Thursday, October 25, 2012

Lightweight Hardshells - La Sportiva Stormfighter Jacket

I decided to start this round of jacket inspection with the La Sportiva Stormfighter jacket.  Out of all the jackets I chose, it was the one that grabbed my attention first.  Maybe it was the bright yellow color or maybe it is all the great press it has been receiving lately, but I couldn't wait to check it out.

When my business partners and I got to see this jacket when it first arrived, everybody thought it was such a good looking jacket.  Words like "beautiful" and "gorgeous" are not words that we tough guys use on a regular basis, but when this jacket was passed around, those words went flying out of multiple people's mouths.  Upon closer inspection, it was obvious that the quality of materials and manufacturing are both top-notch.

When I put the jacket on, it felt like it was tailored to me.  With my arms to my side, the sleeves were long enough, the jacket was long enough in the body, and the body was trim, but not too tight.  It was a really nice fit . . . I thought.  As soon as I started moving, I was a little disappointed.  I will explain further in the pictures.

Here are a few stats about the jacket:
  • 11oz according to La Sportiva, 12 oz according to my scale
  • Made of a lightweight nylon (approximately 20 denier) face fabric with Gore-tex Active Shell membrane
  • Reflective details on right shoulder, chest zipper, "La Sportiva" logo on chest and "Gore-tex Active" logo on back
  • One-way adjustable hood (it works better than it sounds) and single pull hem drawcord
  • Non-adjustable stretchy cuffs 
  • Storm flap over front zip with single magnet at bottom to hold it in place
The Pictures

La Sportiva Stormfighter hardshell

The jacket is made with Gore-tex Active Shell.  Both of these logos reflect light

This is the zipper detail on the single chest pocket.  The zipper is a top-notch, waterproof YKK vislon zipper.  They tend to zip easier and are more waterproof than a metal coil zipper, but are usually not as durable.  This zipper is burly enough for years of use though.

The front zip is a two-way zipper.  The two circles in this picture are magnets that hold the zipper flap closed.

The cuffs.  The black is a stretch section.  The cuffs feel really nice and fit nicely under a glove, but don't allow many options for sealing the cuff if you use under-cuff gloves.

The interior of the cuff is lined in a loose, soft, slick nylon. 

The single chest pocket is mesh lined allowing for additional venting, assuming you leave the pocket unzipped.  It could also be used for drying small, wet items like some gloves.

The interior pocket with a little hole for headphones.

Fleece lining at the chin.

The hood has a single pull adjustment.  I thought that wouldn't be enough, but it does a surprisingly good job at snugging down the hood over a helmet and without a helmet.  Notice the reflective detail on the right shoulder.  When the light isn't reflecting off it, it is a dark grey pattern that matches the hood.

The plastic cinch is glued to the fabric of the hood for a very clean design that is simple to adjust.

The same plastic cinch that is used on the hood is used on the hem.  

Horribly focused detail of the cinch.

Sportiva uses Gore tiny seam tape on the seams (it's 13mm wide instead of the standard 20mm or so) which allows for a little more breathability.

The Fit

I really like the fit of the jacket.  It felt like it was tailored to my body.  I'm 6'2", 185ish lbs, and a size Medium fit trim but loose enough to wear a couple layers underneath.  It really felt nice.

Trim fit.  Loose enough for layers but not boxy.  The sleeves are the right length, at least with my arms down.

The hood without a helmet.  The only adjustment on the hood is a pull from the back. 

With the single pull, the hood is able to be cinched securely on the head, with or without a helmet.

The hood is just right with a helmet.

And now for the few problems that I noticed:

Arms down

Arms up.

If I keep my arms below shoulder level, everything is fine.  But, when I raise my hands all the way up, either the sleeves are too short and my wrists aren't covered or my wrists are covered and the hem pulls up about 8 inches.  There is no way, at least in a size Medium, to keep my wrists covered AND the jacket tucked into a harness while climbing.  It's one or the other.

This is the culprit.  When I raise my arm, the material under the arm catches when my arms are raised to about shoulder level.  From there, either the hem is too short and would pull out of a harness or the sleeves are too short and my wrists would be bare.   A few extra inches of material under the arm and a slightly different cut would solve the problem, I think.

The second fit issue I found is that when I reach forward with both arms, the back of the jacket pulls tight and it feels a little restricting.  This wasn't as problematic for me as the other fit issue, especially because there is a slight stretch to the fabric.

I don't see either of these issues being a problem while skiing, touring, backpacking, or wearing around town.  I really only see the fit being a problem when used for climbing.  If you aren't much of a climber (or already have a good climbing shell), this would be a great backcountry skiing or backpacking jacket.  

Everybody I have talked to has been really impressed with the styling, which is so important while touring in the backcountry.  It really is all about who looks best once the pictures are posted on somebody's blog for the world to see.  But seriously, it's nice to look stylish.

The Verdict

I really like this jacket and would love to test it out in the mountains while skiing this winter.  We'll see if the budget allows for that.  I don't think it would work for me for climbing, however.  The fit just isn't quite right.  I think Outside Magazine's Gear of the Year award for 2013 is valid for the average, non-climbing outdoor enthusiast, because this really is a slick jacket.  I was surprised that, coming from a climbing and ski mountaineering brand, it wouldn't have a more climbing-friendly fit.

I would love to hear others' thoughts, especially from those who have had the opportunity to use the jacket.

A Quick Update: In talking to some people from La Sportiva and asking them why they screwed up the fit (at least for climbers), they said that this jacket was designed specifically as a backcountry skiing/ski mountaineering jacket, not a climbing jacket.  They said that they'll be debuting climbing-specific clothing in the future, but their first round of clothing was ski mountaineering specific.  So, even though occasionally you have to raise your arms to climb while backcountry skiing, I guess they felt it was more important to have a trim, dialed fit with arms down (while skinning and skiing).


  1. Thanks for the great review. I was thinking that the zipper flap was really necessary. But the two way zipper would be very useful.

  2. The front zipper is not a coated, waterproof zipper so the storm flap on the front zipper is necessary to stop wind and water. Thanks for reading this blog. I appreciate the support!

  3. Wonder how a large size would fit you? I'm 5'9" 160 and medium is usually my size. Good preview. Seems like Sportiva could have used a vislon zipper for the front zipper like Arcteryx is doing. Save a little weight and ditch the flap and magnets.

  4. I tried on a large and it was a tad larger in the body than I prefer, but there was less movement in the hem when I'd raise my arms (still too much for climbing, in my opinion). Usually I can get away with a medium because I don't have very wide/broad shoulders. My father-in-law who is the same size and weight as me has to wear a large because his shoulders are wider than mine. I too would have gone with a waterproof vislon zipper, but the storm flap does add some style points, I think, tying the color of the flap in with the hood.

  5. I got one, fit sucks for any end use, can't imagine how Outside Mag is handing out awards, must be pressure from Gore-tex,returned the Jacket, a shame-I wanted it to be my my new shell, I wanted to support the smaller brand