Backpacking and hiking are often demanding activities that require the use of practical, functional, and durable equipment.
However, not all companies manufacture first-class apparel and outdoor gear – there are only 20 or so genuinely renowned outdoor clothing brands whose products are held in high regard by outdoor enthusiasts all over the world.
Two of those brands are Outdoor Research and Arc’teryx.
The latter is well-known for the hefty price tags that often accompany their garments, but does that mean that their jackets are truly better than those made by Outdoor Research? Which one of these brands should you go with? If you’re looking for an answer to that question, you’re in the right place.
- Headquarters: Washington, USA
- Established: 1981
- Manufactures: Clothes, shelters, and packs
- Excels at: Bivy sacks, pants, gloves, shell layers, and insulation layers
Outdoor Research makes some of the market’s best bivy sacks and insulated jackets – there’s no doubt about that. Unlike some of its rivals, the company doesn’t develop and use proprietary materials but utilizes fabrics from distinguished manufacturers like Pertex, Gore-Tex, Primaloft, and Polartec instead.
The brand is particularly good at making rainwear, in fact, they make some of the best lightweight rain jackets, as well as pieces of apparel that are not only breathable but also very lightweight and protective (which is the direct consequence of the company’s choice to use sophisticated materials from Pertex and Gore-Tex).
However, Outdoor Research did develop a couple of its own breathable/waterproof fabrics, which they use in some of their top-tier garments. For synthetic insulated jackets, the brand utilizes advanced Primaloft or Polartec Alpha insulation. Unfortunately, their down jackets do not feature down that is hydrophobic, which is among the brand’s biggest disadvantages.
On the other hand, Outdoor Research makes fantastic gaiters, bivy sacks, softshell pants, and some of the market’s lightest softshell jackets. For gaiters and bivy sacks, the company uses materials that are very similar to fabrics they use in their rainwear.
- Headquarters: North Vancouver, Canada
- Established: 1991
- Manufactures: Clothes, technical equipment, footwear, and packs
- Excels at: Pants, shell layers, mid-layers, and base layers
Out of the 20 or so world-acclaimed manufacturers of outdoor gear, Arc’teryx is certainly among those with the widest range of products. The company manufactures all kinds of footwear, backpacks, a variety of clothes, but also technical equipment such as climbing ropes and harnesses.
However, most people know about Arc’teryx because of the brand’s top-notch clothes for outdoor sports. The company offers an exceptionally wide range of hardshells, most of which sport the world’s finest waterproofing technologies, such as Gore-Tex Pro.
Insulated jackets made by Arc’teryx usually feature either the superb synthetic insulation called Coreloft or a mixture of Coreloft and standard down insulation. There’s always some Coreloft insulation in their down garments, since this material provides a sufficient amount of warmth in wet environments, unlike down.
The last thing I should mention here is that the company’s fleece jackets typically feature Polartec fleece, while the base layers made by Arc’Teryx often use a moisture-wicking fabric called Phasic. The brand is also well-known for its first-rate climbing gear, boots, and backpacks.
Outdoor Research vs Arc’teryx – Popular Products
Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody
- A very compressible jacket
- Warm & durable
- Stylish design
- Not very water-resistant
A well-designed and well-crafted garment, this is one of the most popular jackets made by Outdoor Research. Its combination of 650 fill-power down and wind-resistant polyester shell keep the cold at bay and provide the jacket’s wearer with a sufficient amount of warmth.
However, the Transcendent Hoody is not something you’ll want to wear in rainy weather. While the model does have a DWR coating applied to its outside fabric, it’s still a down jacket and, as such, it quickly absorbs water and becomes far less effective when worn in a downpour.
But still, this Outdoor Research jacket provides its wearer with great freedom of mobility and doesn’t take too much room in one’s backpack – it’s very compressible. Just as expected, the Transcendent Hoody packs into its own pocket, so carrying it from one place to another is as easy as it gets.
All in all, I think that this piece of apparel is definitely worth the money – it’s an affordable technical warmth layer that impresses with its compressibility and stylishness.
Outdoor Research Ferossi Hooded Jacket
- Very mobile and stretchy
- Snug but not too tight
- Excellent breathability
- Not a waterproof jacket
Available in several different sizes and colors, this hooded jacket is an ideal choice for those who often have to deal with rough surfaces and cool winds. The Ferossi is highly mobile, stretchy, and lightweight, so it’s no wonder that this jacket is still a favorite of many outdoorsmen all around the world.
The model successfully blocks winds and offers sufficient protection from the cold, especially when you use its hood, which fits most climbing helmets. However, the model is only lightly resistant to water and moisture – those searching for a waterproof jacket of this type should definitely look elsewhere.
The department in which this garment truly excels is high-output aerobic use. The material out of which its shell is made allows perspiration to easily pass through, and the model easily outperforms most of its rivals when it comes to sheer mobility.
In summary, it’s a great choice for climbers, runners, and mountain bikers.
Outdoor Research Skyward II Jacket
- High level of ventilation
- Excellent weather resistance
- Relatively affordable
- No powder skirt
Offering great ventilation and weather protection at a relatively affordable price, the Skyward II Jacket is one of the company’s bestsellers for a good reason. In fact, the model offers the same amount of ventilation and comfort as many expensive high-performance shells.
While this certainly isn’t a jacket you’ll want to pick if you’re looking for warmth and warmth only, the Skyward II keeps its wearer sufficiently warm by wicking away the moisture from one’s insulating layers and by blocking the wind. In this jacket, you will also be dry – the water vapor can easily escape due to the model’s breathable shell fabric.
One thing I particularly like about this garment is the fact that it has a fit that is “just right”. In other words, it doesn’t feel overly boxy or especially contoured. There’s enough space in its sleeves and torso to accommodate extra layering pieces.
