Outdoor Research Skyward II AscentShell Review
Compare prices at 2 resellers Pros: Great performance at a low price, tons of features, weather resistant, breathable
Cons: Lacks good style and warmth, average comfort
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
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Outdoor Research Skyward II AscentShell
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|Pros||Great performance at a low price, tons of features, weather resistant, breathable||Good weather resistance, fits great, plenty of ventilation, inexpensive||Great value, warm, comfortable, relaxed vibes||Stretchy, soft, comfortable, many pockets, breathable||Affordable, warm, comfortable|
|Cons||Lacks good style and warmth, average comfort||Not warm, short on features, muted style||Limited seam and pocket sealing, less effective vent design||Not waterproof, thin material, climbing style||Light on the features, fit is a bit loose, unremarkable style|
|Bottom Line||An affordable hardshell that provides great weather resistance, ventilation, and features||These are great bibs that keep the weather out and fit well, at an affordable price||A good insulated ski pant for budget-minded resort skiers who don't need a technical pair of pants||Durable softshell pants for most days on the backcountry skin track||An affordable and warm pair of ski pants with a bland style|
|Rating Categories||Outdoor Research Sk...||Outdoor Research Ca...||The North Face Free...||Outdoor Research Tr...||REI Co-op Powderbou...|
|Weather Resistance (25%)|
|Fit And Comfort (25%)|
|Specs||Outdoor Research Sk...||Outdoor Research Ca...||The North Face Free...||Outdoor Research Tr...||REI Co-op Powderbou...|
|Main fabric||88% Nylon, 12% Spandex||100% nylon 40D||100% Nylon||87% nylon, 13% spandex||Nylon|
|Insulation||None||None||60 g Heatseeker Eco Polyester (50% Recycled)||None||Recycled polyester|
|Waterproofing||AscentShell||Pertex Shield 3L||DryVent (2-layer)||Pertex Shield+ (partial)||2-layer waterproof breathable laminate|
|Waistline construction (elastic? snaps?)||Snap/zipper fly with external velcro adjustment, belt loops||Bibs||Snap and zipper, Velcro tabs for adjustment, belt loops||Snaps. Velcro tabs for adjustment, belt loops||Button zip fly with hook/loop adjustment|
|Weight (in pounds)||1.32 lbs||1.64 lbs||1.32 lbs||1.69 lbs||1.64 lbs|
|Weight (in grams)||599 g||744 g||599 g||767 g||744 g|
|# of Pockets||4||3||3||4||3|
|Vents?||Inner thigh zips||Exterior thigh||Inner thigh zips, with mesh||Exterior thigh zips, with mesh||Interior thigh zips|
|Ski-specific features||Scuff guards, powder cuffs, articulated knees, beacon clip||Bibs, power strap-compatible cuffs, beacon pocket, scuff guards||Scuff guards, elastic powder cuffs||beacon clip and sleeve, scuff guards, touring cuffs, cuff zipper||Scuff guards, elastic powder cuffs, elastic waist|
Our Analysis and Test Results
These pants are remarkably breathable for a hardshell pant, which we think is their most attractive feature. The fabric isn't as waterproof or durable as Gore-Tex, but it is more comfortable to wear.
The Outdoor Research Skyward II uses OR's AscentShell fabric, which includes a proprietary waterproof/breathable membrane. This means that the pant is waterproof enough for most days on the ski hill, with taped seams and waterproof zippers. This fabric is remarkably breathable, which also means that it allows more wind to penetrate than other high-end waterproof/breathable membranes, but foregoing the use of Gore-Tex allows these pants to remain affordable.
Considering the price, these pants are plenty water-resistant for most days of the winter. If hard, driving rain is a common occurrence where you ski, these pants won't provide enough waterproofing, but for most skiers, especially backcountry skiers who stay on the move and generate body heat, these pants are enough.
Fit and Comfort
The Skyward II pant fits well enough. The cut is on the boxy side, and the thighs didn't quite fit our testers perfectly, but the fit comes close to the tailoring of the high-end models. There is some extra fabric in the seam of the outer hips, seemingly to accommodate those with large glutes and also to allow a wide range of motion, but we found that this material is overkill.
The AscentShell fabric is stretchy and more comfortable to wear than most other hard shells, which is a nice touch. There is also an elastic velcro waist adjustment tab, which helps to customize the fit. In general, these pants fit well, but they don't feel as flattering as the most expensive pants we tested.
This is the metric in which the Skyward II shines. AscentShell has been around for a while now, and our lead tester has owned and used the predecessor Skyward pants on hundreds of ski tours. We can attest that this material is supremely breathable, feeling almost as breathable as a softshell pant on the skin track. On clear days, we still reach for a thinner pair of softshell pants, but these pants breathe just fine for most ski touring needs.
The Skyward II is also equipped with long outer-thigh vents to ditch heat and moisture in a hurry. These vents are long and are equipped with large, easy-to-grasp pull tabs. If breathability and ventilation are your main concern, but you still want a hardshell pant, these have great ventilation.
These pants have a thin hard shell fabric, and that's it. There is no insulation to keep the user warm, and any warmth must be added through the use of mid-layers underneath. The breathable shell fabric allows some wind to penetrate, which can make these pants feel even colder.
On the skin track, our testers who run warm preferred not to wear long underwear underneath these pants, relying on their body heat and the shell alone to keep them warm. On the coldest days, long underwear was needed. But most backcountry skiers will want to wear a thin pair of long underwear most days with these pants and use the ventilation to manage warmth.
The Skyward II has four pockets, including two waist pockets with vertical zippers and two thigh pockets with diagonal zippers. The right waist pocket has an internal avalanche transceiver sleeve and clip, and we find that this sleeve is placed in a comfortable place, though some users complained about their transceivers impeding the range of motion of their hip flexors, with the beacon getting in the way of their hip crease.
The pants have a nice elastic boot cuff with two holes for the power strap, which allows you to keep the powder cuff over the boot the whole day long when touring, though our testers were too lazy to feed their power straps through the holes in the powder gaskets. The pants also have crampon scuff guards on the inside of the ankles. All zippers have large pull tabs that are easy to use. In general, these pants have good features for the resort, and a more than the average number of features for a pair of backcountry pants, but they don't get in the way.
These pants look good in general. The cut is mostly tapered and well-contoured, but the fit through the thighs could be better, and there is a lot of extra material around the outer hip bones. The lines are clean, but we don't love the color options. We did get some comments in the backcountry that the pants look good, but there are more stylish pants out there, especially those with higher price tags.
Style is subjective, and you might not agree with us. Our testers are picky about style, and they were hoping for a little more out of these pants. They come close to performing as well as other models that have much higher price tags, and we wish they looked as good. They come up just short, in our minds, but they have plenty of style for most backcountry skiers.
Considering their performance, these pants are of stellar value. They come close to performing at the top of the market, with a refined design, excellent ventilation, and great weather resistance. And they do it for a fraction of the price of the most expensive models. If you are looking for a good deal on shell pants, these are hard to pass up. If you want to go the extra mile for a different pair of shell pants with better tailoring and style, and Gore-Tex fabric, you'll have to pay about twice as much.
The Outdoor Research Skyward II Pant is an excellent hardshell for both resort and backcountry skiing at an affordable price. It has all the weather resistance, comfort, and features that most skiers need, performing as well as much more expensive pants. They lack the refined style and fit of top-of-the-line shell pants, but for most skiers, these are the only pants you'll ever need.
— Jeff Dobronyi
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