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Fall 2013 Apparel Guide

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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.

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Propellant Jacket


“I can’t get enough of this piece, and since it’s so versatile, I wear it everywhere I go,” one Rocky Mountains tester said. This unique jacket marries the stretchy durability of a softshell with the puffy warmth of an insulation piece, but it breathes like a midlayer. On a spring climb of the 1,500-foot Royal Flush (5.9), in Frisco, Colorado, the morning was chilly and 40°F; several hours later, it warmed up to almost 70°F. Our tester kept the Propellant on all day without even realizing it—the mark of a truly successful layer. “We started with warm jackets, and I didn’t realize I still had mine on about two-thirds up the route when my partner began stripping layers and complaining about being hot,” she said. “I didn’t overheat, feel uncomfortable, or sweat at all.” Polartec’s Alpha insulation, combined with a proprietary nylon-and-spandex outer shell, balanced warmth and breathability so well it went unnoticed. Mobility and durability were top-notch, too: The jacket stretched and moved while climbing, and repeated jamming and rock rubbing had no effect. $279;

Prana Halle Pant


With a perfect combination of comfort, style, and techy performance, these pants stood up to a fl ash storm and rock abrasion during a weekend excursion to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado, and then looked just as good the following Monday (and Tuesday and Wednesday) in the offi ce. “I never want to take these off again,” our female tester said. “They’re the ideal pant to wear to work, and then out for an afterwork session in Boulder Canyon, which is what I did two days last week.” The Stretch Zion fabric with 97 percent nylon and 3 percent spandex provides just enough stretch to not be a hindrance when you’re high-stepping, but after groveling up some layback and offwidth pitches on Casually Off- Route (5.9) in the Black Canyon, the Halle hasn’t shown a single pill or tear. These pants were outstanding in performance and tech features, but it was the extra details that put them fi rst in class: an inconspicuous zipper pocket on the thigh, and a strap-button closure that lets you roll them securely (and fashionably) into capris. $75;

Arc’teryx Fortrez Hoody


“I thought I already had found my favorite midlayer until I donned this in Colorado’s Eldorado, Boulder, and Clear Creek canyons on days that ranged anywhere from puffy-jacket weather to splitter and bluebird,” one tester said. It regulated body temperature, keeping testers warm when necessary and cool when necessary; we found it best for moderate days at the crag, not for freezing situations. The entire piece is Polartec Power Stretch with Hardface technology on the outside, so the inside pulls sweat away from your skin and keeps you dry, while the outer layer is burly yet soft. The Hardface application on the outside added durability and created some weather resistance; water beaded up and rolled off during a few short spurts of typical Colorado spring storms, and winds up to about 25 mph didn’t penetrate this full-zip jacket. Five-star bonus: The hood of the Fortrez has a built in balaclava that goes completely unnoticed when not in use, but pulls over your nose and mouth when the weather gets heinous. $199;

La Sportiva Primus Hoody


After a strong start in spring 2013 with several of our testers’ favorite pieces of the season (read reviews at, La Sportiva enters fall with another standout piece: the Primus Hoody (Siren Hoody for women). This PrimaLoft Synergy and Polartec Power Dry midlayer wicked sweat extremely well on chilly morning approaches where testers were working hard. “I was sweating heavily on a hike, but when I stopped for a minute for water and a snack, I was dry in all the key places,” one tester said. High-moisture-building areas like the sleeves, sides, and bottom of the extended torso (where a waistbelt sits) are all covered by Power Dry, which is breathable and stretchy. Testers found that this layer didn’t keep them warm when they stopped moving for extended periods of time, but for intense activities where you’re active and sweating, this jacket was superb. The slim profi le and sleek design layers well under shells and outer jackets, too. $189;

Mountain Hardwear Stretchstone Flannel Long Sleeve Shirt


“I have worn this three to four times a week for almost three months because it’s so perfect for everything,” one female tester said. Right off the rack, the Stretchstone is just as soft as your go-to flannel, but it has excellent stretch for any move you need to make. From gymnastic bouldering in Joe’s Valley, Utah, to jamming and laybacking in the Black Canyon, the Stretchstone has been a perfect fit for every type of climbing and condition. The men’s version is a standard button-up and collared shirt, but they gave some extra features to the women by adding a hood and snap buttons. “It’s so easy-on, easy-off that I pack this whenever the weather looks questionable; plus, its long torso fits nicely under a harness,” another said. Nitpick: It doesn’t have any anti-stink properties. Because you’ll want to wear it all the time, you’ll be washing it frequently, too. $80;

Outdoor Research Floodlight Jacket


This jacket will be your best friend in cold, wet weather. A thin and light outer Pertex Shield fabric covers 800-fi ll down to create a very packable, incredibly warm, and waterproof package. “I don’t know how I went so long without a burly, waterproof down jacket,” one tester said after belaying in shady, below-freezing temps at Moffatt Tunnel near Rollinsville, Colorado. Product designers found that bonding the outer shell directly to the inner lining (with the down between them) allowed for a stitch-free and seamless outside that is sealed off from the elements. Whatever crap conditions we could fi nd—from ice climbing in Quebec, Canada, to windy and wet days in Colorado—were no match for the Floodlight. It’s not meant for high-output activities, but for belaying and waiting between burns, you’ll be hard-pressed to fi nd a warmer jacket. Features include a helmet-compatible hood with wire brim, fl eece-lined hand warmer pockets situated high, and two elastic pockets inside the jacket that are just right for gloves, goggles, or rock shoes. $375;

