Outside of the tent, I could hear the snow falling. Daylight was gone, the temperature had dropped, and I’d left my Jetboil back in the truck about a mile down the snowy road my companion and I hiked in on. And without the Jetboil, our dehydrated backpacker’s meals were useless.
So I reluctantly stepped into my insulated snow pants, stuffed my feet into my Sorrel boots, and swaddled myself with the Oros Gambit jacket. I really didn’t want to leave the comfort and safety of our winter shelter. But there was no avoiding it if we wanted to eat.
I stepped out of the tent, ready to start running. But despite the air temperature now hovering in the middle teens, I felt pretty warm. The Oros Gambit jacket was a decent barrier between me and the cold air. It was trapping my body heat within it, making the walk to the car more leisurely than I’d anticipated.
The Oros Gambit jacket feels comparably warm to my Patagonia Nano jacket. But it has a wind-resistant, waterproof, breathable outer layer and no down, synthetic insulation, or fleece lining inside it. Instead, Oros hangs its hat on proprietary insulation called “SOLARCORE,” a composite aerogel the brand claims offers “more warmth in a much thinner package than traditional insulations.”
In short: The Oros Gambit jacket ($340) is warm, waterproof, and notably slimmer than many down jackets of comparable warmth. And, like synthetic insulation, if the SOLARCORE within the Gambit gets soaked, it will still keep you warm. It doesn’t pack down like down or synthetic insulation. Nor is it nearly as lightweight — in fact, it’s downright heavy. But, nearly a decade since its inception, Oros remains in the first generation of SOLARCORE. The founders say they’re addressing these issues for future iterations.
And truly, the Gambit is slimmer looking than most down jackets. But as far as insulation goes, SOLARCORE still has room for improvement when it comes to weight and compression. I wouldn’t make this my primary jacket for skiing, touring, or winter backpacking. But for neighborhood walks, commutes, short winter hikes, working outside around the house, and even going out on the town, it’s an adequate outer layer.
This is not a parka for sub-zero temperatures (even though it weighs as much as one). But it does the job for most casual winter activities, which is exactly what it’s advertised to do.
Oros Gambit Jacket
- Top material 2-way stretch 20k/20k waterproof breathable recycled polyester
- Bottom material Stretch double-weave softshell with PFC-Free DWR 91% Polyester, 9% Elastane
- Waterproof, wind-resistant, breathable
- Body-mapped with SOLARCORE insulation
- Well ventilated
- Warm and slim
- Not very packable
- Not very light
- Back ventilation does not close
Oros Gambit Jacket Review
When it comes to insulation, down is king. It has been since Eddie Bauer created the first jacket encased with feathers in 1936 and patented the design under the name “skyliner.” Down traps heat within air pockets that prevent heat from transferring out of a jacket.
The technology blew every other insulation out of the water at the time. Wool, cotton, leather, fur — none of them could compete. Down has remained at the top of the podium ever since.
Even as alternative synthetic insulations like Primaloft, Polartec, Thermoball, and others have appeared on the scene, down has remained a favorite insulator because, in the simplest terms, it’s just warm as hell.
It does have drawbacks, though. If it gets wet, it loses its insulation properties. If it’s compressed, those air pockets exhale their heat, and the jacket loses its warmth. And tightly-woven fabric often encases it so feathers don’t leak out, reducing breathability. That outer material is usually thin and can be prone to tearing.
Michael Markesbery is the co-founder and CEO of Oros. And in his aesthetic opinion, down jackets always look bulky and awkward. He calls it the “Michelin man problem,” and he wants to find an alternative.
SOLARCORE Technology Tested
The Gambit Jacket uses SOLARCORE panels strategically placed on the torso and arms to maximize insulation without minimizing mobility or limiting breathability. Vents and pit-zips improve passive and active airflow for ventilation.
“Every insulation that’s ever existed since the beginning of time, regardless of industry, has needed bulk or air space to work,” Markesbery told me. “That is not true with aerogel, thereby not true with SOLARCORE. For the first time in history, you can have a thin amount of insulation that actually gives you significant thermal value.”
I used the Gambit jacket throughout that two-day winter camping trip, on many cold-weather dog walks, short day hikes, out around town, and even for a day skiing.
For most of those uses, it was an adequate jacket. However, I found there were both pros and cons to the SOLARCORE insulation — something other GearJunkie testers have noticed as well.
SOLARCORE insulates even if it’s wet. Down won’t do that. Synthetic insulation will. But if synthetic insulation gets compressed (while it’s wet or dry), the trapped air pockets get squished, and it loses its insulating properties.
SOLARCORE will maintain its insulating properties no matter how wet you get it or how much you try to compress it.
And unlike many down or synthetic insulation jackets, the exterior of the Gambit is DWR waterproofed. So you could wear it while it’s snowing outside or in light rain and stay good and dry.
