Outdoor Research Enchainment Softshell – Review

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OR Enchainment keeping Lou warm and cozy during a white-out day.

OR Enchainment in the dry cold of The Rogers.

I can’t get away from it. Ever since I ran a Schoeller fabric softshell as my top layer, I’ve delighted in the way such high-tech layers protect me from the weather yet yield gusty breathability without fiddly venting. So every winter I make sure I’ve got some sort of soft shell on the rack. I grab the softie when backcountry skiing conditions dictate (dry Colorado cold or good spring weather, I leave it home when I need a full-on storm shell). This winter’s choice: Outdoor Research Enchainment.

Enchainment jacket by OR

Enchainment jacket by OR

But this isn’t your grandmother’s softshell. In days of yore, to make a softshell they just stiched up a jacket made of all the same fabric. If they used some variety of Schoeller such coats worked well, but why not improve on things? To that end, underarm areas and a panel on the shoulders of the Enchainment are body mapped with a Schoeller fabric they coated with something called NanoSphere. This stuff is super breathable but still repels water well due to some sort of unobtanium “nano” coating on the outside. (Schoeller also claims “substances as ketchup, honey, coffee or red wine” just “run off” NanoSphere, which is a useful quality when you’re at a mountain hut, though one has to wonder what happens when the wine runs off the NanoSphere onto the adjacent fabric.)

Beyond the NanoSphere panels, OR builds the Enchainment with a stretchy yet tightly woven fabric that appears quite similar to Schoeller Dryskin softshell fabric — a stretchy double-weave version of the Schoeller fabric we’ve all come to love, if not worship, as some of the best stuff going for cradling your corpus while ski touring. The nameless fabric is seam taped to the NanoSphere at most junctures, but seam tape is oddly lacking on one large seam around the back area. My theory: the untaped area rides under your backpack, and what happens under your backpack regarding moisture — well, lets just say “what happens under your backpack stays under your backpack.” Thus seam taping in that area is probably an exercise in futility, and thus can be left out to save a bit of cost. To be fair, seam tape also reduces stretchability so perhaps that’s the design philosophy reason it was left out. In the end, seam tape in a soft shell is probably only necessary on the shoulder areas, so whatever.

Cons:
- Hood barely fits over helmet.
- Waist pockets that end up under pack belt (I guess these are for city folks who use softshells for hanging out at Starbucks.)
- Both of the Napolean pockets could be larger.
- Sleeves are cut slightly skinny for use over puffy, and that’s with my chicken arms.

Features I like:
- Simplicity! No fiddly pit zips!
- Hood fits well, maleable wire brim works.
- Sleeve and waist lengths are backcountry real.
- Enchainment does have two chest pockets, one inside and one outside.
- All the stretchy fabric has a pleasant feel.
- Torso sized nicely, fits over puffy without binding.
- Weight of 19.8 oz (large) is good for a softshell (I have an older one that weighs about an ounce more).

Over the past few weeks I’ve done real-world testing of the Enchainment in the types of conditions I like for a softshell. For example, cold dry Canadian weather at Rogers Pass. Conclusion: Enchainment gives me exactly what I want in a softshell. No more, no less. It’s there. On my closet rod. Beckoning me to leave that bulky noisy hard shell at home, grab the Enchainment, and go for some cold dry powder in the deep of winter.

Shop for it (possibly on sale)

Comments

16 Responses to “Outdoor Research Enchainment Softshell – Review”

  1. Tom McCullough December 9th, 2013 8:37 pm

    Curious about using Scarpa TX tech cum bellows boot with a Dynafit binding. Would make it easier for old feet to tour. Any downside? Thought you once reviewed this as possibly needing an under toe shim? Direction or ideas? Thxs

  2. Mark Worley December 9th, 2013 10:02 pm

    Yeah, softshell works great for cold, dry touring. Skied in my oldish Gamma MX Arcteryx jacket today in -2 to -3 F temps. Wind at times whipped, but no matter. Jacket is getting a little scraggly looking after several seasons, but the wear is only cosmetic.

