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Reviews > Clothing > Gloves and Mittens > Outdoor Research Zenith Gloves > Test Report by Jason Boyle

Outdoor Research Zenith Gloves

Test Series

Initial Report – December 17, 2008
Field Report - February 17, 2009
Long Term Report - May 9, 2009

Zenith Gloves

Tester Information:
Name: Jason Boyle
Age: 31
Gender: Male
Height: 5' 6"/ 1.68 m
Weight: 180 lb/ 82 kg
Email address: c4jc "at" hotmail "dot" com
City, State, Country: Kodiak, Alaska, U. S.

Backpacking Background:
I have been camping and backpacking for about 20 years. My introduction to the outdoors started with the Boy Scouts of America and has continued as an adult. I have hiked all over the Southeastern, Northeastern, and Northwestern United States. I am generally a lightweight hiker, but will carry extras to keep me comfortable. I currently reside on Kodiak Island in Alaska home of some of the worst weather and most beautiful scenery around. I look forward to putting gear through the paces here on the Emerald Isle.

Product Information:
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
Model: Zenith Glove
Size: Medium received, but ranges up to XL.
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Listed weight: 9.0 oz/255 g for a large pair with liners
Measured weight: 8.05 oz/ 228 g for the medium pair received with liners.
Single Shell: 2.3 oz/65 g
Single Liner 1.75 oz/50 g
MSRP: $159.00 US
Color: Black with grey accents (received), also available in yellow with grey accents
Country of Manufacture: Sri Lanka

Product Description:
The Outdoor Research Zenith Gloves are part of OR’s Ascent line of gloves which are designed for “Waterproof with adjustable, quick-dry insulation for multi-day adventures". The gloves consist of two parts – an outer waterproof shell with OR’s proprietary Ventia barrier and a removable soft shell liner. The back of the outer shell is soft to the touch and has a visible ripstop grid in the fabric. The palm and fingers of the shell are wrapped with a more durable fabric and there is a rubbery grip material laminated to the palm, the tips of all the fingers and on the thumb. The shells are chock full of features including the following: a DuoCinch gauntlet closure, removable Idiot Cord with reflective highlights threaded through the cord, a quick connect locking system to connect the pair of gloves together, and a ladder lock buckle system to cinch the gloves around the user’s wrist. All seams are welded and seam-taped. There is one logo on the shell – an embroidered OR logo on the back of the glove.

The liner glove consists of three parts, a softshell upper, a leather palm, and a brushed tricot inside for insulation. The cuff of the glove has a hook and loop fastener to seal the cuff against the user’s wrist. There is an embroidered OR logo on the back of the glove and an etched OR logo on the hook and loop fastener. The inside of the glove is very soft and feels nice against my hands.

Initial Impressions:
I consider gloves to be one of my more important items for winter outdoor activities. I have broken both of my pinkie fingers and because of scar tissue they get cold easy. I normally carry liner gloves and mitts, and when I saw these gloves on the OR website, I was excited that there might be a glove that can keep me warm and provide more dexterity than liners and mitts.

seam taping

The gloves appear to be well made. All of the seams are fully taped and none of the tape is peeling up. The features of the gloves are well thought out. The DuoCinch cuff closure on the liner is nice and allows one-handed operation. When I pull on the grey tab it cinches the cuff, and when I pull on the black tab it loosens the cuff. I also like the reflective material sewn into the idiot cord loop. The gloves are black with grey accents and the reflective material in the cord will help me find them in the dark of night.

I used the sizing information from the OR website when I decided what size to receive for testing. Based on my measurements – Hand Circumference: 8”/20 cm, Hand Length: 7”/18 cm, and the OR sizing chart the medium gloves should fit me. I also have 4 other pairs of OR gloves, all size medium that fit me well, so all the sizing chart and my prior experience seemed to correlate. However, after trying them on I am not sure the sizing information is correct. The liner glove fits me perfectly, and with the liners inside of the shell they seem to fit ok, but are a little tight. I have a problem though when I try to bend my fingers; the space in between each of my fingers is pinched by the seams of the gloves. I think the welding process and the seam tape cause the fabric to bunch up in this area and that is what is pinching my hands. Additionally, once the liner is removed from the shell, it is a pain to get back it in. It takes me about five minutes to get the liner back into the shell and this was while sitting in my warm home, not in subfreezing temperatures where every minute counts. I wore the gloves around the house to see if they would loosen up a bit, but they never did. I have contacted OR and will be exchanging them for a pair of size large gloves.

The care instructions are pretty simple, and are written on the inside cuff of the left shell glove. OR recommends machine washing in cold water separately; use powdered detergent, no bleach or fabric softener, then hang dry. Do not dry clean, machine dry, or iron. There are no care instructions on the liner gloves, so I will treat them the same as the shell.

