Outdoor Research Aspire II GTX Jacket
Weight: 11.7 oz.
Waterproofing: 2L Gore-Tex Paclite
What we like: Supple and durable shell, quality Gore-Tex membrane, and hip-to-bicep venting for those who run warm.
What we don’t: TorsoFlo vents are a polarizing feature; polyester shell has a tendency to wet out.
See the Women's OR Aspire II GTX Jacket See the Men's OR Foray II GTX Jacket
There’s no shortage of rain jackets to choose from, but Outdoor Research’s women’s Aspire II (and men’s Foray II) is far and away one of our favorite designs. With a relatively thick face fabric and premium touches like Gore-Tex Paclite waterproofing and YKK Aquaguard zippers, this do-all shell offers a step up from most of the competition in terms of durability and protection. And to set the Aspire apart, OR tacks on their signature TorsoFlo vents, which run from bicep to hem and provide maximum ventilation for activities like hiking and spring skiing. Below we break down our experiences with the Aspire II. To see how it stacks up to the competition, check out our article on the best women's rain jackets.
Table of Contents
- Weather Protection
- Weight and Packability
- Build Quality and Durability
- Key Features
- Fit and Sizing
- What We Like/What We Don't
- Comparison Table
- The Competition
Rain jackets run the gamut from affordable nylon designs with a simple durable water repellent (DWR) finish to hardwearing shells with Gore-Tex waterproofing. The Outdoor Research Aspire II GTX falls near the premium end of the spectrum, with Gore-Tex’s 2-layer Paclite membrane and a thicker-than-average 50-denier (D) shell. You also get a DWR coating that effectively sheds light moisture, tall collar and three-way adjustable hood, and fully seam-taped interior. To top it all off, YKK Aquaguard watertight zippers add a nice performance slant and round out the sleek-looking design. We do have slight hesitations about the Aspire’s polyester build, which tends to absorb water more than nylon and led to some wetting out during our testing (although importantly, the Gore-Tex membrane still provided a defense). But the Aspire is an excellent option for light precipitation, and its thicker construction even makes it viable for winter days on the town or the occasional mild-weather ski tour.
The rest of the Aspire II’s feature set is well tailored for versatile protection. The cuffs are built with hook-and-loop adjustments that fit well over both bare wrists and undercuff gloves, which makes the OR an easy choice for shifting weather and year-round use. Further, you get a fairly generous, 28-inch center back length (an inch longer than OR’s budget Apollo) with a slight drop hem for a nice balance of weight-savings and protection. Finally, the jacket has a waist drawcord to seal out wind and rain, although we’re not huge fans of the design: The single cinch on the right hip only adjusts the back half of the hem (we detail this further in the “Key Features” section below). All told, while the Aspire II’s 2-layer construction is not to be confused with a full-on, winter-ready hardshell, it's about as protective as it gets in the rain jacket market.
In terms of breathability, the Aspire II is a mixed bag. Like most shells with 2-layer constructions, the Aspire’s shell fabric has a tendency to trap warmth and grow clammy, which has been especially noticeable while hiking uphill in mild temperatures. But the jacket’s saving grace is its full-length side vents—dubbed TorsoFlo—that extend from bicep to hem. The vents’ two-way zippers allow you to open the jacket at the hem like a poncho or use the upper zipper to create a standard pit zip. It’s true that TorsoFlo is a bit of a polarizing feature (not everyone loves a poncho), but you won’t find a more ventilated 2-layer design. Added up, the Aspire II is an incredibly practical rain jacket for those who tend to build heat. On the other hand, stepping up to a 3-layer design (like the budget Patagonia Torrentshell 3L or premium Arc’teryx Beta) will get you better overall breathability.
Rain jackets often give off plasticky vibes, but not the premium Aspire II. In short, this is one of the more comfortable shells we’ve worn: The supple polyester face fabric is relatively quiet and unrestrictive during activity, and the interior has a premium feel more akin to a hardshell than a laminated rain jacket. To be clear, the Aspire is unlined, which has its downsides—including clamminess during high-output use and a bit of a rubbery feel in general—but they’re far from deal breakers and only truly noticeable when wearing the jacket over bare arms. As a final touch, OR included a soft fleece-like material where the face meets the collar, which offers an extra dose of coziness when fully zipped.
