#ORInsightLab Gear Review: Outdoor Research Women's Aspire Waterproof Shell Jacket

My "don't fall in the tide pools on the first day
of the Lost Coast backpacking trip." (C. Sibley.)
When it comes to staying protected from the elements, particularly rain and wind, having a good jacket as a top layer is essential. Staying warm and dry not only makes your day out more comfortable, it'll also keep you safer.

As part of my participation in the Outdoor Research #ORInsightLab project, I had a chance to test one of the newest additions to the company's line of waterproof shells, the Women's Aspire Jacket.

The Aspire is designed to be completely waterproof, making it ideal for rainy spring and summer adventures. I took the Aspire to California for my Lost Coast backpacking trip and out on rainy spring days in the Philadelphia area to see how it held up.

With respect to waterproofing features, the Aspire is gore-tex®, fully seam taped, and features the water repellent YKK® AquaGuard® and Double-Separating Front Zipper. According to YKK, the zipper has a new bottom-stop, which closes the space between the outdoor elements and the bottom of the zipper to keep water out. OR also designed in a flap behind the zipper to further keep water out when the jacket is zipped, which also makes it a great windbreaker. After a month of testing, so far, the jacket's done it job keeping me dry in pouring rain.

A closer look at the arm pocket, hem-to-bicep zippers, and side pocket.
Overall, the jacket fits like a dream. It's one of the best, if not the best fitting rain jackets I've tried. The sleeves are long enough for my nearly 6-foot wingspan, the body is long enough to cover the top of my hiking pants, and it's roomy enough for layers underneath. Also, the body of the jacket is tapered slightly for a flattering fit, which is great. It's a little stiff, but I didn't find that to be an issue, and love how sturdy it feels.

The elastic cuffs cinch down around your wrists to help prevent water from going up your arms when you raise them overhead. The jacket also has velcro straps on the cuffs to help you size them appropriately, but I love having them tight around my wrists at all times without having to fumble with velcro.

The fully adjustable hood cinches down from the inside using pull tabs at the end of stretchy cord, which I also love; there's nothing worse than trying to fumble to get the hood to say put when it's pouring. Getting the hood sealed tightly around my head was easy, and once I had it adjusted, it stayed put. If you don't need the hood, there's a velcro loop on the back of the jacket that allows you roll the hood up. It not necessary for me, but I appreciate the concept.

One thing that's completely unique about the Aspire jacket compared to other rain jackets I've tried are the double-sliding TorsoFlo™ hem-to-bicep zippers. Once I start sweating inside a rain jacket, there's no turning back, and pit zips are never enough.. There's a limit to how breathable a jacket can be when the entire piece is seam sealed and designed to block out water; these giant zippers are a creative way to combat the waterproof-breathable conundrum. Instead of standard pit zips, you can essentially zip the entire jacket in half from the hem to the middle of your upper arm, making it almost like a poncho. And they're two-way, so you can create what amounts to the world's largest pit zip. They also hit below where my hip belt sits, which makes the jacket comfortable when I'm wearing a backpack.

An even closer look at the hem-to-bicep zipper from the left, and the side pocket.
I would love to see an internal pocket in the Aspire. There are two zippered hand pockets and an arm pocket not quite big enough for my iPhone 5C, but if I want to keep something stashed inside the jacket, I can't. The left hand pocket doubles as a stuff sack for the jacket, which is a neat feature, but I don't see myself using it often, and haven't used it at all during testing.

Overall, I'm a huge fan of the Women's Aspire and can't wait to see how it holds up over an entire spring and summer's worth of rain storms and adventures. It fits like a dream, features like the hem-to-bicep zippers and elastic cuffs are well thought-out, and the color options are great. Aside from adding an internal pocket, there isn't much I'd change. With an MSRP of $215, it's pricey as far as rain jackets go, but it doesn't disappoint. I can see myself wearing it as a hard shell all winter, too.

What do you think, would the Aspire work for you? As a note, Outdoor Research sent me a complimentary jacket to test, but as always, opinions expressed here are my own.