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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Carhartt Crowley Hoody VS the Arcteryx Gamma MX Hoody.......seriously?

Let's be honest here.  If I can with a straight face make any comparison to a $119 insulated soft shell,  and a $350 insulated soft shell things are really messed up some where in the outdoor industry food chain.  (prices quoted are typical msrp retail pricing)  If you are just into labels...and not performance you can stop reading here :).

Lets start with what I still consider the gold standard of insulated soft shells, the Arcteryx Gamma MX @ $350 US $ currently.

From the Arctery web site:

"Breathable, wind-resistant, lightly insulated hooded jacket constructed with Fortius 2.0 textile for increased comfort and mobility. Gamma Series: Softshell outerwear with stretch | MX: Mixed Weather."

"This wind-resistant, breathable hoody is perfect for alpine specialists looking for enhanced mobility. A tough, highly wind-resistant outer face sheds moisture and a light fleece backer adds warmth while wicking away moisture.

Helmet Compatible Stormhood™

Helmet Compatible Stormhood Helmet Compatible Stormhood™ The Arc'teryx helmet compatible Stormhood™ is designed to provide the ultimate protection in cold or wet weather. The laminated brim and hood adjusters secure tightly and deliver full coverage without restricting movement or visibility.

Key Advantages

  • Laminated brim
  • Adjustable hood cinch cords
  • Tall collar for full coverage"

Honestly the last time I can remember using a insulated soft shell (Gamma MX) for climb was March of 2009 on Curtain Call with Jack.  It was cold outside, little wind and the ice wet.  The Gamma MX was a perfect choice in jackets for the day.  Jack was wearing a Mammut version of a similar fabric and pattern.  Cutting edge and good gear for 7 years ago,.

Jack's Mammut

My original Canadian made Gamma MX

Mind you I still use a lot of "soft shells" just nothing like the Gamma MX that is insulated for my own climbing climbing.   I do how ever use a number of lwt insulated garments as "climbing sweaters".  The entire Arcteryx Atom lineup has been good.  The choice in Arcteryx Atom garments depending on temps.  Or the RAB Xenon are some all time favorites for cold weather winter climbing.  I really like the Pertex shell RAB uses.  But stretchable shells that offer good durability,  water resistance and weather protection from Westcomb, Arcteryx and Patagonia are my likely choices these days for climbing or skiing over a insulation with rare exceptions.

So back to the Gamma MX.  My first MX cost me the then seemingly outrageous price of $300 back in 2003 iirc.   So up front the garments last.  This one was passed on to a buddy working on a ranch.  He used it as his every day jacket rain or shine till seams started exploding.  It then went back to Arcteryx for repair and he is still using it today.

The reason I don't use insulated soft shells for climbing now?  They are certainly warm and wind resistant but I've not found one that breaths well enough to climb in.  The criticism continues even with  the newest Gamma MX. 

The fit of the Arcteyx version is excellent for me.  High marks there for detailing, pattern, fit and finish.  Just as I should be in a $350 dollar outdoor jacket.  The Gamma MX is no longer made in Canada and the fabric not as heavy/warm/windproof as the originals but still a good weight IMO and very stretchy.   Decent wet weather protection for a while anyway and they dry quickly when wet.   No question this thing is durable.  Most will give I away or recycle it on Ebay long before they wear one out.  High praise there.

My take on the Gamma MX today?  Not warm enough to ski in alone mid winter.  Not warm enough for most cold weather outdoor actively unless you are moving quickly.  If you are working hard the Gamma MX doesn't breath well enough to justify the weight or durability.  The Atom LT is a better option for me while climbing.  It breaths much better than a Gamma MX.    They are a straight across trade for me in similar weather conditions.  The Atom LT is lighter and breaths better.  The Gamma MX is more as in, way, way more durable in use.

Some folks love climbing in an insulated soft shell.   There are some great ones out there.  The Neoshell versions really impressed me and still do for over all weather protection.  And nothing wrong with the Gamma MX.  As I said earlier I still think it is the gold standard of the category.  Neoshell is the only thing I have seen that enhances a good insulated soft shell. 

So how does the Carthartt Crowley jacket figure into the technical soft shell mix?
It reminds me at least in feel, warmth and weight of the very best of the Neoshell versions of insulated soft shell.

But first two important numbers....a Gamma MX, size  XL and comparable with a slightly roomier fit, the Carhartt Crowley in Large.

Gamma MX Hoody is 1# 13oz. and $350.
Crowley Hoody is 2# 3oz and $120.

