The Outdoor Research Refuge Air earns a Top Pick award for its amazing level of breathability. While there are many breathable jackets that we've tested in this review, none can off-load heat as effectively as this one. We are also surprised by its relative amount of stand-alone warmth for its lightweight design. If you need a jacket that breathes well and will protect from the wind when you're not in motion, this is one to consider.
The Refuge Air Hoody offers a nice balance of warmth and breathability. It's our favorite for sweaty winter endeavors due to its awesome ability to breathe and offload heat.
For its lightweight design, this jacket is surprisingly warm when both wet and dry. Loaded with 70-g/m^3 of 100% polyester insulation, it holds warmth generated by the body in conditions that aren't too cold. We prefer to wear this jacket on its own in the shoulder seasons like Fall and Spring. It also functions well as a Summer jacket in colder environments like the alpine. For the winter, it works wonderfully as an additional layer to wear underneath a shell when strolling through town, or as your only layer of warmth during cold morning runs, when temperatures are dipping well into the negatives.
In comparison to the competition, this jacket isn't nearly as warm as some of our other Top Picks or those with a thicker or less breathable design. The Refuge Air is built to breathe and keep you warm while you work, not to provide the highest level of stand-alone warmth out there.
It's thinner in design, but paired with gloves and additional layers it makes for a wonderful winter activewear piece.
When temperatures were seriously cold, and winds were ripping, this jacket was not the first choice to wear on a stroll at night with the dog, nor did we want to wear it simply to get the doorsteps of our friend's house during Thanksgiving. That said, it is our favorite for throwing on when running down snowy streets or cross-country skiing on local trails.
The material is quite thin and doesn't offer the best in warmth.
It's aerobic warmth is unsurpassed by any other jacket simply because it breathes so well. We simply layered it with a wicking base layer when temperatures were hovering around freezing, and winds were ripping to make it feel like negatives temperatures. This jacket (without a shell) kept us warm while we were running. Since the inner liner absorbs quite a bit of water, it gets wet (when sweating), but the insulative polyester still provides the warmth you need on the go. Overall, it doesn't have the best stand-alone warmth, but the amount of heat it holds and lets off when moving, is impressive, offering great thermoregulation with just a simply merino wool base layer.
Weight & Compression
On the scale, this jacket weighs in at 13.45 ounces, which is just under one pound. Given its lightweight nature, it feels "airy" when you're wearing it and doesn't feel bulky or heavy when layered over a fleece or under a shell or heavier jacket.
In comparison to the rest, it sits about mid-range. However, we don't only consider weight, but how easy it compresses and packs into a backpack when you simply want to stash it away.
Given its amazing level of breathability, it's meant to stay on your body, so you don't need to stash it away. However, if you're looking for a jacket that you can bring on a mission as an insulative layer, compression is an important consideration. Of the jackets tested, this is one of the most compressible, fitting nicely into the tiniest spaces of your backpack. It doesn't have its own stuff sack built it, but it can be rolled up into its hood. If you're looking to really save space, we recommend purchasing a very small stuff sack that it can be put into for even more compression.
The weight for a size small.
That said, on rock climbing or running trips where space is seriously limited if you're not going to be wearing the jacket all the time, this one is not nearly as compressible as other jackets we've tested with continuous shell or baffled designs. These are ones to look for if compression is your number one priority.
This jacket compresses to a relatively small size.
Comfort & Coziness
This jacket is comfortable and cozy enough for all-day wear. Our only real caveats are that it's harder to layer because of it's wicking lining, and the material isn't as stretchy as other jackets out there. Aside from that, we appreciate the fabrics, build, and functional uses of all it's components.
Let's start with the interior lining. The 50D high quality knit tricot is a polyester material. Against the skin, it's not as soft as fleece, but it still feels cozy. Those that are super sensitive to "scratchy" materials might find the polyester to be too rigid for their liking, but most of our testers thought it was comfortable, even when we were sweating while hiking, with a t-shirt under the jackets. If you're not sure, order it, and try it on. If you don't like it, send it back, or love it forever.
