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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Westcomb Shift LT in Neoshell


Westcomb sez:
"Industry’s lightest Polartec® NeoShell® Jacket. The Shift Hoody offers no-compromise wind and water protection, in a featherweight shell. Designed so the gram counting outdoor adventurer can maximize experience with minimal weight."

For this year's trip to Chamonix I was determined to not over pack or take so much new gear that I would never get a chance to use it all.  I did exactly that last time.  Besides the over weight and excess luggage charges (which were as much as my original plane ticket!)  the entire process ended up a disaster.  Gear was lost or stolen mailing it back to save money and there was gear in France I never did get a chance to use.

PPP on my part.

Of the seriously  redundant selection of gear I had to choose from  I wanted to make every piece count and use it hard while I was in Europe.   But I had to choose.

I had to go down and actually count, but with 7 new shells to choose from, picking wasn't easy.

I settled on one lwt (The Shift) and one heavier Goretex version of a shell I'll write about in an up coming review.  Needless to say both got used a lot this trip.

But it was the Westcomb Shift LT in Neoshell that took on the heavy lifting of being used day in and day out for most of the trip.   Wind shell or rain shell the Shift proved up to the task.  And to be honest I had wondered if it really would get the job done!

Below is a link to a previous review comparing the Shift LT in a slightly different context than skiing.  Which most of this year's Chamonix trip was....skiing of one kind or another.   Although I did use the Shift for some mixed climbing in pretty cold and windy weather this time around.  The Shift LT  sailed through those conditions with flying colors and me wrapped in comfort.

Dave bundled up in puffy and shell,  just as I was.  And still cold!  Trying, but a good way to see just how wind proof your shell really is.

Lots of use on the Shift now but it was on two totally different day's efforts that the really impressed me.  First one started out at sunrise on a cold windy day at 12,000 feet.  I had my BlackLight puffy and a Piton hoody under the Shift.  Everything I had for clothes, I had on.  If the Shift would cut the wind well enough and I could keep moving I'd be fine.   It eventually turned into a long day in the skin track.  The Shift worked perfectly.  I peeled layers under it as the day grew longer and I upped my own pace to gain some body heat.  I went from chilled in the morning to what could have been over heated (but wasn't thanks to the exceptional breathability of the Neoshell) by late morning.    It was broad range of temperatures, wind and levels of physical activity.  The lwt Neoshell fabric that makes up the Shift really showed its value to me that morning.   The Shift was the only shell I took on our 6 day Haute Route trip.  I used it almost every day for at least a short time.  It was easy to pack for weight and easy to get at in and out of my Arcteryx Khamski 38.

The second day that the Shift really impressed me was a little more dramatic.  Things didn't really go exactly as planned fro mthe beginning.   At the last second, for no specific reason I had stuffed the Shift into my nifty little Mammut ski pack, the Nirvana Rocker .  Little did I know how the day would turn out.  Thank goodness!

BTW,  anyone that back country skis should own a Mammut Nirvana Rocker.  For a small ski pack, I love this one!  More later on the details.  It doesn't look like much but for a small ski pack with everything you really need?  It's the chit.  I used one pretty much any day I skied around Cham.   It is obvious in all the new the pictures.  Only the required extra capacity made me switch on occasion to a Khamski 38.

Back to the story... 
Things were not looking so good from the Col Du Midi.  The now obvious weather was coming in and the rap below was totally fubared.  It was 4PM.  At that moment the Shift was the last thing on my mind.

As the afternoon thunderstorm broke and first the rain and then the snow started coming down, from  EVERY where, the Shift was the first thing out of the pack.  And damn!  It was a sweet reunion!