The weight difference is noticeable.  So is the durability and wind protection advantage going to the Crowley on both points.   Think of the MX as a bespoke sport coat for a Fall or Spring night on the town.  The Crowley as a nice fitting leather motorcycle jacket for protection on your sport bike.

The Crowley I might delegate as a full time mid winter ski jacket with a slick insulated layer under it.  The MX makes a good piece of kit on the hill if you are moving or the temps mild.

You might wonder why I am so interested in a insulated soft shell now.  For the last few months I have gotten up just prior to dawn and put on what ever I thought would keep me warn in the coldest part of the day as I walk a few hundred yards to a barn to move/feed 100#  hay bales around outdoors, no matter the weather, clear, rain or  now snow prior to sunrise.  Interesting to me what I have learned from the experience that applies to my other outdoor  interests and may be yours.  Wrestling with 100+ lbs of dead weight that is hard to get a handle on first thing in the morning is like having to lead a hard pitch first thing after a bad bivy.  Rather unpleasant.   What have I learned?   I really want warm feet walking through thigh high wet grass.  I want a decent hood on the jacket (wind). And the least amount of clothes to keep me warm and no bind while working.  Pretty much what I want on that hard mixed pitch after a bad bivy.   Jacket has to be TOUGH and abrasive resistant to survive even a week around the horses and barn.  If the jacket collects hay on sticky fabric (inside or out) it won't be comfortable for long.   From my memory snow seems to stick in a similar fashion.  Insulated soft shells are the perfect barn coat or at least could be.  Price has been a big deterrent for me in such an abusive environment.  The best materials are water proof (Neoshell).  All the best soft shells in this category are pretty abrasive resistant.  The high quality insulated versions might well be warm enough 99% of the time in the "barn" environment even mid winter.

I was so convinced that the Gamma MX was the answer to the "barn coat" that I went to Ebay and bought one "new with tags".   Then before it could arrive I found the Carhartt Crowley version in the local Carhartt store and bought that as well.  Hard  to resist the low buy in $ amount truthfully.   The Ebay price on the Gamma MX and the retail price on the Carhartt added together got me into both jackets for a good bit less than full retail on a Gamma MX.  If nothing else it was a nice score I figured.

Two weeks later I am more impressed with the Carhartt than ever.  Enough so to add a rare new gear review here :)

Carhartt Hood?  Works with a climbing helmet no problem.  Big enough and decent vision.  Hood has a simple draw string system and a good chin protector on the high zip front with a pull tag.  All the pocket zippers also have the same nice pull tags.

Cuffs?  Tapered cuff Velcro closure.
Pockets?  One zippered chest on the outside, two zippered hand pockets on the sides.  Pockets are deep unlikely you'll loose much from them even with the zipper down.  One Velcro tabbed drop pocket internally and two that are not sealed that are unintentional pockets....that work good for something like sun glasses or a light glove/hat.   All the pockets are a light woven fabric lined to enhance breathability and lower bulk is my take on it.  The plan seems to work.
Nice gusset around the hemline.  Draw string there as well.

Bottom line here?  Even for twice the price the Crowley is a damn nice jacket.  At $120 it is a steal.  Equally at home on lift served skiing or a cold mixed route that requires some chimney stuffing.  Likely more than one Harley rider will wear it on his bike.  Basic black for color has some appeal.    Nice jacket to haul on your next plane flight to where ever, just to maintain the image.  And it is comfy.  Good enough for a dinner date, beer and a movie  And it makes a decent barn jacket that I won't ever worry about trashing.  It is a insulated soft shell jacket I would actually take on quick shots of alpine mixed climbing.  That is HIGH praise from me.

This jacket was a really fun find.  I've put some decent mileage on it doing everything BUT outdoor pursuits unless you consider riding a horse something exciting.  For the most part I just find it a quick way to get really dirty.  So far all that has spit shined up with just a wet wash cloth on the Carhartt Crowley.  Be curious to see to it looks this time next year.  Don't imagine there will be any surprises the way Carhartt builds clothing.

Best $120 I have spent in a long time.  The new Gamma MX I ordered?  It is here,  still got the hang tags on it.   Still one hell of a jacket even at $350.  I'll be saving it for spring skiing :) 



Unknown said...

Super interesting review, Dane!

And the Carhartt Crowley can easily be found online for $99, and even $69.99:

Dane said...

Thanks. Just be sure you are buying this year's current production version.....

Unknown said...

Couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a new post, let alone an infamous gear review! Welcome back!

