Lightweight is (not always) the best weight

I’m sorry it’s been a bit quiet here in the last few months, but I have my reasons (good, positive ones for the most part…).

In May I went to Montenegro with my girlfriend and did some wonderful day hikes around some of the mountain ranges in this beautifully diverse little country. I definitely want to return there some day to explore some of them a bit more, and for longer. I have the feeling some of the ranges would present some fun climbing and mountaineering in the early summer season, especially Komovi and Prokletije (the latter we regretfully did not have time to visit). My dream would be to trek in, make a base camp and go nuts for a few days. Now to find the time…

Montenegro Komovi Panorama

In July I went to Austria to attend an introductory mountaineering course organized by the Dutch alpine society NKBV. I was lucky enough to be able to attend their combined course and alpine tour. This enabled us to really take the time to drill certain crevasse rescue techniques – both self-rescue and buddy rescue. This two-week period was a great learning experience and it has definitely left me yearning for more, even though some of the vistas were of… debatable quality…

Wildspitze Summit.jpg

And last but certainly not least, in August I participated in Fjällräven Classic Sweden, a week-long trekking festival in Lappland, held each year. This really is a community event and a great introduction to trekking for those new to the activity and a really fun event for those already familiar with hauling their home on their backs (which includes yours truly obviously).

Fjällräven Classic Kebnekaise.jpg

For those familiar with trekking in rough conditions, it is not the biggest challenge ever, although the fickle arctic summer weather and the exposed terrain can make it tough nonetheless. Outside of the context of Fjällräven Classic I would never advice anybody to take their first multi-day trekking trip into Northern Sweden as the weather and terrain can and will make it very unpleasant indeed, and might make a beginner very uncomfortable if not downright unsafe.

Now, especially my two weeks in Austria have taught me a thing or two. Aside from the obvious complicated hauling systems and rope techniques (which I will have to repeat a million times more to truly master), the one take-away for me was the importance of low packing volume of gear – especially in summer.

North Face Summit Series Alpine 50 Fully Loaded.jpg

Especially in the alps, though, I underestimated the amount of time certain pieces of gear spend in your pack: harness, wind jacket and rain jacket only came out very sporadically. This is more or less obvious for the latter two, but my harness was a chunky Black Diamond sport climbing harness. Really comfy to rappel in, belay in or just hang into, but during glacier travel and especially when in my pack, it was big and heavy and, when worn, cumbersome to combine with a backpack belt.

Which led into an orientation into ski mountaineering harnesses. I eventually picked up an ‘old’ orange Black Diamond Couloir, which I was able to find for a fair price new at retail. It’s one of the last ones of these produced in 2015, so theoretically usable until 2025 – which is longer than the practical lifespan of a harness anyway. It’s 1/3rd the pack size of my sport harness, and about half the weight. Quite an improvement, and I really dig the bright orange color.

Another space saver is a proper windbreaker jacket. Softshells are really comfy and versatile but when the weather forecast calls for mostly sunny weather they do take up a lot of pack space – although I still prefer them when there is a big chance of changeable weather.

When wind is the main issue, the Patagonia Houdini Jacket is truly a magic trick. Weighing 100 grams and stuffing into a built-in pocket smaller than a big banana, this jacket is windproof and is capable of shedding some precipitation as well, all while remaining quite breathable. Its small weight and pack size means that it is about five times as space efficient as a traditional softshell. But when you combine it with a thin fleece, it is about as functional.

