2011 Gear Guide: Shells
Clip-to-your-harness wind protection Shoulder season means one thing for long rock routes: Be fast, or be prepared. After a few too many times when I was neither, I’ve learned that I can always afford to carry a few more ounces. So when super-light, stuffable wind shells for climbers first started showing up, I bought one immediately. When the wall goes into shadow, the wind picks up, and you still have four more belays before the top, that triangle of nylon spinning from your harness will be on your back in a hurry, and you’ll praise the designers for making it hooded, wind-proof, and possibly even water-resistant. Below, our look at three excellent lightweight hooded shells.
CAMP MAGIC JACKET
$99.95, 4.35 oz.
Made from a proprietary uncoated, featherweight, ripstop nylon that CAMP calls Araneum, the Magic Jacket balances features and durability with light weight and compressibility. Owing to the supple drape of its main body fabric, the jacket stuffs easily into a pouch sewn into one of the jacket’s side seams. Because of this pocket placement, if you encounter an abrasive chimney while the jacket is hanging from your harness, you won’t scrape holes in a more essential pocket, a nice touch for an alpine jacket. Stuffed into this pouch, the jacket hangs from its stretchable draw-cord, making one tester worry the cord could come untied; a good, tight knot and searing the cord ends resolved this problem.During durability testing, the Magic sat squarely in the middle, allowing small holes from granite abrasion. Be sure to size this jacket just right—a closer fit would have mitigated this problem by preventing the fabric from catching on rock so easily.
The jacket features an adjustable waist drawcord, with small, flexible cord-locks; these initially grabbed the cord securely, but allowed some slippage over time. Higher on the body, elastic strips help manage volume around the sides, which prevented the ballooning effect during blustery climbs. A low-profile hood tops the jacket, with draw-cord adjustability. The hood has enough room at the neck to accommodate a variety of helmets without lifting off the body. Unused, it can be rolled up and secured by a short hook-and-loop strap—the only jacket tested to have this feature.
During wet-weather testing in the Northwest, it held up better than expected, repelling a light, consistent drizzle for long enough to get to shelter—impressive given its lack of exterior coating. A medium-sized pocket adorns the left chest, perfect for a beanie, bar, or topo.
Best For: High-speed peak-bagging
THE NORTH FACE VERTO JACKET
$99, 2.85 oz.
The lightest, most compressible jacket reviewed, the Verto impressed testers with its minimalist weather protection. Comprised of micro-ripstop Pertex Quantum nylon fabric, this featherweight shell literally was forgotten while clipped to the back of the harness. Its tiny chest pocket, adequate only for the smallest of essential items, nonetheless quickly accepted the entire shell for stowage, and the stuffed shell hung vertically on the harness for out-of-the-way accessibility.The hood is the smallest in this review, and with its weight-conscious lack of size adjustment (sewn-in elastic keeps the hood closed), wearing this hood over any helmet with the jacket fully zipped resulted in the shell lifting off the shoulders. (Wearing the hood under one’s helmet resolves this issue.) The jacket is not highly water-resistant: During persistent light rain, the jacket wetted through at the shoulders and other exposed areas in less than 20 minutes. Similarly, its fabric proved the least durable during abrasion testing, with small holes developing after just two passes across sharp granite. Still, this is a good minimalist choice for long rock routes when a brief shower is all you have to fear.
Best For: Last-ditch insurance policy
ARC’TERYX SQUAMISH HOODY
$150, 5.25 oz.
The most full-featured jacket reviewed, the Squamish Hoody lived up to its billing: a lightweight, highly waterrepellent, versatile jacket. The key to this jacket’s success is Arcteryx’s proprietary Gossamera fabric. A polyurethane- coated, stretchable ripstop nylon with a soft feel, it appears at first blush to offer no real difference from other jacket fabrics. A closer look reveals a micro-windowpane weave, with triple ripstop threads crossing a slightly brushed underlayer fabric. The result? It fared exceptionally well during rain testing in a sudden squall in the Northwest, as well as in abrasion testing on coarse desert granite.The Squamish Hoody’s cut also won praise, accommodating a wide range of testers without seeming baggy on the average human, nor restrictively tight on larger folks. Girth adjustment at the hem comes from twin cord-locks positioned slightly forward of the hip. (One tester complained that the cord-locks aren’t one-handed.) The jacket’s hood worked well with a helmet, yet wasn’t too baggy with just a beanie. The laminated brim showed its worth during persistent light rain, yet needed to be repositioned regularly without a helmet to hold it in place. The hood adjustment is onehanded, but buried so deep that the cord ends were hard to find, especially with gloves on or with wet fingers. Sleeve cuffs adjust via laminated hook-and-loop panels. A good-sized chest pocket holds small items, and uses a sewnin cord loop and reversible zipper to swallow the jacket swiftly for harness-hanging. On the whole, we found the Squamish jacket to be surprisingly durable and weather-resistant for its weight.
Best For: Everything!
You want to be able to clip these light coats to your harness, but you don’t want to waste a carabiner on them. Instead, use a plastic accessory biner. This saves weight, and when you do need to don the jacket, the biner is small enough to fit inside the pocket, offering clippable security for a small camera or car keys.