The pockets are large and offer plenty of storage.
Another point about the liner is that it is 'grabby'. Unlike all the other jackets that have a less breathable lining, it can grab layers that have more friction, like a hi-pile fleece, that you might pull over the top of it. We found ourselves really wrestling with the jacket in these situations. However, pulling it over a t-shirt, base layer or a low-pile fleece is no problem. The fabric is fairly stretchy and offers good movement once one.
It layers nicely with thinner pieces, but thicker layers have a harder time underneath this jacket.
The single hem-string pull allows us to manipulate ventilation. By pulling it, you can attempt to keep warmth inside the jacket or keep it lose to let the heat seep out on its own. We also like the hood. It's fitted, but unfortunately doesn't have much room for a helmet or have any area for adjustments — so no pull strings on the back or around the hood lining.
Though the hood fits a helmet, we wouldn't say it's designed for one.
Zipped up, the hood is tight and a bit uncomfortable with a helmet underneath.
The cuffs are simple elastics. They work fine with different types of gloves, fitting easily over or underneath with ease. The cuffs are not really tapered in any way, and we love that there is a thumb loop to make layering a little easier.
The simple thumb loop makes it a little easier to layer.
This jacket also has great storage! On the outside, it has one larger pocket on the breast (on the outside) and two handwarmer pockets. When running and skiing, we put our iPhone in the breast pocket and pumped the tunes. Sadly, there is no cord outlet for our old-school headphones, but since most people have invested in a wireless set, it is not really a problem for most.
The pockets are well ventilated and a point for breathability.
The chest pocket.
The handwarmer pockets are medium in size, offering enough room to also store a phone or a few snacks on the go. We could also fit our gloved hands inside, no problem. Inside the jacket are two storage pockets, perfect for storing a pair of gloves while hiking uphill. We could also use the zippers on this jacket with ease, pulling them up or down with a pair of gloves. The garage around the chin is helpful to keep the metal off the face, especially when you're skiing, hiking, or running into the wind.
This jacket offers decent protection in the face of dry, windy weather. However, when it comes to rain or snow, this jacket is one of the most absorptive that we've tested, in both field and at-home objective tests. As a result, it doesn't earn the highest score in this metric.
If the wind is your concern, have no fear. We tested this jacket in super cold temperatures, on several runs, early in the morning. When our faces were freezing off from stingy, cold, and fast winds, our core was kept quite warm and protected. The face fabric is built with a nylon and polyester fusion that both breathes and cuts the wind well. So if wind-cutting performance is what you need, this will definitely perform. Another reason it functions well for climbing, skiing, or playing on windy summits and mountain tops.
Spraying the jacket with water for about two minutes.
The water initially beads, but then soaks in.
Now moisture is another animal. On many of our runs, we were surprised at how well this fabric wicks and breaths. However, when temperatures did begin to rise, sweating (in any insulated jacket) is inevitable. Since it breathes and vents so well, we didn't feel the need to take it off. However, the water wicked away from our merino-wool baselayer, and when right into the liner fabric, absorbing. While some of it was able to evaporate, the moisture that couldn't be absorbed into the fabric of the jacket. Given that it insulates when wet, this didn't affect warmth, however, when we got inside, we realized that the coat was actually wet!
Unfortunately, the water seeps all the way through the jacket, absorbing it all. This jacket offers some of the worst water resistance of all the jackets tested.
When running in snow and rain, we noticed that the fabric does a good job of wicking away water droplets. However, if a steady rain is predicted, be ready to get soaked. In our shower tests, the face fabric staved off a steady flow of water for about 20 seconds before completely absorbing. While the water didn't pool in the bottom of the fabric, it absorbed all the way from the exterior fabric into the liner. So is this jacket waterproof? No — far from. It offers the tiniest bit of water resistance, but in comparison to all other jackets out there, it's by far one of the worst.
