Hands-on Gear Review

Outdoor Research Northback Sensor Review

Outdoor Research Sensor Gloves
By: Ian Nicholson ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Oct 20, 2013
Price:  $140 List
Pros:  Touch screen sensitive, very water proof, warm, pretty dexterous
Cons:  Run smaller and narrower than most other gloves we tested
Manufacturer:   Outdoor Research

Our Verdict

Discontinued
Outdoor Research no longer makes the Northback Sensor and this glove is not available at most major retailers. To compare the gloves that we tested, check out The Best Ski Gloves and Mittens for Men.

Outdoor Research (OR) a long standard in the ski glove world hits the market with the North Back Sensor. The Northback, named for the sidecountry skiing area near Crystal mountain in south-central Washington. The Nortback Sensors are a great option for primarily in-bounds skiing and snowboarding but they can take it to the backcountry as well. The Northback is cool because it's a fully featured and fairly warm ski glove that sports a touch screen sensitive thumb and index finger. It is one of the few products on the market that can operate a touch screen sensitive device without having to remove your gloves. This feature alone could be enough for some gadget oriented skiers and snowboarders to make it their top pick. The Northback is a little lower volume than most of the others we tested even when compared to other Outdoor Research models. We thought it was a little warmer than average and its waterproofness was at the head of the pack.


Our Analysis and Test Results

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Performance Comparison


Dexterity


The OR Northback Sensor was surprisingly average in dexterity. We thought that because the Northback is touch screen sensitive that more would have gone into giving these gloves better feel, but during our side-by-side tests they did, well, normal. They completed our easy and moderate tasks like buckling boots and zipping jackets, taking a photo with a camera and unlocking a car door fine, but once our tasks got a little more complex, the Northback started to suffer. We thought they weren't quite as dexterous as our OutdoorGearLab Top Pick, the Outdoor Research Magnate. The OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice, the Arc'teryx Alpha SV Glove or the Black Diamond Rebel and was around the same as the Outdoor Research Southback and was maybe a little better than the Black Diamond Legend. The Northback had superior dexterity compared to the Black Diamond Guide and the Hestra Heli.

Water Resistance


The Northback scored well for its waterproofness both in our side-by-side bucket of water comparison and in real world testing. It uses a Gore-Tex insert combined with a well treated goatskin leather palm and a solid DWR nylon shell outer. While it didn't score quite as well as our OutdoorGearLab Editors' Choice, the Arc'teryx Alpha SV, it wasn't far behind and we would easily recommend the it for even the wettest resort days in the Pacific Northwest.

Warmth and Breathability


The Northback Sensor was average in our side-by-side comparisons. Something that some people asked us is if the sensor equipped index finger and thumb felt colder than the rest of the fingers either because of a lack of insulation or because of the sensor itself. After several days of testing we couldn't notice any difference between the sensor fingers and the other fingers. It does have the sensor feature but it is the most expensive glove in our review that didn't use primaloft. Instead the design uses OR's propitiatory EnduraLoft. We thought the EnduroLoft was good, but when compared to similar amounts of Primaloft in other gloves we tested we didn't think it was as good. After our side-by-side comparisons we thought the Northback was around the same warmth as the OR Southback and the Black Diamond Rebel but not quite as warm as the Black Diamond Legend or the Outdoor Research Magnate.
The beefy goat leather palm on the Outdoor Research Sensor glove.
The beefy goat leather palm on the Outdoor Research Sensor glove.

Durability


The goat leather palms are subtle and soft, especially once they broke in a little. They are tough and after putting over 30 days of mostly in-bounds skiing they are holding up strong. We think the overall durability is about the same as the Outdoor Research Southback and the Black Diamond Squad.

The big grab loop on the Outdoor Research Sensor Glove that made putting these gloves on easier even if our hands  or the glove was wet. This is just one of many nice features this glove offered.
The big grab loop on the Outdoor Research Sensor Glove that made putting these gloves on easier even if our hands, or the glove was wet. This is just one of many nice features this glove offered.

Features and Ease of Use


The biggest feature for most people on the OR Northback is the touch screen sensitive index finger and thumb. It's the only product we tested and one of the few gloves on the market that you don't have to take off to use a touch screen device. Depending on a persons level of use of their iPhone, Android or iPod this is either a not an issue or essential. We thought the sensor worked extremely well on the Northback and we used it in a wide range of temperatures and conditions. Besides the sensor feature, it has nice big grab loop that is awesome for pulling them on and off. While it may seem like a small thing, it is a feature that was especially nice when we had wet hands and we missed it on other contenders that didn't have the loop. Other nice features on it include a nose wipe on the thumb and removable keeper cords. The keeper cords while a little old school, we found them nice on chair lifts when faced with tasks that forced us to remove our gloves (that didn't include answering our smart phones). The webbing wrist strap cinch is pretty cheap and basic for $140. If you want a touch screen sensitive glove but don't want to spend $140 then consider the DaKine Scout which has a touch screen sensitive liner. This means you still have to take off the shell which we didn't think was that convenient but the Scout only cost a third the price ($45).
The touchscreen sensitive thumb and index finger proved to be one of our review team's favorite feature. It allowed us to scroll through music  text  and research the newest OutdoorGearLab reviews - all while wearing our gloves riding on the chairlift. Not only was this convenient but it also greatly decreased the potential for us to mistakenly drop a glove while removing it.
The touchscreen sensitive thumb and index finger proved to be one of our review team's favorite feature. It allowed us to scroll through music, text, and research the newest OutdoorGearLab reviews - all while wearing our gloves riding on the chairlift. Not only was this convenient but it also greatly decreased the potential for us to mistakenly drop a glove while removing it.

Fit


The Northback Sensor is one of the lowest volume fitting products we tested. It's awesome for folks with skinnier or lower volume hands, but folks with wider hands won't find them that comfortable. Even compared with other OR models like the Southback and the Magnate, the Northback runs narrower. If you're considering buying it and you are between sizes in OR gloves, then certainly consider a size up.

Value and the Bottom Line


The main reason most people will buy this product is because of its effective touch screen sensitive index finger and thumb. It is the only product we tested and one of only a few touch screen sensitive gloves on the market that you don't have to take the shell off of to use. It is similar in design to the much less expensive Southback ($85), but if the touch screen sensitivity is worth the extra $55 to you, then that's that.

Ian Nicholson

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Most recent review: October 20, 2013
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