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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Outdoor Research Paradox Jacket > Heather Oakes Palmer > Test Report by Heather Oakes
Initial Report: November 28, 2006
Field Report: February 13, 2007 (skip to)
Long Term Report: Arpil 17, 2007 (skip to)
Name: Heather Oakes Palmer
I consider myself an intermediate backpacker, with my longest backpacking trip being only three nights. Day hiking and weekend backpacking comprise most of my experience. I average one backpacking trip and two day hikes per month covering about 10-15 miles (16.1- 24.2 km) per day. I tend to backpack in warm, humid climates, with a good amount of hiking in the southern Appalachian Mountains and I have rarely hiked in below freezing or snowy conditions yet. I am a lightweight backpacker and buy my gear accordingly, often splitting various objects and amounts of weight with my husband.
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
Product Description: A light shell that provides wind protection, the Paradox also features: an outer shell of breathable nylon, soft lining, full front zip, zippered side pockets, high collar, chest pocket, elastic drawcord hem adjusters, and adjustable cuffs. This jacket appears to be a wind and weather resistant top layer for mild days, and a mid-layer for colder conditions.
The Outdoor Research Women’s Paradox jacket appears exactly as shown from the website and with the exception of the side pockets, the Paradox looks very similar to other jackets I’ve purchased or tried on in the past. The outside nylon fabric is crinkly to the touch, and slightly shiny with a tiny grid-like square pattern on the surface. The inside fabric appears fleecy and in a lighter brown color than the outside. The lining feels soft and only slightly itchy when pressed close to my face. I will report later on how this lining fabric works for me if I use the jacket as a pillow. The main zipper in the front has fabric both behind and in front of the zipper to keep wind and weather out. The front zipper seems to be designed to have fabric hanging over the top of the zipper preventing the metal from touching my throat. The side pockets also have extra fabric hanging over and hiding the zippers. The initials “OR” appear on the bottom left side of the jacket right next to the adjustable hem cord. On the left top arm, a lighter brown logo in the shape of a flower is visible.
A great fitting midlayer, the Paradox fits snugly around the chest and hips when I tried it on wearing a mid-weight shirt while still allowing me freedom of arm movement. It is streamlined enough to easily fit under other outer layer jackets I tried. The arms of the jacket are long enough that I can tuck my hands in with only minimal stretching of the fabric. The back of the jacket is long enough to cover me while seated. The drawcord hem doesn’t make an appreciable difference with me as the jacket is already fairly snug in the hip area. The side pockets are at just the right height for hand warming and while the insides are cozy and fuzzy, the zippers are pretty small and I have already had difficulty using them when wearing gloves during my initial fitting. The inside chest pocket is a decent size, I am able to carry small maps or wallet sized items easily but storing anything that is not flat makes for bizarre looking protuberances on my chest. The neckline is high enough without choking me, but low enough that I might need extra neck coverage in very cold/windy conditions.
Overall, I’m very happy with the fit/cut of the jacket. It hugs my form reducing space in between me and the jacket keeping me warm, plus it looks much cooler than men’s clothing just in case I ever stumble upon a random backpacking fashion photo shoot while hiking. I also like the feel of the lining fabric, especially in the extremely useful side pockets. Now I’m just waiting to see how well it keeps me happy on the trail!
Field Report: Field Conditions:
A delayed and schizophrenic winter has certainly changed what the normal conditions for Georgia this time of year would be. I have tested the jacket on breaking-in hikes near Atlanta around 1200 ft (366 m) and backpacking trips in the north Georgia mountains in elevations between 2000-4500 ft (610-1372 m). For most of my testing including the first backpacking trip with the Paradox; days were between 45-65 F (7-18 C) and nights between 32-45 F (0-7 C) even above 3000 ft (914 m). During my last backpacking trip, the weather behaved more like a normal February with temperatures only reaching 35 F (2 C) in the middle of the day, nighttimes into the low 20’s F (-6 C) and plenty of chilly 5-11 mph (8-18 kph) wind and some sporadic light rain.
My first backpacking trip out with the Paradox gave me plenty of opportunities for testing. Temperatures on the Coosa backcountry trail in north Georgia were down to about 25 F (-4 C) at night, clear with no rain and there was very little wind until the second day of the trip. At night I slowly piled on the layers as the night wore on, the Paradox being used as a mid-layer over my sports tank and long-sleeved shirt but under the fleece and then the rain jacket. During the day the temperatures rose to as high as 46 F (8 C) and I was able to test the Paradox as an outer-layer and in some wind. I wore the jacket over the sports tank and Ibex short-sleeved wool top, unzipping or rolling up the sleeves as needed for ventilation. I was able to take the jacket off for a few steep uphill climbs, but I was putting it right back on and fully zipped up for snack breaks. During this first trip I discovered the beauty of the Paradox’s side pockets. They were very helpful keeping my notoriously ice-cold hands warm, they even helped my gloves-forgetting husband with a quick hand warm up. The only bad thing about the fuzzy side pockets was that the tiny zippers required me to take off my gloves to use.
Winter was still very mild in January when we went backpacking on the Appalachian Trail near the North Carolina border. I used the jacket as a mid-layer in camp and during the chilly night. Since the nighttime temperatures seemed to rise from the high 30’s F (4 C) to the low 40’s F (5 C) before sunrise, I was able to use the jacket as an outer-layer in the morning. The jacket was great cutting the wind throughout the day with the temperatures around 50 F (10 C), when I was resting the jacket helped me keep warm even with sweat dampening my back. Some sweat soaked through while hiking during the days, but after being hung on a low branch for an hour the jacket was dry.
