How it Works: The Science Behind Breathable Waterproof AscentShell Technology

Exclusive 3-layer breathable waterproof AscentShell™ technology wins coveted Backpacker Magazine Editors’ Choice Gold Award for providing extraordinary comfort and protection in the Skytour AscentShell Kit.

For years, Outdoor Research has been equipping adventurers with the most comfortable breathable waterproof fabric known to scientists: AscentShell™ technology. The electrospinning process behind our AscentShell products has been tested, proven, and awarded as the best way to stay dry and comfortable when you’re working hard uphill.

In fact, the new Skytour AscentShell Kit recently received Backpacker Magazine’s Editors’ Choice Gold Award for the breathable waterproof comfort of AscentShell technology: “There are other impressive technologies out there, but nothing hits the bullseye for winter-ready toughness, affordability, and breathability like AscentShell.” 

 Five years ago, the Skyward Kit received this same Editors’ Choice Award. In their field tests, Backpacker reports that the AscentShell technology from 2016 is “now perfected in the new Skytour Kit.” It’s true what they say: It just keeps getting better.

Backpacker awarded the Skytour for its ability to keep skiers and splitboarders dry from the inside out on long touring days, but AscentShell excels in all seasons - not just winter. The same technology that makes it perfect for the slopes also makes it ideal for damp days outdoors—whether you’re four days into a backpacking trip or just walking to the grocery store. 

So what is electrospinning, exactly, and how does this make the best breathable waterproof jackets?

Construction

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.