Field Report – February 17, 2009

Lake Gertrude, Ft Abercrombie

I have mixed feelings on these gloves. I think the concept of a liner glove and a waterproof shell is a solid one, I am just not sure that this particular shell and liner are a good combination. After some serious break in time, I decided that the mediums were the correct size for me since the liners on the large gloves were much too large for me. The performance of the gloves has been superb – warm and waterproof, but the dexterity while wearing the liners and gloves is marginal at best. Hopefully, the gloves will continue to soften up with more use over the next couple of months.

Field Conditions:
I have worn the gloves on two overnight backpacking trips in the Monashka Bay region of Kodiak, 3 day hikes in this same area, 2 day hikes in Ft Abercrombie State Park, a snowshoe trip on Pillar Mountain, and during a day of sledding with my daughter. I have also worn them on some of my daily walks to work, 2.6 mile round trip (4.2 km) and while cutting and splitting wood. I have worn them for a total of 18-plus days. Temperatures ranged from 10 F to 32 F (-12 C to 0 C) with temps dipping below 0 F (-17 C) with wind chill. Unfortunately my trips have mostly coincided with good weather here in on the island, but the gloves have been used in the snow and while walking to work in a steady light rain. The winds always blow here and I have worn the gloves in winds ranging from 40 mph to 10 mph (64 kph to 16 kph). Elevation was usually close to sea level as most of my hiking has been along the coast except for my one snowshoe trip.


I evaluated the gloves on three different criteria – fit, usefulness, and durability. I will start with “fit” since I initially had some issues in this area. The medium softshell liner fit properly, but when the liner was inside of the shell the result was a very stiff combination that pinched me in between my fingers. I thought the liner was too thick for the shell or maybe the welded and taped construction made the material too stiff and this led me to think maybe I needed a larger size. I contacted OR and they shipped me a larger size. I tried these on and even with a larger size I encountered the same problems, and the liner gloves were obviously too large. So I stuck with the mediums, because the liners fit me properly. I wore the gloves but they just wouldn’t break in and remained stiff.

I use a wood stove to heat the upstairs part of my house, and since it is winter here in Alaska, I am doing quite a bit of cutting, splitting and hauling of wood. I had just destroyed the leather gloves I was using for these tasks and since we were getting some heavy snow, I decided to try and use the Zenith gloves for these tasks. At first, I could barely use the gloves since they were so stiff. However after handling wood for several days the gloves have softened up to the point where they are much more comfortable. They are still stiff, but they no longer pinch me between my fingers and have allowed me to gain some limited dexterity when using the liner and shell in combination. This is a pretty rough way to break in some gloves, but it worked. I am not sure how long it would have taken me to break the gloves in had I not used them while handling wood. In addition to the gloves softening up a little bit, it has also gotten easier to slide the liners into the shells. It still takes some work to get them in but it has definitely gotten easy enough that I don’t mind pulling the liners out of the gloves to use them separately.

My next criterion is how useful are these gloves? Which is harder to answer than it initially seems. I used the gloves three ways – liners only, shells only, and liner and shells together. I find that I wear the liners by themselves 90% of the time. The fit is spot-on and the weather resistance is enough that I can wear them in the wind or light snow with no problems. They are also warm enough to keep my hands warm when worn by themselves. On my backpacking trip to Termination Point, I wore the liners alone in temperatures below freezing on a moderately challenging trail and soon found my hands sweating inside of the gloves. Not really the best idea, because the damp gloves got real cold while hanging out in camp that night when I wasn’t generating as much heat from hiking. I find that my dexterity is fairly good with the liners. I can operate some smaller things like my headlamp and just about any zipper. It was a little challenging trying to operate the pump and knobs on my white gas stove, but it was manageable

Snowshoeing on Pillar Mtn, with only the liners

The second way that I wore the gloves was by wearing only the shell. We had several consecutive days of significant snowstorms. This resulted in about a foot (30 cm) of fresh snow being deposited. I have a three year old daughter who loves to play in the snow and our front yard has a pretty big hill. So I spent a Saturday dragging my daughter up the hill in a sled and then sliding back down the hill in the sled with her. Our hill is fairly steep, but it ends in a retaining wall that drops about 2 feet (61 cm) to the road and if we went off the end of the retaining wall it would probably result in us getting hurt and making my wife very mad. So to stop the sled, I would place my hands in the snow to stop us before we rocketed over the edge to certain injury. I repeated this scenario probably a hundred times before my daughter decided it was time for hot chocolate. The shells did a good job of repelling the snow each time I buried my hands and the gauntlet cinch kept the snow from going down into the glove or up my jacket sleeves. I wasn’t wearing anything under the shells for insulation so my hands did get a bit cold, but it was not unbearable. Unlike the liners which have a soft lining the shells are fairly rough inside especially the taped seams. It was not uncomfortable, just not soft like the liners.

