The Aspire jacket has been updated with new colors, new pocket configurations, and an update to the Gore-Tex Paclite fabric. Compare the new version (left) to the version we tested previously (right).
- Pocket Changes — OR has ditched the sleeve pocket in favor of a chest pocket, which many of our testers find preferable.
- New Color Options — The Aspire is available in several new colors and also has a slightly different stitching pattern, noticeable if you look closely to the side-by-side comparison photos above.
- Environmentally Conscious — The jacket still employs Gore-Tex Paclite, but the DWR coating is now PFC-free.
- Lighter Weight — The specs on Outdoor Research's site list the new version weighing 12.5 oz for a size medium, while the previous version we tested is listed at 13.7 oz for the same size.
Until we've completed our testing period on the updated Aspire, the following review refers to the previous version we tested.
Hands-On Review of the Aspire
At OutdoorGearLab, we force equipment manufacturers to put their money where their mouth is by putting the equipment to the test. We ran these jackets through the gamut of real-world activities in all kinds of conditions and tested them under controlled circumstances to compare them side by side.
Coming in at $215 and with a number of bold claims about its performance, we were skeptical, but given the obvious research, development, and thoughtful design put into the Outdoor Research Aspire, we had high expectations. Does this jacket live up to the hype, or do all of the added design features just create more failure or chafing points?
It turns out, the Aspire backs up its claims by outperforming the competition.
Testing the Aspire during the variable monsoon season on the trails in Red Rock just outside of Las Vegas.
The Outdoor Research Aspire performed at the top of its class in water resistance. With its trusted GORE-Tex shield with DWR and double-taped sealed seams, no water penetrated the smooth, comfortable fabric of this jacket, even at high pressure and coming from a variety of angles. And, the design of the shell, from the shape and stiffness of the hood to the elastic and Velcro keeping your wrists fully sealed, ensured waterproofness, even in the most extreme weather conditions.
There are also a number of pull tabs for tightening the access points for water for additional weather resistance. These include elastic around the waist, the face of the hood, and the crown of the head, each with a tab to hold it in place once you've set it where you want it, so even if you are getting blasted by wind and water right in the face or the rain seems to be coming from below, this jacket will keep water from filling your shell and soaking you through.
With breathability a primary focus of modern rain shell manufacturers in order to ensure user's comfort while resisting rain and wind, this jacket had some serious thought put into it before hitting the market. In spite of its polyester fabric, the copyrighted TorsoFlo 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 are 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, so you can essentially turn the shell into a 3-piece poncho for when it is sweltering or when you are working at your hardest and need the extra air circulation (or if you need extra room for your harness if climbing). 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 under the most hot and humid conditions. Plus, the zippers are accessible even while wearing an internal or external frame backpack or while riding along on your bike, making the conversion from shell to poncho easy and quick, tho you may have to dismount 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 converts into a sleeved poncho for extreme breathability for when the wind dies down.
This jacket had, hands-down, the best feeling, softest, most pliable, and most comfortable fabric of all of the shells we tested. Outdoor Research's Research and Development department obviously put a lot of care into balancing performance with style and comfort when designing the Aspire. 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.
Hiking a fire trail in Hope Valley, Nevada, with dogs in tow. We thoroughly tested the jackets in a variety of activities, conditions, and climates to rank them side-by-side.
With all of the added features on this jacket, especially the extended pit zips, 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 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 is a great marriage of performance and appearance.
The Aspire ranked lowest when it came to weight, at 14.01 ounces; it was about a half ounce over the next heaviest jacket, so the margin was small. Given the number of added features and the high performance of the jacket, this was forgivable, but it may make it less than ideal for an ultralight adventurer.
We weighed each of the rain jackets to help you determine the right shell for your adventures, from day trips to ultralight backpacking.
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.
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 bag that you could potentially lose. However, if you stuff it in the bottom of your bag, you can kind of cram it into the empty spaces wherever it fits to make it more compact. 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 comes with this neat little outer pocket on the sleeve for stashing small objects you want to keep handy.
The Outdoor Research Aspire can wear many hats, serving as the perfect shell for walking around town, hiking into the backcountry, kayaking down the Colorado, 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, and 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 many years, in spite of coming in at the top of our ranking in price.
The more bells and whistles a jacket offers, the more you can adjust the shell to fit to your comfort.
If you are looking to make an investment 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.