I Review: Outdoor Research Aspire Jacket
I have had a lot of problems with rain jackets/shells. That could be because I tried to stick to the bottom of the price pyramid for a long time. You can find a lot of hard shells for around $100. They will last you one season before they start to leak and they will make you sweaty as a pig at county fair. I will say, a shell/rain layer is a layer where technology really comes into play.
HOWEVER, I don't think you need to spend $750 dollars on an Arc'teryx jacket, yes that's really how much they retail their nicest shell for. I am sure that the amount of R&D that went into making that jacket is incredible and it performs amazingly (I love Arc'teryx for many reasons, their price point and non-inclusive sizing is not one of them).
I have gone through about 6 or so rain jackets in the past 10 years (thanks REI return policy!!!). I have tried jackets from Patagonia, Mammut, Mountain Hardware, and The North Face. Each had their own issues and basically all just wore out super quickly. After many wet days, I have landed on one jacket that I think hits the absolute SWEET SPOT on price and performance. This is THE rain jacket/shell in my book: Outdoor Research's Aspire Jacket (The Men's version is called the Foray Jacket).
What I love about this jacket. First, OR is a great company, they put serious consideration into their products and offer quality gear at great price points. They also have the best warranty in the game. Under OR's "Infinite Guarantee" "Outdoor Research® gear is guaranteed to perform throughout the lifetime of the product."
This means that if you haven't had your jacket for 15 years and put an ice axe through it, they will work with you for a replacement if something goes wrong. My first Aspire jacket, the red one pictured above, had a zipper malfunction about a year.5 into me having it. I contacted OR and they sent me a new jacket right away. (I think the zipper problem was a one off so I don't have any problem recommending this product, especially given how well customer service handled the issue.
This jacket is made with Gore-Tex fabric (the best in waterproofing) and is great at repelling water and keeping wind out. I use this jacket as my all around shell for everything from alpine climbs to backcountry skiing. I love it so much because of the very unique ventilation system. The armpit zips unzip ALL THE WAY so you can basically wear this jacket like a poncho. I find this to be incredible when you are in windy conditions so you need a shell but are also working hard and need to dump heat. I unzip the pits wayyyyy down almost everytime I wear this jacket and thank the OR peeps every time my sweat is mitigated. Does this shell breathe? Sure, it lets out heat reasonably well but it's still a shell so the extended ventilation is really amazing for temp and moisture control.
This jacket isn't overly stiff and has elastic and velcro around the arm cuffs. The zippers are sealed, there is an internal front stormflap, and the seams are fully taped. You can stuff it into it's own front pocket as a stuff sack and the left pocket has a beaner loop on the inside so you can hang it from your harness. The pockets are well placed so you can access them with your harness on. All-in-all its just so well thought out.
What I don't like about the jacket. The design isn't steezy yall. I love me some dual color jackets or unexpected color combos, not happening here. The color choices are pretty traditional but the men do have a larger color range with some cooler options (SIDE EYE OR). They do offer bright colors so that's great (I know neutrals are cool guys but safety before fashion - don't buy outdoor gear in the same colors as the outdoors #rescueprobs).
It also is a little short. I am usually between a small and a medium and would definitely recommend going up a size for the extra length and so that you can fit your giant ass puffy under it like this.
Are there better jackets out there? Probably, I would likely sleep in that one from Arc'teryx. But I really don't think you need to spend that much money for a quality shell. $215 for this one is still a lot of money to spend on a jacket, but the quality is there and if you're trying to invest in a shell that will last, I think you should pick this one so we can be twins.