Given that it has good wind protection, but basically sucks in a downpour, it earns a lower score, but not a horrible one for weather protection. Knowing that it can't really stave off moisture means that if you run in super wet environments, a light shell will be needed to keep you dry.
Stealing the spotlight in this review, the Refuge Air offers the best breathability of any jacket that we've tested so far. While many designs offer good breathability to keep you dry, this one is focused on it. It's lightweight and thin design, coupled with its breathable face fabric and ventilations make it a top choice for aerobic activities, especially in cold temperatures. It's a favorite of ours for backcountry skiing (the hiking uphill part), cold-weather running, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and more. Use it for any activity where you might find yourself breaking a sweat.
The interior polyester fabric mesh couples both insulation and wicking power in a breathable package. The material is thin enough to off-load heat, especially when it's really cold outside.
The super breathable liner that makes this a Top Pick.
You'll find great breathability throughout the face fabrics of this jacket. In addition, ventilation is offered in the pockets. The pockets are not lined with any additional fabric and open up to the liner of the jacket, offering more places to ventilate heat if temps outside start to heat up or if the terrain kicks back. Overall, this is the most breathable jacket tested, earning a high score that trumps out the performance of any other contender.
Here we take a snowy run. The breathable nature of the jacket makes it quite perfect for this application.
Style & Fit
This jacket looks good on the slopes, trails, and even out to dinner with friends. Its offered in many cute colors and features a fit that is versatile to accommodate most shapes and sizes. The fabric has a natural stretch, which adds to the versatility of this piece. Wear it as a mid-layer or on its own, on your first date, out to the coffee shop, or while tackling several laps on your favorite skate ski loop early in the morning. This jacket isn't very technical-looking but has an outdoorsy-look that most women love.
The construction is quite plain in it's design with subtle features that add to its flattery. While the back of the jacket features a wide stitching pattern, that creates a wide diagonal pattern that commences at a flattering seam, offering a trim, yet, simple look. The sides of the jacket, throughout the arms, and down to the hips have a strip of non-pattern while the front also features a wide diagonal stitching pattern, that changes direction at the breast. The two-toned coloring from the interior to the exterior of the jacket offers nice contrasts that make this jacket look high-quality and well-crafted.
A look at the great fit and style of this breathable jacket. This is a 5'6", 145 lb, medium build tester.
The fit is stretchy and versatile. Our 5'6 main tester weighs in at 145 pounds, with a medium build, and found the size small to be perfect and well fitted. A larger size would offer more layering potential, but the size is more or less true to fit.
The pull strings make for a more specific fit, allowing you to seal in warmth.
The fabric does stretch while the arms are quite long. The torso reaches right to the tops of the thighs for this tester, and we believe that those with longer limbs would be nicely accommodated, with enough length throughout. Overall, we love the fit and style of this jacket. It earns a high score as it got many compliments from our friends while skiing and playing in the mountains.
Sitting on the lower end of the price spectrum, this jacket offers superb value. If you're a woman that loves to get sweaty in the winter, climbs cliffs or mountains, or simply enjoys a more breathable jacket, this is our top pick. It functions perfectly as a mid-layer on the coldest days of winter, or on its own during the shoulder seasons. Enjoy its superb breathability and well-balanced warmth and weight.
Get ready for winter adventures with this awesome jacket. It works perfectly for skinning uphill, hiking, and adventuring when the temperatures drop.
The OR Refuge Air really got our attention. This newly designed jacket offers some of the best breathability that we've seen from an insulated jacket for a long time. Not only does it breathe, but it'll keep you warm when in motion, even on the coldest days of the season. Functioning well in the shoulder seasons, it's a great choice for climbing, hiking, biking, and more. That said, it's a little limited in poor weather as the fabric is absorptive and doesn't offer the best protection from water.