All in all, it’s a great choice for folks who prioritize ventilation and breathability.
Outdoor Research Payload 18 Backpack
- Excellent external lash options
- Very lightweight and compact
- Decent durability
- Not very comfortable
While it’s certainly not the most comfortable product of this type you can find on today’s market, the Payload 18 backpack made by Outdoor Research has some great characteristics. It is, in my opinion, a good choice for climbers looking for a backpack that strikes a nice balance between durability and weight.
Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first – this pack features no hip belt – the part that helps with stabilizing the load – and it sports a shorter back length than many other models I tested. The Payload 18 is basically a rectangle with some pretty poor padding – not a model you should go with if you’re looking for something genuinely comfortable.
On the other hand, this backpack is extremely light – it weighs only 0.83 pounds, and that’s quite impressive for a product of this type made out of 420 denier fabric. It also has good external lash options and it never feels particularly restrictive. If you are interested in Outdoor Research Gear, but are considering other options as well, check out my North Face vs Outdoor Research comparison as well.
Arc’teryx Atom LT Hoody
- One of the best jackets for active folks
- Very warm & mobile
- Superb fit
- Doesn’t stuff into itself
A lot of outdoor enthusiasts consider this jacket to be the very best insulated layer on today’s market. That’s because the Atom LT Hoody successfully combines excellent breathability with lightweight mobility while still being capable of warding off the cold during wintertime hikes.
The only major disadvantage of this garment (well, besides the hefty price tag) is the fact that it doesn’t stuff into itself. Otherwise, it’s a fantastic jacket in every sense of that word – here, you definitely get what you pay for. It’s one of the best jackets for active use and a great choice for all those into hiking, running, or skiing.
Combining stretch fleece panels with Coreloft Compact insulation, the jacket provides a sufficient amount of warmth. It is also very breathable and fits like a dream, but that’s something I totally expected from an Arc’teryx garment. The excellent mobility of the neck and shoulders is a welcome bonus.
Arc’teryx Beta AR Jacket
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- Outstanding weather protection
- Lots of convenient features
- A well-designed collar
- Very expensive
Here we have yet another fantastic jacket from Arc’teryx – a hardshell that justifies its hefty price with a genuinely amazing set of features. Due to its spacious fit, deep hood, and outstanding collar design, the Beta AR just might be the most comfortable garment of this type you can get for your money.
This jacket’s collar really deserves special words of praise. It is tremendously comfortable and cozy due to the fact that it’s a separate piece of material – you can easily seal the entirety of your neck with it. Fortunately, the collar is not too snug and leaves plenty of room for warm layers underneath.
The combo of 40D and 80D fabrics, paired with the well-known Gore-Tex membrane, provides remarkable protection from the elements. Furthermore, there are lots of convenient features here, such as the harness hemlock or the 4 adjustment points on the model’s hood. All of this turns the Beta AR jacket into one of the finest winter hardshells available on today’s market.
Arc’teryx Zeta SL Jacket
- Great mobility & range of motion
- First-rate storm worthiness
- Basic but effective hood
- No ventilation options
The next Arc’teryx jacket is just as well-made and practical as the Beta AR model but comes at a much more affordable price. The Zeta SL jacket is a function-focused garment that strikes a perfect balance between versatility and performance.
Just as I expected, the jacket provides first-rate weather protection and is one of the most breathable garments in the company’s lineup. The only major disadvantage is the lack of ventilation options, but that’s something you probably won’t even notice next to the model’s sheer mobility, warmth, and practicality.
This jacket’s pockets are slightly elevated in order to remain accessible even when you’re wearing a huge backpack. Moreover, it is one of the lightest Gore-Tex hardshells I’ve ever tested and certainly the most robust garment in its price category.
I was quite surprised with how small it compresses down, particularly if you take into account the amount of weather protection it provides.
If you want to see what else this brand has to offer, check out my post on the best Arc’teryx jackets.
Arc’teryx Brize 25 Backpack
- Simple but functional design
- A very durable backpack
- Sufficiently comfortable
- Minimal pockets
There’s a lot to like about this little pack. While it’s far from perfect, its simple design and durable construction turn it into a pretty good choice for day hikers and commuters.
Besides the fact that Brize 25 is an extremely well-made bag that’s bound to last you a long time, it should also be mentioned how its simple design puts it above the competition. There’s nothing complicated here – besides the main compartment, the model features only two zippered pockets.
The bag is also quite comfortable, as its shoulder straps feature generous padding and gentle contouring. There’s some mesh fabric and molded foam on the back panel, and these turn the bag into a suitable choice for both day-to-day use as well as for lighter rock-climbing escapades.
The simple and flexible construction, combined with the already-mentioned durability, turn this basic trekking rucksack into a surprisingly versatile bag you’ll be able to use for everything but the most demanding backcountry adventures.
Outdoor Research vs Arc’teryx – The Verdict
Arc’teryx is the clear winner of this comparison – the top-notch quality and unmatched performance of their jackets and other products are unrivaled on today’s market.
However, if you’re looking to save some money but still don’t want to sacrifice durability and functionality, you won’t make a mistake by going with Outdoor Research. This brand’s garments, packs, and other equipment may not feature top-tier fabrics and technologies found in Arc’teryx’s products, but they’re still very much practical and certainly worth the money.
If you are more interested in Outdoor Research, be sure to check out my Outdoor Research Helium HD vs Helium II jacket comparison.
I’ve had the privilege of hiking the Camino de Santiago twice, walking up Ben Nevis, and spending three weeks hiking in the Candian Rockies. I love the peace that comes from getting out of the cities I have lived in to enjoy hikes of all lengths in various countries.