I didn’t get to wear the Gambit in any serious rain. Although I wore it in some pretty wet snow, the waterproofing held up. Even though the seams aren’t seam taped, the DWR finish does its job.
Michelin Man Problem
Just as Markesbery had hoped, SOLARCORE insulation solves the bulk issue he saw with down insulation. The Gambit is a slim-looking jacket that’s easy to wear around town. It accompanied me on many days out running errands, meeting friends for dinner, and going to and from work. It’s a warm jacket that doesn’t make you look or feel like a marshmallow.
For the record, that aspect of down jackets has never really bothered me. And to be fair, most down jackets I wear for casual winter activities are pretty low-profile.
However, for anyone who is bothered by the “Michelin Man problem,” as Markesbery was, the Oros Gambit is a good alternative option.
I thought the jacket fit me well. The shoulders weren’t tight, the arms were a good length, and the back of the jacket covered my butt (a great feature for any winter jacket). The shape is a little boxy, but it leaves enough room to layer underneath it.
However, I noticed when I went skiing that the hood does not fit over a ski helmet, and the jacket won’t zip all the way up if you’re wearing one. It’s the same issue our other tester noticed in 2016 when he took the Oros SOLARCORE Parka skiing.
SOLARCORE is not very breathable on its own. That makes it a great wind blocker, but it also means you couldn’t make an entire jacket out of it. Knowing that the Oros team designed the Gambit jacket with lots of ventilation between the SOLARCORE panels stitched into the shell.
On the back, between the shoulder blades, there is a large open vent. Two pit zips provide even more ventilation. And the lining of the pockets is mesh, improving airflow even more when they’re open.
This was great for short hikes where I worked up a sweat or warm days walking my dog when I wanted more ventilation. But wearing the jacket on the ski slopes, the back vent (which is the largest) constantly dumped my heat. And it doesn’t close. So when I got up to speed, cold air rushed in, forcing out any warmth the SOLARCORE insulation was trapping.
Packability and Weight
While camping, I quickly realized that the Oros Gambit jacket is not a packable piece of gear. Yes, it kept me warm when I ventured out into the cold after that Jetboil. It was also well-ventilated on a short hike the next morning.
But when I wanted to stuff it into my backpack, it took up as much room as my Marmot Lithium 0-degree sleeping bag. And the Gambit weighed more than the bag — SOLARCORE is a heavy insulator.
By contrast, my Patagonia Nano jacket stuffs into a pack that’s already filled to its brim. It weighs just a handful of ounces. It isn’t waterproof like the Oros Gambit. But even if I combine the Nano’s weight and packability with a rain shell, it’s still lighter and more packable than the Gambit.
This is undoubtedly the biggest drawback to SOLARCORE technology.
But, Markesbery says Oros is working on addressing that.
“The heartbeat of Oros is a team called Oros Labs. It’s a team of textile, mechanical, and chemical engineers dedicated to developing the next generation of thermal materials,” Markesbery said. “And this team has spent the last four years developing our next generation of SOLARCORE.”
SOLARCORE: Does it deliver?
The Oros website describes the Gambit as “comfortably in the middle” of the brand’s jacket lineup. The best uses for it are listed as “commute [and] hike.”
And the ideal temperature range specified for the Gambit is 25-55 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t often wear an insulated jacket when it’s much warmer than 40 degrees. But for the 25-40-degree spectrum, this jacket will serve you well on commutes and hikes. I’d be overheating if I wore it in 40-55-degree weather.
So, the Gambit does deliver on Oros’ promises. However, SOLARCORE has a long way to go before it dethrones down or synthetic insulation. It certainly has potential. The Department of Defense saw enough potential in it to include a $7 million line item in the 2023 Omnibus Appropriations bill for Oros to develop SOLARCORE for military purposes, according to Markesbery.
That’s probably why he’s so confident they’ll be refining SOLARCORE and improving on its weight and packability issues while ramping up its insulative properties.
The DOD is a big investor to have behind your product. Until those issues are addressed, though, you won’t see technical mountaineers carrying SOLARCORE products with all of their lightweight gear.
Oros Gambit Jacket: The Final Word
For anyone looking for an insulated jacket that will look good around town and serve you well on most casual adventures and cool weather activities, the Oros Gambit is a great option. Its SOLARCORE insulation is warm and slim looking, retains its insulating properties if wet and compressed, and blocks wind well.
It’s too heavy and unpackable for high energy output or more technical activities. If you need a lightweight jacket that you can stuff into a climbing, backcountry skiing, or winter camping backpack, this probably isn’t the jacket you want.
But who knows? Eventually, it might be. As Markesbery said, the Oros labs team is working hard on improving SOLARCORE insulation in all of those areas.