Beyond Clothing A1 Power Wool Base Layer

This is a look at Polartec’s Power Wool material and less a look at this particular garment from Beyond, however, I will touch a bit on both. I’ve been testing this fabric now for 4 months, using it as a base layer on dozens of cold weather workouts and during other outings.

Material

Polartec’s Power Wool is a merino wool and synthetic fiber blend — like all blends the goal is to gain the odor resistance and moisture wicking from the merino while adding durability and other attributes from the synthetic fibers it is woven with. (CODURA sells a similar variant called ‘Combat Wool’, both find their heritage with the military. This is an 80% nylon, 20% merino blend.) The Power Wool in this garment is 72% Polyester and 28% wool. I’ve had a hard time finding details on what the makeup of Power Wool is, but these LL Bean pants are: 45% nylon, 40% merino, 15% spandex. Stio has a similar base layer and notes it is 70% polyester, 30% merino.

Overall, this is a low merino percentage, as it doesn’t feel like most merino and instead feels quite durable. It seems there’s a lot of variability in the Power Wool line of fabrics.

Fit

The garment itself is made to be a base layer and fits close to the skin, so unless you are rather fit or confident, you’ll likely not want to wear it as your only layer out and about. Typically, I layered this under a windbreaker for workouts. There are a few nice design things about this shirt worth noting:

  1. The seams are all flat, so even with my GORUCK on, I never felt the seams bothering me.
  2. The collar comes up rather high and does an excellent job keeping your neck warm. The zipper also has a nice chin guard to keep you comfortable.
  3. The shirt is cut longer in the back which was nice when wearing a backpack. It’s cut short in the front so it doesn’t come down much over your pants.

Overall a very comfortable fit, especially for something that is very fitted.

Warmth

The primary purpose of this garment is to keep you warm (it’s a thing Beyond is known for), and I bought this for specifically wearing during my workouts in the cold Pacific Northwest winters. I wore only this shirt under a windbreaker in 36° F and rainy weather many times and never felt cold. At the same time, the shirt and fabric do a fantastic job wicking away moisture to regulate my temperature.

When comparing it to something like Outdoor Research’s Sequence shirt that Steve and I like, it’s much warmer. Part of this is the weight of the fabric, which is heavier, and the other part is that it sits against your skin. Both lead to a garment that is very warm. The waffle pattern also helps to trap air and warm your body while pulling away moisture when you start to sweat.

It’s a perfect cold weather warm layer for me.

Odor Resistance

The big thing on this site, and with Power Wool, was to find out if adding merino really gives any benefit to the garment at all. Materials like polyester or nylon (which ever is used here) are like sponges for odor — and often they end up getting stinky much faster than cotton alone. The goal is that by adding merino, you add in enough odor resistance to make a big difference.

I’m not sure Polartec has succeeded with that here. Comparing this shirt to other merino blends I have, I can expect to get 2-3 wears out of those items before odor is an issue. Even when not wearing this shirt for workouts I can only get 1-2 wears on average before the smell is noticeable enough that I won’t wear it again.

The merino content is too low to do anything but help with temperature regulation. I often found that even after hanging the shirt for two days the odor was still too strong to wear again — which is disappointing. However, when wearing the shirt, it stinks up far slower than a normal all synthetic shirt.

Overall

I’m not an overall fan of Power Wool as something I would be looking for in a travel or daily wear garment. It’s a specialized blend that seems geared towards making synthetic garments less stinky and better at wicking. To that end, when compared directly to other synthetic base layers I have, this is far and away better. However, when compared with other merino base layers, it lags far behind.

As a durable base layer, for hiking or hunting, I’d choose this any time — it’s warm and performs well in scenarios where odor is less of a concern. For everyday wear, I would search for something with a higher merino content.

Beyond Clothing A1 Power Wool Base Layer

Ben’s Packing List: End of February 2018

Trip details: This was a two day, one night trip for business, with very little time for anything other than meetings and sleep.

