Saturday, November 10, 2012

Outdoor Research Axiom Jacket

The next jacket is the Outdoor Research Axiom.  This jacket won Gear of the Year awards from both Outside Magazine and National Geographic Adventure for 2012 and did so because it is a great, all around jacket.  I have not had the opportunity to use this jacket yet.  For a review from somebody who has used the jacket, check out:

I just hope to share my observations based on fit and features.  This can be dangerous because I have a few pieces of gear that did not impress me too much initially, but after using them, they have become some of my favorite pieces.  There are other pieces that I own that I was really excited about initially, but have become closet fillers only because in use, they're just not as good as I was expecting.

So, use this post to get an idea of what the jacket offers for features, and get a slightly better idea of how it fits, and then check some other reviews for an idea of how the material breathes and the jacket functions.  From everything I've read, the jacket works great in real-mountain applications.

Specs and Features

  • Made with Gore-tex Active Shell membrane and 20d nylon stretch face fabric
  • One zippered external chest pocket, backed with mesh, with a headphone port
  • Two zippered handwarmer pockets that are just high enough to stay out of the way of a harness and backed with mesh for additional breathability
  • Single-pull adjustable hood
  • Velcro cuff closures
  • Single-pull hem drawcord
  • 13.5 oz


The Outdoor Research Axiom Jacket in Black/Lemongrass Color

Has one chest zippered pocket that is backed with mesh.  The pocket is actually larger than the yellow outline. 

Two zippered handwarmer pockets that are high enough that they mostly stay out of the way of a harness and hipbelt.  These too are backed with mesh, which would allow one to dry damp items like gloves, or vent a little when working up a sweat.

A single drawcord around the hem seals out the elements.

It's hard to see in this picture, but there is a lot of mesh on the inside.  There are no pit zips in this jacket (apparently because Active Shell is breathable enough that they're not absolutely necessary), so the mesh-backed pockets do allow for a little bit of venting if one is really working hard.  Gore-tex has put a weight limit on any item that uses Active Shell.  So, OR decided to go with handwarmer pockets instead of pit zips.  Doing both would have put them above the weight limit.

A better look at the mesh next to the Gore-tex membrane.

This is the back of the chest pocket with a headphone port.

Fleece-lined storm flap at the chin

Single hood pull battens down the hatches surprisingly well.  The drawcord extends around the back of the head and partially around the opening of the hood.

I am 6'2" and about 185lbs and this jacket in a size Medium fits me nicely.  There is just enough room for a light midlayer, but it doesn't feel big and baggy over just a baselayer.  My father-in-law, who is the same height and weight as me, wears a large because he has broader shoulders than I do.  So, if you have broad shoulders, I would size up one size from what works for me.  The sleeves are cut on the long side.  Short sleeves are occasionally a problem for me, especially when I start reaching above my head with the jacket tucked in my harness.

The hood cinched with the since drawcord on the back.  It cinches well enough to keep the hood on in nasty conditions, with and without a helmet, but a couple drawcords around the opening of the hood would be nice to really seal it off.  But, OR's goal was to keep this light and simple.  I think the single drawcord is effective.

The hood is a nice fit with a helmet.  Again, the single drawcord is enough to keep the hood on in nasty conditions, but it doesn't necessarily seal out everything.

The cut isn't perfect for climbing, but it's pretty darn good.  This jacket pulls up more than the Rab jackets I checked out, but quite a bit less than the La Sportiva Stormfighter.  When I tried it on under a harness (which I didn't get any pictures of), it didn't pull out of the harness when I raised my arms.

OR Axiom in Lemongrass color.

The Verdict

The OR Axiom, of the jackets I tried on, is now the jacket I am most interested in using in the field.  The fit is a little more of an all around fit than the Sportiva Stormfighter (the Stormfighter is definitely a backcountry skiing-specific fit, not a climbing fit), and active shell has gotten great reviews so far.  This jacket uses a 20 denier face fabric, which feels soft and supple, but could lack the durability of the heavier fabric found in the Rab Stretch Neo.  Again, I haven't used this jacket in the mountains, but I would be very surprised if it didn't live up to the hype it has received.    

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Lightweight Hardshells - Rab Stretch Neo Jacket

Rab Stretch Neos, Men's and Women's, in all their colors.