With a listed weight of 11.7 ounces, the Aspire II falls about mid-pack among the women’s rain jacket competition. For reference, it’s lighter than similarly intentioned designs like Marmot’s Minimalist (13 oz.), Black Diamond’s Liquid Point (12.3 oz.), and Patagonia’s Torrentshell 3L (12.4 oz.), which makes it a slightly better choice for human-powered activities like backpacking and backcountry skiing. You can shave some weight with the Arc’teryx Beta Jacket (9.5 oz.) or a true ultralight piece like OR’s own Helium Rain Jacket (5.6 oz.), but neither of these designs offers the ventilation you get with the Aspire’s TorsoFlo construction. Added up, the Aspire II strikes a really nice balance with its lightweight yet fairly uncompromised build.
Along with its trimmed-down weight, packability is also impressive. The Aspire rolls easily into its hood and compresses to the size of a large burrito; we had no issue fitting it into our daypack and overnight pack alike. For those who prefer to stuff their rain jacket in a hand pocket, the Aspire fits just fine, but without a two-sided zipper, it’s a pain to secure. There are certainly more packable rain jackets, and some will prefer a design that’s made to pack up and hang from a harness, but the Aspire hits a nice sweet spot for most.
Outdoor Research doesn’t always knock it out of the park with their build quality, but the Aspire II GTX Jacket is a very premium and well-made design. The supple fabrics and Gore-Tex Paclite membrane offer a refined fit and finish (more reminiscent of a hardshell than a rain jacket), and all the details are well executed: The stitched seams along on the outside of the jacket are well made and show no signs of fraying, the seam taping on the interior is in great shape, and the zippers operate with ease. Further, you get a lot of toughness by way of the 50D polyester shell (most alternatives are 40D or thinner), which has held up well to rough use—we've worn the second-gen Aspire for a month's worth of days of backpacking, snowshoeing, and everyday action around town, and it has yet to show any significant signs of wear. All told, while the Aspire II can’t match the hardwearing nature of a burly 3-layer hardshell, it feels decidedly more robust than most lightweight rain jackets.
As we touched on above, the Aspire II’s full-length TorsoFlo side zips are a clear highlight of the design. These zips run from hem to bicep and feature a two-way zip for maximum versatility. Zip up from the hem for poncho-like protection (you can place the front flap over your backpack’s hipbelt), or undo a section under the arms for standard pit-zip-like venting. No matter how you use the TorsoFlo, the result is complete core venting without sacrificing all-around waterproofing and coverage.
If ventilation is a priority, the TorsoFlo vents are a big selling point of the Aspire II, but they do create some quirks and potential downsides. Because the vents extend all the way through the hem, there’s no way to achieve one continuous hem adjustment—OR’s compromise was to place a drawcord cinch on the back half of the jacket, which results in a slightly uneven look (the front is smooth while the back is bunched up). It’s not a deal breaker, but we have been aware of the slightly odd fit. And from a styling perspective, the storm flap and exposed zipper pulls at each hip give the Aspire a little more of a technical look than everyday-friendly designs like the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L.
We’ve had mixed experiences with OR hoods, but the latest Aspire II is a solid all-around effort. The toggle at the back of the hood is easy to pinch, and you get two additional adjustment points at the front. It’s also generously sized and slides easily over a beanie, ball cap, or even a climbing helmet (it won’t fit over a bulkier downhill ski helmet). The Aspire also incorporates a tall collar and semi-rigid bill at the front, which translate to great coverage for rough and rowdy weather. Taken together, the hood’s design matches the rest of the jacket as fully functional for three-season use.
