OR Mentor Jacket Review


This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

A good hardshell is an important part of anyone’s backcountry kit. Even if you keep it in your pack most of the time, when a storm hits, or you have the misfortune of something like PNW rain, having a solid layer between you and the elements is essential. Outdoor Research Mentor fits the bill.

OR Mentor keeping the vicious British Columbia wind outside where it belongs. Unfortunately my clothing couldn't help with the navigation. Note how the huge hood fits over my helm.

I used my Outdoor Research Motto Jacket for years. This is a softshell by name, but sheds rain along with the best hardshells, breathes better, and has the relaxed fit I like in my clothing. After about a thousand days of use my Motto finally wore out. While it did work, at 32 ounces the Motto is heavy for a backcountry shell. Figuring I needed a lightweight, stormproof jacket, I decided to try out the Outdoor Research Mentor. Combined with a light Polartec softshell, Mentor is only slightly heavier than the Motto by itself, and offers more versatility.

The Mentor is OR’s top of the line hardshell, which is reflected in the price. You get what you pay for however, with superb construction and nice materials. Plenty of attention is payed to details such as laminated seams. The Mentor is made completely out of Gore-Tex Proshell fabric, yet keeps the weight fairly low at 17 oz. I have a lighter Paclite shell as well, but 17 oz seems to be about the magic number for a full on storm shell.

Hood elastic and main zipper detail


Breast pocket detail

I’ve used the Mentor for about four months, mostly as a shell to throw on for the ski down, although I’ve used it for the ascent during a few cold occasions. One of the big factors in any kind of clothing is the fit, and OR stuff fits me well. I like a jacket that has a long torso, so wind and snow has a harder time finding its way under the hem. The collar on the Mentor is also nice and tall, so you can hunker down in it and protect most of your face from the wind. As far as breathability goes, I get warm while I’m skinning, so I hardly ever wear a shell on the way up. The ample pit zips allow you to dump tons of heat, and on the few cold days when I have worn it skinning, it worked well. Indeed, this isn’t a review of Gore-Tex Proshell, but let me testify, the stuff works.

I carry quite a collection in my pockets when I’m touring, so pockets are a important feature of a jacket to me. The Mentor has two exterior pockets, and two interior pockets. These are all thoughtfully positioned above where a pack hip-belt goes (wow, what a concept). The pit zips of the jacket extend all the way from the upper arm to the hem of the jacket. These work great for cooling off, but I’ve also found they work great for accessing the pockets of whatever I’m wearing underneath without removing the jacket.

Inner pocket

Mentor has a humongous hood to fit over a ski helmet. This is useful for adding warmth when wearing a helmet (and of course essential in dangerous weather), however if I try to wear the hood without a helmet the front goes down to my chin and is difficult to configure so it stays above my eyes — great for warmth, not so good for seeing where I’m going (something I enjoy). As on most other jackets, I’ve found the hood adjustments on the Mentor too fiddly to use in cold weather with gloves. Minor gripe I know, but this is the only thing I don’t really like about the jacket.

Of course choosing ski clothing involves personal fit and preference, and there are dozens of terrific 17 ounce storm shells out there. I love nearly every thing about the OR Mentor jacket. It has many features I like in a jacket, and nothing I feel is unnecessary.

Shop for it.

Comments

19 Responses to “OR Mentor Jacket Review”

  1. Steve May 30th, 2011 5:02 pm

    Dear Lou,

    I came across your blog as I was performing research on backcountry snowboarding. In accordance with your policy, I’m posting my question as a post comment as I need your advice. I could not find a related post so I’m using a recent post for the comments.

    My 16 year-old son and his friend want to go snowboarding down La Plata this coming weekend (June 4, 2011). Last summer they summited the mountain in good weather. My son is an advanced level snowboarder but his friend is a mid-level (Blue) snowboarder. The idea of them snowboarding down La Plata seems like a really bad idea to me.

    This sounds like it qualifies as backcountry snowboarding. Neither has been through an avalanche course nor do they have the basics such as an avalanche beacon, probe or shovel. I plan to tell my son that I’m not going to take him but rather I will pay for backcountry snowboarding instruction / avalanche course next year.

    I would like to know what you think. Am I over-reacting to this? Is it not as dangerous as I think it is? Any advice you have is greatly appreciated.