The snow went from just soggy to an isothermic mess in a hurry.  Sucked to be *you* on a snow board.  Ski made life much easier and safer,  getting us in and out of the resulting wet snow avi terrain in a hurry.

the suck on a board in wet, soft snow
why does anyone ride a snow board?

avi debris off the Midi only moments, not minutes, old and Dave still slugging away at it

dry and happy in my Shift...and oh so thankful
The rest of that evening I spent initially skiing and then eventually walking out of the snow line and into the rain.   It rained hard as on the bushwhack, and continued as I eventually walked down the well worn trail into Chamonix.  A few small holes from the resulting abuse in my beloved Shift but nothing traumatic and it kept me dry the entire time...inside and out.  No easy task for any shell in the conditions encountered.   Mind you this one is well over a two years old now with lots of use and yet to be washed.   Our day out was more akin to the typical NW bushwhacking slogs we have here so often.  Funny really, just how natural it all seemed...4000 miles from my home turf.  A full day out with all the things the Cascades offer so easy. (except access)   Same reason I go to Chamonix just to avoid the same situation at home!  In the two months this year of skiing and climbing in Chamonix the Shift was one of 4 garments I carried and used daily anytime the weather threatened me.   I've mentioned the BlackLight puffy already.  I'll eventually get to the other two.
Lights of Chamonix in the night rain..have to admit I was awestruck by the beauty.

Bottom line here?  I still really like Neoshell as a shell material.  In this case the lightest Neoshell fabric used  sewing up the Shift LT really showed what it was made of in the wind and in really wet weather.  Most importantly to me it breathes exceptionally well while still offering great protection in wind and rain.   I have some of the newest Goretex garments I am very fond of as well.   I will be writing about them and the experiences with those on the recent trip shortly.

How good is the Shift LT really?  I mentioned I now have a few holes in mine.  Not the garment's fault.  Likely the lack of a headlamp and/or care in the slide alders.   Been doing goggle searches now for a few days looking for another Shift LT in "Electric" on sale.  That is how good I think the Shift is.  I am willing to actually buy a 2nd one.


Christian Strachan said...

Thanks for the writeup! Neoshell is definitely taking over. I got my first neoshell piece for commuting here in Seattle, totally love it, and will eventually be replacing all my gtx with neoshell.

Bruno Schull said...

I'm going to be the naysayer here, and comment that, until the companies start to make real climbing jackets, that are long enough at the hip, have long enough sleeves, and hoods that actually fit comfortably over helmets, I don't really care what they are made off--a wool or waxed cotton jacket that fits well would be better than the best Neoshell with a bad fit. My 2 cents.

Dane said...

Nice Bruno. Goldilocks' thought the same. "This one is too hard, this one too soft and this on just right."

Fit is the ultimate test originally. before you get out the door. But you have to try them on. Everyone is different. What is perfect on me may not fit you at all. No surprise. I can be a different size depending on my weight and how good of shape I am in. Westcomb Shift has a little stretch in the Neoshell. Perfect fit for me in a large. One of the reasons I use it so much. Arctery Alpha FL in a large is too small. The XL has really long arms and hem with a harness catcher built in. Really a little big on me but the Large as I said is just too tight/small. The GTX Dynafit jacket I have is some where inbetween the Westcomb Large and the Arcteryx XL and is perfect as a foul weather jacket. It is labeled a XXL. Go figure.

Patagonia? I can wear a tight Large or swim in a XL Knifeblade. Point it there are lots of options. I don't think anyone is intentionally making expensive technical clothing for baby boomers and the resulting body that goes with a full time job, famiy responsibilities and little activity.

I'm 6'1" and 200# right now. My helmets (ski and climbing) fit with ease on all these. Body and sleeve length the same..great fit.
They all fit better at 190#.

As always, what works for me may not work for you. I can only relate my own experience. That includes the sizing and fit. From the 3 Westcomb shells I have owned I know there larges fit me well. There XL is now too big on me. Their pattern happens to fit me the best of what I have tried.

Nice for me because they also offer jackets in Neoshell, GTX and Event fabrics. Makes the comparisons easier to do.

Bruno Schull said...

