Outdoor Research Gear Review

Winter this year, although late arriving, is now firmly entrenched. Deep snow, plunging temperatures and windchills have given us ample opportunity to test Outdoor Research gear in all kinds of extreme conditions. We have taken the gear out snowshoe running on snowmobile networks, across windswept frozen lakes, in rugged backcountry, and in races.

Snowshoeing presents several challenges to staying warm. Because it is such a high intensity activity, the body warms quickly, leaving ill-suited clothing soaked with perspiration. This makes you cold, uncomfortable, and at potential risk of hypothermia. Add to this the sudden changes in weather, such as falling temperatures, windchill, and blowing snow, and the need to regulate body temperature increases greatly.

To meet this need, Outdoor Research has specialized in layering systems and accessories that keep you comfortable and safe. You can head out on a winter adventure with the confidence of knowing you are well prepared, and thus focus on the point of being out there – to enjoy yourself.

Layering System

We tested both men’s and women’s layering systems under a variety of conditions, and were impressed by the wicking action of the materials and how unrestrictive to our range of motion they were. The fit for each gender was excellent, both in terms of function and style. The women’s line is fitted specifically for a woman’s body, and sports a small floral logo to differentiate it. The color choices in both lines are rich and attractive.

The base layer Option LS Zip Jersey (men) and Harmony LS Zip Jersey (women) manages perspiration effectively by using a polypropylene interior that dries quickly. It has a soft feel next to the skin, and uses an abrasion-resistant exterior that also breaks the wind surprisingly well. On milder days, or for races where you heat up to the extreme, it is well-suited as a single layer. The ¾ length zipper and stretchy fabric make it easy to get on and off, and handy pocket locations are ideal for storing energy gels where they won’t freeze. Extra length in the sleeve provides added warmth and coziness.

The Specter Pullover (men) and Specter Jacket (women) can be used as an added insulation layer on the coldest days, or worn by themselves. The material is smooth and abrasion/pill resistant on the exterior, with a soft fleece interior for added comfort. We liked the fact that we were able to layer for warmth on even the coldest days with the Specter, but that it didn’t feel bulky like other insulating layers we’ve used.

Topping off the layers is the Ether Jacket (men’s and women’s). There are many jackets on the market that are basically just a covering and nothing more. This is not the case with the Ether Jacket. It is an excellent fitting jacket that moves and flexes with you, thanks to stretchy elbow and side panels. A cinching drawcord hem adjustment and hook/loop Velcro cuff closures help to customize the fit and keep the wind out. The fabric itself is windproof, water repellant and highly breathable. Generous pockets are easy to access, so are perfect for storing extra accessories.

Together or individually, the system allows quick adjustments in temperature by zipping and unzipping, and the pieces fit nicely together to maximize comfort and range of motion. This makes it an ideal system for snowshoeing. We appreciate the versatility of being able to mix and match the layers depending on weather and exercise intensity, and were extremely pleased with the results of our test runs.

One problem we encounter when snowshoe running is getting a buildup of snow and ice on the back of our legs during an intense run. However, with the Vert Pant, we may have found the ultimate snowshoe running pant. The Cordura water repellent exterior resists this buildup and has also proven to be extremely durable and resistant to tears from poking limbs and brambles during back country runs. The Coolmax liner breathes exceptionally well to keep your core temperature regulated. Elasticized cuffs, ankle zippers and elastic/drawcord waistband keep the weather out. Once again, the fit is excellent and offers a great range of motion. For such a lightweight pant, it is extremely warm.


Illahee Hat – This is a very fun hat, and is surprisingly warm for such a lightweight piece. The crown blocks wind and sheds moisture, while a soft fleece interior is cozy next to your head. Fleece earflaps fold down for added warmth, and a drawcord helps secure it to your head.

Verglas Mitts – These waterproof mitts are incredibly well designed, with numerous features that make them excellent for snowshoeing. Two ingenious wrist cinching mechanisms allow you to snug yourself in easily. They are lightweight and packable, and it is easy to toss the outer nylon layer into a jacket pocket and use just the removable fleece liner as you get warm. This is a good option, as they may become a little too warm for snowshoe running on all but the very coldest days. They are perfectly suited to snowshoeing hiking when you are not generating quite as much body heat. A wrist strap is provided to make for easy offs to use fingers, without having to put them down in the snow.

Contact Gloves – Another great option for snowshoeing are these durable and comfortable gloves. Made with waterproof leather palms, formed foam pad backs and fingers, and soft shell reinforcements, these gloves offer warmth and utility. We loved the fact that we were able to get our snowshoes off at the end of a run without freezing our fingers. A brief note about fit, we did find that they loosened up slightly after the first few runs, so keep that in mind when trying them on new.

Verglas Gaiters – These are the gaiters that even people who don’t like gaiters will love. Outdoor Research has always taken great pride in making excellent gaiters and it is certainly obvious why they are considered by many to be the best on the market. The carefully crafted design results in a gaiter that takes only take a few seconds to get on and off, which is appreciated when all the time spent dressing for snowshoeing can really add up. The small effort to put them on certainly pays off, with feet and lower legs staying warm and dry in deep snow conditions, and all while not even noticing they are on. We were surprisingly pleased with how well they worked.

Outdoor Research seems to have made a great effort to develop products that work well under conditions they are actually used. The attention to detail (comfort, fit, and function) makes this line an excellent choice for snowshoers of all types, from recreational hiker to competitive snowshoe runner.

For more information on Outdoor Research, please visit http://www.outdoorresearch.com

About the author

Sara Montgomery and Derrick Spafford

Derrick and Sara are trail runners from Eastern Ontario who discovered that running on snowshoes in the winter months is a great way to enjoy their favorite trails year-round. They competed in their first snowshoe series (The Mad Trapper Series in Low, Quebec) in 2005, each finishing 2nd in their respective divisions. Plans for 2006 are to return to the Mad Trapper, to take in some races in New York and Vermont, and hopefully cap their season with the U.S. Snowshoe Championships in March, as Canadian guests. Derrick runs a company, Spafford Health and Adventure (http://www.healthandadventure.com), which specializes in coaching and event promotion. He is currently planning an annual snowshoe race to be held in the Kingston area, starting this winter.