" zone. The length of the sleeves and torso are both spot on, and while it isn't that roomy, there is enough space in the torso and sleeves to accommodate additional layering pieces.
Overall, the Skyward II is quite comfortable as well. The AscentShell fabric has a good amount of stretch engineered into it and along with the articulated cut of the sleeves allows for great freedom of movement. The inside of the shell fabric is also brushed, so that is a little softer and easier on the skin.
It seems like breathability and ventilation were high priorities when this jacket was being designed, and therefore these are its finest attributes. We'll start with the most obvious part of this equation, the massive "Torso-Flo" vents that extend from the hem of the jacket all the way to the bicep. This gives you the option of completely opening up the lower half of the jacket on both sides. We measured these vents at a whopping 26" in length with waterproof zippers that can open from either end. This gives you the option to open the vents as much or as little as you like depending on the situation. If you're the type who is always sweating and can never seem to get enough airflow, then this is the jacket for you.
In addition to the huge vents on the Skyward II, Outdoor Research has also used a highly breathable and air-permeable material called AscentShell in the construction of the jacket. This fabric does seem incredibly breathable, and we noticed very little in the way of sweat condensation on the inside while wearing it. We gave top marks to the Skyward II in the ventilation category.
The Skyward II doesn't win any awards for style. While it generally looks pretty casual, it can't hide its technicality, so it's a bit of a cross between the two and occupies a crowd-pleasing middle ground. It has a two-toned design with the main body in one color and the sleeves in another.
The waterproof zippers on the main zip, pockets, and vents are all quite visible, as is a small OR logo on the left chest. The Skyward II has a broad appeal that helps make it a versatile jacket that looks good on the ski hill, and you can still wear around town.
The Skyward II is somewhat light on ski-specific features, but it does have a few niceties that enhance its performance. Our favorite of these features is their highly adjustable, helmet compatible hood. They have incorporated what they call "hood lock" into the hood's design, which lets the user quickly adjust the size of the hood for use with or without a helmet. This simple system is just a plastic hook, attached at the elastic drawcord on the back of the hood, that hooks to a piece of fabric by the neck to expand or reduce the overall size of the hood.
The chest pockets are also well designed for easy access with vertical zippers that are well placed for use with a backpack. Inside the left chest pocket is another small mesh media pocket that helps keep its contents, like your phone, from flopping all around. They've also incorporated a small media port for the cord of your headphones to routed up through the inside of the jacket. Inside the shell, they included two large mesh drop pockets that are suitable for ski goggles or your climbing skins.
The only ski feature that we truly missed on the Skyward II is a powder skirt. Other than that, we can live without the extravagant features that typically go unnoticed if they aren't there.
Shell jackets are highly technical and are thus more expensive. The Skyward II bucks this trend and provides all of the performance attributes of a technical ski shell at a bargain price, compared to the competition, earning our Best Buy Award for ski shell jackets. The jacket feels durable, the zippers are strong, and we believe this jacket will last a long time. Outdoor Research has a great warranty program if anything goes wrong. This jacket is an excellent value and a smart investment.
The Outdoor Research Skyward II is a great jacket with a unique design that prioritizes breathability and ventilation, while remaining highly weather resistant. It is comfortable, has a friendly style, and comes with enough features to help you have a great day on the slopes. For the performance, this is the best deal in a ski shell and is our Best Buy Award winner for ski shell jackets.
— Jeremy Benson