The weather finally began to act like winter on a recent February backpacking trip, the first days’ temperatures were between 35-27 F (2- -3 C), with slight wind and light rain. Due to a late start, I only hiked about 3 mi (5 km) with the Paradox as my outer-layer. I had misty rain off and on for a while which beaded up easily on the jacket. Then the weather settled into about 30 minutes of continuous light rain which beaded up on the jacket for a little while but was soon absorbed into the fabric. Luckily the jacket dries quickly or I would have been very cold and wet since I didn’t put on rain gear wanting to give the jacket a good test. Overnight I used the now dry jacket successfully as a mid-layer when the temperatures dropped to the low 20’s F (-6 C). The next day the temperatures were around 25 F (-4 C) when we hit the trail and the wind seemed to know when I was resting so it could chill me to the bone. The sneaky wind also seemed to disappear when I was in sunlight only to reappear in the shade. So far during the testing period, the jacket had kept the wind at bay but the lower temperatures of this trip proved that the Paradox is for three-seasons and not a winter outer-layer. The jacket retained some sweat from my back that I noticed when taking off my pack, but it seemed to dry fairly quickly.
After the very first time I made the Paradox minimally sweaty I noticed the lingering armpit area aroma. The fabric retained the smell after an airing but no washing. Then I tried hand-washing the affected areas with a hand-soap that was scentless, but the armpit smell stayed. A nice machine wash with laundry soap then air-drying, and it smells laundry fresh. After 2 machine washes and air drying, the colors did not fade or run and the seams remained intact and strong.
When wearing with a backpack, my back directly above the hip belt gets sweaty of course. It doesn’t ride up too much, the jacket falls nicely under the line of my hip belt. The little piece of fabric that covers the top of the front zipper is a welcome addition because it prevents the touch of cold metal on my throat. I have not seen any pulls or signs of strain in the pockets, drawcord hem area, or the sleeves.
A wimpy winter, and an early spring followed by a vicious cold snap gave me ample opportunity to test the OR Paradox in multiple weather conditions throughout the entire testing period. During the final portion of the testing, I had day time temperatures of between 30 F (-1 C) to 85 F (29.4 C) and night temperatures ranging from a low 20’s F (-6.6 C) to 65 F (18 C). During the last few months of testing this jacket, the wind has certainly obliged by reaching speeds of up to 25 mph (40 kmph) during the last backpacking trip I was on, while still being fairly windy on most of the other hikes.
During one backpacking trip, the nighttime temperatures were low enough (47 F (8 C)) that I could use the Paradox as my outer layer at night but on the last trip the spring receded unexpectedly with night temperatures down to 21 F (-6.1 C). The Paradox was once again, a mid-layer for that trip. Both backpacking trips in the north Georgia mountains demonstrated to me that the Paradox did not ride up my back while seated or wearing the pack, kept my torso warm from wind gusts, and aired out quickly when damp (but still retaining armpit smell). Since the jacket did not smell pretty, especially after some of the more humid days, I never used it as a nighttime pillow but I maintain that the lining is certainly comfortable enough to have done so.
During my almost every weekend day hikes; the Paradox proved to help keep me dry in light rain, and kept my torso warm even while very windy. With daytime temperatures mostly between 40 F (4.4 C) – 70 F (21 C), I often needed to adjust the Paradox according to how warm or cold I was getting. The main zipper and the sleeves were subjected to many repeat modifications over the course of almost every hike or backpacking trip I went on during the testing period. Of course, the main areas in which I felt overheated did not have any room for adjustment so I also took off the jacket to air out the armpit and lower back areas whenever I could. Even with the high humidity of Georgia, I continued to be surprised at how quickly the jacket dried on the trail.
The style and fit of the jacket allowed me to easily wear it around town and not look too much like an REI catalog reject. This winter and spring, the wind was not only on the trails, but it was also in town causing me to tend to grab the Paradox first when I needed to be outside for long periods of time. The little chest pocket not only held smaller maps well, but also served to hold my cigarette case wallet when out on the town.
The Paradox has remained durable over the course of the testing period. The fabric is still pull-free and without rips, and the seams are solid with very few hanging threads. None of the zippers have gotten stuck or rusty, and the teeth have remained on track. The draw cords and pockets show no signs of stress or wear. Machine washing cold with low dry, and hand washing has not adversely affected the Paradox either. The area around the wrists does show some signs of wear; stressed seams, a few pulled threads.
Overall the Outdoor Research Paradox is a useful addition to a 3-season and milder 4-season layering system. The Paradox works well as a mid-layer during cold nights, and as an adjustable outer layer on during most days. Fitted for a woman, the jacket actually looks normal enough to wear in town as well as on the trail and does admirably well with that double duty. The plush lining adds to my comfort, especially in the hand pockets as the lining helps warm up cold fingers. Keeping most of the between 10-20 mph (16-32 kmph) gusts from freezing me, this jacket certainly fulfilled its obligation. Pretty durable, the Paradox also held up well under average backpack stress showing no signs of wear in the typical places such as shoulders and back. Finding a constant need for adjusting, the sleeves do show some wear from when I rolled them up and down to cool off. Sadly, while the jacket still looks great after a few days on the trail with no washing; it only takes one day of sweating for the smell to set in and only a machine washing or hand-washing with very strong soap will kill the stink. A little odor is a small price to pay for such a versatile addition to my gear closet.
Thanks to Outdoor Research and BackpackGearTest.org for letting me try my luck with the Paradox!
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