Uniting Canada's Largest Climbing Community

Outdoor Research Superlayer Jacket - Delivering Game-Changing Warmth and Breathability
The biggest clothing challenge most climbers face, is finding that rare insulating layer that’s sufficiently breathable while still providing enough warmth and wind protection during frigid conditions.
Outdoor Research Superlayer Jacket

Outdoor Research Superlayer Jacket

In the past, climbers used fleece, which was supremely breathable, quick-drying and warm, but was also bulky and lacked any wind protection. This last fact would often require aspiring alpinists (climbing in breezy conditions) to add some sort of shell, which would negate the fleece garment’s inherent breathability.

More recently, climbers have switched to using lightweight synthetic insulated jackets (and pullovers) that provide a good combination of warmth, breathability and wind protection, and as a bonus also eliminate the infuriating Velcro-effect often experienced when layering fleece garments. This new(ish) system works, but it still lacks the breathability that many climbers need during more strenuous approaches. Perhaps Outdoor Research (OR) sensed the same need, which might explain the release of the new Superlayer Jacket.

Built with a unique combination of materials, the Superlayer delivers a surprising level of breathability and warmth, which almost eliminates (or at least significantly minimizes) the need to strip down on the approach and layer up at the base.

The jacket uses a slightly stretchy nylon shell fabric that is relatively windproof and water resistant while still allowing excess heat and moisture to escape. Inside this, OR adds 65 g of PrimaLoft’s Silver Insulation Hi-Loft for warmth without unnecessary weight or bulk. To a great extent, it’s this insulation that allows OR to create such a versatile garment. The insulation’s continuous-fibre construction (one long strand) permits OR to use fabrics and construction techniques that encourage breathability without sacrificing warmth of weather protection. Finally, on the interior, OR employs a supremely breathable lining (91 CFM for any of the fabric geeks) that ensures perspiration can easily move away from the body.
Outdoor Research Superlayer Jacket Lining

Outdoor Research Superlayer Jacket Lining

As a climber who tends to run hot and overheat easily, I found the Superlayer jacket managed to keep me warm, dry (from the inside and out) and comfortable during a full day of scrambling up steep scree slopes and bushwhacking back to the truck. When the weather crapped out, the jacket’s trim fit allowed for easy layering under a more weatherproof shell, while still easily accommodating a base layer. I did notice that the jacket felt a bit snug around the chest and lats (it was by no means restrictive), but more barrel-chested climbers might want to try a larger than normal size (I’m 5’ 6” and I wear a small).

While OR manages to keep the exterior sufficiently uncluttered (for less weight/bulk and easier layering), the Superlayer is not so Spartan that it ignores that many of us will often use our outdoor gear in more urban settings. In that respect, the jacket has two inside pockets (perfect for storing liner gloves or a wallet) a zippered chest pocket and two zippered hand-warmer pockets with (wait for it) a key clip; all thoroughly practical features that add to the versatility and function of the jacket.

The other small standout feature (for me) would have to be the construction of wrists cuffs. Not only do they include thumb loops to prevent the sleeves from riding up, but they’re also lined with a luxuriously soft fabric that feels great against the skin and is particularly welcome during sub-zero weather.

Ice climbers, skiers and anyone that’s looking for a versatile insulating layer should check out the Superlayer jacket. It’s as close as I’ve come to finding that perfect garment that can keep me warm without overheating on the approach. Is game-changer too strong a phrase?

You can check out the Superlayer Jacket and other Outdoor Research gear at www.outdoorresearch.ca
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Gus Alexandropoulos is a freelance writer who has been involved in the outdoor industry for over 25 years. During his career he has been the editor at Canada’s national climbing magazine, as well as the gear editor for a national cycling magazine, triathlon magazine and running magazine. His work has been published in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and he has been a guest on television and radio broadcasts. His passion for climbing began in Ontario in the mid 80s and he continues to travel extensively in search of crisp conditions and steep rock.