How it Works: The Science Behind Breathable Waterproof AscentShell Technology

For five years, Outdoor Research has been equipping adventurers with one of the best waterproof breathable fabrics known to scientists; AscentShell™ technology. The electrospinning process behind Outdoor Research's AscentShell has been tested, proven, and awarded – 20 times, to be exact – as the best way to protect yourself from wet weather when you’re working hard uphill.

With all of the new styles in our own AscentShell Collection, we thought this would be the perfect time to reeducate ourselves about the benefits of electrospinning and how this makes the best breathable waterproof jackets.


Electrospinning and nanospinning processes begin when charged polymers are affixed to a grounded surface. Those polymers are layered into an air-permeable breathable membrane that, under a microscope, you can see forming a web that allows sweat vapors to escape out but stops liquid water droplets from coming in.

Electrospinning (nanospinning) is a relatively new way of constructing waterproof breathable jackets. It breathes faster, weighs less, and is more stretchy than traditional membranes, and is all in all a fantastic value for its high performance. All of Outdoor Research’s AscentShell styles use a 3-layer construction for burly protection and reliability.

Breathability and Air Permeability

Breathability is a relative term. Everyone sweats at different rates, which makes it difficult for gear companies to create a one-size-fits-all solution for a waterproof jacket that won’t suffocate its wearer.

One important difference between electrospun (nanospun) waterproof jackets and traditional waterproof jackets is that electrospun products are air permeable. Air permeability is when a small amount of airflow allows moisture to move quickly and easily from the inside of the jacket to the outside, before building up to sweat levels that create discomfort and clamminess. As a result, air permeable jackets are going to make you a lot more comfortable when you’re active than “waterproof breathable” jackets.

For Outdoor Research, it’s comfort that matters most. Plenty of fabrics out there score well in controlled lab tests when it comes to breathability, but they wouldn’t actually be comfortable to wear outside. That’s because air permeability and breathability are two different things. Breathability describes the ability of a jacket to move moisture from the inside out, but it doesn’t describe how the moisture moves. This is important because in traditional waterproof jackets, that airflow doesn’t even start to work until you’ve already started to sweat uncomfortably.

That’s why we focus on comfort. And comfort means using an electrospun membrane for waterproof, breathable, air permeable, stretchy comfort outside.

Where They Excel

Outdoor Research AscentShell: Electrospinning excels at giving athletes, adventurers, and everyday outdoor lovers comfort during wet adventures. The best part is that it can be customized across a range of different weights and fabrications to make it perfect for any range of activity. To top it off, electrospun and nanospun membranes are some of the lightest weight types of waterproof protection.

Bottom line: AscentShell is best for people who want a stretchy, waterproof jacket that is extremely comfortable to wear during high-exertion activities, but it isn’t great for burly monsoon conditions or instances where you’re standing still in a downpour.

Shop AscentShell Collection.

GORE-TEX: GORE-TEX is one of the best-known experts for their durable waterproof dependability. GORE-TEX jackets are trusted by all-season athletes who need the most reliable, top-of-the-line insurance against inclement weather.

Bottom line: GORE-TEX is best for people who want durable waterproof protection for rugged outdoor excursions, but it won’t be as comfortable, breathable, or air permeable as other options.

Shop Gore-Tex Collection.

2 and 2.5 Layer Membranes: This type of membrane can be the lightest and sometimes most affordable option for a waterproof jacket, however, it won’t be as breathable as AscentShell or GORE-TEX. These make great commuter jackets or emergency rain layers because of their light weight, packability, and reliable waterproofness.

Bottom line: 2 and 2.5 Layer membranes are great solutions for the city or wet car camping, but wouldn’t be comfortable working out in for extended amounts of time.

Want to learn more?

Check out the video to see AscentShell in action, and shop the AscentShell Collection to see how active waterproof stretch can improve your wet weather adventures.

New Arrivals AscentShell:

Men's Microgravity AscentShell Jacket.

Women's Microgravity AscentShell Jacket.