Brand: Outdoor Research
Model: Realm Hardshell Jacket
Designers patterned the Realm’s shoulders so that the shell wouldn’t ride up when you raise your arms (typically, shells are cut with the sleeves straight out, so reaching can yank the hem out of a harness or hipbelt). This means there’s extra room around the shoulders when your arms are relaxed, but testers didn’t mind. Mechanical two-way stretch adds overall flexibility.
There’s room to layer a heavier puffy under it—“I plan to use this as a ski shell for everything but high-abrasion tree skiing,” says a tester—but the torso is slim enough to tuck easily under a harness. The hem covered testers’ butts when they bent over.
The 20-denier nylon face fabric keeps things light without sacrificing much durability and feels soft to the touch. A thinner, 12-denier polyester backer is slightly brushed for a comfy feel against bare arms.
OR’s new AscentShell membrane uses superfine polyurethane fibers that are laid down in a random pattern, forming tiny, air-permeable pores that release body heat even in the toughest conditions. “I was every bit as dry, inside and out, as with any of the other premium waterproof/breathable shells I’ve tried,” said one of our most experienced testers after using the Realm under a 45-pound pack in Utah’s Dirty Devil River area in humid weather. The fabric stood up to blustery squalls, including three days of torrential rain.
The helmet-compatible hood features three adjustment cords and a moldable wire brim, and the collar pulls up over the chin when the shell is fully zipped. Though the full-coverage design provides maximum protection in stiff headwinds, testers found the extra fabric flapped in their faces when it was partially unzipped. “When you’re not wearing a helmet, the only way to stop the flapping is to totally loosen the hood drawstrings, which makes the hood balloon out when the wind shifts,” a tester says.
The Realm skips hand pockets to reduce weight. Instead, you get two chest pockets, one backed with an ultralight stretch mesh for added venting. The other serves as a stuff pocket backed with the shell’s nylon face fabric (when it’s stuffed inside its pouch, the exposed fabric is durable enough to be clipped to a harness). Bonus: A stretchy pouch within a pocket keeps a smartphone secure.
Testers appreciated the half-elastic cuffs with minimalist closures: “This let me tailor the cuffs so that water wouldn’t pour down my forearms, yet I could also shrug the sleeves on and off without fiddling with them.”