Hi Dane. Yes, true. I'm a a big Goldilocks about jackets. Didn't want to be grouchy--just frustrated by continual efforts to find clothing that fits. I never knew I had such a strange body before I started climbing. 6'4'' 195 lbs...but a long torso and long arms and apparently a long neck/head? Yes, as people say, I must have big head....something that has been bugging me lately is hoods. I sometimes flip a hood up as I climb, but it does not really work. I look at so many pictures of others climbing, and the hoods are stretched all over the helmets, pulling them back, pressing them down. For me, it's hard to even look up, which is sort of necessary when climbing, if I'm wearing a hood. To say nothing of all the various cords, adjusters, zippers....How about a nice simple hood like the Atom LT with (a little) elastic around the front and big enough to actually go over a big head (like mine) and a helmet? Sure, your head would swim in it with no helmet, but it's for conclusion, one that I have reached before is, I need to learn how to sew :)

Dane said...

Bruno, the tall skinny guys generally can do well with Arcteyx or better yet RAB or MTN Equipment.

Tall and skinny? Never really been my problem :)

BTW after getting to play with one for a short while in Courmayeur, I am now waitng on delivery of a Bhend :-) Hopeing to see it the middle of next week.

Reto said...

Dane, nice write up... Could you compare breathability of the Neoshell to the newer GoreTex Pro? Some claim the GTC is as least as good... others swear Neoshell is much more breathable. Is it just a matter of personal taste?

I can also strengthen Bruno's story. I got myself a nice jacket by Montane. Unfortunately the hood is next to not usable. Without a helmet not comftable, with a helmet impossible. This jacket simply doesn't work, which is sad.


Dane said...

I think the comparison I linked in this article between The Alpha SL and Shift I wrote earlier is most telling. GTX is more wind proof IMO...and the Neoshell more breathable. Both are very good. And I am cutting soem fine frog hair here calling it that way. My preference is more breathable to stay dry when you are working hard. But I have and use both.

Fit? With all the reviews available on line and the easy return policies at least here in the US, I can't understand why anyone would own a jacket that doesn't work/fit. What is up with that? Can you tell me why? Bruno? I have returned a lot of gear..Patagonia comes to mind before I either got skinnier or they changed their patterns. But they aren't the only ones.

Reto said...


I do live in Switzerland and have to order some gear in the US as you simply won't get them here (or for prices you're not willing to pay). Even if there is a return policy, shipping and taxes are kind of limiting this option.
At least for me... my normal approach is then to sell the gear which doesn't fit on eBay and such.


Dane said...

Ah Switzerland. Beautify country. Bruno's turf as well. Thought more of your country prior to ordering some pants that cost more in import duties/taxes than the pant did, just to get them into France. Which if course was never mentioned in the transaction. Not sure if it was France that screwed me or Switzerland. But since I paid in Switzerland and they shipped the pant figured I'd blame that financial fiasco on them :)

Reto said...

What's the hood like on the Westcomb jacket? Is it comparable to Arcteryx excellent hoods - e.g. is it really big and can accomodate a big head with a helmet?


Dane said...

Current mast head photo is me in the Westcomb Shift coming out of the Vignette hut @ snunrise. No helmet. But the SHift's version is a generious hood. Good enough for my Camp or Petzl helmet but little to spare. Arcteryx is a lot bigger per size. But then I can use the Westcomb without a helmet and still be pleased. Not so much on the Arcteryx althought it is a better climbing helmet hood. I have a 7 1/2 head..XL or 62cm head. Barely goes in a Petzl Meteor.

I have a new tech shell review coming up. Westcomb, Arcteryx, Helly Hanson, Haglofs, Patagonia, Mtn Equipment, Ice Peak, Dynafit, Peak Performance and maye be a few others I'll have to check what is actually here. Some fun and very cool stuff we don't generally see here in the US. Easy to access it all in Europe though.