Then there is the issue of actual waterproofs. Superlight rain gear is available nowadays from as light a weight as 170 grams for a jacket. But the tricky thing is that sometimes your rain gear gets used with a heavy backpack (especially when you’re bivouacking, trekking, or setting up and operating from a base camp of sorts). My Fjällräven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket is a wonderful piece of waterproof-breathable wear for heavy-use situations. It is also of acceptable weight for those summer days when rain isn’t in the forecast and it will spend 90% of its time in your 50-liter alpine pack. The only thing it doesn’t do very well is being part of a superlight summer kit. My kit dream is to be able to do a technical, cabin-to-cabin alpine trek with a 30L-ish pack. Doable, but only when everything packs down tiny. However, I still want it to be full featured, ie. helmet-compatible hood, 3-layer laminate, large pockets that are usable while wearing harness and/or pack belt, vent zips, and, most importantly, not feel like a plastic bag.

Now, I originally planned to postpone this purchase a little, as 3-layer hardshells can go up in price quite a bit, especially when they need to be lightweight. But it being sales season for most of the big retail chains over here means that I was able to pick up a Mammut Masao Light HS Hooded Jacket for a bargain. This jacket seems to have all the bells and whistles I need for about 3/5th the weight and size of my Bergtagen – perfect for lightweight summer alpine trips. I haven’t read any extensive reviews online either so I’ll write one up as soon as I have put it to use a bit. However, I still think I will take my Fjällräven hardshell on mini expedition style trips, long treks, and when the forecast is less favorable – or plain bad.

So I went on a tiny spending spree… Looks to be money well spent though, as I’ll use all of these items on future trips and adventures and I can mix and match all of these pieces of gear depending on my needs.

Now, time to plan the next mountain adventure!

 

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Fjällräven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Review

Overview

Fjällräven has been making quality gear for over sixty years now, but one relatively recent addition to their line-up is properly waterproof high-performance gear. While waterproof apparel has been in their collection for quite some years, 2015 saw the introduction of a revolutionary new material: Eco-Shell (or, technically, Eco-Shell 2.0: They already released a previous version in 2011). Why this material is so ground-breaking is a question I will return to later.

When Eco-Shell 2.0 first came out I tried the Keb Eco-Shell Jacket for a while. I liked it in terms of fit and feel, but to me it had one major drawback: My climbing helmet barely fit underneath the hood. Fjällräven claims that a helmet should fit but I just did not have enough room for movement – quite annoying when you’re pushing uphill. I sold it after about half a year of use and switched to one of Fjällräven’s main competitors: Arc’teryx. Until recently, their hood design was unrivalled. I say ‘until recently’ because the Swedish crazies from Övik came up with the Bergtagen Collection: a concept built for technical mountaineering, alpinism and back-country skiing. Anxious to find out if this system of clothing is all that it is cracked up to be? Please read on…

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Helmet Compatible Hood.jpg

Construction

As I’ve come to expect from the Swedes, the construction is technically top notch but straightforward. Where some brands can go a bit overboard with features, Fjällräven tends to be simpler and more barebones in their approach, especially with their technical apparel.

Let’s start with having a look at the major identifier of this jacket: The main material (bear with me here…).

As I’ve said before, Eco-Shell is quite the revolution in the outdoor industry. Where most waterproof-breathable apparel throughout the market is made from Gore-Tex or some sort of copy of that American powerhouse, Eco-Shell is different, especially in Version 2.0.

Gore-Tex advertises with the slogan ‘Guaranteed to Keep You Dry’. Rightly so. Their materials are inherently waterproof because the microporous membrane does not let water through from the outside. Now, Gore-Tex (or any other microporous membrane really) remains breathable because the material contains microscopic pores – hence the name. These pores essentially are super-small holes in the material that let water vapour through from the inside, preventing the quick build-up of sweat and heat.

Gore-Tex is made from stretched PTFE, short for Polytetrafluoroethylene (you can forget that and call it Teflon). You’re likely to be familiar with this: it’s used around the house in tape form to waterproof faucets and showerheads.

In most garments, it is laminated to a polyamide outside and in most cases a protective inside coating as well (hence the industry mumbo-jumbo about 2, 2,5 and 3-layer clothing). Then, the face material gets a durable water-repellent coating made from PFC (perfluorocarbons). This makes water bead off of rain jackets. This construction has essentially remained the same since the material’s invention in the sixties and seventies. Of course, the layers have become thinner, stronger and more breathable. But the main concept has remained the same.

