Field Tested: Outdoor Research Bolin Jacket

I admit that I have a problem with jackets. Particularly hard shell waterproof jackets.  I have too many! I only wear these jackets in the winter months for hiking and ice climbing, for protection from wind and moisture. I want something waterproof, durable, and VERY breathable. This is a hard combination to get right. Shell jackets always seem to be “too waterproof” and feel like you’re sweating and wearing a trash bag or they’re simply not waterproof enough… a soft shell that wets out.


This is where the new Outdoor Research Bolin jacket comes in. New for the 2017-2018 season, Outdoor Research is marketing the Bolin jacket as a do-it-all “alpine climbing” jacket.  This shell attempts to bridge the gap between hard shell and soft shell jackets by providing lightweight, waterproof, durable, breathable protection with a little stretch! I’ve had this jacket for several months now, long enough to form a educated opinion on it.

Outdoor Research Bolin Jacket


Specifications:

  • Body Material : AscentShell™ 3 Layer 20D Ripstop Nylon
  • Upper/Shoulder Material: AscentShell™ 3 Layer 70D Woven Nylon
  • Waterproof: 10,000 mm Rating
  • Back Length: 31 1/2″
  • Weight: 17.4 oz (Size Large)
  • Helmet Compatible Hood
  • MSRP: $299.99

Design

Looking at the specs you’ll notice that this jacket is actually composed of two different materials. 20D and 70D Nylon. Outdoor Research got clever here. They use the more durable 70D Nylon throughout the shoulders and arms where a backpack may cause wear and tear. The lighter 20D Nylon is found throughout the body of the jacket. This combination allows the Outdoor Research Bolin jacket to remain incredibly lightweight at only 12 ounces for my size small. it’s also much more packable and breathable than its heavier competition.

Outdoor Research Bolin Jacket

The OR Bolin jacket features a zippered napoleon pocket on the chest that’s fairly large, big enough to fit a smart phone or extra hand warmers in. Along with two zipplered hand pockets that are very large and feature hoods to prevent excess moisture from getting in. Inside the jacket are additional “drop in” pockets that are great for stashing extra gloves at the belay or other items you want to keep close to your body for warmth.

Outdoor Research Bolin Jacket Inner Pockets

The main zipper of the jacket is a double zipper which means you can unzip from the bottom allowing you to wear it over a climbing harness or as a poncho. All of the zippers on the jacket are nice chunky YKK zippers with rubberized leashes. The hood is helmet compatible and includes volume reducing cords in the back, and at the sides to allow you not to look like a goof when you’re NOT wearing a helmet. The hood also has a molded wire brim to keep that gnarly spin drift out of your face. The waist also features a hem cord. The cuffs of the jacket feature a small elastic section along with a Velcro closure to keep the sleeves tight under or over your gloves.

Velcro closure cuffs

Interestingly Outdoor Research left out Pit-Zips on this shell. Pit-zips are kind of standard these days on waterproof shells and have been omitted here. This hasn’t really been an issue with me… you’ll read more on that later!



Fit

Getting ready to lead the first pitch in my OR Bolin Jacket. I’m wearing a size Small.

Much like most of Outdoor Research’s products the Bolin Jacket has an “athletic and trim” fit. I’m 5’7″ and 145 pounds and a size “Small” fits me well with a little room underneath for a base layer and light micro fleece. I could probably wear a “Medium” if I wanted more room for layering but I like having a slim shell jacket without extra material getting in my way. Good news is this jacket fits much like other Outdoor Research jackets so there isn’t much guesswork if you’re used to this brands sizing.

The arms feature gusseted underarm movement so you can put your arms up over your head without turning it into a sports bra and exposing your beer belly. This is particularly nice for climbing as your arms are often up over your head. I haven’t had any mobility issues wearing this jacket! The hood is a generous size without being awkward and my Mammut Helmet fits in it with ease. When I’m not wearing a helmet its easy to cinch down the cords to fit my head without having it flap around. This jacket also features some stretchy materials which is awesome for climbing.