Packing List

What I Wore

Notes and Considerations

I still feel I can slim down some of the gear I take, especially with toiletries. As for the clothing, it was a near perfect load out — had I not been meeting with the same person the day I landed and the next day I would have only packed one shirt. The GORUCK Simple Windbreaker made for a great travel layer when I got back and it was frigid and snowy. I’d prefer to have traveled with different pants, but I didn’t want to go to a business meeting in Khaki pants so my Slim Dungarees were the best option I had (according to my wife). Looks like another pair of pants are in my future.

Ben’s Packing List: End of February 2018

GORUCK Simple Windbreaker

I picked up the GORUCK Simple Windbreaker hoping to have a lightweight and packable layer to use when traveling. Something I could keep in my bag to deal with minor inclement weather but which never takes up too much room. GORUCK makes two variants of this jacket, one with a hood and one without — I chose the one without as the jacket is not designed to be a rain layer.

Warmth and Wind Protection

I first put this jacket through its paces on a trip to Houston and back to Seattle. In Houston I wore it as a light layer in the humid mornings and found that it breathed much better than I expected. When arriving back in Seattle, it was frigid and snowing, and I used the jacket to stay warm while waiting for my ride — it was better than nothing but far from an insulation layer.

Next I took it to the Washington coast where the ambient temperature was around 40 °F and the wind was blowing at a constant 30 mph with stronger gusts. What shocked me on this test was how much wind this jacket blocked. With just a fleece jacket and t-shirt under the windbreaker I was able to stay plenty warm walking around the beach in the high winds. This is where I started to fall in love with this jacket — it’s much lighter weight and compact to pack than any rain shell I have yet it performs incredibly well in wind.

I’ve also worked out with this jacket many times and found that it breathed OK, not as well as say the Ferrosi material from Outdoor Research, but well enough that I didn’t feel like steam was building up under the jacket. Overall, this is exactly what it says: a wind breaker. If you expect a jacket which can keep the wind from cutting the heat out of your core you’ll be very happy.

Fabric

This jacket is made from GORUCK’s ToughDry fabric which is 94% nylon and 6% spandex at a weight of 125 gsm. The jacket sheds water pretty well, and though not explicitly stated, I have to assume it has some sort of DWR coating on the fabric — fabrics don’t bead water like this when they don’t have a coating. GORUCK made this jacket with the goal of being light, water repellent, active, and durable — I think it checks all those boxes easily. One last note on the spandex: it appears to be two-way stretch instead of four-way. Plenty comfortable for most activities, but when raising your arms above your head I do notice the jacket doesn’t move as much as one would hope.

Water Repellency

When a couple friends found out I was testing this jacket they asked me directly about its water repellency — they wanted to know if it can withstand any rain or if water just soaks in. This is a really tough one to answer and I have two things I will say:

  1. It’s not a rain layer. It’s not made to withstand rain at all, and likely at some point it will soak through and become a sopping wet layer.
  2. It repels water really well. When comparing it to two different pants with DWR coating it out performed both of them with flying colors. In a steady light rain, during my workout, my pants soaked through while the jacket was still shedding water. I have yet, and I’ve worn this many times in rain, to see this jacket soak up the water. However, I assume it’s only a matter of time.

Everything you read about this jacket says not to trust it for water repellency, but every experience I’ve had with it tells me it’s great in light rain. Again, I suspect there’s DWR, which means it would wear off over time. That said, it could be something else — perhaps just the tight weave nature of the nylon or something else entirely. What makes me question my DWR assumption is that DWR can be reactivated by putting a garment in the dryer for 15 minutes, and yet GORUCK specifically states that you should not put this jacket in the dryer if you want to maintain water repellency. I’d love to know what is going on with this, because there’s something really neat about this fabric’s water repellency.