While it works reasonably well in temperate to cold conditions, this set-up has one major drawback: it totally destroys the environment. Most Gore-Tex or Gore-Tex copycat clothing consists of multiple textile materials (polyester, polyamide, PTFE and sometimes more). This makes them virtually impossible to re-cycle. Furthermore, Teflon production involves numerous extremely harmful chemicals, which can lead to cancer if not properly worked with. To add insult to injury, PFC-made DWR’s are harmful to nature because they take an extremely long time to break down and are poisonous to small animals and, because they linger and build up, the rest of the food chain.

Then there is the inherent technical drawback of microporous membranes: because they are basically a super-thin plastic layer with tiny holes they are susceptible to wear-and-tear and their breathability is limited.

Eco-Shell 2.0, especially the 3-layer variant, avoids most of these issues. While Eco-Shell 1.0 essentially was a 100% polyester microporous membrane with a PFC-free coating (which already is a lot better than PTFE membranes coated with PFC’s), Eco-Shell 2.0 improves upon the first edition in a couple of important ways.

Number one is the basic technology used: Eco-Shell 2.0 is a hydrophilic membrane. That means that it is actively sucking away excess moisture from the skin. This makes it much more breathable than a microporous membrane. Whereas microporous membranes rely on mechanical transportation of water vapour, hydrophilic membranes chemically suck it away from the inside out. The difference is very noticeable when working hard or when the temperature rises.

Number two is that Eco-Shell is a mono-material: the entire garment is made from partly recycled polyester (details such as zipper runners excluded). This already was the case with Eco-Shell 1.0, but not so much for most other waterproof-breathables. Mono-materials are easier to recycle than garments in which multiple types of plastic need to be separated before melting them down. Also, polyester membranes tend to be stronger and therefore longer lasting than PTFE membranes.

Number three is the total lack of PFC DWR. Fjällräven works with DWR’s with a shorter carbon-chain. This makes them significantly less harmful. Granted, most brands are currently ditching PFC’s. That’s a good thing. The only drawback is that PFC’s are extremely water-repellent, and PFC-free DWR’s thus need to be replenished more often.

Number four is a CSR-related choice made by Fjällräven to climate-compensate production and transportation of Eco-Shell, meaning that it is completely CO2-neutral when it ends up in the customer’s wardrobe.

Last but not least, polyamide-reinforced PTFE membranes tend to feel like wrinkly and noisy plastic bags. This is because the membrane needs plenty of reinforcement to remain reasonably durable. Normally this is done by adding a layer of polyamide in a thickness dictated by how strong the garment needs to be.  Eco-Shell apparel uses polyester instead. Polyester is much stronger, more pliable and softer, and hence not nearly as loud when moving around. It is also easier to recycle, as mentioned before. It is heavier than Teflon and polyamide though, so that comes at a small weight penalty.

To me, Eco-Shell is a major improvement over most other waterproof-breathable materials. Now let’s discuss why the Bergtagen Eco-Shell is such an improvement upon all the other Eco-Shell jackets in the Fjällräven line-up.

Features

First up: the hood. Whereas Fjällräven’s other shell jackets feature hoods designed with hikers and trekkers in mind, the Bergtagen Eco-Shell’s hood has been designed for one purpose only: to fit a mountaineer’s helmet with room to spare. In many ways, it is very similar to Arc’teryx’s Stormhood design: it is two-way adjustable, very roomy and has a laminated brim. However, there also are some major differences: the collar is higher, meaning that it offers more protection from harsh winds. Also, the entire front is lined with microfleece for a soft feel and warmth.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Helmet Compatible Hood Adjustable.jpg

