Every season, the latest gear promises more breathability or warmth or weather protection. But which pieces work so well you can forget they’re there? And which should just be forgotten? From crystal-clear days on cracks at Lumpy Ridge to hail and heart-stopping thunder in the Black Canyon, we reviewed more than 100 articles of clothing to bring you the best of the bunch.
Belay Jacket Reviews
“Although I was skeptical at first, this piece has revamped my layering system,” said a tester who took it ice climbing for 14 consecutive days in Utah. It was so windproof and breathable, one tester wondered, “How do they do it?” Eight-hundred-fill down on the front and back torso insulated key body parts, and FlashDry Pertex Quantum GL nylon on the sleeves and sides blocked the wind while wicking and drying sweat.
“Forget every other down puffy you’ve ever worn—this will beat them all,” one tester declared. The 750-fill down kept us warm in single-digit temps throughout the West. “Belay puffy, around town, skiing… I wore this every day this winter,” another tester said. The superior warmth and airy feel of this 23-oz. jacket (men’s M) was the foundation of our testers’ obsessions, but it was the climber-centric features that sealed the deal.
“That was fun!” said one tester after designing his own jacket from colors to materials to fill. “And the jacket has proven to be a bombproof performer, too.” Wild Things lets you select from a range of features and fabrics at a competitive price, with a 14-day delivery turnaround.
A simple polyester shell with elastic cuffs and a drawstring hem houses a brushed interior of 200g Polartec fleece. Sounds uncomplicated until you look at the inside of this jacket: The fleece—lining the chest and back—is pocked with dozens of dime- to quarter-sized holes that trap heat when you need it and ventilate when you don’t.
“This hooded, midweight jacket quickly became my go-to piece for chilly days at the crag and while navigating alpine terrain,” says one contributing editor. “It’s the climber-oriented fit that won me over: The torso is trim while the waist and arms are long, so the Pegasus stayed tucked under a harness and always covered my wrists when reaching overhead.”
Labeled as a “do-everything hoody for the do-everything athlete,” this full-zip midlayer really does all mountain sports well. Our testers took it (and the women’s version, the Avail Hoody) from boulderfields in northern California to the long multi-pitches of Red Rock to ski slopes in Colorado.
Patagonia’s own version of water-resistant down ups the ante by boosting loft to an astonishing 1,000-fill. They zap 800-fill down with radio waves until its molecular structure changes, allowing the plumes to accept a silicone DWR treatment without the use of chemical binders.
It’s funny how much waiting happens at the crag: Belaying, spotting, gawking, sharing beta—these don’t require a ton of energy. What’s not funny is how far your core temperature can drop on cold days during inactivity. Solution? The Sierra Designs DriDown Gnar Lite jacket ($229; sierradesigns.com). While at first glance it looks like any other 800-fill down jacket (and indeed its weight and warmth are comparable to most in that category), it’s the invisible treatment to the down itself that makes the difference.
Bailing off the sixth pitch of Petit Grepon (5.8) in Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado, in the face of a rain and hail storm, our tester put this “emergency storm jacket for an alpine environment” to the test. The Arc’teryx Alpha SL Jacket ($319; arcteryx.com) was a godsend for the two-hour downpour while the tester and her partner rapped down almost 800 feet.
I’ve always wanted that one warm jacket that I can grab for approaches and belays in times of near-freezing temps and blustery winds. That one jacket that I can throw over a tank top when I’m running to the gym, and trust to keep me completely warm. Downs weren’t cutting it for such uses (especially with that skin-to-nylon fabric contact—eek!), and regular fleeces weren’t windproof or warm enough. The North Face Polar Hooded Jacket ($299; thenorthface.com) came to my rescue at the end of last winter.
The new Arc'teryx Gamma MX jacket for climbers is a definite upgrade, with its proprietary Fortius 2.0 fabric, which is blessed with enhanced durability and water resistance without any sacrifice of stretch or breathability.