Packing It

The reason I bought this jacket is because GORUCK shows the jacket with the hood rolled up to a size just bigger than a can of soda. In practice, this jacket without the hood can be rolled up to that size as well — which is very handy when packing it. It is very light, and rolls up small, so it’s as close to a freebie as you get when you are packing it in a bag for a trip or as an emergency layer on a day out.

Because of this packability, I’ve worn this jacket more than any other jacket I own these past couple of months.

The One Downside

This jacket is very basic. The pockets don’t have closures and thus really can’t be relied upon to store things — which is an acceptable trade off for how light and packable the jacket is. But there’s one major downside: the ToughDry fabric is very prone to friction when you are sliding the jacket on and off.

I mentioned above how I wore a fleece jacket under this jacket, but what I didn’t mention is that it was not easy to wear the two jackets like this (it would have been easier if the GORUCK jacket was one size larger, but then it would be too large for me generally). Most jackets take care to make sure you can easily slide your arms into the sleeves without the sleeves binding whatever else you a wearing — that’s just not the case with this fabric. It’s hard to describe as it doesn’t harm the other fabrics you are wearing, but it does tend to grip on to them making things a little more cumbersome when you take the jacket on and off.

This is really the only downside with the jacket, so it’s best to wear the jacket with layers that aren’t very bulky. Don’t rely on this as something you can slide on over a fleece easily — I learned the hard way.

Overall

I really like this jacket, I can see it being a year round staple item for me. It doesn’t look like anything special, but it performs extremely well and is easy to take with you. It feels high quality, should last a long time, and punches well above its stated attributes.

GORUCK Simple Windbreaker

Y Athletics SilverAir Crew Neck

Note: this item was sent to us for the purpose of review.

The Y Athletics SilverAir Short Sleeve Crew is a part of a new breed of synthetic work out shirts which attempt to be highly breathable while also being highly-odor resistant. The goal is to give you something which performs at the levels of merino wool, but has the durability of synthetics. I’ve now been testing this shirt for a little over two weeks, wearing it while I work out.

To start, this is a “Made in the USA” t-shirt with a unique material: 69% Nylon, 26% Polyester, 5% Metallic. The fabric is spun in Italy, and the ‘metallic’ is claimed to be silver. By adding silver, the shirt is said to be more odor resistant.

Smell, or lack thereof

I wore this shirt as my base layer for four workouts in a row before it started to smell — about the same amount of wears I get out of merino wool in the same scenario (also the same as the Pistol Lake Eudae fabric). I washed and hung the shirt to dry (it dries very fast) and wore it again for another five workouts and I still have not washed it again as I really cannot detect much smell.

I’m impressed. This shirt does live up to its claims of being odor resistant, and not just in the sense that you can wear it twice — it rivals the performance of merino, which is something I had yet to see out of a synthetic shirt.

Comfort

Since this is a workout shirt, and is synthetic, it is made to fit close to the skin. It doesn’t fit me tightly overall, but it is also unlikely to get in your way when working. I also found it less staticky than most synthetic shirts this time of year.

Make no mistake, it’s still a synthetic feeling shirt so it doesn’t have the softness of merino (or Eudae), but rather the entire shirt is very smooth to the touch. That said, given that my workouts are rucking, and rucking is known to be hard on shirts, I am a big fan of having a synthetic shirt I enjoy wearing.

The shirt also has a venting system built in, in addition to the moisture wicking properties, where the shirt is basically mesh in spots. However, unlike with most mesh materials, this doesn’t cause the shirt to be see through in any way, but you can tell form a glance that there is this venting. It’s a bit like a bus with ads over the windows, you know it’s got a ton of holes in it, but you also aren’t really able to see through it.

Overall

At first glance I wasn’t won over by this shirt, then I wore it to work out and I quickly changed my mind. The thing about this shirt is that it very much looks like what it is: a work out shirt. Whereas most merino t-shirts and even the Pistol Lake shirt we reviewed can be passed off as a standard t-shirt in many situations, you won’t get that with this shirt. What you will get is quite possibly the best workout shirt I’ve had the chance to wear thus far — it looks like a workout shirt, because it’s a really good workout shirt.