Second, it is made from 3-Layer Eco-Shell RipStop fabric, meaning that the outside material is a lot harder-wearing than the Keb or Abisko Eco-Shells. Furthermore, it features elbow patches made from Corylon, an Aramid-based fabric developed in-house by Fjällräven to be immensely strong yet very pliable.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Corylon Elbow Reinforcements.jpg

The third major difference between this one and the rest of the Eco-Shell line-up: zippers. Bergtagen products feature very tough zippers, laminated ones on the Eco-Shells to make them waterproof. Also, they feature innovative pullers to make them easier to manipulate with gloves on. In fairness, they are a bit bulky but the large pullers are a big advantage in bad weather.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Front Pockets.jpg

Other than that, the features are pretty similar to the Keb Eco-Shell Jacket and most other high-quality shells: two pockets on the front with roomy inside pockets for GPS or phone, Velcro-adjustable sleeves and a draw cord-adjustable hem. Large ventilation zippers on the side prevent overheating.

 

A few omissions make it clear this is a more hard-core jacket: no sleeve pocket (why would you need a ski pass in the back-country?), no cord hole for your headphones, and no inside pocket. You’ll only hear the wind howling in this one. Due to the fact that it is tougher, it is also a little bit heavier than the Keb Eco-Shell – but the weight penalty is barely noticeable: about 30 grams in a similar size.

Fit

Roomy but articulate. A thin down jacket will easily fit underneath but it is not bulky when only wearing a t-shirt. Fjällräven jackets tend to be roomy. If you know your sizing with their stuff you can stick to your normal size but if you’re new to the brand you might want to size down. The hem is quite long, which is nice in bad weather as it offers ample wind and moisture protection, and protects fleeces and down or synthetic layers from moisture. The sleeves are long, as is generally the case in climbing oriented jackets. It’s a necessity for me as I have rather long arms for my overall height.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Size Tag.jpg

Details

Fjällräven is a brand with its own quirks and design philosophy. This is most apparent in general things such as colour choice (compared to most household outdoor brands their palette is quite subdued) and in some of the design details. For example, while most brands tend to go with pit zips to offer extra ventilation, Fjällräven is steadily banning this from their line-up, instead opting for core ventilation zips placed along the entire side of their shell jackets. This has a number of advantages: one, it offers better ventilation as your body generates most of its heat at the core. Two, they are not blocked by backpacks, whereas pit zips tend to be closed off by shoulder straps, and three, they can double as access to the pockets of midlayers worn underneath. This makes hand pockets on the outside unnecessary, reducing bulk and weight.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Vent Zips.jpg

Another quirk is their obsession with double zippers. It’s hard to find a jacket without a zipper that can open from the bottom up. This is annoying and nice at the same time: annoying because they can be a little finicky to close, nice because it makes for an extra ventilation option. It also necessitates the push button at the hem to make sure it does not open up by itself.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Double Zipper Bottom Push Button.jpg

Other than that, some things stand out: the mesh pockets inside the chest pockets are roomy, roomier than on the brand’s other shell choices. The hem drawstring does not have a garage, making sure it can be adjusted easily on the fly while wearing a backpack or harness (but also making it more noticeable and a snag hazard). The best detail in my opinion is that the Velcro tabs on the sleeve cuffs are sewn into the material, as opposed to the industry standard of a strip of Velcro sewn onto the sleeve. This helps make them longer lasting, and might prevent the build-up of snow on the tab in heavy weather.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Hem Draw Cord.jpg

Furthermore, what makes Bergtagen unique in the Fjällräven line-up is the incorporation of RECCO reflectors into the garments. This enables Search and Rescue teams to detect the wearer via a small and flexible metal strip sewn into the material.

Fjallraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket Cuffs Velcro.jpg 

Usage

To be honest, so far I’ve only used this jacket around town, riding my bicycle to and from work in various weather conditions ranging from cloudy to continuous rain and sleet (biking through precipitation, especially sleet, is a good way to test a shell though: it increases the pressure on the material).

