Liberty Cap '78
Like most of us that lived through the wool, pile and polypro phase of climbing clothing I was thrilled to see the US versions of Sheoller fabric being produced and introduced in to 4 way stretch climbing garments.
We can all thank Polartec for that and more as climbers and skiers.
My last Shoeller specific garment was a pair of alpine bibs that was a wool and Lycra blend. I bought them in Banff at Monods in '85 . Amazing piece of clothing that I dearly loved and still have. I used them ice climbing and for skiing. But I never took them into the alpine. Not enough stretch and the weight was more than I would have preferred.
Gortex and Polarguard @ 20K' in 1988
Enough good things about them to really like the idea and material used, but enough lacking in design and materials that I used them on a limited basis instead of full time.
Besides reasonable weather protection I wanted two things from my "soft" pants at the time which haven't changed over the years, light weight and good breathability.
Enter Polartec's Power Shield garments. I used both a Gamma MX Hoody, the Gamma MX pant and the Gamma Salopettes a lot from 2003 to mid 2008.
I had thought Polartec's Power Shield was the best climbing fabric I had used at the time. It is still one of the best imo I just use it on a much more limited basis now.
Cold, dry and clear. Perfect conditons for the MX and Power Shield.
In cold weather (-20C) in the Columbia Icefields I've used the a Gammx MX Hoody and Gamma Salopettes a number of times. Generally with a R1 layer or stretch pile under both and been happy with the results. In the Cascades I have used a lighter pant and the Gamma MX hoody in wet and barely freezing temps, until the jacket soaked through and I added a light weigh Primaloft belay jacket to get me dried out and keep me warm.
After spending more time in the Cascades one season than I did in Canada (what was I thinking) I came to the conclusion that Power Shield garments were too warm and too heavy. The fact that you couldn't get them dried out in the field with out donning a Primaloft layer over them made me start looking for a Primaloft garment I could use as my only outer garment and still climb in. The end result of that search was the Atom Lt. Not Primaloft of course but 60g Coreloft from Arcteryx it seems to work just as well in a lwt garment like the Atom Lt.
The Atom Lt is a an incredible cold weather climbing garment with an RI hoody or something similar under it. I've been in one for 3 seasons now and still impressed. It is super light and warm without ever being too warm in winter conditions. My friends are becoming converts to the Atom Lt and its mate the SV over layer as well.
The obvious Atom Lt vents
There are two down sides to the Atom Lt for climbing though. First it isn't totally wind proof. The stretch side panels which allow you to climb hard in the jacket also make it a little chilly in a good breeze. So you still need wind protection and a puffy for when it gets cold or windy. The other is the outer shell material is fragile compared to even some of the lack luster soft shells available. You don't want to do a lot of rock or mixed climbing on limestone in an Atom Lt.
Nano Puff over and Atom Lt in the wind, great combo.
So what I am still looking for is the "holy grail" in climbing soft shells. Hard to identify..but like porn you'll know it when you see it.
Here is my list of the "best" features of a soft shell. Although I have yet to see one that will fill the bill.
Under 20oz in a large
totally water proof
4 way stretch...a lot of it
a few well placed pockets easily usable with a harness and pack
a helmet compatible hood
good wrist seals
athletic cut, but long enough to tuck into your harness
inner liner you can easily layer over wool or R1 style hoodies
warm enough to climb in mid winter with a single R1 weight layer under it.
The up coming soft shell review will hopefully tell us just how close the new Goretx and Primaloft fabrics are to my "holy grail" wish list.
They'll have a lot to live up to.