Review: Oros' aerogel-insulated cold weather gear
Those of us who live and seek adventure in cold weather are familiar with the various thermal technologies available. With Oros, something is different. It's lightweight, thin, and yet warmer than many other options we've owned thanks to the use of NASA-inspired aerogel.
In terms of warmth-retention, nothing beats air. The major design component of any cold weather gear is aimed towards capturing and utilizing air. Air creates a buffer between temperature layers, trapping heat energy efficiently. In most types of cold weather gear, the balance is between the material and the amount of "loft" (air trapping) it can accomplish.
Traditional goose down, for example, uses the thin-fibered, fluffy down of the goose to create space that traps air. The down itself is encased in materials meant to prevent a lot of air exchange from one layer to another. Wool and other materials do something similar, trapping air inside the fibers for the same purpose. This is why sheep look so fluffy.
NASA took a different approach for space exploration. Size, bulk, and weight are vitally important to space missions – the less of each the better. To achieve this scientists at NASA turned to aerogel; a synthetic material that traps large amounts of air in small spaces, reducing bulk and weight. The material can be thin enough to be worn as a light jacket or thin pants. Yet can withstand arctic (or space) temperatures with ease. Hydro- and aerogels have been around for over 70 years, but until recently they have only been applicable to solid surfaces.
The trouble NASA had to overcome was the brittle nature of aerogels, which often collapsed under light pressure. They eventually solved this issue with better silicate design and drying processes, which made the silica flexible and able to withstand pressure.
Silica and polymer gels are made through chemical processes that create nanoparticle colloids (called "sols") which are then induced to form into a gel in what is called the sol-gel process. Specifically, an aerogel is created when the chemical process involves removing the liquid used in the sol-gel process and replacing it with air. This is best done through a supercritical drying process that utilizes carbon dioxide. This drying process avoids the pressures created when liquids attempt to evaporate through the tiny pores of the gel.
Oros calls its proprietary aerogel blend SolarCore. It contains about 90 percent air and the makers say it retains breathability and stretchiness while being two to eight times more efficient than traditional insulation.
We've spent some quality time encased in Oros winter gear with SolarCore technology and it stacks up as being excellent in comparison to bulkier gear we've tried before. Living in Wyoming, this author is familiar with all that winter can bring, as well as the rigors that can come with adventuring in that weather while wearing protective gear against it. Bulky coats and thick ski pants are tiring to wear, whether you are snowshoeing or just wandering into the back yard in sub-zero temps to feed chickens.
The Oros equipment is as well-made as any similarly-priced garments on the higher-end ski and snow gear racks. Yet it's indubitably more comfortable and far less restrictive thanks to its light weight and thin construction.
The coat is designed for skiing and similar outdoor activities, with heavy-duty zippers with well-protected teeth, a variety of buttons for added closure, and a zip-off hood. Cinches allow most everything to be tightened against the cold and snow's intrusion while zip-outs allow for added freedom of movement in the shoulders and elbows. A removable waist strap (skirt) cinches down for an extra layer between the coat and snow pants underneath.
The snow pants are similarly well made, with boot socks, an over-zip for closing around boots, and tight front pockets. We noticed that when sitting on cold objects (rocks, chairs) in the cold weather, the SolarCore pants don't compress to give you that cold derriere feeling. Definitely a bonus, and one of the benefits of aerogel's properties, which include being able to withstand over 600 psi of pressure without losing loft.
The gloves to match the pants and coat are well-made for most common tasks (gripping ski poles, climbing, etc.) but not as versatile as are some other options such as fingerless mittens. The touch-sensitive finger tips for mobile device use are a nice touch, as is the "self-heating" feature that traps and circulates heated air from the palms to the fingers, keeping hands warmer.
We sized our Oros gear to match body dimensions and found the fits to be snug. The coat is loose enough to allow a light thermal or fleece to be worn underneath, but the snow pants are best worn alone over nothing more than long johns or bare legs. Ditto with the gloves. For those accustomed to wearing layers, up-sizing when ordering is recommended.
Another minor beef is zipper use with the Oros gloves on. It doesn't happen. The fingers are too thick and the zipper pulls too small to make this possible. We prefer our winter gear to be operable without taking things off.
On the whole, though, Oros gear is excellent. Very much worth the money if you're going to be outdoors during the coldest conditions. Gear runs from about US$118 for the gloves up to about US$500 for jacket and pants.
Check out the Oros gear up against liquid nitrogen in the promo video below.
Product Page: Oros