It does breathe much better than most other shell materials during the same activity, and most details work as advertised. The hood is roomy but adjusts well when not wearing a helmet, you can easily manipulate the zippers while wearing gloves and the pockets provide ample room for large phones, GPS and other necessities. Most importantly, the jacket is completely waterproof but breathes very well in most if not all cases. I’m looking forward to stress testing this jacket next Alpine season.

 

Pros

Tough 3-Layer RipStop face fabric

RECCO

Pliable and soft

Recyclable

PFC-free DWR

Completely waterproof

Very breathable

Hard-wearing reinforcements

Large zipper pullers

Large side zips

Spacious pockets

Roomy, fully helmet-compatible hood

Cons

PFC-free coatings are less water-resistant

Hem draw cords need to be tucked in manually

Just one slit for a headphone cord would have been a nice touch

Overall

If you need a hardwearing and exceptionally breathable hardshell jacket for back-country and alpine adventures year-round, and still want it to be somewhat good looking in daily life: look no further. This jacket has all the bells and whistles you might want – and none that you don’t. It will protect you from the elements no matter the circumstances, and will do so with room to spare for a helmet and necessary layers.  Fjällräven also makes a women’s version, obviously. Follow the links below for more information.

fjallraven-bergtagen-eco-shell-jacket-recco-label.jpg

With a recommended retail price of 579,95 Euros, it comes with a hefty price tag. But then, most of the jackets in this category are that expensive, if not more so. Design, construction and the materials used make them pricy – no compromises are made in terms of functionality. More than with any other type of gear, rainwear is you-get-what-you-pay-for. The Fjällraven Bergtagen Eco-Shell Jacket is, however, built to last, with careful attention to detail and the environment.

Further reading

https://www.fjallraven.com/bergtagen-eco-shell-jacket

 

https://www.fjallraven.com/bergtagen-eco-shell-jacket-w

 

Rab Firewall Pants Review

Introduction

Nobody I know likes (to buy) rain trousers. I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. Most of the time they are pretty much dead weight in your pack and, unlike hardshell jackets, they only become useful in the most persistent or heavy showers out there.

On the other hand, hiking or trekking in the rain can be quite a nice experience, but only if you are properly prepared and protected. And even in changeable weather you obviously need proper protection if you’re staying out longer – especially if you are camping out.

Rab Firewall Pants Front View.jpg

To be honest, I’ve put off investing in a pair of proper rain pants for a very long time. They were always on the list, but with limited cash flow (or, you know, more ‘important’ pieces of gear to buy…) they were never on the top. However, as I am planning more and more alpine activities in the near future, the need for proper full body weather protection grew, so I decided to finally cross this one off the list.

During the decision making process I had a number of demands. As I want to wear them only when they are necessary, long zippers, preferably full length ones, were top of the list. Pre-shaped knees, assisting in comfort while ascending and descending, were a close second. Third, weight. As it will likely spend most of its time in my pack, I want my rain gear to be light and packable. However, fourth, it needs to be able to handle a reasonable amount of abuse as well. Life in the mountains can be rough, as you probably know. Last, but certainly not least, was price. I am willing to shell out cash for quality gear, but as I planned to use these pants as little as possible, there were limits.

After some deliberation, trying, and shortlisting, I settled on the Rab Firewall Pants. I’ll tell you why.

Construction

Rab is quite well known for its down jackets. Its insulation layers and sleeping bags have seen use in various mountainous regions throughout the company’s 36-year existence. These are known to be excellently designed and produced pieces, and that quality carries over to a lot of Rab’s other gear as well. As one can expect in a 3-Layer shell product, all seams have been taped to ensure no water can seep through stitches. The three-quarter-length zippers are YKK Aquaguard, meaning they are waterproof and durable without the need for an outside storm cover (which means less bulk).

