When I moved to Seattle almost ten years ago, I didn’t know what hard shells or non-insulated jackets were. In college, I was channeling the image of “park-rat.” I came from the world of tall tees and impractical extra large insulated layers. I didn’t understand why people would want to wear nothing but a shell, especially after looking at the cost. Over the years and dozens of rainy PNW backcountry days, my attitude towards hard shells had evolved, and I became a strict hard shell lover.
Last year I got the chance to review the Outdoor Research Carbide kit; this year, I focused on a backcountry-specific jacket and bib combo: the Skytour AscentShell kit. I have to say, after having used the kit this season, I may never go back to Gore-Tex while backcountry skiing.
The jacket and pant offer no insulation; they are constructed of shell material. The best part about the set-up is its breathability – I found I didn’t get nearly as sweaty compared to my usual Gore-Tex suit. The other part I love is the stretchy, soft, and quiet fabric. I am more used to this feel on softshell materials, but OR has also mastered their hard shell chops to achieve this.
So if this is not Gore-Tex, what is keeping me dry? Outdoor Research uses its proprietary waterproof-breathable membrane called AscentShell in both pieces. Think of this as OR’s version of Gore-Tex, but more tailored to the PNW crowd, allowing more breathability than some Gore-Tex fabrics for being active in wet weather.
I was skeptical about staying dry, so I made sure to put the technology to the test. I was impressed with how waterproof AscentShell is. It survived the Alpental wintery mix, the Hyak downpouring rain, and a few long rainy approaches. In its first year of life, it feels on par with my Gore-Tex. And like many Gore-Tex products, it is a three-layer fabric with fully taped seams.
I have only used the kit for one season, so far, the durability is up to the mark. So far, the pieces receive high marks for the typical wear and tear I look for: no holes from rubbing on the inside seam, zippers breaking, seams starting to lose waterproofness, and fabric separating from the waterproofing material.
Below I’ll cover my favorite features of the jacket and bib separately.
OR Skytour AscentShell Jacket
The Skytour jacket allowed me to stay less sweaty on the uphill, and I definitely noticed this compared to our all-time PNW favorite Gore-Tex. With that said, I did sweat some in it; after all, it is a shell meant to keep me dry first and foremost. Yet, this is the most breathable waterproof hardshell I have experienced. It features large pit zips, but I am yet to use them.
The jacket offers lots of pockets: one on each side of the chest, an inner chest pocket, an inner mesh side pocket, and a sleeve pocket round out the storage options. All the pockets are a practical size which makes them versatile.
The jacket’s length is perfect for me; it fits longer than many of the other hard shells I have tried. I prefer for my bottom to be covered as it keeps me warmer and dryer.
OR Skytour AscentShell Bib
The pants have two pockets on each side that are stitched on the outside (see photo), which I love since this offers more movement. When pant pockets are sewn on the inside, I find this constricting, making the pocket smaller.
I love the front bib pocket. This easy access pocket has replaced my beacon harness (I hate the “third boob” harness with a passion). The pocket is roomy and has an interior clip to secure the beacon. Plus, OR constructs the pocket entirely of mesh, so there is no compromise on the breathability.
The leg opening was just the right size, not giving me any problems with removing the pant on/off, adjusting boot buckles, switching between ski/walk mode, etc. There is a snap at the bottom of the pant cuff to make the opening smaller, which I have not used.
My favorite feature is the full drop seat. I wish I had this last year while testing the Carbide bib. The drop seat is composed of two zippers on each side of the leg with a button right below your armpit: undo the button and slide both zippers down to let the back part of the pants fall down. I have found that with other bibs, these zippers are hard to manage as they get stuck, especially when zipping them back up after answering nature’s call – I haven’t run into this issue with the Skytour bib.
In the future, it would be rad if one of the pant side pockets also offered a clip as another option for beacon carry.
I found that the suspenders wouldn’t stay in place, and the metal strap adjustment pieces felt a bit bulky under my pack straps, but this could just be how they adjust on me.
I found the adjustment of the hood mechanism challenging to figure out – specifically to make the hood smaller to stay on my head when not wearing a helmet. I failed to do this while touring, but after experimenting with it at home, I could figure it out; simple markings on the hood or arrows pointing toward the hood adjustments would have helped.
OR has made admirable efforts to develop plus sizes in their clothing lines; it would be cool if OR made bigger sizes (beyond xl) in these.
Fit and Cost
I found the fit to be similar to the Carbide OR kit. I chose a size large for both the jacket and bib. The pant is definitely baggy on me, but as I have mentioned before, I like the looser fit since it allows for more layering and movement.
I went back and forth between sizing down for the jacket and going with a medium instead of the large, but settled on the baggier fit. I like the option of being able to put a big puffy under my shell and with a smaller size that ends up not being comfortable.
Compared to full Gore-Tex, the Skytour kit is a lot more affordable. The cost for the bib is $349.00, the jacket also retails for $349.00. Both items can be found on sale. OR also offers the Skytour AscentShell jacket and bib in a men’s version.
Is the AscentShell fabric as waterproof as a brand new Gore-Tex jacket – maybe not, but I am here to say that it is at least 90% of that. Given all the other features I have highlighted in this review, I am retiring my Gore-Tex bibs and jacket except for resort days. I recently gifted my mom this same ski outfit for her birthday. She loves it!
WildSnow Girl, Julia Dubinina, is a weekend warrior chasing snow in winter and sun in summer. A lover of long tours and steep skin tracks, she explores the Pacific Northwest and beyond. When she is not out adventuring, she is working away at her corporate desk job for a software company to make her next adventure happen.
Thanks for the review Julia
I’ve always heard good things about the OR Ascentshell (how breathable it is compared to GoreTex), but some reviews say that the DWR on previous Ascentshell products wears off pretty quickly and kills the breathability of the jackets. Any comments on the durability of the DWR?
I have an old,er as en Shell jacket, and I too, have been very impressed with breathability and feel of the fabric.
Mine seems to work just fine, several year in. I do wash and retreat all my WPB gear regularly, but with that, it seems to be doing just fine.
Thanks Slim, appreciate your input!
I love my AS bibs, they’re my favorite, however I will say one comment – with the increased breathability, comes a minor cost – they are much thinner fabric and not as wind resistant as GTX 3L pants IMO. On very cold days, I either have to wear a thicker baselayer (not preferred since that gets very sweaty) or I opt for a thicker pant. They also aren’t AS water-resistant as GTX in my experience so far and do get a bit more wet (dont bead water off as well, and this is after only 1 season of use)
PS – I am also in the PNW, so similar testing grounds