  3. Lou Dawson December 10th, 2013 5:04 am

    Tom, the flex at the ball of the foot is over rated. It’s nice at times, but totally non-essential as shown by top alpinists both skiing and alpine climbing in their non-flex ski boots. The concept continues to persist due to the huge influence that telemark had for a while, and the famed Scarpa F1 boot which was hugely popular, more for its light weight and one-motion cuff latch than its bellows, but for a while it was the standard for skimo racing.. As for binding interface, with tech bindings the bellows indeed causes problematic behavior and is best to shim, but the shim can compromise safety release.

    The best thing about metatarsal flex (bellows) is it makes walking, hiking and standing around at the bar much more comfortable. As for skiing, the bellows does help with lengthy flat tours, as it allows a bit more ergonomic stride if you have good glide skins or are using nordic wax.

  4. Tom McCullough December 10th, 2013 5:32 am

    Lou, thanks. I assume there is no available shim to do the job since safety concerns would prevail. I assume a home grown version would articulate with the crampon attachment site on the toe piece? Not wedded to the idea but have the boots, they are comfortable and have moved on from NTN.

  5. Lou Dawson December 10th, 2013 5:38 am

    Pretty sure Scarpa still sells shims for F1, including a version that hinges up and down just like a ski crampon on a Dynafit binding. Lou

  6. Alexis December 10th, 2013 12:02 pm

    Are you sure it is made with Dryskin softshell fabric? Their website claims that it is:

    “100% polyester fabric body, 100% polyester Schoeller® fabric with Nanosphere® technology under arms”

    No claims about Schoeller Dryskin. I assume they would say so if they were using it!!

    Thanks,

    Alexis

  7. Lou Dawson December 10th, 2013 12:40 pm

    Alexis, no, I’m not 100% sure. All I did was study their website for quite some time and state in the review what they show is obviously the same fabric. But I suppose it could be something different. Looks identical, and is really nice stuff, so…. I suppose I could have equivocated a bit. Trying to write tight. Perhaps someone from OR could chime in. Lou

  8. Lou Dawson December 10th, 2013 2:24 pm

    No good deed goes unpunished (grin). I spent quite a bit of time on both the OR website and Schoeller websites seeking to get the names right, but I totally failed! According to OR, there is NO fabric in that jacket that has a specific name. The only “name” is the NanoSphere, and it’s a treatment not a fabric. The treated fabric is made by Schoeller but has no name. The other fabric isn’t even Schoeller! I haven’t screwed up this bad in years (or have I?)

    At any rate, it’s a good jacket and the supposed non-Schoeller fabric sure seems to be identical to the Dryskin on their website!

    I’ll edit the review so as not to lead folks astray. And do more home repairs as punishment.

    Lou

  9. Alexis December 10th, 2013 2:32 pm

    Thanks for looking into it! -Alexis

  10. Lou Dawson December 10th, 2013 2:37 pm

    Well, the fabrics seem to work super well, just not as fun to brag about. Lou

  11. Skyler December 10th, 2013 5:19 pm

    Have you looked at the new Black Diamond soft shells?

  12. Lou Dawson December 10th, 2013 5:39 pm

    But of course!

  13. Skyler December 10th, 2013 6:25 pm

    ….have you gotten to use one yet?

  14. Lou Dawson December 10th, 2013 6:49 pm

    We’ve had some of the BD clothing kicking around. It’s been fine. Lou

  15. Bob December 14th, 2013 5:41 pm

    Your comments about the arms being a bit tight on this jacket hit home with me. It seems to me that technical clothing with an “athletic fit” or trim fit are getting tighter and tighter on clothes from many manufactures. I would have thought that very very fit people using this gear would tend to have fairly broad shoulders. I find that I often can’t come close to fitting into a medium shell because it is too tight in the chest and arm holes, but fits great everywhere else. The large is great in the chest and arm holes, but huge everywhere else. I have some older worn out Marmot and North Face shells that fit fine. Do you have any suggestions on technical clothing lines that fit folks with broader shoulders?

  16. Lou Dawson December 14th, 2013 6:22 pm

    Hi Bob, fit is all over the map, even within the same brand. All you can do is get items and try on… I’ve tried for years to find out why we get things like jackets with tight arms along with torso dimensions for gigantic guts, but have never found an answer. To add confusion, sometimes the fit will even vary within the same model! I have skinny arms, some of these shell jackets in a large fit my arms so tight I can’t get more than a thin puffy underneath without binding. I guess they’re made for wearing at Starbucks. Lou

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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