Rab Firewall Pants Taped Seams.JPG

The main material is Pertex Shield+, a 3-Layer shell material that is slightly stretchy, allowing for a very good range of motion. It has a rip-stop face and, as usual, a protective inner layer to shield the membrane from the most corrosive influences of salt and acid coming out of the human body in the form of sweat. The inside also is slightly brushed so it feels somewhat comfortably next-to-skin, which is a nice bonus considering a lot of rain gear, especially the more affordable trousers, are not a pleasure to wear without layers underneath.

I particularly like the careful way the functional details (more on those later) are married to the main material. For example, rivets are popped through the places where draw cords are coming out of their sleeves, ensuring durability. The same amount of attention has gone to some of the other small details, in various ways.

Features

Rain pants come in all shapes, sizes and weights – just like rain jackets. They can be over- or under-featured, or simply too heavy for your intended use. An example: Fjällräven, one of my favorite outdoor brands, has their full-featured hardshell Keb Eco-Shell Trousers. It’s a pretty awesome shell pant as long as you are wearing it – at 660 grams, it is quite a heavy one to put in your pack and carry around just in case. Some other pants are super lightweight, such as Salomon’s Gore-Tex Active Shell Pant. But that one lacks zippers on the side, making it impossible to don and doff without taking your shoes off – a big no-no when you’re in the mountains and the weather changes suddenly.

The trick, then, is to find a pair of rain trousers with just the features you need, no more, no less. The Rab Firewall Pant pulls this off (at least for me). It has a simple, adjustable draw cord waist adjuster on the inside of the elasticated gripper waistband. The side zips have three pullers, so you can create a custom length vent port on any particular height, or access pockets on the pants you are wearing underneath.

Rab Firewall Pants Threeway Aquaguard Zipper.jpg

The leg endings are adjustable, and have metal buttons so they stay closed at all times. Having just the necessities keeps weight down: these trousers weigh around 330 grams (exact weight dependent on size obviously) and pack down to absolutely nothing. Considering all the features and the quality of the material, that’s great – especially considering they’re not too steep in price.

Fit

For a pair of pants designed to be worn over other garments, these are quite tight. I wear size 29-30 waist jeans so I was expecting to fit either size small or medium for this. I got the mediums in the end, due to the fact that the smalls were quite tight around my thighs when worn with a pair of hiking trousers underneath. Now, I do have large upper legs for my waist size so if you’re somewhat more in proportion, your mileage may vary… Length is pretty much spot on, maybe a tad too long. But I think that’s due to me sizing up from a Small to a Medium when lengthwise I’m not the biggest guy around.

Details

There’s three I haven’t mentioned yet, all of which are nice but not strictly necessary, although they barely add weight so what the hell. All logos and letterings reflect light, which is nice considering the pants are black almost throughout. I make a point of wearing at least one brightly colored item of clothing at all times when I am in the mountains to remain visible no matter what happens so the reflective lettering is a nice touch but nothing more. Second, all the adjustment cords are bright red. This makes them stand out from the otherwise black look of the trousers so they are really noticeable, easy when the weather is bad. Last, each leg ending has two small loops on the inside to pull some cord under your boots. Neat, but kind of a hassle.

Rab Firewall Pants Adjustable Leg Ending.JPG

Rab Firewall Pants Gripper Waistband.JPG

Usage

I bought the Rab Firewall Pants before summer, making sure I had them before going on a climbing trip to the German Alps in Bavaria. I took them with me, but the weather was simply too good. Then again, due to their minimal weight and packing volume, they were not in the way either.

Last week, we had fifteen hours of continuous rain in Amsterdam, my hometown. Now, most people don’t see this as an inviting strolling opportunity, but to me it was the first time I got to try these trousers our for real. They performed as expected, keeping me dry from the outside while breathing reasonably well. To be honest, in any waterproof item, no matter how breathable, you are going to build up a sweat – it is imperative to wear quick drying performance base or mid layers at all times. That’s no different with these ones.

