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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Monday, January 21, 2013

A third shell material? Westcomb's Focus LT Hoody

Climbing on wet ice in the newest Westcomb Focus Lt
photo courtesy of Craig Pope

You'll likely what to read this review first:

I have been climbing in three very similar light weight shell jackets.  So similar in fact that only the high tech fabrics and minor detailing set them apart in use IMO.   The first two jackets, the Arcteryx Alpha FL in Gortex and the Westcomb Shift LT Hoody in Neoshell are both great climbing shells.    Some small differences in the jacket patterns but a significant difference I think in the fabric performance. And there might be some trade offs between the three fabrics than you aren't willing to tolerate.

Before I toss in my 2 cents on the differences in materials let give you my impression's on the third jacket of this series, the Westcomb Focus Hoody sewn the newest eVent DVL.

The fit on the Focus is called a "full cut".  It fit me almost perfectly with room to layer under it and a tight enough fit that it is not in the way climbing and easy to layer over when required for warmth.  (I'm 6'1" and 190# at the moment) The Event fabric does not stretch.  Something I didn't notice up front because the patterns fit was simply so good.  The Shift LT hoody in Neoshell does stretch and gains some ground for me on the other two because of it.  No matter how good the pattern, and all of these are exceptional patterns, a stretchy hard shell will always have an advantage for my own use climbing.  For the best climbing clothing these days it is the rule not the exception that the garments stretch with you.

My first definition of good climbing gear is, "gear I never notice".  If you notice gear on a climb it is more than likely some small (or large) failure in materials, design or quality.  Cold feet as an example or getting wet from sweat or moisture in the environment.  You might well be able to trace those issues directly back to your gear.  Not always mind you but often enough to know a gear failure when you have one.   And not a food, hydration or just a poor choice in gear selection.

This weekend as I watched my partners annoyance turn to concern and then start to become a real problem it reminded me of that truism.  A failure was it was less than water proof clothing.  Tied off to a hanging belay everyone was getting progressively more soaked at the base of a wet and running corner system laced with ice we were climbing.

The lads in the shower room...not that kind of shower but cricky just don't drop anything :)

I was the only one in a water proof shell.  Which was the new Focus LT .   It was warm out and  none of us started this climb in a lot of clothing.   The temperature was dropping and we thought it possible with the temp. drop to have a drier climb.  Of course that was a miscalculation on our part.  Only reason I had on the Focus Hoody was I wanted to see how well the latest miracle fabric (eVent DVL) breathed by comparison to the others I had used last week.  The answer to that was, "it breathes pretty dang good :)"   With only a base layer under the Focus even in the shade and temps just under freezing I was warm enough until my pants started soaking through and water ran down my legs.

Those conditions always get unpleasant rather quickly.

Have to admit to feeling a little smug with myself though as my core stayed dry and warm with water running off the Focus LT.   My buddies were happy to leave the ice cold shower at the belay and get started on the over hanging corner to warm up some as quickly as possible.  I intentionally stayed behind long enough to more fully enjoy the lovely alpine ambiance.

All three of these jackets I have been using are water proof and wind resistant for the most part.  All offer an exception fit and are very close in patterns.   Just make sure the specific pattern fits you.  It is worth trying them all on to see which fits you best.  All are what I would call an athletic fit , even the "full cut" Westcombs.  None of them are for a dough boy.   The Neoshell offers a little less wind resistance from my experience.  But adds stretch to the equation.  The Arcteryx and Goretex is a time proven piece of gear.  The Westcomb Focus LT Hoody retails for $279 and not the $400 the other two retail at.   A $120 and 30% savings off the top.  That alone has to get your attention.

Mind you I am not getting even more picky on the details here.  Even with the exceptional fit of the Focus I did notice the lack of stretch.  For me the extra cost of the Shift is "almost" worth it.  I felt like (but never found a reason)  I needed just a tiny bit bigger jacket (this was a Large) but I never noticed the Focus past the part where I was staying dry while I was climbing in it.  It seemed the eVent DVL breaths as well as anything I have tested in pretty tough conditions.  And the Focus blocked what little wind we had.  Noticeably more than the Neoshell  I had been using previous.

The eVent fabric is a little noisy but I like the material hand.  No question it was water proof.

