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Outdoor Research Whirlwind Hoody

Matt Zia reviews the Outdoor Research Whirlwind Hoody for Blister Gear Review.

Outdoor Research Whirlwind Hoody

Outdoor Research Whirlwind Hoody

Stated Features:

  • Water-Resistant, Wind-Resistant, Breathable, Quick-Drying, Lightweight
  • Movement-Mirroring Stretch
  • Adjustable Hood
  • Zip Chest Pocket
  • Chest Pocket Doubles as Stuff Sack
  • Carabiner Loop
  • ½ Length Front Zipper
  • Elastic Cuffs
  • Internal Thumb Loop
  • Elastic Drawcord Hem

Fabric: 86% recycled polyester, 14% spandex stretch woven

Center Back Length (Large) : 73 cm

Stated Weight (Large): 259 g

Test Locations: North Cascades, WA; Chugach Range, AK; RMNP, Black Canyon of the Gunnison, CO

Days Tested: 30

Intro

The Outdoor Research Whirlwind is part of a recent resurgence in the popularity of soft-shell jackets. Admittedly though, the term soft-shell encompasses a huge variety of jacket designs and uses. In the spectrum of soft shells, the Whirlwind Hoody, like the Black Diamond Alpine Start we’ll be reviewing tomorrow, falls squarely on the highly breathable, highly mobile, and lightweight side of the spectrum, and low on the weather resistance spectrum.

As a huge proponent of the wind shirt (a la Patagonia’s Houdini), I’ve long been curious how lightweight soft shells like the Whirlwind and the Black Diamond Alpine Start stack up against more traditional nylon wind shirts like the Houdini. While the Houdini packs slightly smaller, lightweight soft shells offer a different set of benefits and drawbacks.

Fabric

The fabric of the Whirlwind is a 86%/14% poly/spandex blend. OR does not give the soft-shell fabric a specific name (a la Schoeller or Polartec), but the fabric performs just as well. The fabric is lighter than the Schoeller used on the Black Diamond BDV series but slightly heavier than the fabric on the Black Diamond Alpine Start hoody.

Matt Zia reviews the Outdoor Research Whirlwind Hoody for Blister Gear Review.

Matt Zia in the Outdoor Research Whirlwind Hoody, Black Canyon of the Gunnison NP, CO.

That said, the weave on the Whirlwind is looser than the Alpine Start hoody. This translates to better breathability but less weather resistance. I could tell the difference between these two layers when wearing them on consecutive days with similar weather; the Whirlwind was noticeably more comfortable to wear even when in direct sunlight, but I could also feel more wind blowing through the fabric.

In addition to its light weather resistance, the Whirlwind is advertised as a sun protection layer with built-in UPF30. I did not get sunburned while wearing the Whirlwind, though that could have been because of my commitment to continuous application of copious amounts of sunscreen as well. I did however notice the Whirlwind kept me cooler when lounging in direct sunshine than when just wearing a t-shirt.

Fit

The Whirlwind Hoody is cut along alpine climbing lines; that is to say long in the arms and torso, slim in the cuffs, and stretchy all over. I tested a size Large Whirlwind which fit slightly looser than I prefer, but which fit exactly how expected. The arms and torso are cut long to prevent riding up while reaching above your head and to keep the sleeves in place even under a pair of gloves.

The hood is also cut large and fits easily over a climbing helmet (I did not try it on over a ski helmet). Even with the zipper closed all the way and the hood up, my neck did not feel overly limited in range of motion. That said, the hood opening is small enough that I did need to partially unzip the jacket to take the hood on or off.

Features

The Whirlwind Hoody actually has a set of features almost identical to the Black Diamond BDV Hoody; a long half-length zipper and a single zippered chest pocket. The only additional feature the Whirlwind has is a pair of low-profile thumb loops on the cuffs.

I found the zipper more than adequate for the designed purpose of the Whirlwind, although the half-zip makes taking the jacket on and off more challenging, this is a piece designed to be put on and left on for the majority of a day, not taken on and off every thirty minutes. Like the BDV Hoody, I found the shoulders and hood flopped around when the zipper was fully open, but everything cinched up nicely when I zipped the jacket up.

The chest pocket is a nice feature and is very useful for stashing necessities like lip balm, a small snack, or a camera, but at times I thought the pocket was almost too big. Because the fabric is so light, even small items in the pocket pulled the jacket down and made the chest fabric flop around uncomfortably. This problem was easily solved by zipping the jacket up though; that said there were times, particularly when approaching a climb when I wanted the jacket unzipped for ventilation but still had items in the pocket.

Durability

The fabric on the Whirlwind is just as durable as any other lightweight soft-shell I’ve worn. After a month of wearing the Whirlwind around the Pacific Northwest and Alaska the jacket shows very little signs of wear. I rubbed several small holes in the sleeves and chest as a result of scumming and thrashing up rough granite cracks, but the damage is significantly less than I would expect from a layer without the amount of stretch in the fabric.

Performance

The Whirlwind is designed for and best suited for alpine climbing, whether on rock, snow, or ice. I wore the hoody through a wide range of conditions from climbing ice couloirs in North Cascades National Park to baking cinnamon rolls in high wind on the Alaskan tundra on the Kenai Peninsula. Almost every time I pulled on the hoody I wore it almost all day through sun, wind, and light precipitation. The hoody breathes well enough to leave it on comfortably through all but the most heavy of exertion. Though when the weather was calmer, I did still prefer to wear a stand-alone sun shirt like the Patagonia Tropic Comfort as the sun shirt still breathes better.

Matt Zia reviews the Outdoor Research Whirlwind Hoody for Blister Gear Review.

Matt Zia in the Outdoor Research Whirlwind Hoody, Forbidden Peak, WA.

In part because of the breathability and in part due to the nature of the fabric, the Whirlwind is one of the most comfortable shells I’ve ever worn against the skin. Unlike a nylon jacket like the Patagonia Houdini (or a full-blown hardshell god-forbid) I was able to comfortably wear the Whirlwind without even a t-shirt underneath and not feel like I was wearing a large trash bag.

The exceptional breathability and comfort does come at the expense of some weather-proofing however and in my experience the Whirlwind is one of the least weatherproof wind shirt/soft shells I’ve worn. That is not a knock against the Whirlwind, only a comment on the balance between breathability and weatherproofness. Compared to the Patagonia Houdini and the Black Diamond Alpine Start hoody, the Whirlwind blocks slightly less wind, and allows wind to penetrate at lower speeds. Without having a handheld anemometer to accurately measure wind speed, I would estimate that the Whirlwind held up just fine until the wind reached about 20 mph at which point I could feel the wind cutting through.

Bottom Line

The Outdoor Research Whirlwind hoody is an excellent layer for alpine climbing. In the spectrum of lightweight soft shells, it is relatively specialized, more so than a layer like the Black Diamond Alpine Start hoody (review coming soon). This for me is not a deal-breaker per se, but I do find myself reaching for other layers more often since they are more versatile. The days when I was most happy to wear the Whirlwind hoody were long strenuous days in the alpine with constant wind, cooler temperatures, and a mix of sun and clouds.

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