Outdoor Research Men's Elixir Jacket
by André Corterier
Initial Report: January 18, 2008
Field Report: March 31, 2008
Long Term Report: May 25, 2008
6' 1" (1.85 m)
175 lb (80 kg)
I have started out with backpacking slowly – single-day 24 km (15 mi) jaunts by myself or even shorter hikes in the company of my little daughter. I am getting started on longer hikes, as a lightweight packer and tarp or hammock-camper. I’ve begun upgrading my old gear and am now carrying a dry FSO weight (everything carried From the Skin Out except food, fuel and water) of about 9 kg (20 lb) for three-season camping.
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
Year of Manufacture: 2007?
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.orgear.com
MSRP: 240 USD
Listed Weight: 19.3 oz / 547 g (size L)
Measured Weight: 17.7 oz / 502 g (size L)
Tested Colour: Sandstone (grey with maybe a bit of a greenish tinge)
It is a standard rain jacket with a hood (which rolls into the collar), a zippered chest pocket on the left chest (called a "slash napoleon pocket" by the manufacturer) and two zippered handwarmer pockets. The seams inside the jacket are taped. The jacket has hook-and-loop type fasteners around the wrists to allow closing it against the wind, in addition to a stretch insert there. There are long pit zips from about halfway up the jacket to almost the elbow. The hood features two stretch cords for adjustment purposes: One runs from the side of the hood over the forehead towards the other side of the face, with a toggle on both sides. The other runs from the sides of the hood across the back of the skull, with a single toggle set in its middle, at the back of the hood. The hood features a stiffened brim. The jacket pockets are made of mesh sown against the inside shell of the jacket. The righthand handwarmer pocket features a double layer of mesh with a zipper on it on the inside, which creates a small inside pocket.
I've been wearing this jacket every day since I got it, but we've had only very mild precipitation (just a hint of a drizzle). It's been very windy, though. I've worn it walking around, for a very small dayhike and bicycling to and from work. Temperatures have been from just below freezing to about 10 C (50 F).
The jacket fits well. It's not a long jacket, but it's also not a victim of the fad towards short, tight-fitting jackets that run the risk of sliding over the top of my pants, allowing ingress to wind-driven precipitation. I find plenty of room for layering underneath it, but not so much that I'm thinking a tighter cut would have saved weight. I'm a slender person, so I'd expect it to fit a good range of people.
I particularly like the hood, though I'm less fond of its roll-away feature. The hood is large, I can fit a high-volume beanie underneath it (anything larger than that is something I'd usually want to wear *over* the hood, and indeed my bicycle helmet goes over it just fine). The shock-cord toggles at the sides of my face allow me to reduce the degree to which the hood opens sideways. With the cords relaxed, the sides of the hood slant widely sideways from the top of the hood, giving me a wide field of vision. Reducing this by pulling on the shock cords quickly creates pressure on my glasses, which they transmit to the bridge of my nose. So I haven't made much use of this feature. I also wonder why there's a toggle on the right *and* on the left side of the hood, seeing that they're both working on the same cord. An overblown sense of symmetry, maybe? The toggle is of a type I've heard described as "one-handed" (it doesn't have even one hand, much less two - but I guess this means that it's supposed to be useable with only one hand). As I need both hands to work these toggles, I find I have one more than I need.
The toggle operated from the back of the hood works wonders, however. Putting a bit of tension on this one has the elastic cord running through the hood circle my head just like a crown. This makes the hood move with my head just a little, which together with the wide field of vision this hood allows, is excellent. It also manages to hold the hood on my head against a bit of facewind without having to cinch the other cords down to an uncomfortable degree. I *really* appreciate that.
The brim is stiffened a little, which keeps vertically falling rain out of my face and off my glasses, but falls far short of the protection offered by, say, a baseball cap.
The rollaway feature consists of a doubled-up collar of the jacket. This is open in the back, with the doubled-up flap held down by some type of hook-and-loop fastener. The hood can be rolled into this. I can roll up the hood and store it without looking at it, though not with gloves on. I can pull it out without looking at it, and can even do it with gloves on, though that then takes a good bit of fiddling around. I'm pointing this out because I can't look at what I'm doing with the hood while I'm wearing the jacket. So - it works. No complaints, there, really. I just don't see the point.
The arms fit pretty well, too. They're long enough (something I'm often concerned with, because I have long limbs), have an elastic closure combined with hook-and-loop-type fasteners again. This may allow me to pull them over the wrist part of my gloves and tighten them so they won't slide when I reach for something.
