Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Lightweight Hardshells introduction

Early this morning, about 4am, I got dressed to go climbing before I had to go to work.  It was raining quite hard and the temperature was hovering around 35 degrees.  We decided to go drytooling instead of rock climbing, figuring we may get more purchase with picks in cracks than rubber on wet rock.  Not only that, drytooling would allow us to wear warm boots and gloves.  Instead of being bummed as is normally the case when rain thwarts our rock climbing plans, I got excited knowing that colder temperatures and wetter weather is a good sign that ice season is approaching.  But drytooling in the rain and sleet meant I needed a jacket that would keep me dry from the elements, but breathe well while I was pulling hard.

Last year I did most of my ice climbing in a softshell.  Only one or two times did I ever wear a hardshell while climbing, and only when it was snowing really wet snow and I'd be out in it for a long time.  In fact, I generally only wear hardshells in really wet and nasty conditions. This morning was a hardshell morning.

In years past, I avoided wearing hardshells except in the worst conditions because I would generally overheat, oversweat, eventually get cold and clammy, and would be uncomfortable.  But, with the progress that has been made with waterproof/breathable membrane technology over the last 3 or 4 years, and especially in the last year or two, I have started working hardshells into my clothing systems again.

This morning I was surprised at how comfortable I was able to stay while climbing hard in a hardshell.  I stayed dry from the outside, even though it was dumping rain/wet snow, and I didn't work up a sweat like usual on the inside.  I was climbing in the Rab Stretch Neo jacket, made of Polartec Neoshell.  My friend was wearing a Mountain Hardwear Drystein jacket made with Mountain Hardwear's proprietary Dry Q membrane.  He stayed pretty dry too, only complaining once that he started to work up a bit of a sweat while pulling the crux of one route while being totally pumped.  We both agree that hardshell technology has come a long way.

So, while it rained hard on us while we were climbing and it continued to rain all day, I thought about the important role that hardshells play.  It has been said, "There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing."  With that in mind, there are certain types of weather that require a hardshell to be considered good weather.

There are a lot of great, new hardshells on the market.  I have the good fortune of inspecting a few of the better ones (in my opinion) that we will be selling at our shop, GEAR:30 in Ogden, Utah.  Because I haven't used most of these jackets yet, I will not be writing reviews on these jackets based on performance.  I will simply try to show the fit, features, and details in a useful way for those that are interested in any of these jackets, but maybe haven't had the opportunity to use or see them in person. For the jackets that I decide to buy and use, I will update the posts with performance information based on my own experience after a few months of use.

The jackets that I will be highlighting are as follows:
  • Rab Stretch Neo Jacket - Neoshell - (I actually have used this one, but it's still relatively new and I don't have a lot of mileage in it yet)
  • Rab Latok Alpine Jacket - eVent
  • Outdoor Research Axiom Jacket - Gore-tex Active Shell - (Outside Gear of the Year 2012)
  • La Sportiva Stormfighter - Gore-tex Active Shell - (Outside Gear of the Year 2013)
I will try to highlight one jacket each day, but depending on how busy work is, I may switch to one every other day.  If other jackets become available that fit the category of 'lightweight hardshells,' I will add them to the mix

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