Steve’s Thoughts

I agree with Ben’s assessments of this shirt. I was very surprised with it’s odor resistance being on par with merino. I also found the moisture wicking ability to be the best of any shirt I own. If this shirt didn’t look like a workout shirt, it would become my favorite all around tee (and it has become my favorite workout tee).

Y Athletics SilverAir Crew Neck

Outlier S140 One Pocket

I used to have the S120 No-Pocket Pivot shirt from Outlier, only selling it because the color was simply too dark for my liking and for versatility with how I dress. So when I saw this S140 One Pocket, merino wool, pivot-sleeve, shirt from Outlier, I snatched it up right away.

Outlier states the shirt is “100% Super 140 merino woven in Thailand with non-mulesed Australian merino” which doesn’t mean much to me reading it, but wearing it I can tell you it means “insanely soft and super comfortable”. At 200 gsm this shirt is heavier than the likes of most Wool & Prince button downs, but you hardly notice that when wearing it.

The big question: is it worth $198?

Comfort

One of the biggest draws of merino wool is the inherent comfort you get from thermal regulation, but there’s simply more to the S140 than that. For starters, as mentioned above, the fabric itself is luxuriously soft. It’s not soft like a nice cotton dress shirt, it’s soft like a well broken in flannel shirt.

Add to the above the pivot sleeve — a design Outlier uses to allow greater range of motion in the shoulders, without adding stretch — and what you have is something that really moves with you. Put another way: this is my preferred shirt to fly in and wear around my house. It’s that comfortable.

Looks

Ok, so it feels amazing and is insanely comfortable, but how does it look? It looks fine, unless you need to have it look more formal than a flannel shirt — because the drape is all wrong. Whereas a merino button down like Wool & Prince has a crispness to the fabric, which allows it to wear as business casual, the S140 is too slouchy for that. It looks casual, and I’ve yet to be able to pull it off in a more business casual setting.

The softness simply comes at a price.

However, the design details of the shirt are great. The buttons, hidden buttons for the collar, and the overall cut of the shirt looks fantastic.

Durability Issue

I wore this shirt on a cross-country trip, and on the first leg I noticed that there was a pull in the yarn on the sleeve. I assume my backpack strap snagged it somehow and pulled it. I was able to mostly fix it with the needle and thread kit in the hotel (I pulled the loop back to the inside), but you can still see a minor run on the sleeve. You’d never notice it if you weren’t looking for it, but this does give me pause wearing this shirt in situations which require a bit more durability (namely, travel).

Overall

Back to the question then: is this shirt worth $198? That’s largely going to depend on where you need to wear it, but for me as someone who works from home and has two small kids around: worth it. I can look nice when I need to jump on a video call but be far more comfortable than most other people in any shirt with a collar.

When I first tried Outlier’s Ultrafine Merino T-Shirt, I understood what the fuss was over a $100+ t-shirt. It wasn’t that it was a really good or the best, merino wool t-shirt you could get — it’s that the UFT is the best t-shirt you can get period. The S140 is the best button down shirt you can buy, the only caveat being that it will only be a casual shirt. I’m quite fine with that.

Outlier S140 One Pocket

Ben’s Packing List: February 1st 2018

Trip Details: 3 days, 2 nights, traveling across the country for business. This trip required the packing of a suit and flights with a tight connection on each way of the trip.

Packing List

I tried to pack lighter than normal for this trip as I wanted to fit it all in a GR1, and it turns out packing a suit in a GR1 takes up most of the space in the GR1.

I wore:

Notes & Considerations

This loadout, while relatively few in items, took up the entire bag and then some. I wanted to travel with nothing larger because of how tight the connections were (and since one leg was a regional carrier, I knew space would be limited). Ultimately it worked, but I took too many extraneous things.