Dane said...


Nor Cal Nomad said...

So how does it actually do with climbing, like lifting your arms up and not having the bottom seam come up? How well does it keep you dry in the alpine? How well does it dry after wet? Those pockets sure don't look harness compatible.

Maybe if you titled it "Which softshell does better in a barn environment." then it wouldn't seem so apples to oranges. This seems soft compared with some of your GREAT reviews where you really dived into details of climbing gear. This reminded me more of the fluff on gear junkie than your normal reviews, that in my opinion are some of the best on the internet. :(

Dane said...

Nomad, I try to write about what I have experience with. Thanks for taking the time to comment on this review. Been a while since I wrote one. Turns out the Carhartt is a hell for stout soft shell. Likely the toughest fabric I have ever seen short of Kevlar. Super warm, easy (easy enough anyway) to dry on your body if you sweat it out. It is not as breathable as the Gamma MX but it is a lot more wind proof. Everything is a trade off in fabrics. I have worn the Gamma MCX a bunch climbing. I am just getting started using the Carhartt in any manner. I did spend an active full day out in the hooded version this last week in what started out as a 21F day which eventually hit a windy mid 30s late in the day. I don't own a climbing specific fabric/garment that wouldn't have been seriously damaged from that effort. Certainly might make one wonder what we are paying for in the "light is right world".

Point of the review was that the two garments are NOT an apples to oranges comparison for me. As always just my opinion. Hopefully you base yours on your own experience. I know the Gamma MX well from use. I am just learning about the Carhartt. The only BIG difference for me in use is performance not price. No the Carhartt is not a climbing specific shell but if I was frugal I'd have no problem using one for that effort. Harness compatible? Guess that is up to your definition. I've found few of the more expensive insulated soft shells will go under a harness. The Carhartt won't easily go under a harness. Pockets? Again what are your priorities? I want an outside, easy to use, camera chest pocket. Never had a jacket that doesn't lift the bottom seam when stretching your arms out and pulling, including a Gamma MX. Some are how ever, better at it than others. Gamma MX is very good. Carhartt is good enough for me to happily climb in it. Never said it was perfect...but for 25% of the price...I don't expect it to be perfect. The flip side is at 25% of the price of a Gamma MX, that I can actually make a comparison of the garments in use is surprising to me.

At one point I tried/used/tested most of the expensive, brand name,climbing specific, insulated soft shells then on the market. Many of them were not nearly as good..for the Carhartt version I mentioned here.

I wouldn't get your panties wound too tight with a barn jacket comparison. I like my chit to hold up no matter where I use it. If I am paying 4 times the asking price I'd also expect it to be at least twice as good :). I like the Gamma MX or I wouldn't have bought another. Just don't like climbing in them all that much. I think both actually make a better "barn jacket" that a climbing jacket. Others swear by their soft shells for climbing. At one time I did as well. My climbing experiences eventually changed my opinions on that. There are better garment styles/materials for climbing IMO. But no question as I have said previous I still consider the Gamma MX the soft shell "gold standard" in every detail. At that price point it should be. But if it were *only* price there would be no conversation of a legitimate comparison, no matter what the use.

Point to this review was....Carhartt's version may not fit your imagine of what a climbing soft shell should be. Surely didn't fit mine till I tried one on and then started using it outdoors. A soft shell of any sort may not fit your requirements or use. I have worn a Carhartt soft shell most days since the original purchase. Not used it yet for a day skiing or climbing. While still unworn, I finally took my new with tags, Gamma MX upstairs and hung it on the gear rack yesterday. That same afternoon I went to town and bought the unhooded version of the Carhartt for $69 on sale. The idea wasn't to burn Arcteryx or prop up this review just my observations on two garments I have found useful.

Steve said...

Glad your writing again.

Nor Cal Nomad said...

"Not used it yet for a day skiing or climbing."

Be very interested to see what you think after some time with it for that stuff!

Dane said...

Been in some nasty weather here since I wrote that. In the single digits and hover right around zero. Lots of wind to go with it. Pretty dang cold for us. These things (Carharrt's soft shells) are exceptional wind proof, really water resistant, and very warm for a shell garment. Certainly not as stretchy as a Gamma MX. And the Carharrt fabric seem to get stiffer in hand as the temps drop. I'll keep updating my own use. Happy to post what any one finds/opinions while using one as well.

Gwyneth Davey said...

Couldn't believe my eyes when I saw a new post, let alone an infamous gear review! Welcome back!