Could they have been better? Sure. There are two things I am missing. Full-length zippers would have been nice, but the three-quarter ones do the job almost as well. And a boot hook to replace the cumbersome loops currently sewn into the leg endings would make life easier if you want to prevent them to ride up (which, with high-top footwear, they don’t really do anyway). Otherwise, for EUR 169,95, these are pretty great lightweight rain pants.

Rab Firewall Pants Boot Loops.JPG

Pros

Long, waterproof zippers with three pullers

Simple draw cord adjusters at waist and leg endings

Pre-shaped knees

Lightweight

3-Layer Stretch main material

Reasonably priced

Cons

Zippers are not full-length

No proper boot hook

Overall

For the price, the Rab Firewall Pants are really great rain trousers. They do their job as well as can be expected, and most functional details are well thought out and executed. Due to their low weight and small pack size, they are not in the way when they are unnecessary (which, to be honest, is most of the time).

Rab Firewall Pants Button Leg Ending.JPG

The only few things that Rab could improve upon are the zippers (which would have been better if they were full-length) and the boot hook system, which would be better if it were an actual hook, as in the Fjällräven Keb or Vidda Pro Trousers. This would barely increase weight, but it would greatly improve usability. Nevertheless, I would advise to buy these if you’re looking for packable and comfortable rain trousers at not too high a price.

Further reading

https://rab.equipment/eu/mens/pants/firewall-pants

 

My new favorite jacket: Arc’teryx Acto MX Hoodie

Introduction

A little over a year ago one of my coworkers offered to sell one of his jackets to me and, being quite the gearwhore, I almost immediately said yes without giving it much thought. I like dead bird stuff. Don’t we all?

However, there was one not so small thing bugging me about this particular model from the outset: Sleeve length was spot on but the hem width was a little too much (should I do more squats?) Recently though, I bit the bullet and took it to a tailor I knew I could trust. After a bit of an argument – he didn’t particularly like cutting into the taping – he agreed to tailor the hem to my size so I could wear this baby without harsh winds cooling me down. An extra plus is that it looks so much better now!

IMG_2251

So, now that I’ve been wearing this jacket extensively I thought I should give it a proper overview. It’s an old model by now but Arc’teryx offers quite a few jackets which are similar in terms of functionality, fit and style so I thought I’d write one up anyway.

Construction

There are few outdoor brands that rival Arc’teryx in terms of sheer attention to detail and quality control throughout. Flatlocked and taped seams make this jacket look clean on the outside and in, and make it extremely comfortable to wear, with or without pack. The ends on both the sleeves and the bottom of the jacket are finished with a thin line of grey fabric, which seems to be glued on – no stitching visible.

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The face fabric is 100% nylon with a very thin layer of grid fleece on the inside, giving the jacket just a tad of warmth and a high degree of wind resistance and breathability. The fleece’s composition (96% polyester and 4% spandex) gives the jacket its slight stretch. Due to the taped seams it’s tough for chilling winds to creep through – although they don’t make the jacket waterproof or fully windproof. Don’t mistake this for a Gore-Tex jacket! That’s not to say it doesn’t shed water – it’s exceptionally water-resistant. Since picking it up from the tailor I haven’t put on another shell jacket, and I have not been soaked once – and let me tell you that it has seen some rain in that month! This is to be expected: MX stands for Mixed Weather; meaning garments from that range should be able to cope with changing circumstances. Even then, I have never worn a soft-shell more capable of repelling water than this one. And it is still breathable like a fleece!

True to Arc’teryx form, all features and details (more on those later) are carefully designed so they don’t interfere or stand out, making for a clean look and clutter-free jacket.