My normal toiletries kit is in a GR1 Field Pocket, so using the Echo reduced the size by about 50%. What’s interesting is that I still had things in the bag which I didn’t need. This clearly means I need to rethink my entire toiletries setup, and it’s likely I will use the Echo Field Pocket going forward.

I simply had way too many items in the Context Organizer and will have to completely re-think that kit. For the first time I was stopped by TSA for the brass flashlight I had — they simply wanted to see what it was and let me be on my way. Still, I might rethink that as it is heavy and if it will get me stopped, it’s not worth it. I should note that I’ve taken it on seven other trips without issue.

Lastly, packing a suit is a real pain. I used the Brooks Brothers method for folding it and used the large packing cube to better protect it. When I got there the jacket was nearly perfect and after a day of hanging had no issues. The pants needed some light touch up with an iron in the hotel, as they had some odd rumpled bits.

My final note, traveling with the Ascedant Hoodie was amazing. I knew I needed it for the colder weather I was headed to, and it performed well there. But I also wore it while in the plane and stayed incredibly comfortable while keeping the air blowing on me. I might consider bringing it on more trips — however it didn’t pack down very small when I wanted it in the bag. Perhaps a light weight, compressible down jacket is in order next.

Overall, I nailed the amount of clothes needed, but packed much too heavy on the electronics gear.

Ben’s Packing List: February 1st 2018

Outlier Freecotton Button Up

Here at Everyday Wear we are huge fans of Outlier and the clothing they produce — they focus on exactly what we do: better daily clothing. I recently bought a Freecotton Button Up from Outlier (in white). My hope was to have a better white dress shirt from a company I trust.

The shirt is a cotton blend with a DWR treatment and stretch — specifically it is 68% Cotton, 21% Micro-nylon, 11% Elastane.

Comfort

While wearing the shirt it felt significantly more moveable than your standard dress shirt, as the stretch is more than any other shirt I’ve tried. Beyond that, it also doesn’t feel like a synthetic stretch shirt.

While the shirt resists looking dirty (which is a great attribute in a white shirt), it doesn’t breathe nearly as well as a merino button up, nor Bluffworks’ Meridian Dress Shirt (our review. While I moved fine in the shirt, it didn’t feel like a game changer over a standard cotton shirt with regards to breathability. It felt to me like a heavily starched dress shirt, without the itch.

Stink Performance

With this much cotton, there’s almost no winning. I get no longevity out of this shirt over a standard cotton shirt. I’ve only every managed two days of wear out of the shirt before the arm pits started to stink, and I was wearing an undershirt each time.

While my undershirts tend to have a slight smell at the end of the day, that goes away by the next day. With the Freecotton, any smell builds with each wear.

Issues

Here’s the biggest issue this shirt faces: it’s is mostly cotton but doesn’t quite look like it has cotton in it. There’s a distinct rigidity to the shirt, and a complete lack of a smooth pressed look. It’s not a casual looking shirt, so the inability for it to look pressed or even well ironed was a major issue for me.

Close up picture of the shirt after being washed and ironed. Doesn’t quite ever look smooth, and you can tell.

Resulting In…

I returned this shirt after having it for only a short period of time. It’s no doubt better than a standard cotton shirt to wear, but it doesn’t look quite right and that drove me nuts. Add to all of that the price of $165, and I have a hard time justifying, let alone recommending this shirt for anyone.

Outlier Freecotton Button Up

Outlier Pants: Overview

When I talk about Outlier pants with people who are not familiar with the brand, I do so by taking great pains to call them “technical versions of normal pants”, instead of trying to call them cycling pants, or travel pants — because for many people they’ll be more stylish than the pants they currently wear and those terms don’t do them justice. Outlier pants will also be more comfortable, durable, and versatile than almost any other pants.

