Admittedly, my approach to gear is simple: when I find an item that functions exactly as I need, I strive to use it for a looong time. Looking for substitutions isn’t high on my priority list. Often I won’t search for a replacement until I realize that the piece has been, or could be, improved upon. That in mind, I own a couple of non-insulated softshells, one of which I bought almost 10 years ago. It still sees regular winter use. The only reason to replace it, in my mind, is that something better becomes available.
Enter the Outdoor Research Centrifuge Jacket. It improves upon the aforementioned softshell in about a half-dozen ways. Check out the improvements, because I’d bet that you’ll be as impressed with them as I’ve been. Here’s how Outdoor Research distinguishes their Centrifuge Jacket from many other non-insulated coats:
Thumb loops. Instead of the usual Velcro cinch at the wrist, the Centrifuge offers thumb loops. Naturally, the sleeves have elastic to keep the ends snug on the wrist. But when the winds are howling or you just need an extra bit of warmth on your hands, slip into the thumb loops, enabling the coat to cover half of your paw. I’ve found that utilizing this system is 100% effective at keeping the wind out of the usual gap between one’s coat sleeve and glove. Well done.
A well designed hood. Hoods are sweet. But many jacket hoods are loose enough that they allow wind to enter, which doesn’t keep one all that warm. That’s not the case here. When the collar is fully zipped up, the Centrifuge’s balaclava style hood leaves only a small amount of the face exposed to the elements. Further, it fully covers the ears and chin, both of which can get cold in a hurry when the weather is inclement.
Off center zipper at the chin. The jacket zips up the center like normal, but near the Napoleon chest pocket, it gently curves to the side. The end result is a zipper seam that isn’t immediately aligned with the chin. No more need your chin be rubbed raw by a nylon zipper, or the seam material. Instead, Outdoor Research kindly inserts a soft swath of fleece fabric at the chin area. Thoughtful!
Radiant LT back and sides. Soft fleece material allows sweat vapor to evaporate more effectively than softshell materials such as Schoeller. Getting as much evaporation off the back as possible is particularly useful to anyone who commonly wears a backpack. The Radiant LT succeeds in this mission.
Material combinations. Combining polyester weaves, in what O.R. refers to as hard-faced fleece and what is recognizable as ‘regular’ fleece, allowed them to create a jacket that offers the best properties of two different coats. It evaporates well (like a fleece) while still offering weather fighting properties (like a softshell). Impressively bomber.
With all these positive attributes, the Centrifuge is more than ready to hit the mountains. Additionally, It sports an athletic cut, hugging the body and arms in a fitted, non-constricting way. The sleeves are plenty long enough for my long arms, and the body is just the right length as well, neither too short nor too long. (At just over 6 feet tall, I’m wearing size Medium.)
The wind and water resistant properties of the hard-faced fleece have proven effective in the field, even when I’ve been in wind-driven blizzards. Like all ‘resistant’ fabrics, it’s not waterproof, so it will eventually get damp. But, being polyester based, it does dry quickly. Two standard hand pockets and a chest mounted Napoleon pocket round out these ‘usual’ attributes. Further to the good, the Centrifuge eliminates drawstrings of any sort, which are essentially the hallmark of ill-fitting clothing.
This is primarily a layering piece. I’ve worn it with long sleeves and short sleeves on ascents. When necessary, I simply pull the next layer – usually a puffy – on over it. As an added bonus, when the thumb loops are employed, it’s really easy to pull through the sleeves of the outer layer, without accordioning the underlying sleeve(s).
With its excellent breathing capabilities, this is an outstanding multi-sport layering piece aimed at winter. It’s great worn on its own (plus a baselayer), for the entirety of most summit approaches, and even as the outer layer on Springtime descents.
However, this jacket need not be relegated to the closet come Spring, Summer, or Autumn. It’s quite effective as an outer layer in the cool mountain breezes of, well, just about any month. I took it out on a quick trip up Mount Olympus recently and it was perfect at keeping the cool Spring summit breeze at bay, with just short sleeves beneath.
True to form, I’ve worn this coat on a lot of outings before offering product testing commentary. Two main concerns have appeared:
1. The material piles on the back of the coat and arms have begun to wear. It’s constantly in contact with a backpack, of course, but the material has taken on a frayed look that’s not quite as sharp as when the coat was new. However, the Radiant LT material is essentially thin fleece, so this end result isn’t a complete surprise.
2. The other hallmark of fleece is its distinct lack of odor fighting properties. I can normally get away with not washing my coats after every outing. Unfortunately, the Centrifuge becomes rank with odor after only one day of use. Perhaps O.R. can find some way to add anti-microbial properties to this otherwise fine jacket..
A third (smaller, personal) issue concerns those long arms of mine. After a few hours of wearing the thumb loops, I’ll notice that there’s a lot of pressure on my thumbs. I’ll unhook them, and everything is back to being fine in a few minutes. Usually by the time I notice it, I’m out of the worst of the weather anyway.
Overall, I give the Outdoor Research Centrifuge jacket very, very, high marks. If it didn’t hold odor so strongly, I’d give it a 98 out of 100. As it is, I’ve got to knock a few points off because the odor issue is not subtle. Otherwise, the design of the jacket seems more or less flawless when used as a layering piece. The additional features that aren’t offered on a lot of other jackets are well thought out and implemented. As for that old softshell? Outdoor Research has convincingly improved upon its design. I expect it will continue to see closet time while the Centrifuge accompanies me into the mountains.