Outdoor Research Aspire - Women's Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Water resistant, wind resistant and breathable, dual direction whole side/pit vents, dual direction main zipper
Cons: Very difficult to pack into its pocket, sleeves a bit short, main zipper difficult to match up
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Our Analysis and Test Results
At GearLab, we compel 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 several bold claims about its performance, we were skeptical that the Aspire could live up to its claims. After months of intensive testing, the Aspire backs up its claims by outperforming the competition. Constructed of Gore-Tex with Paclite technology and a 50D, 100% polyester plain weave, the Aspire features not only three pockets and a helmet-compatible hood, but also full side-to-armpit zippers for ultimate ventilation.
The Aspire performs once again this year at the top of its class in water resistance. With its trusted GORE-TEX with Paclite integrated fabric technology, this jacket also 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 has 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.
There are several pull tabs that 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.
This jacket has some of 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 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 soft guard that, while useful for added waterproofing, also protects your torso and chin from rubbing against the zipper.
The hood is generous while wearing it loose, and it tightens down to a snug fit for more extreme weather conditions. However, despite being advertised as a helmet-compatible hood, we don't think there's quite enough give to house most helmets adequately. 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.
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. Though the fabric is thicker than most rain jackets that do well in this metric, it's still impressively breathable despite its added bulk.
The TorsoFlo design of this jacket includes pit zips with dual direction zippers that go all the way down, as well as a double zipper on the front. This unique configuration means you're able to essentially turn the shell into a 3-piece poncho when you start heating up and need 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 a framed backpack, while riding your bike, or even wearing a climbing harness. This feature makes the conversion from shell to poncho (or anything in between) easy and quick. And, the insides of the pockets are made of mesh, so by opening all three pockets, you can add even more extra circulation when you need it most.
With its smooth surface to prevent snagging, double protected Gore-Tex coating with Paclite technology, 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.
Weight and Packability
The Aspire ranks a little lower than others when it comes to weight. At 11.4 ounces, it's above-average weight for this category. However, given the number of added features, including large zippered pockets and two full-length ventilation zippers, we think the high performance of the jacket makes this forgivable. It's less than ideal for an ultralight adventurer, but for most, it's the cream of the crop.
While not the most compact of the jackets, this shell does offer some advanced storage features. It stuffs into its own left pocket to take up less space when not in use and living at the bottom of your bag.
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.
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 option, 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.
— Maggie Brandenburg & Katherine Elliott