The next hardshell I would like to talk about is the Rab Stretch Neo Jacket.  I have heard so much hype about Neoshell over the last couple years that I was very excited to get my hands on this jacket.  After a little bit of use, I still think the Neoshell softshell application, though heavier, is the more versatile application compared to a hardshell .  But, when a hardshell is desired, Neoshell is up there with the very best of the waterproof/breathable membranes.  In my experience, it is more breathable than the other membranes that I've used, but it is not as warm (I assume because of its air-permeable nature).

Though I have used this jacket a little bit, I haven't used it enough to feel comfortable writing a full review based on my personal experience.  My goal here is to give others an idea of what the jacket has to offer for features and fit.  I will fill in my own personal experience later after I have used the jacket more.

Facts and Features:

  • 50 denier stretch face fabric with Polartec Neoshell Membrane
  • 2-way adjustable, helmet-compatible hood with wire brim
  • Waterproof zippers
  • 2 napoleon pockets
  • 2 internal mesh zip pockets
  • Adjustable cuffs and hem drawcord
  • Trim cut with long sleeves (great for use under a climbing harness)
  • Weighs 18oz


The Rab Stretch Neo Jacket in the color Spring.  This jacket is a medium.  The body is trim and the sleeves are long.  

There are two drawcords at the hem.  There is also a button at the bottom of the zipper holding the stormflap (behind the zipper) in place.

Velcro-adjustable cuffs.  When the sleeves aren't tight around my wrists, they hang down most of the way over my hand.  I really like the extra length when I'm climbing because there is no restriction when reaching high above my head.  They could be a little shorter, though.  The Rab Latok Alpine jacket has slightly shorter sleeves but also doesn't impede reach at all, even when reaching high

One of the large, napoleon chest pockets.  These pockets are waterproof (against rain, but not watertight, as in submersion).  Or in other words, these pockets are not mesh lined.  Other jackets have mesh-lined pockets that can double as vents.  These do not.  The upside is that items in these pockets are much less likely to get wet.  The downside is that wet items, like gloves, are less likely to dry while in these pockets than they would in a mesh-lined pocket.  There are mesh-lined pockets inside though that work for drying kit.  The other downside that I already mentioned is that they can't be used as vents.
This jacket has two internal mesh pockets.  These work well for drying wet items.  Rab even uses a water-resistant fabric on the side and bottom of these pockets to catch the water dripping off wet items from leaking onto the user.

The jacket has two large, thin fleece chin/face patches.  The green square with "Rab" written on it is a velcro hood strap.  I don't like them, but it's an option.  

The hood rolled up and held down with velcro strap.

The hood has 3 hood adjustments; these two in the front and one drawcord pull in the back.  The hood has these two bungee tubes that keep drawcords from hitting the wearer in the face in high winds.

This bungee pull is at the back of the hood.  It pulls the hood tight around the head.

The wire brim in the hood allows you to shape the hood however you want. 

I'm 6'2", 185 lbs or so.  This jacket is a size Medium.  This jacket is just roomy enough to fit a fleece jacket underneath.  The sleeves are long and the cut is just right that the hem stays put when reaching above the head.

The hood fits nicely and comfortably with and without a helmet.  Without a helmet in this photo.

With a helmet, arms down.

Arms up,  the hem moves an inch or so.  Not much compared to most other jackets.  This jacket fits nice and trim, with little bellowing when climbing in a harness.  There are no pit zips on this jacket.  Apparently the Neoshell is so breathable that they're not necessary.  Because of the cut of the arms that allows the hem to stay put with arms up, the material of the jacket hugs the armpit with the arms down. It really doesn't bother me unless I am wearing a bulkier layer underneath the shell.  In that case, the extra layers snug under the armpit can be a bit annoying.  It usually isn't an issue.

The Verdict

Having only used this jacket a few times (drytooling in wet snow and rain), I have limited experience with its performance.  The couple things I can say is that it breathes as well as any other hardshell I have used (including gore-tex proshell), maybe better.  It is also plenty waterproof, so far.  The Neoshell is not as warm as gore-tex, because it is not totally windproof (99.9% windproof).  The little bit of air that is allowed in helps breathability, but as it carries moisture out, it also carries heat out.

I think this is a great active hardshell.  I think it would be ideal as a climbing jacket for nasty conditions and as a great backcountry skiing jacket.  It could be a little chillier sitting on a ski lift in the wind, but dressing a little warmer would fix that.  One thing that I haven't mentioned much is the stretch.  The jacket has a fair amount of stretch and really allows for great movement while climbing, even with a close-fitting jacket.  It is definitely designed for active use.