    Thanks,

    Steve
    Colorado Springs, CO

  2. brian h May 30th, 2011 6:22 pm

    Steve- I know your question was directed to Lou but as a parent of a 16 year old I thought I could/should throw in. You are NOT over reacting. The risk of wet slides is very real and the timing of a summit attempt is crucial. Young dudes are risk takers and risk clueless and will do their damndest to make you think your acting like a mother hen. Don’t give in. Big mountain stuff is a progression thing. Baby steps.

  3. Lou May 30th, 2011 6:31 pm

    You are not over reacting. Anyone who goes and does ski or snowboard mountaineering without basic equipment is a danger to themselves as well as anyone who has to rescue them, or God forbid, recover their bodies. As Brian says, you learn the sport through a progression, and there are basic standards in our culture.

    We definitely are quite lenient about risk taking in the mountaineering culture, but only by those who are informed about what they are doing and make conscious decisions based on experience and knowledge.

    You can show the young men this, but I hope they don’t just view it as some old guys getting on their case, and then go do it anyway and joke around about it being no big deal…

    Insofar as details, there will still be some possible avy danger up there next weekend, but hazards are probably more along the line of normal objective mountain hazards such as falling down steep snow, weather issues, and stuff like that. Things like expertise in the use of an ice axe, and first aid courses, are what mitigate some of those hazards. Not to mention overall judgment based on experience and education, which results in good decision making.

    There you go.

  4. Lou May 30th, 2011 6:32 pm

    P.S., don’t regard an avalanche course as a panacea. I’d venture to say that many, if not the majority of folks who get involved in backcountry skiing or snowboarding avalanches have taken an avalanche course. Overall experience and good mentoring are just as important, if not more.

  5. Steve May 30th, 2011 6:44 pm

    Lou and Brian,

    Thank you both very much for your prompt responses. I really appreciate that you’ve confirmed my suspicions. Thanks for giving me the benefit of your experience.

    I will definitely stand firm on them going this weekend or any time until they have appropriate instruction, equipment and experiences.

    Sincerely,

    Steve
    Colorado Springs, CO

  6. Lou May 30th, 2011 7:24 pm

    Steve, glad we could help and thank Brian for chiming in right away on something as important as this.

    If you’ve got the bucks, hire a guide for the kids. They’ll learn a ton. I hesitate to recommend ANY backcountry on their own, since it sounds like they have none of the requisite gear or training.

  7. Tavis May 30th, 2011 7:27 pm

    Definitely my new favorite jacket. I rocked all year in W. Montana where the snow (like most places) fell constantly all winter, and wet too. It’s super lightweight, windproof, waterproof and bomber construction. Nice write up.

  8. Steve May 30th, 2011 7:45 pm

    Lou,

    I’m definitely going to look into training for my son and then we can invest in gear when we actually know something. I fully support my son getting into backcountry snowboarding as he is tough and adventurous, but he is 16 and thinks he’s invincible, as 16 year-olds tend to think.

    I’m going to offer to take my son and his friend to A-Basin this weekend. It won’t be the adrenaline rush of going down La Plata but they’ll be a lot safer.

    Thanks again to you and Brian.

    Sincerely,

    Steve
    Colorado Springs, CO

  9. Eddie May 30th, 2011 9:59 pm

    My fiance has an OR Enigma jacket (Pro Shell/PacLite combo), with similar features. She’s been very pleased with it, and it’s been put to the test in freezing weather in Colorado in January, rain/snow/sleet in the Sierras in March, and the rainy season of midwest springs for two years now. The only complaint we have about it is the hood adjustment that you noted in your review.

    My Arc’Teryx Theta AR shell has essentially all the same features, with the exception of the ‘napoleon pocket’ on the sleeve and the pit zips don’t go all the way to the hem. Most notably though, the hood is much easier to adjust – a single yank with a gloved hand takes care of essentially all the adjustment you could need. I’d like to strongly recommend trying one on next time you get the opportunity, to see if it’d address the only issue you seem to have found with the OR.

    PS – Props to Outdoor Research’s customer service department. We’ve always been taken care of promptly and courteously. Very pleasing.

  10. John May 30th, 2011 10:23 pm

    I’ve got a 3 or 4 year old OR Furio, which is PacLite and Pro Shell combined. I’ve been super happy with it. I bought online and should have gotten a medium rather than large 6″2″ 160 lbs. It does have a long fit which I love, but the year I bought the jacket was when they eliminated waist area pockets, and only have the two Napoleon pockets on the outside which they have changed in current years. The only issue I have had is the zipper is currently blowing out and some of the seam tape is coming loose, but this is after 3 years of pretty hard use. Like the person above said, OR’s customer service is great. I guess that was a mini review of a different jacket, but what I was getting at was, good company and their jackets are nice too.

