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The cold world of alpine climbing.

The cold world of alpine climbing.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Up next? A soft shell review

In the early part of this century I purchased a set of clothing that while not new to me made a big impression.   It was a Gamma MX top and pants from Arc'Teryx made from Polartec Power Shield.  Likely one of the first really popular soft shells in North America.

Certainly not the first soft shells available though as I had been climbing in wool blend Schoeller materials since the early '80s that came from Europe via Canada.   The Arc'Teryx gear offered similar performance and a lot more stretch.  The stretch is what impressed me the most.  All of the garments have proven themselves durable even in the nastiest limestone off widths.

A few years climbing it the Polartec products had convinced me that I never wanted to be without that "action suit" again in the mountains.   So I bought spares on sale and put them away for safe keeping.

Today my spares sit unwrapped in the closet and I have for the most part moved on from soft shells.  The one strong hold is pants but even there my soft shell pants have gotten lighter and more breathable than my original Gamma MX gear.   Gamma AR maybe.  The Gamma Lt version I use a lot winter and summer.   Or the NWAlpine Saloppettes. 

But the new Gamma MX hoody...hangs unused for good reason.

An Arc'Teryx Gamma MX Hoody on Curtain Call, 2008.


The reason I mention all of this is I am about to start a new soft shell review.  So to get much traction the newest soft shells have a lot to live up to.  I have climbed and skied a lot in different versions of the older models.  And I have indeed gone on to products I think work much better in a winter climbing environment, like the Atom LT and Nano Puff.   We'll see if that still holds true from all our gear testers this time around.
What the newest versions can do different and better is worth looking into.

Here are the hooded jackets I will or want to be testing in this review.  Currrently the list is stacked in Arc'Teryx's favor.  No intentional just what I have easily available for comparisons.

Arc'Teryx:
old Gamma MX
old Gamma SV
new Gamma MX
new Venta MX
ACTO Hoody

Patagonia:
Knifeblade

Outdoor Reasearch:
Albi

Mammut:
Gipfelgrat Jacket

RAB:
Alpine Jacket
Baltoro Alpine Jacket
Baltoro Guide Pro Jacket

Eddie Bauer:
First Ascent Hyalite

I am open to any suggestions for any similar garments.

And if anyone has a contact they are willing to share at Mammut USA I could use some help there.
 
 
Photo courtesy of Dave Searler and Ally Swinton on Pinocchio, East Face of Tacul, Chamonix.

The kind of place a good soft shell garment excels.

17 comments:

M_Steen said...

Looking forward to it Dane. I have a similar opinion of the Gamma series and Powershield fabric which have been benchmarks for me since ~2004. In particular the MX Hoody and Salopettes have been my go-to winter suit. By choosing appropriate baselayers I've been able to wear this combo in temps above 32F and up to ~20,000'. I think you've got a solid list for comparison and I'd be interested in the breathability numbers from each garment. I know that Powershield is spec'd at 98% with the O2 and Pro versions more and less breathable respectively. For me, I wouldn't want my softshell any less breathable than Powershield.

Luuuke said...

Hi Dane, Im a big fan of the Mountain Equipment stuff, i have the Astron hoody which i've had for several years and is great. The Shield jacket from them is also worth a look at if you can get your hands on it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dane,
Isn't Jack a Mammut guy?
-Matt

Wyatt said...

I use the MEC Feratta 2, made of Shoeller Dryskin Extreme. Very well designed, though nobody uses Schoeller anymore. The RAB Vapour Rise also looks like a good choice for stuff from the older technology that combines all layers into one.

One question. What material is the NW Alpine salopettes?

Dane said...

Bill @ NWAlpine lists the material as, "made from a high quality four-way stretch woven, breathable fabric with DWR (durable water repellent) coating and an abrasion resistant face."

In reality they are some where well past the Gamma Lt pant for protection and more similar to the Gamma AR pant. "Durable, breathable, wind and moisture resistant pant, designed for alpine climbing."

Bill and I designed the salopettes as a winter climbing garment. I am thrilled with the results based on my old Arc'teryx salopettes as I wanted a lighter weight pant than the Gamma MX pant or salopettes offered but still a decent winter/fall/spring pant for cold temps.

Christopher3000 said...

I think you should also take a look at the Rab Boreas pullover. just saying.

Dane said...

Boreas is more a wind shell than a soft shell offering any sort of winter weather protection.

At that weight there are other windshells that nee to be included.
It will make it into the next test,

Jeremy said...

Dane, can I suggest that you include the RAB Exodus Jacket in your test? From the specs it looks like it's probably the closest thing they make to the new Gamma MX.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dane,

Check out Montane Sabretooth, Rab Vapour Rise Guide and my personal favorite TNF Hooded Cipher(persistent,I know).

Alex

Will said...

What do you make of Haglofs kit? I have a weasel jacket and have been really pleased with it, particularly for skiing

sdizzle said...

Including the Mammut Ultimate Hoody in that review would be interesting for me. I have used it happily in a lot of winter climbing in the PNW

marcello said...

I hope you test the gore windstopper, i would love to see your opinion,.

wrightp8 said...

How about some of the new neo shell options? I recently purchased the marmot zion and have been pretty happy with it so far, but my use has been limited.

-Paul

Anonymous said...

If you're able to, I'd be curious to see how the Mountain Hardwear Mecurial stacks up. I'm a big fan of MHW gear in general. They tend to make all around solid gear, but I haven't found much information about this particular garment.

Anonymous said...

Dane,

You could also take a look at Marmot ROM, seems a decent jacket.

Alex

Jeff said...

Hi Dane,

Was the Softshell test ever completed, and if so, did you write it up? I checked, so excuse me if I overlooked it. Thanks, Jeff

bayukdr said...

+1 for Acto MX Hoody!

Looking forward to reading your write up of it.

Cheers