Mission Workshop: Orion Softshell
Alright, I know if I were all of you guys I'd want a more detailed review from someone who owned the Orion before I took the plunge. There were absolutely no reviews from anyone who had really used it when I bought mine, so it was a bit of an unknown. I didn't even have a chance to try it on, but I knew Mission Workshop would work with me if I had problems with fit, and after how they handled my Rondel situation (no-questions-asked new pair, send back the old ones opon recept) it didn't seem like too much of a risk.
I'm about a month into ownership, and to my recollection I have worn it every day. The most pleasant surprise was how great it looks off the bike. For the nine to five I tend to overdress by just a touch compared to the other Engineers, and the people I work with are not surprised to see my wearing nice things. Still, the first day I showed up wearing the Orion I got many more unsoclicited compliments than I was expecting, and more than a few questions about "Where did you get that jacket?" This isn't me saying
"check out my sweet new jacket!" and them patronizing me... it was
"Hi Judy, how was your weekend?"
"Oh good, I love that jacket!"
The Olive color is awesome in person, and goes great with all the browns and grays and blacks I tend to wear when I care whether I match.
Fit is obviously a big question since very few of us are going to be able to try these on in person. It was a little more tough for me, but it always is. I'm 6'1 175 and when it comes to cycling specific clothing I always have a tough decision to make between Medium and Large. If I get a large in Sugoi or Pearl Izumi it will be a bag; for those brands, medium fits like a glove. If I get a medium in Castelli it will fit like a two-sizes-too-small latex glove; large is much better for that brand. I would say in the "Euro" vs "American" fit, the Orion is a slim American. After talking with Evan at MW for a little bit about what I normally wear and how I intend to use it (winter with a decent amount of layering), he suggested the large, and I went with that.
My conclusions about fit
: If you're buying this as your go-to cold weather piece, and you know you're *actually* going to use it in cold weather, and not always on the bike so you're *actually* going to need to layer, then I'd err to the bigger side. Obviously if you're always a medium and you've never bought anything but a medium, just get a medium. But if you're between sizes like I am, the extra room for layering helps.
On the other hand, if I was living somewhere like Seattle where this was more of a rain/wet piece and wouldn't require so much layering, I would have probably tried the medium. Wearing my large Orion over just a tshirt there is definitely some extra room in the torso area that I don't normally like. The jacket is not magic - it will not fit the same with two sweaters as it does with a compression shirt - so you've gotta pick based on your application.
If I was going to gripe about any aspect of the aesthetics, it would be the hood. It doesn't look great when it's up. The head seems a little deep, and so it kinda slides forward over my forehead. Functionally it works pretty well if I flip the bill up, but I still look like a tool. This is kinda the sad reality of hoods, though. That said, the look is much improved if worn with a cycling cap or beanie to take up that extra headroom... maybe this is what they had in mind.
And of course the hood is button-removeable, and completely optional. I have only broken it out a couple times for riding in the rain, and otherwise leave it at home. I just think the jacket looks better without it.
This is a softshell, so it isn't meant to let you summit Everest wearing nothing but a tshirt. What it DOES do is keep out the wind and rain without turning your torso into a sauna, and it does that really well. The first few times out I did overheat a little bit just because I didn't know what to expect... poly baselayer, long sleeve merino jersey, merino hoodie, orion. That is too much unless you're riding in -20. The good news? Pit zips cure all. Even way, way overdressed, I just opened the pit zips and was riding in supreme comofrt for the rest of the way.
Once I figured out the layering, I realized that a thin poly base layer plus my Cobra hoodie was enough for anything DC had to offer (low 20's to high teens with plenty of wind) as long as I was moving, and maybe replace the poly base layer with a waffle thermal long sleeve or a fleece shirt if I'm going to be off the bike and standing around (in the cold) for long. Again, the jacket doesn't offer more for warmth than maybe a lightweight cotton hoodie, but what it does allow is for your under layers to do their job without being torn to shreds by wind or rain.
I have never once felt the barest breath of draft through any of the seams or zippers, and the cuffs seem to lock like magic onto the wrists of my gloves; there is just enough stretch in the fabric, and they obviously put a lot of thought into the cuff design. My only warmth-related gripe is that the fleece-lined collar lacks any kind of cinch or drawstring, so if you're not wearing anything to occupy the space between the collar and your neck there is some space for wind to sneak in. I'm usually wearing my Cobra with the hood up, which serves to fill the gap around the collar, but it is something you have to consciously solve. Another option would be a gator or really thin scarf to wrap up with before putting on the jacket. The problem also mostly goes away when the buttoned-on hood is attached, but again... I don't normally use that hood.
