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Reviews > Rain Gear > Jackets and Pants > Outdoor Research Elixir or Luna Jacket > Test Report by Rick Allnutt
Over the last several years, I have become an ultralight camper with a three-season base pack weight of about 8 lb (3.5 kg) and skin out weight of 17 lb (8 kg). I have completed many section hikes on the Appalachian Trail (AT) in all four seasons, and many trips to state parks, with a total mileage of about 1550 miles (2500 km). I am a gearhead, a hammock or tarp camper, and I make much of my own equipment.
Trail Name: Risk
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Manufacturer: Outdoor Research
INITIAL IMPRESSIONSThe Elixir Storm Shell is a very well built GORE-TEX shell bonded to a lightweight fabric. Instead of taped seams, the joined seams appear to be sealed by melting. This gives a very smooth and finished appearance to the inside of the shell. Attention to detail is what the design and construction of this high-end shell is all about. The "Napoleon" pocket on the front of the shell not only has a water resistant zipper, but the zipper pull tab's home position is at the top of the zipper and a little fabric quonset hut has been built into the shell to keep water from entering the jacket at this important juncture. See the photo on the left side for this detail.
I am sometimes frustrated by the short length of sleeves on jackets which are to be worn in the rain. My sleeve length is 34 in (86 cm) in my long sleeve shirts. The Elixir shell is has sleeves long enough to cover my wrists even when I am using my hands to hold onto hiking poles. As can be seen on opening photo, the sleeves extend to my mid hand. This feels just about perfect when I consider all those times that my wrists have painfully cramped when soaked with cold rainwater other jackets let in.
This attention to design is no more than what I expected from reading the description of the Elixir Men's Storm Shell on the Outdoor Research website. Navigating to the men's storm shells, I find that this garment described as a four season shell. "Light enough to carry in summer and yet protective enough for winter." I look forward to being able to test the shell in what should be four seasons of wear here in Texas over the next four months. Last night, the temperature was down to 24 F (-4 C) here. By the end of the test I will probably have some 80 F (27 C) days to wear it in. The versatility I am expecting after reading the website is both from the wide range of conditions (from full protection to ventilation) and also the light weight of the gear being low enough to make it worth carrying in warmer conditions.
Part of the versatility for this shell comes from the excellent design of the hood. Much of the time, I prefer to hike with a rain hat instead of a hood. Partly this comes from the uncomfortable feel of hoods in the jackets I have worn in the past, and part comes from wanting to be able to hear birds and streams in as I am walking through the woods. But I have never had a shell with a hood designed as well as this one. Maybe I will convert to a hood for more of my wet weather hiking time with a hood designed this well.
The Elixir has a very viable option for rolling up the hood into a warm and protective collar. When used in this way, the cloth against my neck is a warm polyester fabric instead of a fabric that feels cold and wet. But it is very easy, even without taking the jacket off, to separate three hook and loop tabs at the bottom of the collar band and unroll the hood. The hood has a stiffened visor which I appreciate as a glasses wearer. The hood allows me at least a chance to keep my glasses dry during a downpour.
The hood also has an adjustment at the back of my head as seen in the accompanying photo. This tightens a channel at the level of my ears and the base of my skull. It feels like I have a hat on and it keeps the hood from moving around with every motion of my shoulders. I really like this adjustment as it adds real comfort to the use of a hood. It also seals my ears from wind gusts and allows my body heat to collect and warm my ears when they have turned red and cold.
All of the zippers are water resistant except for the main central zipper. Instead, this zipper is protected by a generous storm flap. (The right and left hand pockets also have a well designed storm flap.) The main zipper is a two-way zipper designed to be fastened from the bottom. But once the zipper has been started, the zipper can be opened from the bottom to allow for ventilation, leg movement, or just being able to see my pockets. The pit zippers are generous in size and open from the top to the bottom. This allows me to open them a bit in really wet weather in the area where they are best protected and then to open all the way for warmer weather when there is little risk of rain.
The waistline has one handed adjustments (shown in a photo here) on both left and right sides. This is designed so that I can quickly tighten or loosen the waist with a single hand for each side.
The storm shell comes with several hang tags. One tag tells how GORE-TEX works as a semi-permeable membrane, allowing water vapor to exit when the vapor pressure is higher inside the jacket than outside the jacket. According to that tag, this shell has been designed to the standards of Extreme Wet Weather Construction. As such, it is "engineered to pass Gore's most aggressive rain test, simulating extended vertical and horizontal wind-driven rain conditions." I once walked a full day in the tail end of a hurricane along a ridge of mountains with heights topping out just above 6000 ft (1800 m) with estimated 50 mph (80 kph) gusts. I don't know if I will see conditions like that wearing this shell, but at least I know it is designed for them. Maybe a wet rainy ride on my motorcycle will be a good simulation of that walk along the crest of the Roan Highlands if I don't get a chance to go hiking in a hurricane this spring.
