Outdoor Vitals Vario Jacket Review
This summer, I walked the Wind River High Route with The Trek editor, Kelly Floro, and another gal friend. On cold mornings, as we popped out of damp tents at sunrise to prepare for a demanding day of passes, the two of them donned hooded jackets insulated with synthetic materials. I had packed a down jacket, and while their coats conformed to their gait, my coat felt constricted, tight and clammy. All I could do was take it off and walk faster to stay warm.
That all changed when I put on the Outdoor Vitals Vario jacket.
Outdoor Vitals Vario Jacket At a Glance
Weight: 9 ounces
- Ripstop Nylon DWR-treated shell
- 3DeFX active stretch insulation, 50% recycled
- YKK zippers
Cleaning Instructions: Machine wash cold, air-dry
Circumstances of Review
I live in the Twin Cities, and my first test was putting the jacket on over our fall uniform of a few light layers. At 5’7” and 135 pounds, size medium is ideal even when I used the tightening option at the hem.
It was 40 degrees and drizzling when I set out. While not a raincoat, water beaded on the Vario, and I didn’t get wet. The pockets are roomy: big enough for my keys, my phone, a hat, gloves, and my hands.
My next test was on a morning bike ride on a sunny and windy morning with temperatures in the mid-30s. Of course, even in Minnesota, we have hills, and I warmed up quickly, happy with the vented armpits. Rather than zippered vents, the Vario uses a simple perforated (and uninsulated) bit of fabric.
I took the Vario on a wee backpack trip when an extension of Indian summer precluded the use of a jacket while in motion. That being said, I was happy to have the jacket at hand when it got dark, the temps dropped, the dewpoint rose, and the wind picked up. Outdoor Vitals claims the jacket is more for stationary use anyway.
While hiking, the Vario was stuffed in my pack, wrinkled and crushed, for most of the day. This may sound very superficial, but when I pulled it out later to wear, those wrinkles quickly disappeared. What’s more, dressed in mahogany—which to me is more a late-fall oak leaf color—I blended in with my surroundings.
READ NEXT – The Best Synthetic Jackets for Thru-Hiking
Materials and Features
Pockets: Two zippered
Vents: Perforated underarm
Hem: Drop back
Cuffs: Stretch with thumb loops
Colors: Black, mahogany, stellar (a light blue)
The Outdoor Vitals hooded Vario Jacket is made for movement—like climbing up and down talus and across snowfields and crashing through brush. Building on the success of their minimalist Ventus Hoodie, the Vario is a more comprehensive jacket with a full zipper and large zipped pockets. They intended to replace a three-season puffy with something water- and abrasion-resistant, streamlined, and warm while staying ultralight.
A tall order, no doubt, but it seems Outdoor Vitals nailed it.
It’s all about the fabric and fibers. The outer layer is made of 20D (denier) ripstop nylon fabric treated with DWR (Durable Water Repellant) that not only stretches while you move but is breathable, wicks water, and can take a beating. The inner is also nylon, but softer and surprisingly cozy against the skin (yes, I tried it on against bare skin just for kicks!)
But it’s the 3DeFX insulation, in my opinion, that makes this ultralight bit of gear work so well. What exactly is 3DeFX insulation, you might ask? Created by Toray Mills in Japan, this fiber uses four types of spiral yarns like tiny springs that expand and contract, creating a high level of breathability and stretch while still maintaining warmth by trapping air where it’s needed.
As I mentioned about my wee UL puffy, traditional down simply can’t adjust when the body heats up because the high-density fabric that’s required to stop the plumes from migrating traps heat and moisture.
Outdoor Vitals uses a synthetic fiber called 3DeFX in the Vario, which stretches while the wearer moves, ventilating and retaining warmth where needed.
And all this at only nine ounces—not easy to accomplish with synthetics.
In addition, Outdoor Vitals is committed to sustainability in everything they do. The Vario is stuffed with 50% recycled insulation. That might sound like a negative point, but the recycled materials are sourced (and certified) from the mill and contain no impurities. Despite this, the material is still quite durable. And, in the end, it just kinda feels good to keep something out of a landfill.
What surprised me most when I put it on for the first time was how soft it is. In addition, there’s a Goldilocks fit: not too loose, not too tight. The shoulders are right where they need to be. The sleeves run all the way to the end of my wrists and stay in place when I cross my arms in front of me. The elastic cuffs with thumb loops have just the right amount of give.
Outdoor Vitals Vario Pros
Ultralight: My mahogany Vario jacket arrived in a box that I’d assumed was completely empty. It felt like feathers had been sent as a joke. The jacket is very light indeed and packs to the size of a softball.
Easily stuffable: My Vario crushed down small and didn’t show any wrinkles even after spending the whole day stuffed in my pack.
Wicks water: In addition to breathability and moisture-wicking, the jacket has a DWR finish to repel light rain.
Breathable: Still, I stayed comfortably warm while moving, and when I started to sweat, I never felt clammy or damp.
High warmth/weight ratio: The Vario is cozy despite weighing just nine ounces for a men’s medium.
Cut low over booty: Oftentimes, the cinch feature on a jacket makes it ride up to my waist, accentuating my, shall-we-say, feminine curves. In this case, I was pleased to discover the ample, low-cut that beautifully lies over my rear-end and adds a sleekness and stylishness to the jacket.
Outdoor Vitals Vario Cons
Hood is baggy and can’t cinch: Unfortunately, the hood didn’t quite work for me. While Outdoor Vitals claims the hood is “close fit” and “won’t block vision,” I did not have that experience. Mine fits more like a cowl flopping over my brow. I could, however, keep it in place when I wear a hat or put my hair in a ponytail. I’m not sure if this is a sizing or design issue.
Could use some inner pockets: Though the two zippered pockets are roomy, I would like to see some pockets on the interior for additional storage.
Not the warmest: The Vario is great for active wear on cold days, but it’s not a four-season jacket.
Would like more feminine colors: The jacket currently comes in black, reddish-brown (“mahogany”), and light blue (“stellar”). It would be great to have more color choices.
I really like the Vario. It fit me well (except for the hood), wicked moisture and breathed while I moved, and kept me relatively warm. Compared to other products in its class, $210 is a good deal (with deep discounts for Outdoor Vitals members).
- MSRP: $279
- Weight: 12.8 oz
- MSRP: $235
- Weight: 24 oz
- MSRP: $219
- Weight: 11 oz
The Outdoor Vitals Vario Jacket was donated for purpose of review.
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