I was only three hours into Iceland’s 32-mile-long Laugavegur trail when the Axiom started to prove itself in earnest. Under a full pack and a steady downpour, I
trudged bounded up steep volcanic talus slopes and slushy snow fields and, miraculously, didn’t soak the inside of the jacket with sweat. The Achilles’ heel of Gore-Tex in my experience has been that while it keeps water out, it also locks in body heat to a fault, rendering the inside of the garment a damp, sweaty sauna.
That wasn't the case with the Axiom, though, thanks primarly to its breathable, flexible four-way-stretch Gore-Tex Active Shell construction. As the name implies, Active Shell is desined for "high aerobic" activity. New for 2012, the Axiom is among the first jackets to use the latest wonder-material, and while most of the other Active Shell equipped jackets on the market are hoodless, single-pocket designs (Gore requires that garments using Active Shell weigh no more than 14 ounces), the Axiom is decidedly not minimalist. It has three pockets, a full, helmet-sized hood and a waist cinch. Notably, It doesn’t have pit zips; but even more notably, this omission hardly affected breathability in my testing.
Outdoor Research markets the Axiom as a jacket made for "fast and light alpine climbs," with pockets that sit high enough to be accessed above a harness and stretchy fabric that won’t expose your mid-section to the elements when reaching to place an anchor. While backpacking, these features meant that my pockets were above my pack’s hip belt, providing easy access to stashes of jerky and trail mix, and neither midriff nor arms were exposed to rain during hand-over-hand rock scrambles.
Overall, the Axiom is a great shell that kept me dry when it rained (which was frequently), warm in the wind (which blew hard) and cool on all but the steepest, most sun-exposed ascents. Plus, with its athletic cut and vivid orange color, the Axiom makes for one good-looking jacket. It's also versatile enough to suit biking, trail running and winter sports as well as it does backpacking and alpinism.
Hits: Super lightweight and packable, it sacrifices neither breathability nor waterproofness, which is near miraculous. The fabric is quiet and the cut flattering, so you can wear it in the city, too. You know, if you want to look sporty.
Misses: The floppy hood could use more structure. Made to fit a climbing helmet, it takes lots of cinching to snug up on a windy day.
Buy It ($374.95 at Backcountry.com)