The second hang tag on the shell describes the Outdoor Research "Infinite Guarantee". From experience, I know this guarantee is not hyperbole. The company really does stand behind their product over the long term in my experience. Knowing this jacket is built to the standards which will allow them to stand behind it gives me even more confidence that it will wear well, stay waterproof, and allow me to be safe and warm in my woods home.
I have taken the shell out for a couple short rainy walks this first week since it arrived on my front porch. The jacket is light, waterproof, and wind proof. I also took it out for an 8 mile day hike on a clear-sky morning that started out with a steady breeze and temperature near freezing, and rose to about 55 F (13 C). The jacket kept me warm in the wind. As the day progressed, I opened the pit zippers to increase ventilation and finally opened the front zipper as well. The jacket did not condense any water on its inner surface. Between my pack and my back, the cloth did get moist, but of course there was nowhere for that moisture to go. The rest of the inside of the shell was dry when I took it off and stored it during lunch.
I really like the carry weight and the attention to detail in the construction of this storm shell. I look forward to wearing it through the rest of our Texas winter and early spring.
March 6 to 8 – Government Canyon State Natural Area, Helotes, Texas. Two nights tent camping in the park. The weather was clear across the weekend. Friday night, the temperature reached 30 F (-1 C). I was in a 32 F (0 C) degree sleeping bag and ended up getting in most of my clothing, including the Elixir jacket. Saturday evening, after an hour of night hiking, I set up a long way from any other humans. It was just me and the coyotes. The temperature only dropped down to 40 F (4 C) and I was much warmer than the previous night. The night’s camping was followed by a hike for about 3 hours.
March 14 - Government Canyon State Natural Area. Overnight hammock camping. The day had been above 90 F (32 C). The sky was clear and the air very dry. After the sun went down, it cooled down faster and further than I expected. I ended up getting pretty cool with a very thin pad in the hammock as the temperature bottomed out at 54 F (12 C). The night was followed by a 5 mi (8 km) hike on Saturday morning.
March 22, 2008 – Easter – After a 3 mi (5 km) night hike into the Government Canyon, I set up my double-bottomed hammock. I was under a canopy of live oak, persimmon, and cedar. The full mountain laurel moon shone brightly all night after rising about time to go to sleep. The perfume from the laurel was all about me. For once the coyotes were quiet, with the only sound coming from the blasting oaks’ old leaves drifting to the forest floor. Minimum temperature was 51 F (10 C) and my minimum down quilt kept me warm all night, though I had to put my shirt and pants back on in the middle of the night. In the morning, I put the quilt under my Elixir shell for warmth as I cooked my morning tea. The sun came up but a cold front had brought clouds just after dawn. The 6 mi (10 km) route out of the camping area allowed me to see some of the area’s trail that I had not recently walked.
The paragraphs above represent three nights of backpacking. In addition, I have worn the Elixir as a jacket for most of the spring. This has included daily wear to and from work on approximately 40 days, and use while day hiking and doing trail patrol work. The day hiking has been on about 10 half days of hiking. I have worn the shell in cold weather and in misty drizzle. I have not yet encountered drenching downpours in which I could wear the jacket.
Performance in the Field
This is a very versatile jacket which is useful in a large number of conditions. Some mornings I have started out near freezing with an insulating layer under the shell and as the day progressed, I have shed the insulation and then opened the pit zips and then finally shed the jacket all together.
I have really appreciated the breathable nature of the fabric. I have not had any clammy feeling while hiking in the Elixir. Any condensation which I have noted after sharp ascents has quickly evaporated through the fabric. But in the misty rain I have walked in, there has been no penetration of the precipitation through the fabric. Not only has the fabric turned away the rain, the taped and welded seams have done their job without problem. Thus far, there has not been enough rain that I have used the hood for more rain protection than my brimmed hat provides. Hopefully the long term testing period will give me more rain to slog through ;-)
When I spent the cold night mentioned above in a sleeping bag one thickness too thin, the jacket really helped me to keep warm. It acted as enough of a vapor barrier that I was able to sleep reasonably well in the cold. When I woke the next morning, my shirts were not soaked to the skin as has happened before when I put a non-breathable coat on to stay warm while sleeping.
