You’ve heard of Yvon Chouinard, Doug Thompkins and Royal Robbins, the founders of Patagonia, The North Face and Royal Robbins, respectively. But unless you’re in the know, you probably haven’t heard the name Ron Gregg. In 1980, Gregg, a physicist by trade, was on an expedition on Denali with his partner when disaster struck. Gregg’s partner, who was already suffering from extreme frostbite, got snow lodged between his boot and gaiter — exacerbating an already dire situation. His partner had to be airlifted out, a moment that changed mountaineering and outdoor sports forever. Gregg was convinced that there was a better way to build a gaiter, and with that in mind, he created the X-Gaiter — Outdoor Research’s first official product.
Since then, Seattle-based Outdoor Research has pioneered a number of iconic outdoor pieces. For example, there’s the Seattle Sombrero, a sombrero-esque hat constructed from Gore-Tex perfect for hiking in the rain; the first soft-sided medical kits designed specifically for outdoor use; and the Water Bottle Parka, which is still the standard for keeping water from freezing on mountaineering expeditions. Today, the company is still on the front lines of pioneering technical, smartly designed pieces built for serious adventurers. The latest in OR’s innovative technologies focuses on active insulation in jackets, like the Uberlayer and the Deviator hoody.
“It’s all about adaptability,” says Alex Lauver, Outdoor Research’s product manager for outerwear. “We created a solution for changing conditions and changing environments.” Both the Uberlayer and Deviator were designed with two sports in mind — climbing and ski touring — though they can certainly be used in other applications. “During a ski tour, you’re going to work up some heat and moisture going upwards. Ideally, you wouldn’t want to have to de-layer before you start going up, then put a bunch of stuff on at the top, then come down and switch it all back out,” says Lauver. “We created something that adapts to a lot of those types of conditions. You only need to decide whether or not you need some waterproofness for the way down.”
The Deviator, one of the more unique active insulation pieces on the market, features hybrid body mapping. In other words, it makes use of a number of different materials to give you warmth and breathability specifically where you need them most. “I did an innovation project that’s ongoing where we took some photos,” says Lauver. “What are the sweat zones of the human body? What does an athlete look like under an infrared camera when they’re running? There’s a lot of conversation around how your body naturally heats or cools itself, and how do we amplify or control that, or maximize it so that we’re taking advantage of it.”
We recently put both the Uberlayer and the Deviator to the test in the field and found that, in practice, OR’s prototyping and research reaped full rewards for the modern adventurer who wants to do everything from ski touring to rock climbing to traveling in style but only wants one midlayer.
Unless you’ve done it, ski touring could seem like a practice in misery. And like most endurance activities, it is, to a certain extent — but in touring, the pain only increases the feeling of reward when your bindings are locked and the only direction left to go is down. You still have to get to the top before that reward can be reaped. There are no shortcuts. Elevation gained is elevation earned.
The Deviator and Uberlayer lessen the price you pay on the way up. Even in the cold, ascents are fated to be sweaty endeavors, especially when you’re wearing a loaded pack. The Deviator’s hybrid mapping insulates your body only where it needs it — so, less sweaty back — while also shedding wind. On colder days, the Uberlayer functions much the same way the Deviator does: breathing on the uphill, but keeping you warm on the down. It’s incredibly packable and fits well underneath a shell while you take those deep blower turns you hiked up for in the first place.
The weather was not good for our climbing test. It was 29 degrees. The granite crag felt like ice-cold steel. Yet for two hours, the Deviator Hoodie made it feel like a sunny spring day. That’s a credit to its Polartec Alpha insulation — warm and windproof, with just the right amount of breathability. That sweet spot of warmth and fresh air makes the Deviator feel almost invisible; the cut of the arms allow ample room for climbers to clip that next bolt. Whatever you’re doing — scaling rock faces, trekking trails, running a quick lap around the neighborhood — the Deviator is hardly noticeable on your skin. Even the hood feels airy and cozy. For folks who want to focus only on their athletic pursuits, rather than on dealing with obnoxious, swishy, chilly clothing, that’s a very good thing.
One moment we were sprinting through the airport, sweating like pigs; next we were waiting on the tarmac for our puddle-jumper flight from Sun Valley, Idaho, to Salt Lake City; then we collapsed into our seats. Through it all, the Uberlayer performed admirably. It was breathable enough when you’re sweating it out but can flip a switch and keep you warm in sub-freezing temperatures. The term gets thrown around gratuitously, but it really is a “do-it-all” jacket. Best of all, it has a trim fit and a minimalist aesthetic so you don’t look completely out of place at the bar or baggage claim. So go ahead: buy one, and use it for everything.