So when it comes to Outlier, I’ve not found anyone making better pants. With that in mind, here are my thoughts on the pants they sell, where they fit in, and my advice on each of them.

Slim Dungarees

This isn’t Outlier’s first/original pant, but it is what they consider their ‘core’ pant (I own two pairs). What’s hard to get over with these pants is just how poorly named they are, and that name really frustrates a lot of people. Initially, I didn’t buy them, because I’m not a skin tight pants type of guy, and thus I was worried these would be far too slim. However, these pants are a fairly standard tailored cut.

At the same time, I’ve seen a few people talk about how unhappy they are that these pants are not slimmer. So the name is working against Outlier on both sides. (Then there’s Steve, who will point out that they were far too slim in the thighs for him.)

Overall, these are my favorite Outlier pants, as they are incredibly versatile and comfortable. They don’t have a magical amount of stretch, but they have enough stretch and are designed well enough that I never find discomfort. They are the very core of the Outlier pants, because they are the best to start with and by far the best all around option.

I wouldn’t hesitate to do anything in these pants, and yet they look like a nice pair of jeans. I started this guide with these pants for a reason, because everything else on this list is somehow less versatile than the Slim Dungarees. However, as comfortable as these pants are, they have nothing on some of the other options. I wear these about 80% of the time.

Find them here.

Futureworks

For the Futureworks, Outlier made a pair of chinos with F.Cloth — a very stretchy and lightweight material. These pants are going to feel thin when you put them on, and yet they drape well enough that I’ve never had anyone point them out as being out of place in an office setting. They look like chinos, but can be comfortably warn in very warm climates. I’ve worn them in 90 °F+ humid weather in Houston and been fine.

They are very comfortable and almost like a cheat code. For over six months they were my go to, daily wear pants. However, they look like chinos and this might make them too dressy for many people. They also don’t handle colder weather well without a layer under them. I’d say you want to stay about 50 °F to not be chilled wearing them. That said, if you need a pair of pants from Outlier to wear in a more traditional office setting which are still insanely technical and awesome: these are the pants you get. (And they are more roomy in the thighs, but still slim enough for them to fit and look tailored for Steve.)

Find them here.

Strongworks

Strongworks are not a variant of Futureworks, as the cut is different yet they look similar. They are made from Outlier’s Strongtwill, which is heavy and very durable. If you wanted a pair of pants that don’t look like jeans for the cooler months, these are them.

I wore a pair for an entire winter and while I liked them, I eventually came to dislike the cut of the pant. It’s an acquired taste and thus you should pay close attention to Outlier’s dimensions and press images on this pair of pants.

Not currently for sale.

Strong Dungarees

This is Outlier’s take of a heavier pair of 5-pocket jeans. They are similar, but not the same cut, as Slim Dungarees — they are generally a little bigger. (Steve finds they fit him in the thighs well, unlike the Slim Dungarees. If anything, they fit even larger in the thighs than the Futureworks.) They utilize the same Strongtwill as the Strongworks, and are thus just as durable.

They are also very comfortable to wear, and as long as the temp is below 50 °F, they are among the better pants to wear from Outlier. They also look closer to a non-synthetic material than even the Slim Dungarees (they look the least technical of all the Outlier pants). What they lack in stretch, they make up for with signature Outlier treatments like a gusseted crotch and more.

Find them here.

OG Climbers

These are made from Outlier’s OG Cloth, and this is the stretchiest, most insane fabric you can get. They are styled very casually, fit and wear casually, and I describe them like wearing loose fitting yoga pants — you won’t want to take them off. OK, I’ve never worn yoga pants, but this is what I imagine wearing yoga pants is like.

If you want something for outdoors wear, you could do a lot worse than these — as they were made for actually climbing in. I personally find my pair much to casual to wear out of the house unless I am hiking in them, but I do wear them everyday when I am lounging around. They are the most comfortable pair of pants I’ve ever owned — including warm ups and sweat pants. If you live a casual life, start here.