One trick I tried with success on my latest trip was to put my down sleeping quilt over my right shoulder and then put the shell on. I arranged the quilt (a light sleeping bag would have done as well) so that it covered my back and my chest with warm insulation. This was especially nice first thing in the morning before I had moved around much and before that first cup of hot tea was down my gullet and warming me from inside. The shell was easily large enough to accomodate the quilt without stretching the zipper or restricting my movement as I cooked.
Summary thus Far
The jacket is working in all the ways that I had hoped it would. I especially appreciate:
- Breathable but water shedding material
- The pockets are functional and work just right for hanging my hands or putting gloves in them for storage
- The really large pit zips help me to really stay dry when climbing hills when the outside temperature begins to rise.
Dislikes: Really none.
In the long term reporting period, I used the shell for 6 days of overnight backpacking, and a total of 4 nights. I wore the shell on about 30 additional miles dayhiking and most days I continued to wear the shell to and from work. For the total testing period, this has been 7 nights and about 25 trail days as well as casual wear around town on an additional estimated 70 days. The trips this period are below:
April 17-20 2008 – Great Smoky Mountains – This was a four-day, three-night backpacking trip into the portion of the park north of Cade’s Cove. It was a hammock camping trip with 4-7 mi (6-11 km) of hiking per day and long lazy afternoons and evenings in camp. One morning it began raining before sun up and continued with wind and driving rain until just after noon. The whole trip was cool, with lows about 45 F (7 C) and highs of about 60 F (16 C). The elevation varied between 1400 ft (400 m) and 3600 ft (1100 m).
April 25 – This was a short backpack down the Padre Island beach on the gulf coast of Texas. I walked about 3 mi (5 km) down the beach which had recently taken a beating by a storm. There were debris all around. After finding a calm spot out of the wind, I spent a very nice night enjoying the sound of the booming surf and dealing with sand that was filtering through my noseeum netting. About dawn, I was hit by a strong thunderstorm which leveled my tent around me. As I was sitting on my closed cell foam praying that I did not fry up in the rapid fire lightening, I got chilly, silly me, soaked to the bone. I put my Elixir storm shell on and it worked great as a vapor barrier, warming me again in no time. Of course, with the passage of the storm, an hour later the sky was sunny and the breeze warm again.Performance in the Field
What a workhorse this jacket is! I did have the opportunity of wearing the Elixir on a couple very crummy days where the rain came down in sheets horizontally. I was very glad of the protection the jacket afforded me. In fact, during those cold days in the Smoky Mountains, without the protection of the Elixir shell I could easily have become hypothermic. The shell gave me good regulation of my body heat, allowing me to zip up to get warm and to open the huge pit zips when I began to get warmer.
While climbing up a long hill in those sheets of Smoky Mountain rain, I gave the hood a good work-out. I wore it in the cold rain while I was climbing up 2000 ft (600 m) of Rich Mountain. The hood does a great job of keeping the rain off my face and off my glasses. The special adjuster in the back of the hood keeps it firmly on my head, and it never blew off the top of my head in the wind. Unfortunately, with all my body heat rising through the neck of the jacket, it was very hard to keep my glasses from steaming up with the hood up. For most rainy weather, I would rather walk with a wide-brim hat and the hood rolled into its collar storage location. However, for extreme conditions, including blowing sleet and very cold rain, the hood is a welcome retreat for staying warmer.
During my trip to the Padre Island beach, I was trying out a new tent. I am not an experienced beach camper, and I had not attached my tent to the beach with proper sand anchors or large tent stakes made for sand. So when a thunderstorm came up just before dawn, I found the tent collapsed around my ears. I put the Storm Shell on for this storm, and I was mighty glad to have the sure feeling that it gave me with all that lightening causing white sky flashes and the rain that was blowing through my tent. During that whole time, I sat there feeling a little goofy at having made the blunder of not attaching my tent to the ground well enough, looking forward to breakfast when the wind quit, and being quite happy that I was snug inside my storm shell.
The Storm Shell has not shown any evidence of wear during the test period. No threads are broken, nothing is leaking. The zippers are still working perfectly. The cloth has not wetted out with a loss of surface tension. It washed well in a washing machine in cold water (no fabric softener). The washing/line drying did not remove the DWR finish of the outer cloth layer.
What I really like:
Extremely well made of great materials
Very light and great for layered clothing options
Great moisture regulation with huge pit zips
This shell has earned a place in my permanent cool weather pack. I thank Outdoor Research and BackpackGearTest.org for allowing me to test this great Storm Shell.
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