This is an odd review, as it’s for an item that I know will be drastically altered soon and in my opinion, not for the better. Before we get into those details, let me introduce you to the Realm Jacket from Outdoor Research. At 294 grams for a Men’s Medium, it doesn’t quite fall into the ultralight shell category but it is light enough and packs down so tiny that you can bring it on nearly every outing.
Fit is trim, and I mean that in the best possible way: there’s no excess fabric anywhere on the Realm. This is probably the most athletic fit I’ve seen from Outdoor Research and I’m stoked! The jacket is just long enough to cover my butt, though not quite long enough to stay there once you start moving. The sleeves are low-profile and feel trimmer all around compared to other shells. They’re also long enough to cover my wrists and stay put when reaching overhead. The shoulders don’t seem overly roomy but the fabric is stretchy enough that they don’t bind.
The sleeves have a stretchy velcro closure that cinches down tight, though I’ve gotten somewhat used to trimmer, lower-profile cuffs on shells of this style. The hood is very good, comfortably fits over any of my helmets and allows for restriction-free movement in any direction. There’s a brim stiffener which I’m not a huge fan of, but it’s a small nick on an otherwise excellent design.
What I really love about this jacket’s design are the two chest pockets. I’ve long written about hand pockets on waterproof shells meant for climbing as all they do is end up constricted underneath a harness most of the time — I just don’t get the point. Thankfully the Realm doesn’t have hand pockets but instead has two large chest pockets, as well as an inside pocket that turns inside out to function as a stuff sack, complete with hang loop. The left-side pocket uses the waterproof AscentShell fabric on both the inside and outside, so it’s great for stashing a phone or other moisture-sensitive item. The right-side pocket is large enough to fit a whole bottle of wine — so it’ll fit a large pair of gloves, or 1L Nalgene no problem — and is mesh-basked for ventilation.
The jacket is made entirely of AscentShell fabric which is stretchy, soft and super light. I don’t actually own a windbreaker so instead I’ve been using the Realm all summer as a lightweight jacket when I just need a bit of extra warmth to cut the wind. The fabric is fully windproof and breathable enough that I happily wear it even when it’s warm outside as I never feel clammy or sweaty underneath. I’ve had no issue with waterproofness, but I do live in the Canadian Rockies and it hasn’t been raining here enough to fully test the rain performance. However, what rain I have encountered beads up instantly and sheds with just a light shake.
Despite a few snags and tumbles, I haven’t managed to damage the Realm in any manner, either. It has, however, developed a weird ruffling in the fabric around the pocket edges, and I’ve had to cut off a few loose threads (and there are a few I haven’t gotten to yet). Both of these are small concerns and don’t affect functionality, but do affect overall appearance, and I hope the loose threads don’t develop into a bigger issue of loose seams. I’m also not a fan of the contrasting two-tone main zipper that has started appearing on OR apparel over the past couple of years.
I’ve come to really like the Realm. Initially I didn’t really use it at all, drawn to either lighter or burlier pieces, but after a couple months I started wearing it more and more thanks to the breathable fabric but also useful, minimalist design. Throughout this summer, it has become my go-to shell due to its tiny, unnoticeable packed size and minimal weight, and of course unfailing performance: though I haven’t been able to hike or climb much this summer, the Realm has come on pretty much every biking outing, and has been used a lot during photography sessions.
And finally we come to the saddest part of this review: the Realm, as good as it is as a minimal shell jacket, just hasn’t been a hit with the average consumer because of its lack of hand pockets. As a result, it’s being redesigned for Spring/Summer 2018 with the addition of two hand pockets, the removal of one chest pocket, and a name change: the Interstellar Jacket. If you want a great, lightweight shell for year-round use, I’d suggest you get hold of a Realm jacket now!
Disclaimer: I am part of Outdoor Research’s InsightLab program and received the Realm Jacket for testing, review and feedback, though of course this doesn’t influence my opinion.
Images by veronica_hw