This well-designed shell boasts the highest levels of breathability and ventilation while remaining waterproof and resistant to wind. It does this at a great value, giving other Gore-Tex shells a run for their money. We also found it to be a versatile option that has great potential for both resort and backcountry skiers.
Testing the Skyward II while cruising some groomers early in the season. We also took it for a ski tour or two.
As with all shell jackets, the Skyward II offers little in the way of warmth for the wearer other than protection from the elements. People who choose a shell ski jacket also choose to take responsibility for their own warmth by wearing insulating layers underneath. Insofar as blocking wind, keeping you dry, and wicking moisture away from your insulating layers, the Skyward II performs these tasks well, which helps to keep you warm.
Overall, the Skyward II feels about as warm as other Gore-Tex ski shells in our review. The breathable shell fabric allows water vapor to escape, keeping you dry, and thus warm. Skiing demands a lot from outerwear because skiers will be highly aerobic when downhill skiing, then they'll sit on a chairlift for ten minutes. This chairlift ride allows all the perspiration inside the shell to cool down, but the Skyward II efficiently gets rid of this perspiration, reducing the amount of cold, wet chairlift rides.
What you see is what you get. The Skyward II is better at keeping you cool than keeping you warm.
During testing, the weather resistance of the Skyward II was quite good, although it did lose a little ground to the competition here. In both our shower test and use in the field, we found the AscentShell 3-layer fabric to be completely waterproof. During a hike in a light drizzle, it beaded water very well, although we did experience wet-out during the shower deluge. While we don't like the way a wet-out jacket looks or feels, we are confident that this jacket will keep you dry underneath no matter the conditions.
When you really need to hunker down in this jacket, you can, with adjustable velcro wrist cuffs, a barely helmet-compatible hood, and elastic cinches on the hem of the jacket. Testers were a little dismayed by the lack of a powder skirt. While it isn't a total deal breaker, it does take away from the Skyward II's weather resistance score. Other shell-only jackets consequently offer more weather protection for their inclusion of a powder skirt and greater weather resistance on stormy or deep powder days.
It has a lot of adjustability, but we found the hood to be a bit small with a helmet on. It fits over it, but it pulls up on the shoulders of the jacket.
Comfort and Fit
The fit of the Skyward II is generally very agreeable. It isn't especially contoured, nor is it overly boxy, it falls into that "just right" zone. The length of the sleeves and torso are both spot on, and while it isn't that roomy, there is enough space in the torso and sleeves to accommodate additional layering pieces.
Overall, the Skyward II is quite comfortable as well. The AscentShell fabric has a good amount of stretch engineered into it and along with the articulated cut of the sleeves allows for great freedom of movement. The inside of the shell fabric is also brushed, so that is a little softer and easier on the skin.
It fits relatively well and is quite comfortable thanks to the soft AscentShell fabric.
It seems like breathability and ventilation were high priorities when this jacket was being designed, and therefore these are its finest attributes. We'll start with the most obvious part of this equation, the massive "Torso-Flo" vents that extend from the hem of the jacket all the way to the bicep. This gives you the option of completely opening up the lower half of the jacket on both sides. We measured these vents at a whopping 26" in length with waterproof zippers that can open from either end. This gives you the option to open the vents as much or as little as you like depending on the situation. If you're the type who is always sweating and can never seem to get enough airflow, then this is the jacket for you.
In addition to the huge vents on the Skyward II, Outdoor Research has also used a highly breathable and air-permeable material called AscentShell in the construction of the jacket. This fabric does seem incredibly breathable, and we noticed very little in the way of sweat condensation on the inside while wearing it. We gave top marks to the Skyward II in the ventilation category.
The vents on the Skyward II are huge. You can even open the snap at the hem and basically wear it like a cape.
The Skyward II doesn't win any awards for style. While it generally looks pretty casual, it can't hide its technicality, so it's a bit of a cross between the two and occupies a crowd-pleasing middle ground. It has a two-toned design with the main body in one color and the sleeves in another.
The waterproof zippers on the main zip, pockets, and vents are all quite visible, as is a small OR logo on the left chest. The Skyward II has a broad appeal that helps make it a versatile jacket that looks good on the ski hill, and you can still wear around town.
It has a casual but technical look, with a comfortable athletic fit.
The Skyward II is somewhat light on ski-specific features, but it does have a few niceties that enhance its performance. Our favorite of these features is their highly adjustable, helmet compatible hood. They have incorporated what they call "hood lock" into the hood's design, which lets the user quickly adjust the size of the hood for use with or without a helmet. This simple system is just a plastic hook, attached at the elastic drawcord on the back of the hood, that hooks to a piece of fabric by the neck to expand or reduce the overall size of the hood.
The chest pockets are also well designed for easy access with vertical zippers that are well placed for use with a backpack. Inside the left chest pocket is another small mesh media pocket that helps keep its contents, like your phone, from flopping all around. They've also incorporated a small media port for the cord of your headphones to routed up through the inside of the jacket. Inside the shell, they included two large mesh drop pockets that are suitable for ski goggles or your climbing skins.
The chest pocket has a mesh sleeve to keep your phone or music device secure and prevent it from flopping around, plus there's a port to route your headphone cord through the jacket.
The only ski feature that we truly missed on the Skyward II is a powder skirt. Other than that, we can live without the extravagant features that typically go unnoticed if they aren't there.
Shell jackets are highly technical and are thus more expensive. The Skyward II bucks this trend and provides all of the performance attributes of a technical ski shell at a bargain price, compared to the competition, earning our Best Buy Award for ski shell jackets. The jacket feels durable, the zippers are strong, and we believe this jacket will last a long time. Outdoor Research has a great warranty program if anything goes wrong. This jacket is an excellent value and a smart investment.
Gearing up for a ski tour in the Skyward II. This is a great warm weather and backcountry skiing jacket.
The Outdoor Research Skyward II is a great jacket with a unique design that prioritizes breathability and ventilation, while remaining highly weather resistant. It is comfortable, has a friendly style, and comes with enough features to help you have a great day on the slopes. For the performance, this is the best deal in a ski shell and is our Best Buy Award winner for ski shell jackets.