So far, the jacket hasn't seen serious rain. I've had some slight drizzle on it, even a spot of what one might call rain, but really just enough to confirm that there is a water repellent finish to the jacket's exterior. I'm confident there'll be more during the Field testing phase, though. The taping of the inside seams seems top-notch, anyway. As if the tapes were welded on. Impressive.
"Breathability" (Water Vapour Permeability)
The jacket seems to "breathe" okay. I did get sweatier than I liked on my bicycle, but I was wearing the wrong clothes underneath the jacket because I was returning from work. From what little I can tell going by the short hikes around the neighbourhood it's been exposed to, it works. The jacket also has long pit zips. In my experience with other jackets, they should offer plenty of ventilation, given their size.
The jacket is what is often referred to as a "hard shell". This means that it feels somewhat stiff to the touch and is a bit noisy ("swish-swish"). It's not as pronounced as I've had it on other jackets, though. The jacket, though not elastic, moves well with me and I don't feel in any way constrained. Nice.
For my precious...
The pockets - or lack thereof - are my only real gripe with the jacket at this point. The handwarmer pockets are nice to have - it's where I store my gloves, and occasionally my hands. They're fine, really.
The inside pocket I have an issue with. I think I understand the reasoning behind using a single layer of mesh sown against the outside shell to make the handwarmer pockets - less sowing to do than with two layers, and less weight (though only the weight of a few sq cm - even fewer sq in - of mesh). But if one is two use two layers in order to have an inside pocket, what's wrong with the traditional inside pocket that's open on top?
I'll readily admit that having a zipper on it makes it more secure. But I don't recall having ever lost something out of an inside pocket, either (I may be spending less time upside down than some). The advantage, in my mind, to having a pocket that's open on top is that flattish, longish things (bottles, maps, guidebooks, etc.) fit in easily. This jacket does not have a pocket into which any of these things will fit. But I do admit that I feel very much at ease about putting a credit card into this zippered pocket - I'm pretty sure it won't go anywhere, particularly as I'm not likely to open and close that pocket much, as there's really nothing else (keys, maybe?) I'd want to put in there.
The "slash napoleon" pocket has a similar issue. I believe the "slash" part of the name refers to the diagonal angle at which the zipper is slashed, uh, cut. I'll admit it has a certain rakish charm to it, like a hat tilted just so. But it doesn't increase the utility of the pocket in my mind, which is already limited by its small size. My polyester tube of "multi-functional headgear" goes in okay, but already visibly bunches out the jacket. Maps etc. - no way. Sigh.
Of course, I've mostly been wearing this jacket in urban environments these few days, running errands etc. - the sort of thing where I'm particularly used to using the pockets my other jackets have. Once I'm used to having my map elsewhere, this concern may well become less pronounced in a backpacking environment. We'll see.
31 March 2008
I've been wearing this jacket dayhiking in the local hills (elevation not exceeding 330 m / 1000 ft), in wind and various kinds of rain,
running errands around Bonn and sightseeing in Tokyo, and on a spontaneous summit hike of Kumotori-san (2018 m / 6621 ft) in the snow, temps down
to -7 C (20 F). While it's only been out overnight twice, it's seen roughly 30 days of use counting dayhikes and shorter hikes. Over the
entire testing period, I have worn the jacket about 60 days. For about 20 of them I wore it for most of the day, for the remainder it's come out
while it rained or as a wind shell when bicycling to work. It's been worn under daypacks, mid-size backpacks and a loaded child carrier.
I have good and bad things to report regarding this jacket's performance vis-ŕ-vis precipitation. The good is that it's reliably kept rain and snow
off me. I have not had moisture get inside the jacket at all. There's been varying kinds of exposure, though I haven't been out in full-on rain
storms. Nevertheless, it's had a bit of a test in this regard and passed.
The bad is that the DWR appears to be fading already. I've rolled the jacket into itself for packing a few times, which I know isn't the best for
DWR treatments, but am surprised to see it fading so soon. Moist snow sits on the jacket and seeps into the top layer as it melts, visibly
darkening the surface. While the membrane remains waterproof, I was told by someone working in a local outdoor equipment shop that the fabric laminate
thereby stops allowing water vapour to pass. This wetting out of parts of the jacket's surface
is most apparent along the zipper, where the surface of the jacket experiences friction a lot. I have not yet noted a similarly strong
loss of its DWR coating on the jacket's shoulders. I have not noted a similar effect along the pit zips - this may be because I use them less often than
the main zip, but likely also has something to do with them rarely being rained on due to their location. Except for the fabric right along the main zipper,
it's a phenomenon which seems equally distributed over the jacket - it becomes spotty in the rain. I have not experienced rain heavy enough to wet it out
completely, but of course recent showers have been short and mild.
