At OutdoorGearLab, we force equipment manufacturers to put their money where their mouth is by purchasing equipment and putting it to the test. We used these jackets not only in the field but also tested them under more controlled circumstances to compare them equally, side by side. With a relatively high price tag and boasting a number of bold claims about its performance, we were skeptical that the Aspire could live up to its claims. Given the obvious research, development, and thoughtful design put into the Aspire, we were not left disappointed. As it turns out, the Aspire backs up its claims by outperforming the competition. Read on for a more detailed look at why we chose the Aspire for our Editors' Choice.
The Aspire hit high marks in every category tested; it left us dry while maintaining its breathability and made the rainy days a little less bleak.
The Aspire performed at the top of its class in water resistance. With its trusted GORE-TEX with Paclite integrated fabric technology that features an updated DWR coating that is free of PFCs for the environmentally conscious-minded buyer.
It comes equipped with double-taped sealed seams and a watertight chest pocket; as a result, zero water penetrated the smooth, comfortable fabric of this jacket. We did encounter a few rub points where the pack's straps rubbed away the DWR coating, but this was just superficial, and the water did not actually penetrate the shell. This jacket really had it all when it comes to a water-resistant barrier, from the design of the shell to the shape and stiffness of the hood, right down to the elastic and Velcro cuffs, which keep your wrists fully sealed. The Aspire ensured waterproofness, even in the most extreme weather conditions.
The Aspire's fabric is GORE-TEX with Paclite and the water literally just beads right off.
There are a number of pull tabs which tighten the access points of the jacket, further shielding you from precip. These include a tight elastic band around the wrists and a fully adjustable Velcro strap; there are also pull tabs for the hood and one for the crown of the head so you can establish a fit that is just right for you. They each have a tab to hold it in place once you've adjusted accordingly, which was helpful for when we were on the move.
Breathability has become a primary focus of modern rain shell manufacturers, as they want to ensure the user's comfort while braving the rain and wind. In spite of its polyester fabric, the technology developed for the Aspire beats out all of the competitors. The developers did not sacrifice comfort for waterproofing, keeping the fabric thin, moveable, soft, and breathable, so you don't feel like you're in a sweat suit while out on the trail or climbing up the side of a mountain.
The TorsoFlo design of this jacket includes pit zips that go all the way down, as well as a double zipper on the front; this means you're able to essentially turn the shell into a 3-piece poncho when you start heating up and are in need of the extra air circulation. Now, this design won't help you much if the rain is coming in sideways or in flurries, but as long as it is falling in a downward motion, you can keep your cool in even the most humid of conditions. Plus, the zippers are accessible while wearing an internal or external frame backpack, while riding your bike, or even wearing a climbing harness. This feature makes the conversion from shell to poncho easy and quick, though you may have to dismount from your bike to convert back into a shell. And, the large inner pockets are made of mesh to add a little bit of extra circulation when you need it most.
The Aspire is the only rain jacket to feature fully zippered sides for a poncho like ventilation when things get really muggy.
This jacket had the most comfortable fabric of all of the shells we tested. With the Aspire, it's clear that Outdoor Research put a lot of care into balancing performance with style and comfort. The smoothness of the fabric allows for easy on and off action, and there is enough room for a base layer or two without looking too bulky or unflattering, even with its generous inner pocket size.
With all of the added features this jacket offered, we figured it would have to sacrifice some comfort for this added functionality, but we were wrong. There were no chafing points, even while wearing a full backpacking pack for hours, and the front zip has a flap that, while useful for added waterproofing, also protects your torso and chin from rubbing against the zipper.
The double zipper and the full-length side zips featured on the Aspire gave our gear a little extra shelter when the rain started up and also made it a super comfortable option for climbing.
The hood was generous while wearing it loose, and it tightened down to a snug fit for more extreme weather conditions, but we would not recommend wearing it with a helmet underneath, as there was not quite enough give. Finally, this shell offers a sleek, stylish look for a variety of body types, from athletic to curvy. And, with the cut and color options, it can pair well with more professional clothes; it's an excellent combination of performance and appearance.
The Aspire ranked a little lower than most when it came to weight. At 11.4 ounces, it's a couple of ounces heavier when compared to the rest of the lot.
Given the number of added features including large zippered pockets and two full-length ventilation zippers, the high performance of the jacket made this forgivable. It may make it less than ideal for an ultralight adventurer, but for most, it's the cream of the crop.
With its smooth surface to prevent snagging, its double protected GORE-Tex coating, and fully sealed seams, this jacket will last you for years worth of adventures.
As long as you take good care of it between trips by following the manufacturer's care instructions, it should be well worth the investment, serving as the only rain shell you should need for a long time.
A lot of hours were logged while wearing a pack; we did start to notice surface soak through near the pack's straps although this does tend to happen with wear when the protective coating starts to wear off. With the Aspire, it was especially visible.
While not the most compact of the jackets, this shell does offer some advanced storage features. It includes a stuff sack pocket that measures roughly 10x5.5x4.5 inches, which allows you to store it in a compact size without the need for an added stuff sack.
The pocket sack has a carabiner loop with a small plastic clip, so if you don't have room for it in your pack, you can attach it to the outside. Plus, if you are wearing it and want to get your hood out of the way, the Aspire includes a Velcro loop at the back of the neck for hood storage.
The Aspire measures roughly 10x5.5x4.5 inches when packed down and includes a carabiner drawstring to attach it to the outside of a pack.
The Aspire can wear many hats, serving as the perfect shell for walking around town, hiking in the backcountry, or scaling up the side of a mountain. Offering both a professional look and extreme functionality, this jacket will keep you dry and cool in any weather conditions, from your daily bike commute to a wilderness trek. If you have the money for it, why not use it for any application the weather may call for?
When it comes to the Aspire, you will be making a real investment, but you also get a lot of bang for your buck. From performance to durability, this jacket will be a trusty companion in all types of weather for years to come.
The Aspire moves and flexes with you, even when the rain is pouring down.
If you are looking to invest in a top-of-the-line rain jacket, and you need it to be a reliable, functional, and trustworthy friend, then this is the jacket for you. Standing at the top of its field, the Outdoor Research Aspire certainly is the Cadillac of rain shells, and it will serve you well, no matter where you may run into a heavy downpour. Stylish, well-designed, and comfortable, we recommend this shell for the discerning adventurer with a few extra bucks to spend on a dependable piece of equipment.