“Designed By Adventure.” It’s more than just an advertising slogan. At Outdoor Research, our products have been designed by adventure for more than 30 years, with features and fabrics imagined, tested and perfected in the wild. And like our products, our lives and the lives of our customers are sculpted by the experiences we have in the natural, unpredictable environments we love. We, too, are Designed By Adventure.
Active Insulation. That’s the mission of the Superlayer Jacket. Whether maintaining a comfortable temperature on the ascent, or trapping warm air while at rest, the Superlayer is the chameleon of cold-weather outdoor activities. It’s a game-changer when it comes to masterminding both warmth and breathability, something that has always seemed elusive for a single piece of insulating apparel. Until now.
What makes the Superlayer a super layer? It’s the combination of fabrics and technology that makes this jacket a piece of brilliant engineering.
In the simplest terms, the Superlayer is a hyper-breathable synthetic puffy. So breathable in fact, you can hike, climb or skin in the backcountry in cold weather while wearing it and still remain comfortable.
“I remember initially being skeptical when we looked at the first prototype before taking it outside,” says Dan Nordstrom, CEO of Outdoor Research. “There seemed to be an inherent contradiction that for an insulating layer to trap heat it needed to trap air to some degree.”
Sure, at first glance, there does seem to be a contradiction here — the fact that this jacket is incredibly breathable AND warm doesn’t seem to make sense — but the Superlayer is part of a new movement of Active Insulation.
“Active Insulation refers to garments that provide warmth in cold conditions, but that have enough breathability to allow you to be active while wearing them,” says Melanie Sirirot, Outdoor Research Apparel Product Manager, who’s goal was to create a warm layering piece that could work over a range of conditions and didn’t need to be taken on and off during activity.
“Typically, on a ski tour, for example, people skin up in one or two layers,” Sirirot explains, “then put on a lofted piece as soon as they stop to avoid getting chilled.”
But the technology in the Superlayer closes the gap between warmth and breathability and brings them both into one garment.
“With an Active Insulation piece you can wear the jacket while skinning without overheating, yet still have the warmth and insulation when you stop,” says Sirirot.
“The best way to think about how it works is to consider the idea of ‘heat stress’,” says Nordstrom. “This is what you feel when you are becoming uncomfortable wearing an insulating layer. It’s a result of a combination of heat and moisture.”
Nordstrom points out that people begin to notice “heat stress” when the air near the skin rises above 65 percent humidity.
“If you can reduce the moisture humidity aspect, it’s possible to feel comfortable across a wider range of internal temperatures,” says Nordstrom.
Suddenly, your insulating layer and your breathable layer become one unified piece.
Martin Volken, an IFMGA Mountain guide, backcountry ski guidebook author, specialty retail store owner and product development consultant, also tested the Superlayer. His various positions within the outdoor industry give him insight into the unique needs across many mountain activities and environments. To truly put the jacket through the proverbial wringer, Volken tested the Superlayer in a high exertion, high humidity winter environment.
“I was breaking trail in about 12 inches of fresh snow in light snowfall at near-freezing temperatures,” says Volken. “I was truly impressed with the breathability and comfort.”
While Volken set up shop in a humid winter environment, Nordstrom tested the Superlayer while ski mountaineering in the Valais region of Switzerland in early March, where the weather ranged from freezing days to days that started cold and ended sunny.
A self-proclaimed “overheater”, Nordstrom says, “in the past whenever I would leave a rest stop I had to either strip down and start out cold or start warm with my puffy on and then stop again in five minutes to de-layer. The payoff with the Superlayer is that you keep it on and stay both warm and comfortable longer.”
What makes this jacket so magical is the combination of fabrics, which includes the super-breathable open woven mesh interior lining and continuous filament PrimaLoft® Silver Hi-Loft Insulation, and the breathable but weather resistant soft shell face fabric. “The three work together to create an insulating layer that is incredibly permeable to escaping moisture vapor,” says Nordstrom.
The shell is made with 100 percent stretch nylon with an air permeability of 6 CFM, according to Sirirot. “This allows for air circulation, while still blocking most of the wind.”
The lining, however, has a whopping air permeability of 91 CFM. “This means that air can really circulate within the jacket, and that moisture can pass freely into the insulation and out through the shell,” says Sirirot.
This is very different from a typical down or synthetic insulation layer.
“Down and synthetic insulated jackets typically have very tightly woven and coated shell and lining fabrics to prevent fiber migration,” says Sirirot, “but these fabrics also restrict air circulation and inhibit any breathability or moisture transfer through the fabrics. In addition to its impressive breathability, the Superlayer’s mesh lining is woven, which gives it more durability than a knit lining and allows the fabric to glide better over layers.”
Along with the construction and the fabrics, the Superlayer’s PrimaLoft® Silver Hi-Loft Insulation uses long strands of filament, which are interlocked. This thicker and stronger filament is durable, has loft resilience and is less likely to migrate.
This makes it compatible with the mesh lining and more open weave construction of the shell fabric,” says Sirirot. “The majority of synthetic insulations on the market require that the insulation be paired with downproof fabrics.”
However, these downproof fabrics can decrease the amount of breathability.
What really sets this jacket apart is the depth of knowledge, quality and innovation the research and development team put into it.
The Superlayer is a jacket dreamed up in the field: a perfectly packaged Active Insulation jacket that is truly Designed By Adventure.