Layering

I wear this jacket in the winter months for hiking, and ice climbing. For really cold days I start my day wearing a base layer, 1/4 zip long sleeve tee, microfleece hoody (OR Startfire), and the Outdoor Research Bolin Jacket over the top of everything. This has worked out well for me. If I start to get warm I remove the micro-fleece and keep the shell for protection from wind and water. If I get cold while standing still at the belay I throw my big down puffy over the top of the Outdoor Research Bolin jacket. The elastic and Velcro cuffs of the jacket work great and seal up tight with just about any glove whether its under, or over it.

While climbing I typically wear my climbing harness over my shell jacket. This works fine with the Outdoor Research Bolin jacket since it’s relatively thin. However the “hand pockets” become inaccessible while wearing a harness which is a bummer. This is particularly odd because Outdoor Research markets them as “harness accessible pockets”. Maybe I’m just too short? They seem too low to me.


Wind and Water Resistance

The Outdoor Research Bolin Jacket in its element.

While this jacket is advertised as “waterproof” I wouldn’t take it out in a full blown rain storm. This jacket is designed for cold alpine environments where you may be exposed to rotten wet snow, slush, and drippy late season ice. This jacket is “waterproof-ish” and sheds light rain, heavy fog, and splashes much more effectively than a soft shell jacket can. However, if you’re exposed to heavy moisture for a long period of time the jacket will eventually wet out through the membrane.

Recently, I broke open an ice dam on a climb and about 30 gallons of frigid water dumped all over my Outdoor Research Bolin Jacket. The jacket kept me dry, warm, and protected… this is what its designed for. While this jacket would work in a pinch, If you’re looking for a dedicated “rain shell” I’d look elsewhere. The Outdoor Research Bolin jacket has proved to be effectively windproof even in some gnarly conditions. Throw the hood on, zip it all the way up, and feel protected from the elements in the mountains.


Breath-ability (that’s a word right?)

Training during a Noreaster in the Outdoor Research Bolin Jacket

Here’s where the Outdoor Research Bolin Jacket shines! This jacket is incredibly breathable for a waterproof jacket. It feels more like a soft shell than a hard shell. I don’t find myself overly sweaty or feeling stifled while wearing this jacket during steep grueling hikes. If I get warm I simply open up the main zipper a bit to vent. Pit zips, while a nice feature… aren’t totally necessary with such breathable fabrics so I can understand why Outdoor Research left them out to save on weight and complexity. The AscentShell membrane that’s proprietary to Outdoor Research products does an excellent job here.


Durability

So far the Outdoor Research Bolin jacket has proven to be pretty bomb proof even though some parts feel rather delicate. I’ve stashed it in my pack with ice screws and gear, climbed several pitches of ice, scraped over rocks on hikes, slid down snowy hills, and even shoveled my driveway wearing it a few times. It still looks new, no holes or damage… yet. The durable 70D Nylon shoulders are a nice touch and seem to prevent the jacket from being excessively worn where the shoulder straps of my pack rub. The zippers feel nice and chunky and have a confident zip without getting snagged.

There’s also some peace of mind knowing this is an Outdoor Research product. They stand behind their gear and offer a Lifetime warranty with no questions asked replacements. I appreciate this a lot considering the cost of the equipment!



Conclusion

Who is this jacket for? Winter enthusiasts of all types. Particularly climbers and hikers who demand breathable, waterproof, windproof protection in a light weight, easy to store package for cold environments. The AscentShell membrane is a winner and truly bridges the gap between traditional heavy hard shells and soft shells providing ample protection with tons of breathability. This jacket checks all the boxes for me and has become my go-to outer layer for long days in the mountains in varying conditions. If I had to complain about anything it would be that the hand pockets are blocked when wearing a  climbing harness… but this is a minor complaint. This isn’t a “rain jacket” and will wet out in a downpour. Otherwise the Outdoor Research Bolin Jacket is a winner in my book!

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