For storage, the Aspire II comes with three total pockets. The chest pocket is easy to find with its quality, exposed YKK Aquaguard zipper, and its generous size can accommodate bulky items like a smartphone or Garmin inReach Mini. The zippered hand pockets forgo the water-resistant treatment of the chest pocket but have storm flaps for protection and are plenty big enough for a pair of gloves or snacks. There’s also a handy key clip integrated into the left hand pocket. It’s worth noting that the Aspire’s hand pockets aren’t hipbelt- or harness-compatible, which is a little surprising given the jacket’s performance slant. This renders them fairly difficult to access during activities like hiking, climbing, and skiing, but the upside is that they’re at a natural height when you’re wearing the jacket around town or without a pack.
Many waterproof jackets can feel boxy and unflattering, but the Aspire II is sleek from hem to hood. At 5’5” and 130 pounds, I opted for my standard women’s small and found it to be ideal for active use but a bit snug when worn overtop a layer (in the photos below, I’m wearing OR’s Shadow Insulated Hoodie underneath). For a trim fit, size the jacket normally and expect it to fit well overtop a baselayer or thin midlayer; for a more accommodating fit, you might want to step up a size. It’s also worth noting that Outdoor Research is an industry leader in inclusive sizing, and offers the Aspire II in eight sizes from XS to 3X.
Many outdoor brands have put a big emphasis on sustainable practices of late, including Outdoor Research. In this case, the Aspire II GTX Jacket uses bluesign-approved Gore-Tex, which indicates that it meets strict chemical safety requirements and has been deemed safe for consumers, workers, and the environment. The Aspire also features a PFC-free DWR coating, which forgoes the use of perfluorocarbons that are known to be harmful to the environment. We hope to see OR incorporate recycled fabrics during the next update, but we nevertheless appreciate the steps they’ve taken thus far toward improving the lineup.
Other Versions of the OR Aspire and Men's Foray
In addition to the women’s Aspire II GTX Jacket tested here, Outdoor Research also makes the women’s Aspire Trench ($249), which features the same 2-layer construction alongside a 36-inch center back length and a number of stylish touches. On the men’s side, the Foray II GTX Jacket costs the same as the Aspire and retains a nearly identical build and feature set, including a 2-layer Gore-Tex Paclite membrane, 50D shell, and signature TorsoFlo vents. The only major differences are weight and colorways, with the Foray clocking in at 12 ounces. And while there’s no trench-length men’s option, the new 3-in-1 Foray Parka ($399) is a nice addition to the collection for year-round use. Finally, OR offers the Aspire Gore-Tex Pants for both men and women, which retail for $180, use the same 2-layer construction, and check in at 10.7 and 9.8 ounces, respectively.
- Lots of premium touches, including thicker-than-average 50D fabric, a Gore-Tex Paclite membrane, full seam taping, and watertight zippers.
- Supple polyester shell is relatively quiet, unrestrictive, and more flexible than a traditional hardshell.
- Full-length TorsoFlo side zips are versatile and offer class-leading ventilation.
- Healthy selection of colorways (10 at the time of publishing) and sizes (XS to 3X).
What We Don’t
- The 2-layer construction doesn’t offer great breathability, leading to a clammy interior during high-output use.
- Polyester shell has a tendency to absorb water.
- Hem cinch only covers the back half of the jacket, leading to bunching at the rear hem.
- Hand pockets aren’t hipbelt- or harness-compatible, which detracts from the shell’s performance slant.
- Fairly expensive for a 2-layer rain jacket.