Find them here.

OG Classics

I’ve not owned these pants, but they are the same material as the Climbers, with a more formal and dressy look. They are also Outlier’s first pant. I’ve long wanted a pair, but my experience with the OG cloth leads me to believe that they wouldn’t find much use, as the OG material does not look or drape correctly enough to get away with wearing these in more formal settings. Perhaps there’s a difference here, but I am skeptical. (Steve ordered these and found the fabric too shiny and the drape off so he sent them right back.)

If you have an office that is borderline business causal, you could wear these all day and look sharp. Any more formal than that, and I think you would be pushing it. However, if you work in a restaurant, these might be the game changer for you if Reddit posts are to be believed (then again, the price will really hurt).

Find them here.

60/30 Chinos

The 60/30 Chinos (a cotton/nylon/spandex blend) are a great pair of pants if you don’t think you can pull off technical pants (even if they don’t look technical). They move, they are durable, and are treated with DWR for a little extra water resistance, but they are still mostly cotton. And while these NYCO blends can be quite good, they won’t perform nearly as well as most of the other pants on this list. They will, however, blend right in with every other pair of chinos. For the price, I’d rather have any other pair of pants on this list.

Find them here.

New Way Shorts (Long and Regular)

While these aren’t pants, they do deserve an honorable mention for quite possibly being the most versatile shorts money can buy. Made from Outlier’s F.Cloth (same as Futureworks) they are breathable, durable, look sharp, and dry quick enough that you can swim in them. Yes, they’ll dry slower than purpose built swim trunks, but the mesh drains in the bottom of the pockets will allow you to swim without issue.

These are my go to shorts, the only ones I own, and I’d highly recommend them. They come in a long variant as well, for those who prefer more length in their shorts. (Steve also recommends these shorts.)

Find them here.

Others

Outlier makes a ton of other pants, from joggers to merino wool “backed” pants made for colder climates. While there are far too many options to dive into, I will point out that they tend to use a core set of fabrics, so it pays to look at what the above pants use for fabric to help guide you on some of their infrequent offerings.

For instance if you want Futureworks, but a trimmer style, look out for Futuretapers. Outlier seems to come out with a couple new runs of pants every month, so keep an eye out.

Outlier Pants: Overview

Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoodie

We don’t typically talk a lot about hiking specific clothing, but we are nerds when it comes to new fabric technologies. So with that in mind, when I recently picked up the Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoodie, I decided I should review it here. It’s one of the few items with a new type of insulation, Polartec Alpha Direct. Unlike the old Alpha insulation, there’s no inner layer between the insulation and your body — in other words, the inside of this jacket is soft and fuzzy.

This material has one purpose: to keep you warm, while allowing for a lot of breathability so don’t overheat while active. Originally, of course, it was designed for military use but is finding its way to more consumer products. Typically this is called “active” insulation, and there are many different flavors (from your typical fleece jackets to newer products like The North Face’s Ventrix lineup).

The Jacket

I bought this jacket on sale, as I wanted to try the Alpha Direct insulation, and in the couple months I’ve had the jacket, it has become one of my most worn jackets. It has an athletic cut and the hood stays mostly out of the way (they have a model without the hood). The pockets are nice, but don’t secure so they are good mostly for hand warming.

It’s been my favorite layer to grab when I need to head out and know that I might be spending time indoors — which I’ll get to next. In general, I really like the jacket itself, however I find the colors offered by Outdoor Research to be not great. They are all contrast, and thus project a very outdoorsy look — which I get away with in the Pacific Northwest, but might be problematic in other areas. I’d love for them to offer a solid charcoal version of this jacket, I’d switch to that instantly.

Warmth / Alpha Direct Insulation

In one word, the insulation in this jacket is phenomenal. I’ve worn this jacket working out with my heavy backpack on and building quite a sweat up during the work out and yet, I didn’t have to take the jacket off to stay comfortable. It breathes really well, and when you really start building up body heat, you don’t overheat. That’s not to say you aren’t uncomfortable, but in a situation where you’d rather not fuss with taking off the jacket, it excels.