The jacket isn't warm by itself. However, it continues to serve as an excellent windbreaker. This means that the warmth I generate inside whatever
other layers I'm wearing remains there, rather than being taken away by the wind. I have found this very useful. On my summit hike of
Kumotori-san, the highest mountain inside the Tokyo prefecture, I gained roughly 1700 m (5600 ft) of elevation inside eight hours, the latter six in
temperatures below freezing. I did so wearing nothing but a merino wool base layer underneath the Elixir jacket (and gloves and a head covering).
I could regulate the temperature inside the jacket by use of the pit zips alone. They were mostly about halfway open, though I closed them for my few
Water Vapour Permeability:
The breathability of the jacket has been very good. I have not had to go through strenuous exertion in the rain, where wetting out of the fabric
might be an issue. When working out heavily in other conditions, I have found the breathability of the jacket, combined with its venting options,
to be excellent. I never overheated during my climb of Kumotori-san. As I had not been at altitudes above 400 m (1300 ft) for over half a year
and hadn't done any strenuous hikes in a while, gaining that kind of altitude was very strenuous for me. I must have been sweating a lot, yet I was
never stewed in sweat, which I attribute to an excellent base layer and the breathability and venting options of this jacket. The only place which felt
wet was the small of my back, where the backpack prevents both ventilation and efficient transfer of vapour through the membrane.
This made me very happy - if I'd had to deal with being soaked in sweat as well, this trip would likely have been a lot less successful.
Except for the fading DWR, there have been no durability issues with the jacket. While I've been wearing the jacket a lot, it has not experienced friction
other than from being rolled up, used and worn underneath a backpack. I hang it on its own hook out of the way. There have been no issues with loose
threads or delaminating fabric - it seems well made.
Pockets (or Lack Thereof):
I'm still not happy about this. I do have to admit that I got used to having my map in a pack pocket. I also had little reason to take off my
gloves or head covering, so did not need pockets much. But with access to the handwarmer pockets blocked by the pack's hip belt, I would still
have liked to have a napoleon pocket of a useful size. I lack convenient, dry (for the map) and warm (for my water bottle) pockets. It's only a minor gripe, though.
Summary So Far:
Plus: Lightweight, excellent craftsmanship, good looks. Breathability/venting beyond compare.
Minus: Pricey, and - still - the pockets.
Overall: So far, I'm very happy with the jacket. The issues I have with DWR and pockets are easily outweighed by the excellent ventilation and
breathability (absent precipitation). It's kept me inside my comfort range for the entirety of what for me were rather extreme circumstances and thus
contributed substantially to a very successful adventure.
Long Term Report
25 May 2008
The Elixir jacket remained my primary outer layer for roughly the first half of the Long Term test period. As such, it's been
worn under daypack and child carrier as well as on my bicycle to and from work. During the last month, it's come along on
dayhikes on which it seemed reasonable to assume strong winds or rain and has otherwise spent its time rolled up inside my
standard everyday backpack, to come out whenever it rained. It's been worn about 30 days, in wind and light to medium rain.
Temperatures in which it's been worn were roughly between 10 and 15 C (50 and 60 F).
There've been no changes in this regard. The jacket remains entirely waterproof. The surface hasn't wet out any more than I've seen
in the past, but then lately it's only seen mild rain.
Ventilation has remained excellent, though the real stress test (uphill battles with a child carrier on my back in a warm rain on a humid day)
hasn't occurred in the Long Term test period.
I'd almost forgotten about the roll-in feature, as it's not something I felt like using. The hood has generally just hung off
my back to be pulled up whenever I felt like it. I have now begun testing a sun-and-rain hat and didn't want rain water to accumulate
in the hood on my back, so I rolled it into the collar again. This makes the collar considerably stiffer. I'm not used to that,
but it isn't uncomfortable. It may, in fact, be a rather good thing - now that I use a hat, I don't have fabric covering the sides of
my face when it's raining, so having a collar one can turn up stiffly seeems good.
I've not had any loose threads or any other durability problems, all the zippers still work very well - no complaints except for the DWR
beginning to wear off a little prematurely, but that happens to all rain jackets sooner or later, so I'm not too miffed about it. The large
pit zips should make sure that ventilation remains good. I'll see about refreshing the jacket's DWR before the next really rainy season arrives
(I haven't washed it so far).
Pros: Lightweight, very well made jacket which provides full-on water protection and excellent breathability and venting.
Cons: Pocket design less than useful for me, DWR came off a bit soon.
This report was created with lots of help from the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2008. All rights reserved.
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