|Outdoor Research Aspire II GTX||$225||11.7 oz.||Hiking/daily use||2L Gore-Tex||50D||Yes|
|REI Co-op XeroDry GTX||$169||10.6 oz.||Hiking/daily use||2L Gore-Tex||50D & 75D||No (vents)|
|Black Diamond Liquid Point||$270||12.3 oz.||Performance/hiking||2.5L Gore-Tex||75D||Yes|
|Arc'teryx Beta Jacket||$400||9.5 oz.||Hiking/daily use||3L Gore-Tex||30D||No|
|Patagonia Calcite||$299||13.1 oz.||Performance/hiking||2.5L Gore-Tex||75D||Yes|
|Patagonia Torrentshell 3L||$179||12.4 oz.||Daily use/hiking||3L H2No||50D||Yes|
The Outdoor Research Aspire II is a premium women's rain jacket that’s fully serviceable for three-season use, but there’s no shortage of other options to consider. Within the same category is the REI XeroDry GTX, which features a similar 2-layer Gore-Tex Paclite shell along with tough 50D face fabric and 75D reinforcements at the shoulders, back, and arms. Compared to the Aspire II, the XeroDry has a number of things going for it: It checks in slightly lighter at 10.6 ounces, features bluesign-approved polyester, and is significantly cheaper at just $169. What’s more, the pockets are a bit higher and more practical for use while wearing a hipbelt or harness. But without pit zips (you do get “core vents” if you leave the handwarmer pockets open), the XeroDry falls far short in terms of breathability, especially compared to the Aspire. It’s a solid choice for those who want to save some cash and don’t anticipate working too hard in their rain jacket, but the Aspire is a better performance piece.
Another Paclite design to consider is Black Diamond’s Liquid Point Shell. Compared to the Aspire II and aforementioned XeroDry, the BD is the most technical of the bunch with a climbing helmet-compatible hood, two-way pit zips, and tough 75D build (the Aspire is 50D). We like the athletic cut of the Liquid Point and its high-end look and feel, but it’s $45 pricier than the OR and lacks a chest pocket. We also found the larger hood to be a bit unshapely and cumbersome for use while hiking and exploring around town, which makes it less of an everyday piece than the Aspire (for more, see our in-depth Liquid Point review here). Given the Liquid Point’s steeper price tag and more targeted build, we think the Aspire is the better buy for most.
British Columbia-based Arc’teryx is known for their waterproof shells, and the Beta Jacket is their design for hiking and everyday use. The Arc'teryx Beta Jacket has a 3-layer Gore-Tex construction—compared to the 2-layer Aspire—and its softer interior (which uses Gore’s C-Knit backer) breathes better and feels less clammy against bare skin. Additionally, the thin (30D) nylon shell resists moisture much better than the Aspire's thicker, more absorbent polyester. But despite the increased protection and very low weight (9.5 oz.), the Arc’teryx’s lack of pit zips and helmet-compatible hood is a notable downgrade from the Aspire and makes it tough to recommend for high-output or three-season use. All told, the Beta has a higher-end feel and is arguably a better pick for casual activities, but the Aspire II will save you a whopping $175 and tacks on a number of performance features.
Patagonia is another leader in the rain shell market, and their competitor to the Aspire is the Calcite Jacket. The mid-range Patagonia uses a more premium 2.5-layer Gore-Tex Paclite Plus construction, is competitively light at 13.1 ounces, and has a bit more of a performance slant (particularly for winter use) with a robust 75D face fabric. You also get a similar three-pocket layout, including two hand pockets and one chest pocket. But the OR gets the edge in breathability with its full side vents (the Calcite features standard pit zips), and the clincher for some will be price: At $299, the Patagonia Calcite is a pretty substantial jump considering the similar overall build.
Last but not least is the Patagonia Torrentshell 3L, our top-ranked rain jacket for a few years running. An everyday frontcountry shell that can hold its own on the trail, the Torrentshell features premium 3-layer construction (using Patagonia’s in-house H2No Performance Standard membrane), a durable 50D shell, and helpful features like pit zips, a two-way adjustable hood that rolls down for storage, and stuff pocket with integrated carabiner loop. And at just $179, it’s considerably cheaper than much of the competition without sacrificing much in the way of quality. But the Torrentshell does lack the performance slant of the Aspire II: The center front zip features a bulky flap rather than the OR’s water-resistant design, and the hood is not large enough to accommodate most helmets. We’ll stick with the Aspire for longer and more serious trips into the backcountry, but for casual day hikes and the odd overnight, the Torrentshell gets the job done for almost $50 less.
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