Gotta say I was pretty impressed with the Focus LT and the newest eVent DVL.  Even more so because I have not generally been impressed with previous eVent shell garments.  My size large weights in at 9.5 oz/272g and will easily compact to the size of a decent coffee mug.   By far the lightest jacket I tested and certainly one the top two for wind resistant and able to hold its own on water resistant.  Breath ability?  No test besides my own use to back it up but every bit the equal of the other two imo and may be even a bit better than either.    The Focus LT is a hard garment not to like at the $279 price point by comparison.   If only it were stretchy.

I am always amazed when I start a comparison review like this with an obvious personal favorite and by the end get my mind changed by the process of the review and the side by side comparisons.  Classic example of that happening this time.  Even though getting off the dime on stretch fabrics is almost impossible for me now.

Two things stood out to me when I was done.  First was price point difference between the three. Which seldom snags me when performance is my priority.  Second was the difference in these garment's performance when even a small amount of stretch was added.

But then again $279.......

In an age of the next super model...few things are a stand out.  And it may not be what you expected that makes the biggest impression.

More on the Focus LT Hoody here:


Anonymous said...

Nothing on the DryQ Elite fabric yet?

Dane said...

These are three very specific lwt shells. The search engine in the upper left hand corner will find all sorts of things for you. Try the link belwo for Dy Q Elite or simply type in your own search.

Anonymous said...


My biggest doubts about all these new "lightweight" fabrics is their durability. Can you already say something about that? Are these materials up to the strains induced by multiple seasons of climbing?

Kind Regards

Dane said...

OK, gotta checkle. These last three are really light weight shells. I can and have destroyed clothing and gear on just one alpine climb that might weigh 4 or 5x the total of these. Now I don't climb as hard, am a lot more careful until I get scared and try to take more care of my expensive gear. But as tough as this stuff is...if that is a real concern to you I'd look else where if a fully featured 9oz jacket doesn't impress you. Pleanty of heavier and cheaper garments out there. Few that will offer the performance of these and nothing I can't destroy in short order on the right climb.

Anonymous said...

My Question wasn't completely specific to this one jacket. I moreless wanted to know generally what your impressions are about all the new materials concerning durability (gore active, DryQ Elite, event DVL ...). In all reviews about this stuff i keep on reading that the jackets are not as tough as the other (older) shells. But i'm missing some kind of reference - are they up to the task of climbing (with some amount of care applied of course). I just would like to know if i have to fear to break a new (expensive) jacket on the first few climbs.

Dane said...

Fair enough. I am currently and intentionally climbing in the lightest and likely the most fragile clothing you can buy that is suitable (imo) for alpine and ice climbing. Even though some times the makers are clear it was not intended as climbing clothing. If you are reasonable careful with any of it you'll get many seasons out of it. My personal problem seems to be poking holes where they don't belong with either my crampons or an ice tool. That can't be blamed on the clothing. It is obvious user error. YMMV

Unknown said...

How did the hood work with a helmet? I have head mixed reviews on how well it actually "fits" with a helmet. I have a sirocco and have had a hard time finding a shell that works good with it. Love the weight and packability as well as breathability.

Any experience with the Alpine Houdini?

Thanks Dane, you have helped this college student save a lot of money thus far by always buying the right gear based on your reviews. Thank you much!!

Dane said...

Hi Chris, hood seems good to me when used a climbing shell and my Petzl helmet. Alpine Houdini is another excellent choice. But I would be sure to try both on prior to purchase.

I am a BIG fan of the Westcomb shells. Their "SHIFT" shell is still my mainstay, go to shell from many choices. And the only shell I am on the verge of wearing out in recent memory from actual use.

Unknown said...

I know the alpine houdini isn't really marketed as much of a breathable piece, but does it breathe at all?

I know it doesn't even compare to breath ability in any of the Westcomb shells.

Dane said...

you answered that one yourself :)

Unknown said...

A little late to the party & I'm sure there have been some advancements in materials since this was published, or Westcomb began using eVent DVL, but how did this shell feel under a harness? Any issues with either the front or rear popping out of your harness or the jacket feeling too "short" for ice/alpine climbing? I'm looking to pull the trigger on a Focus LT as a shell to use over a Nano-Air for when the wind/spindrift pick up & the Nano-Air looses the battle with the elements. Thoughts?