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).

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lone Peak Climbing Trip Report

I have been really busy lately working to get the GEAR:30 store ready for our November opening.  Whenever I've had a free moment, I have tried to get out into the mountains.  Unfortunately, that means that I haven't taken the time to write on the blog.  I apologize to the one or two people that regularly read my blog.  For everybody else that didn't notice my lack of writing, carry on with your lives.  There's nothing to see here.

Anyway, I was given a pack a few weeks ago to try out.  I have only been able to use it a couple times, but so far I'm really impressed.  The pack is the Aarn Guiding Light.  A much longer post is in the works, but this pack is one of the most complicated that I have used, so it is taking quite a while with my limited time to write.  I initially didn't think I would like it because it is so complicated and I generally like clean, simple packs, but this one has surprised me with its ability to carry weight comfortably.  Anyway, more is coming in the near future on this pack.

A few weeks ago I wanted a quick break to clear my head, get some exercise, breathe some clean air, and get re-energized for work (and I think the rest that went along felt the same way).  My wife and I and our good friends decided to head up to Lone Peak to do a little climbing.  This was the first time we had taken our wives up there.  My wife is 4-months pregnant and Phil and his wife brought along their 5-month-old little boy.  The hike up to Lone Peak is plenty strenuous with a day pack, but with overnight  and climbing equipment, water (because there is no available water up there this late in the year), being pregnant and carrying a little boy, this hike definitely gave us the exercise we were looking for (and then some).

Here are some pictures:

Kelsey starting up the Jacob's Ladder section of the Jacob's Ladder trail.  It is NOT an easy trail, but it is, in my opinion, one of the easier trails to Lone Peak.  I really don't think there is an easy way to get up Lone Peak.

Phil with 65 pounds of gear and 18 pounds of child.  I didn't realize that I hadn't gotten a picture of Katy on this trip.

This picture was taken on the hike back down after climbing, but I thought placing it here may be helpful to understanding which route we climbed.  Open Book (5.7) which we climbed, follows the main arete on the south (right) side of the face below the main summit (the highest point on the left of the picture).  This was our first trip to Lone Peak to climb, so we decided to climb Open Book which is one of the easiest routes in the cirque.  We can't wait to get back to Lone Peak and climb the Lowe Route, Vertical Smile-Triple Overhangs linkup, and many others.  The climbs up here are some of the best I have done in northern Utah.   

Crossing talus on the approach.

Phil leading up the first pitch.  He led the first 2-3 pitches (we linked p1 and p2).  We planned to simul-climb the route, but ended up only simul-climbing the first pitch because the route ended up being slightly more difficult than we were expecting.  We usually simul-climb routes up to about 5.9-ish (depending on the exposure and level of sandbagging) in order to move faster.  We probably could have simul-climbed this route, but because we were not in a hurry and because of the physical nature of the route (i.e. offwidth), we decided to pitch out all but the first pitch

Myself at the bottom of the 2nd pitch looking down to the cirque valley below.
I'm not a very good photographer and didn't get any pictures of Phil leading the hardest pitches.

Myself on Pitch 3, I think.

Though there are a lot of cracks for protection, the cracks were not as easy to climb as I was expecting. A combination of offwidth cracks, lots of gear, and the higher elevation made for tiring climbing.

Myself heading up the 4th pitch of the Open Book route.  Though the route is only rated 5.7, it is a pretty physical 5.7 with multiple sections of offwidth cracks (which I don't usually enjoy, but this route was pretty fun).

Phil took this picture while hanging at the bottom of the 4th pitch of the Open Book route.  Across the valley is Question Mark Wall with the Lowe Route heading right up the middle.

Kelsey and I on the summit of Lone Peak.  Kelsey hiked to the top while Phil and I climbed.  Phil's wife, Katy, and their little boy decided only to hike to the cirque because she didn't want to risk falling with the babe while crossing talus.

Phil on the summit of Lone Peak.


Myself coming down from Lone Peak after a day of climbing.  I am wearing the Aarn Guilding Light pack.  The pack isn't designed to carry real heavy loads, but I hauled about 65 pounds of gear and water in it and it was surprisingly comfortable.  Definitely a unique pack.

Kelsey, 4-months pregnant, hiking down from Lone Peak.

This was a really fun trip, though I think I would plan to go up earlier in the year next time so that there is water to filter.  Phil and I ended up carrying about 25-30 lbs of water each for ourselves and wives.  The hike would be much easier without that extra weight.