Shell Palms - after handling wood

The final way that I used the gloves was the liners and the shells combined. I used the gloves this way for my walks to work, while cutting, splitting and stacking wood, and on my day hikes. I had the least amount of dexterity while using the gloves in this configuration, but I was still able to operate zippers on my jackets, hold a hatchet or ax and even operate my chainsaw. One thing I learned while operating a chainsaw is the Idiot Cords pose a potential safety issue because of their length. They are long enough that I was afraid they would get caught in my chainsaw blade so I tucked them in the gloves versus removing them. The gloves were adequately warm in this configuration, but found that if I was standing around they were not warm enough to keep my pinkie fingers warm. As I mentioned in my Initial Report, I have broken both pinkies and have scar tissue so they get cold easily. I found that I had to pull my pinkie out of the finger slot and tuck them into my palms to keep them warm. While hiking I didn’t have any problems keeping my pinkie fingers or any of my other digits warm. I also used the gloves in this configuration during a walk to work where the temperature was just above freezing causing the precipitation to be mostly rain versus snow. The shells shed the rain easily and the long gauntlets covered my jacket cuffs so that no rain got in that way. After 30 minutes of walking in the rain, my hands were completely dry.

Durability is the final criterion that I evaluated the gloves on. They are surprisingly durable. As I mentioned earlier, I had destroyed a pair of leather gloves cutting and stacking wood. However the palms of the shells show very little wear at all from my wood cutting endeavors. I would say that wood cutting and stacking is harder on gloves than anything that I do while backpacking and hiking and I am encouraged that these gloves can easily withstand any normal outdoor related activities.

Long Term Report – May 9, 2009

Hiking near Barometer Mtn

The gloves have continued to soften up since my field report and began to finally fit well, but it has taken moving many cords of wood... They have proven to be pretty durable and weather-resistant especially during the serious blizzards we experienced here in late March. The gloves are quite warm and once I get some serious hand sweat going it is difficult to take the gloves off without the liners fingers inverting. Overall, I think the concept of a liner and shell combination is good, but I am not sold that the Zenith gloves accomplish this task as well as they could. I think a thinner liner glove paired with a shell would work better.

Field Conditions:
I used these gloves on a 2-night camping/snowshoeing/snowcaving trip on the flanks of Pyramid Mountain, during a 2-day blizzard that dumped 2 feet (61 cm) of snow here in Kodiak, and during numerous snowshoe trips in the Pillar and Monashka Bay areas. Temperatures ranged between 20 F to 50 F (-7 C to 10 C), with blowing snow, rain and the occasional sunny day. Winds experienced have been 50+ mph (81 kmph). Elevation ranged from sea level to about 1500 feet (457 m).

As I mentioned in my Field Report, I used the following criteria to judge the gloves – Fit, Usefulness, and Durability. The fit of the gloves has actually improved since the Field Report. Winter hit hard here on Kodiak and that led to me splitting and hauling a lot of wood which definitely softened up the gloves. However, I don’t think this is what the gloves were intended to do and I would expect gloves to fit better off of the shelf. The softshell liners continued to fit well and required no break in. The liners are easier to remove from the shells.

The usefulness of the gloves is my second criterion. The weather has stayed pretty fierce since my Field Report so with only a few exceptions I wore the gloves in the shell and liner combination for the majority of my trips. I chose this combination because it gave me the best weather protection. The long gauntlet straps and the adjusters allowed me to keep the gauntlets tight against my jacket and kept out the snow and rain. As the gloves softened my overall dexterity improved but I still found it difficult to use the gloves for tasks such as lighting a stove. However while building my snow cave on Pyramid Mountain they were perfect. I could easily grasp my snow shovel and bare snow to shape my shelter. They also worked well while operating my 4 wheeler to plow the copious amounts of snow we received during our March blizzard. One new issue that has arisen since the Field Report has been the fingers of the liner pulling out of the shell when my hands sweat. This is an issue and makes the gloves harder to put back on. I try to be mindful of my hands and if they are starting to overheat take the gloves off and not sweat in them.

The final criterion I used to evaluate the gloves was durability. The gloves showed great durability during standard outdoor activities such as hiking, backpacking, building snow shelters and so forth. I had no problems with the liners, shells, or other components. However the gloves didn’t fare as well using them to haul wood. After 4 months of hauling and cutting wood, they are starting to come apart. The rubbery grippy material on the fingers and thumbs has started to delaminate. This has caused the shells to leak when working in the snow or rain. However even with the shells leaking, my hands have stayed warm and dry inside of the liners with a wet shell. I do think hauling and cutting wood is outside the normal use that Outdoor Research would recommend for these gloves so I don’t hold the durability issues against the gloves.

Digging my snowcave

Overall I think the gloves have performed fairly well. I do think they could be improved by working on the seam taping to make the shells softer from the outset. I also think a thinner liner glove would work well. The soft shell liners are good on their own, but in my opinion are a bit too bulky to work well with this shell combination.

This concludes my Long Term Report. Thanks to and Outdoor Research for allowing me to participate in this test.
Read more gear reviews by Jason Boyle

Reviews > Clothing > Gloves and Mittens > Outdoor Research Zenith Gloves > Test Report by Jason Boyle

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