Eye of newt. Toe of frog. Wool of bat. These are surely delivered by the truckload to that old Arc'Teryx factory to fuel whatever black magic goes into this fabric. I just performed a test:
- One piece bath tissue, stuffed into the sleeve by my elbow.
- One large bucket, filled with water
- Bend albow at acute angle, inser into bucket submerging arm/sleeve from arm pit to about an inch short of wrist cuff. This includes entirely submering the pit zip and numerous seams.
- Leave in bucket for one minute, swirl it around a bit.
- Remove arm, retrieve bath tissue. It is entirely dry. Magnets, how do they work?
Sure, a rubber suit would do the same thing. But if someone tried to suffocate me with a rubber suit, I'd be done. If someone tried to suffocate me with an Orion, I'd be able to breathe through the fabric for long enough to fight them off. And yet, the bath tissue came out completely dry.
I've only had a few occasions to ride with the jacket in the wet, and in all situations every other aspect of my clothing failed loooong before the Orion. It's kinda a funny feeling to be riding home and have your feet, legs, and hands all numb from 34 degree driving rain... and have your torso and arms cozy and warm and dry. All I need now are some pants, gloves, and shoe covered made from the same fabric. Also, probably a fat New Year's bonus check from work.
Construction and Details
I have alluded to a couple of the really impressive, attentive little construction details that have caught my eye so far. Like the way the cuffs fall so naturally over my full-finger gloves, and have just the right amount of stretch to form a windproof seal that doesn't move around or bunch up while I'm riding.
The outside "cell phone pocket" is the perfect size for a Mead spiral memo book and a pen, and the perfect location for making quick grocery list addendums or writing down addresses. You could also put a cell phone in there, but that has lived in my right pants pocket for a decade and isn't likely to move.
The rear jersey pocket is well situated and surprisingly well hidden. I can put a patch kit, multitool, micro pump, and clif bar back there with it being barely noticeable from the outside. Obviously it can carry more, and you'll just deal with the normal jersey-pocket hump back.
The zippers all go the right way; the pit zips open from pit-to-elbow, and all the jersey/chest/hand pockets open top-down. The zippers are deliberate and firm and precise and waterproof. I haven't found a flawed stitch yet, and I've looked. There was obviously a lot of thought put into the order of operations when they were constructing the jacket, and you could tell they went through all the prototype iterations necessary to get a finished product worthy of the price tag.
One detail I think MW missed the mark on a little bit is the mp3-player pocket, which is on the inside on the right hand breast. The pocket itself is fine; same high quality of construction as the rest of the jacket, and pretty standard neoprene-with-an-earphone-port fare we're all coming to expect in these kinds of jackets. The problem, however, is the location: it is dead in the center
of where a left-shouldered messenger bag strap will go. Which means a lot of pressure being places on the mp3 player pocket, where presumably you have your fairly delicate mp3 player (which might have cost as much as this jacket). A few inches higher or lower on the right side, or even on the left side "below" the cell phone pocket, and this could have been avoided.
I don't listen to my mp3 player when I'm riding anyway, so it's in the bag, but this would be a problem some people have to solve.
Another minus would be the potential air-gap at the collar that I mentioned earlier, but this is less of an issue and pretty easily solved by your other layers. It is only going to be an issue if it is really *bitterly* cold, in which case you're going to want to be wearing a gator/scarf/balaclava anyway.
The Orion is an expensive jacket, but there are reasons for that. It is waterproof and windproof, but you could not be suffocated by it. It is so comfortable it's easy to forget you're wearing it, on or off the bike (I've been sitting here wearing the entire time I've been composing this review), without compromising at all on its attractive aesthetics. The attention to detail in things like the cuff and pocket design is impressive, and the construction quality has revealed no flaws whatsoever in my month of daily use.
I was going to make a pros and cons list, but you all should hopefully know now what the pros are.
So I'll just reiterate the cons, the ones I could come up with.
- The hood looks dorky, and there's too much head room to wear it without a beanie or hat underneath.
- The collar can let a little air in if you don't have something to stop it, and there's no integreated cinch.
- The "mp3 player" pocket sits right under a messenger back shoulder strap.
- It doesn't automagically resize itself to fit the same with 10 layers or a t-shirt like in Back to the Future.
If you don't buy this jacket it is because you are an impoverished homeless person with bad taste.
If anyone has any other specific questions or wants to see detail pictures of anything, just let me know.