I can see exactly why this is used in military applications.

Further, this insulation does a great job when you need something to grab and wear on your next trip to the store or mall. A constant struggle is what to do with your heavy jacket as you are moving in and out of warm stores — typically you undress and redress, or grin and bear being too warm or cold the entire time. With Alpha Direct, I’ve never overheated during those temperature changes, and you get the best of both worlds, mostly.

In wind, or really cold temps, you get cold if you are not moving. Layers can mitigate this, but this won’t be the one jacket you need, and likely this will change greatly with the surface material being used in conjunction with the insulation.

If you are climbing a mountain or hiking in cold weather, then this is the insulation layer you wear. In the past that was Polartec Fleece. I prefer Alpha Direct over fleece any day of the week, it does everything better (i.e. it breathes better, and insulates better, dries faster, and weighs less).

Overall

While I don’t love the looks of this jacket, I’m willing to overlook that and wear it a lot. It’s comfortable, very light weight, and packs away well. While down jackets stow well, but are warm and bulky, and fleece is comfortable but doesn’t stow well — this Ascendant jacket excels in both areas. It’s like a hybrid of fleece breathability and warmth, with the light weight and compression abilities of down.

Again, if the colors were less in your face, I’d say this is a crucial jacket to have in your closet.

Outdoor Research Ascendant Hoodie

Merino Wool Abrasion & GORUCK Bags

One of the big criticisms of merino shirts for general wearing is whether or not they can hold up to abrasion. Typically the concern is less about wearing a hole in the shirt and more about the shirt pilling when doing normal things (like wearing a backpack s of particular worry to those who like to travel in merino wool shirts — as most bags are heavy when traveling and abrasion can be really high. I am ling at this throughe lens of wearing this type of clothing while commuting and traveling — not while hiking and doing more outdoors oriented stuff.

The Test

In order to test what’s real and what is paranoia, I wore the same Smartwool 100% merino t-shirt while I rucked (working out by walking with a really heavy backpack on) for for weeks straight. A total of bout 60 miles of wear with a 30 lb GORUCK bag on my back. GORUCK’s bags are among the most abrasive bags on the market, and the added weight with the sweat from the workout makes it among the most adverse tests you can put these shirts through. During the course of the testing I only washed the shirt once per week and hung it to dry.

This should simulate the amount of travel the average person does in a year, or a partial commute with backpacks. Most people won’t travel with a backpack this heavy, but this should accelerate any issues with pilling.

The Result

In the first week I noticed pilling where the bottom of the bagand straps sat on the shirt. By the end of the test there was only minimal pilling on the back but it seemed to disappear on the shoulders. No holes or any otherwise noticeable problems with the shirt. After each wash, most of the pilling seemed to disappear as well.

Thoughts

Cotton shirts also pill in these areas as well, so a large part of the talk around this pilling seems to be paranoia as it will tend to happen to most shirts. However, it does give me pause when wearing a GORUCK bag and something like Outlier’s Ultrafine Merino T-shirt. Having said that, I don’t think there’s a ton to worry about, and I still don’t hesitate to travel with my GORUCK and merino clothing.

Yes, with a lot of use with an extremely abrasive bag, you’ll see some pilling, but certainly not enough to otherwise ruin a shirt. This isn’t the nature of 100% merino wool.

For instance, compare this photo of my Outdoor Research Sequence shirt which is a merino wool blend:

The pilling is far worse on this shirt, not just in the areas where my backpack wears during rucking, but in any spot where there’s friction. It’s a shirt prone to pilling. I have no doubt that some shirts pill more than others, but I have seen no evidence that 100% merino wool shirts are more prone to pilling, or less durable, than any other natural fiber shirts.

Merino Wool Abrasion & GORUCK Bags