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Features

This jacket has been designed with climbing and trekking in mind. That means it’s a very clean jacket with only a handful of well-designed features useful for those activities. It’s a short jacket, just barely touching the hips – although it’s slightly longer in the back than at the front. It won’t interfere with a climbing harness or with a rucksack hip-belt, more so due to the fact that it does not have hand pockets. It only has two spacious Napoleon pockets on either side of the main zipper. These will hold your essentials such as maps, compass, GPS devices or gloves and other cold-weather accessories.

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The hood is spacious and adjustable so that it can be made to follow your head movements. The cut is generous enough for a helmet but I’m not a climber myself so I haven’t tried so far. It also has a brim stiff enough to block wind and rain while still providing ample peripheral vision. The drawstrings are minimal, saving weight and clutter.

The zipper pullers are large enough to grab them while wearing thin or waterproof gloves, but I suspect winter gloves and especially mitts might give some problems. Then again, you’d probably be wearing a different coat in such weather conditions.

Fit

The fit can be summarized in one word: generous. Granted, I’m not a big guy but with 1,78m at 70kg the sleeve length is spot on. However, the body size originally was a little… big, hence the trip to the tailor. Now it sits perfectly on my hips with more than enough room to layer up underneath. The shoulder width is still a bit excessive but this also creates freedom of movement and room for layers without becoming annoying in the armpits so I’ll just say it’s a double-edged sword. Luckily, the cut is not annoying while wearing a pack (which I do almost every single day). Sometimes, a generous cut leaves too much excess fabric in the armpits, which bungles up while wearing a backpack or load-bearing equipment. This has not happened so far, which is good.

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Details

As far as functional trekking and outdoor jackets go, this is a very clean and minimalistic one so its details are few but well placed. No Velcro sleeve cuff adjusters here, just a slightly stretchy ending just tight enough to block winds but wide enough for thin gloves when needed. The Napoleon pockets have a mesh inner, so they can double as core ventilation ports when necessary. The main drawstrings of the hood lead to the inside so they don’t clutter the outside of the jacket. Finally, the zipper is designed to allow opening with one hand. That means it doesn’t lock very well in its fully closed position, which is annoying to some but a godsend to others (cyclists and climbers mostly) – don’t be afraid; it doesn’t come down on its own.  

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Usage

Being a shell jacket its primary purpose is to block the elements. It does so very well: it’s extremely resistant to moisture for a non-laminated jacket and it’s a quite capable windblocker. Due to the grid fleece on the inside it is able to give some warmth but don’t expect the world: due to circumstances I have worn this in a stationary position in cold, wet and windy conditions (+/- 5 degrees Celsius, not compensated for wind-chill) with just a tee underneath and it wasn’t pleasant… The upside was that even then I remained dry, meaning it is able to shed water even when worn directly on the skin. I intend to use it quite a bit this year: it has been the only (and I do mean only) shell jacket I’ve worn the last month in extremely varying conditions including quite heavy rain, and it hasn’t let me down once. It positively surprised me on a number of occasions, which is good. Its real test will come later this year, when I intend to go cabin trekking in the Slovenian Alps.

 

Pros

Beautifully simple

Attention to detail

Quite windproof

Extremely water-resistant

Well-placed details

Adjustable and roomy hood

 

Cons

Original fit off for me

No internal drawstring at hem

 

Overall

Overall this is a great jacket with only one major drawback that might not even be an issue for other people – its fit. After a bit of customization it has been greatly improved and now it’s one of my favorite jackets. Even more than my Fjällräven Keb Jacket it’s a jacket suitable for almost any situation and weather condition. Its water-repellent ability is the best I’ve ever seen in a non-waterproof jacket, and due to the taping the seams don’t diminish that. It has a nice clean look, which delivers on the streets as well as in the mountains. Thanks to a minimal amount of very well placed and thought-out details it performs extremely well without a large amount of clutter.

 

Further reading

www.arcteryx.com

http://www.backcountry.com/arcteryx-acto-mx-hooded-fleece-jacket-mens

http://thegemsstock.com/arcteryx-acto-mx-hoody-review