Outdoor Research Quasar Parka and Bib
By Matt Smith
Across the board, most waterproof breatheable shells are more or less the same. Proprietary fabrics vary, but in general you get a shell with a couple of chest (napolean) pockets, a hood, pit zips, and a corded waist. Cuts vary from more to less technical, some technical features are dropped for the "style" version. For the first time in several years, I have been privleged to test a truly different parka.
The Outdoor Research Quasar Parka (with Nova Hood) has three features that set it apart from all other shells in my book. First the hood is detachable. This may not sound like a great idea initially, but hear me out. How often have you turned your head to look for the next hold, or to talk to a buddy and found yourself looking right at the inside of your hood. The Nova hood when detached turns freely with your head, so you always have a clear view. Inside, the collar is tall enough that wind and rain coming in from under the hood wasn't a problem.
The collar is the next unique feature. I would say that nine out of ten shells I test don't have room for collars of layering pieces to be fully zipped up inside the shell collar. The Quasar Parka does. There is ample room for at least two additional collars around your neck with the shell collar fully zipped. (I commonly layered the Marmot DriClime Windshirt and the Moonstone Chagga Fleece together under the Quasar Parka). The extra room means you can breath, vent moisture, and move more freely.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly in my eyes, the pit zips are full length from the elbow to the waist. The zippers are two-way which allows you to open the sides and pass your pack waist belt through to the inside without having to either hike up the parka above your waistbelt, or cram it under. The beautiful thing about it is that with the waist belt going through the sides of the parka, you can actually vent while wearing a pack. Trust me, there are innumerable zipper combinations to accomodate the venting needs of pretty much any situation.
Now the rest of the story. The cut is trim and fitting, but loose enough to allow a couple of layering pieces. THe Quasar is intended for a more technical crowd, and as such is cut large enough to layer. Don't assume you need to get size larger, even if you are a borderline X/XL. Breathability was typical for a waterproof breathable shell.
The Quasar Bibs are also quite functional. Full length side zips make it easy to get the bibs on even while wearing boots or crampons. The crotch zip is handy, especially if you have compatible layers underneath. Otherwise you still end up dropping the seat...
Range of motion is great, especially for striding motions (mountaineering, snow shoeing etc.). However, in wide stances, the bibs felt a little restrictive. Otherwise, the bibs are par for the course with a chest pocket, cordura abrasion pads on the seat, knees and inside of the legs. I found them to be comparable to similar bibs offered by other manufacturers.
Summary: The Quasar Parka with the Nova Hood is awesome. Extremely functional, versatile, and comfortable. Though it sits a little on the pricey side at around $325, it was one of my favorite pieces this winter. The bibs are typical and met my technical expectations.
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Matt Smith is the canyoneering specialist at GearReview.com