  11. Lou May 31st, 2011 4:52 am

    Steve May, study the history of A Basin, it can be a pretty exciting place at times. Personally, if I was skiing there on a warm spring afternoon I’d be carrying my beacon/shovel and never skiing alone. Lou

  12. Lou May 31st, 2011 4:55 am

    My favorite pocket configuration for a jacket is two huge napoleons, no waist pockets, like the old Cloudveil Serendipity. The original model of that thing was fantastic. You could put an SLR in one of the pockets, but they were low bulk and trim when empty.

  13. Steve May 31st, 2011 6:30 am

    Lou,

    I’ll certainly take a look at the history of A-Basin. My son will definitely have his friend with him. Thanks for all your help.

    Sincerely,

    Steve
    Colorado Springs, CO

  14. See May 31st, 2011 10:20 am

    Although it mostly stays in my pack, my OR Zealot (7 oz) has been very satisfactory on those occasions when I’ve chosen to use it, e.g. climbing in driving snow over a light layer. For the same total weight, I like having a very light hardshell, and a range of more breathable layers, rather than having a full on hardshell.

    Aside from durability, what advantages are there to Gore-Tex Pro over Paclite?

  15. Marcus May 31st, 2011 11:27 am

    Great review Louie — the Mentor is a fantastic shell. I’ve found that, once you tweak the hood just right, you can get it quite comfy with good vis on a helmet-less head. Better to tweak it in your living room though, not in the wind & rain…

  16. FarNorCal May 31st, 2011 1:35 pm

    I bought this jacket earlier this year (in that same awesome Pilsner color), and I’ve been happy with it. I’ve only used it on half a dozen or so occasions, but it’s become my go-to shell for most outdoor activities when there might be rain or snow.

    It’s reasonably light weight, the color shows up well on the snow without looking like an emergency beacon, and it keeps my completely dry in all conditions.

    It does take up a bit more room in the pack than some lighter materials, but it’s completely bomber when it’s raining or snowing, and I’m hoping it’s durable enough for 3-5 seasons of wear.

    Also, some of my older lightweight shells (e.g., Marmot Precip) are very “slippery” feeling, and I worry that they could make arresting a fall more difficult. The Gore-Tex Proshell in the Mentor jacket feels like it has a higher coefficient of friction.

  17. EJK October 22nd, 2012 5:13 pm

    Just an update on the current-year Mentor model (2012-2013) – I had an older version of the jacket that blew out a pit zip so I brought it into the OR Seattle store for repairs. Seems like they don’t do equipment repairs anymore, so they offered me a replacement jacket (sweet!)

    The newer models have reinforced wear areas on the shoulders and hip belt area, but there’s two changes that you might want to know before purchasing.

    1. The wrist adjustment tabs have a much shorter length of velcro than the older models, so if you have tiny hands/wrists, try before you buy.
    2. If you’re a short Men’s S (say, 5’5″ like me), the designated hip belt location is below where actual harness/pack hip belts should ride. Unfortunately, they moved all the pockets down by about an inch and a half, meaning that my natural harness line cuts directly across the two bottom pockets of the jacket. The old jacket pockets were high enough to still be mostly usable.

    If you’re on the bigger end of your jacket size spectrum, these shouldn’t be a problem for you, but they’re something to think about for smaller guys. That said – I’m looking forward to rocking this electric blue jacket this ski season :)

  18. Jay December 26th, 2012 8:10 pm

    Lou,

    I am headed to the Houte Route in the spring (April 1st). I am looking for a go to hard shell for that trip and others I plan this winter. Mentor looks great. How does it compare to something like the Arcteryx Alpha LT? Both are pro shell but the Alpha is several ounces lighter and only $25 more or so. If not those two jackets, any other recommendations? I am admittedly a Patagonia junkie but I don’t see anything that really fits the bill for ski touring. Thanks

  19. andrew February 19th, 2013 11:14 am

    Lou,

    Great review, I’m considering the mentor jacket for purchase and wanted to know what your impression of the new 2012-13 model was with regards to durability. It appears that the 70D fabric now only covers the shoulders and hips as compared to the arms/elbows/chest in the older model. Do you think this could lead to durability issues down the road particularly in the elbow area?

    Regards
    -Andrew

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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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