The Outdoor Research Skyward II is a burly hardshell jacket made of stretchy AscentShell 3-layer fabric. We liked this fabric a lot, but the jacket otherwise lost the benefit of comfortable, stretchy fabric due to all the cumbersome zippers and buttons and extras. The full-length side/pit zips cause enough problems that we don't think they're worth it in a cold-weather-optimized shell like this, and are difficult to use if you're wearing a harness or backpack hip belt. Ultimately, wearing this jacket for skiing or climbing was distracting from the more important task at hand, such as enjoying the scenery.
One of the new color options for the Skyward II is pictured above. However, the design of the jacket remains the same.
Our Analysis and Test Results
The Skyward II is designed with skiing in mind, but we found it to be a bit cumbersome. It does just fine for a day at the resort, but when wearing a backpack or harness, this jacket just had too many zippers and buttons to be comfortable, and all these features made it super heavy.
The OR Skyward II is a decent weatherproof shell jacket, as the stretchy 3-layer AscentShell is burly enough for wet and snowy weather. The pit vents zip all the way to the bottom of the jacket, and feature waterproof zippers, which we like; however, the hand pocket zippers and main zipper are not waterproof, instead relying on a flap of fabric behind the zipper to keep the weather out. This is not our favorite design as drips can easily dribble in during a sustained downpour.
The hood is storm-ready with three adjustment points, and the bottom hem cinches around your back, but not around the front since the jacket is essentially split in three by the main zipper and two full-length side zippers.
The AscentShell fabric is one of the most stretchy hard shell fabrics we'be tested, and we liked how easy it was to move in this fabric. However, the overall mobility of the jacket was hindered by its heavy weight and excess of features. Ultimately, all of the heavy zippers and clips associated with the extra-long pit zips added weight and rigidity that detracted from an otherwise very comfortable jacket. If this jacket were massively simplified and had waterproof zippers to also cut down on the added weight and bulk from storm flaps behind the zippers, we think this could be a great jacket.
For another take on mobility, check out any jacket from Arc'teryx or the Mammut Nordwand. Both of these companies have figured out how to design stiff, weatherproof, breathable, durable materials in a way that still allows excellent mobility, even for the most technical climbing maneuvers.
The Skyward II breathes surprisingly well for how thick the material is. It feels and performs much more like softshell material, which improves breathability. However, the full-length side/pit zips were cumbersome, especially if you're wearing a harness or backpack, so while this should improve venting, we found it to be less useful on a technical hardshell jacket. We have liked this design in lighter jackets from OR, as it allows you to open the jacket like a poncho; for a heavier jacket designed for skiing, this didn't seem like a great fit to use. Even without a pack, fully venting from the bottom opens you up to getting powder down your pants if you find a particularly deep stash of fresh snow at the ski area.
At 22.5 oz for a size small, the Skyward II is the heaviest jacket in this review. It has a lot of zippers, buttons, cinches, storm flaps under zippers instead of waterproof zippers, and features an overall heavy material. This was not a jacket we were stoked to carry around in our backpack for a ski tour.
This might be a nice jacket for in-bounds skiing, but if that's your main gig, we think the Flylow Vixen is brilliantly designed for this specific purpose. If you want to see just how functional and lightweight a shell can get, check out the Arc'teryx Beta SL Hybrid.
The Skyward II has a whole lot of features. Too many, we dare say, making the jacket too heavy for a lot of mountain activities. The jacket has the standard helmet-compatible, cinching hood; the hem also cinches, but only in the back because the hem is cleaved by full-length pit zips on either side. These pit vents were a great idea in some of OR's lighter jackets; it allows you to open up the jacket, poncho-style. But for backcountry skiing or climbing purposes where you're often wearing a backpack hip belt or harness, this design feels cumbersome and adds a lot of extra weight and complicated setup. This results in the jacket feeling like it has buttons and zippers everywhere, and even detracts from the nice, supple fabric, instead making the jacket feel heavy, cumbersome, and oddly stiff.
We appreciate the external chest pocket that is big enough for a smartphone and is media-friendly with a keyhole to let headphones through, inside the jacket. We also really like the internal mesh pockets; they're a great way to stash gloves to keep them warm and dry.
The Skyward is plenty durable. The thick and sturdy 3-layer hard shell fabric feels more like a soft shell and moves with you in any direction. The amount of zippers and features, however, adds up to a lot of things to fail, long-term. We did not have any issues during testing, but when we purchase a hardshell jacket, sometimes we prefer simplicity because that just means there are less things to fail.
The Skyward II is not a very versatile jacket. In fact, in our testing, we thought it was too cumbersome to do well at its intended activity, which is skiing. We like the materials OR used in this jacket, so we hope they will streamline and simplify this jacket in the future to make it a great, specific-use jacket, or a more mountain-ready versatile hard shell.
We are not surprised that the Skyward II costs $350; it is a well-made jacket with a lot of complicated features. However, the cumbersome nature of these features combined with the weight means that this jacket doesn't find a niche where it is most at home. We hope OR will streamline or focus some of these features because otherwise it is well made of excellent (if a little heavy) features.
The Skyward II from Outdoor Research is a confusing jacket. It is a 3-layer hard shell that feels like a soft shell — and that part we really like. However, OR then added full-length pit/side zippers which make it feel cumbersome and even heavier, and are minimally useful for a jacket you use in the ski area or take into the backcountry. The Skyward just doesn't fit into a niche or category that we find useful. We like the stretchy hard shell material, so we hope OR will streamline or focus their vision for this jacket in the future.
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