The North Face ThermoBall Jacket


The four testers who got their hands on the ThermoBall immediately thought it was stuffed with down: “This has changed the way I think about synthetics,” a 20-year tester said. “I used to fi nd them too bulky and not warm enough, but this jacket has down-like packability and warmth with all the benefi ts of synthetic.” The cotton ball–like shape of the fi bers (instead of traditional long strands) keeps the PrimaLoft clusters together (much like down feathers) and creates pockets of air that retain heat. One tester soaked this piece all the way through and put it over a thin baselayer; she was warm within about 10 minutes, and after 40 minutes, it was totally dry. A few climbing and skiing guides in the Northeast even chose this piece over their favorite lightweight down jackets that have been standard in their quiver over the last few years. It’s not as breathable as the Polartec Alpha pieces, but its warmth-to-weight ratio and ability to stay warm when wet make it an excellent choice for cold backcountry pursuits. $199;

Rab Strata Hoodie


When our tester army fights over a jacket, you know it’s good. The Rab Strata Hoodie includes the new Polartec Alpha synthetic insulation that upped breathability while maintaining warmth. Testers wore it over a baselayer while skinning up in temps in the 30s; when they stopped to remove skins, they never had to strip down to cool off or layer up to stay warm. Thanks to Alpha’s stable structure, a lighter fabric can be used on the inside (woven nylon and polyester mesh on the Strata) and on the outside (Pertex Microlight), so this jacket breathes like a fleece with the warmth of a midweight puffy. “I climbed the whole day on Dreamweaver (5.4 M2) this past winter without a single layer change,” one tester said. “This is a game changer for layering systems on long routes.” We found it lighter, more compressible, and more packable than other synthetics, but one tester said it best: “You probably won’t even take it off!” Don’t expect the warmth of your camp puffy, but for working hard in cold temps, the Strata has raised the bar for insulation across the board. $225;

Mammut Massone Pant


Cotton doesn’t have to be a taboo material in the outdoor world thanks to these cragging pants. Built with 100 percent cotton, the Massone (Meteora for women) have a relaxed fit and gusseted crotch that allowed for complete freedom of movement, including heel hooks, high-steps, and drop-knees, on climbs like Strange Science (5.11d) in Boulder Canyon, Colorado, and Flyboy Arête (V5) in Bishop, California. The secret sauce comes in the simple and fl at waistband: snug, but not tight, elastic for men, and a tucked-away drawstring for women. “I tied the drawstring when I was going to be hangdogging in my harness so I didn’t give my belayer a show, but left it undone for the approach and descent for more comfort,” one female tester said. “I even slept in these a few times when we had an early start; they are just as comfortable as pajama pants.” They have no wind and water protection, so they’re not great for questionable weather, but for crisp fall days sport climbing and bouldering, these bottoms are ideal. $79;

Westcomb Crest Hoody


This “ultralight softshell” (as designated by our testers) proved its worth immediately on High Sierra spring days, when afternoon showers rolled in and out quickly but the wind howled all day. “It’s comfy, close-fitting, and protects from almost any weather you’d actually still be climbing in,” one California tester said. “Plus, it protected from relentless insects and sun while adding just a touch of warmth.” The DWRcoated Pertex Equilibrium fabric shed light to moderate precipitation and blocked the wind. “Since it’s only five ounces, it’s ideal to keep in your pack when you know you’ll encounter fast-changing but short-lived weather,” he said. A helmet-ready hood, easy-to-use zipper, and Napoleon pocket keep this piece simple but effective. $140;

Brooks-Range Hybrid Sweater


“This has become my goto piece for high-intensity activity, and I love it more and more each time I wear it,” one western states guide said after several high-altitude climbs and a trip up V-Notch Couloir (5.5 WI 2-3) in the Sierra. “On snowy and icy routes, it’s an excellent action insulator.” With DownTek water-repellant insulation in the front torso and arms and Polartec Power Shield softshell fabric in the forearms and back, this jacket was built for intense movement in cold weather. The Power Shield portions were more breathable (no more hotspots or excessive moisture where your pack sits) and more durable (excellent for jamming) than the nylon-covered, 800-fill down, which kept testers warm even when they stopped moving. The cut and fit were excellent for climbing. Ding: The seam between the down and the softshell material was noticeable and took some getting used to. $270;

Outdoor Research Deadpoint Pants


When you’re battling an offwidth or bushwhacking to a backwoods crag, shorts or featherweight climbing pants aren’t going to cut it—you need body armor. The Deadpoint pants are made of burly cotton canvas reinforced in the knees, thighs, and other key areas to prevent fast wear and shredded skin. But unlike jeans or Carhartts, these pants are built for climbers—the gusseted crotch and two percent spandex mean they stretch easily through the widest stems. “I bashed my knees the day before I climbed in these pants at Colorado’s Staunton State Park, so I was psyched to have some extra padding over my gobies. They didn’t restrict my movement at all during highsteps,” one tester said. Sizing runs a little large in the waist, which has low-profile belt loops to slip under a harness. $79;

Icebreaker Oasis LS Crew


In the baselayer race, merino wool almost always seems to come out on top. The softness of this Icebreaker piece was the first feature we noticed, with zero scratching or itching from seams or wool—even with a pack and other layers on top. One tester wore this long-sleeve body-hugger for four days straight in Colorado’s mountains, with temps soaring to 75°F during the day, and then dipping to 30°F at night. She didn’t overheat once when hiking at altitude with a blazing sun and high temps, and the material wicked the sweat away from her skin and dried quickly. At night, under a midweight puffy jacket, she stayed warm at camp, even when the wind picked up. Plus, there was zero odor when she finally took it off. The fit is trim; wear it over nothing or a snug sports bra for no bunching or bulk. $80;

Black Diamond Stance Belay Hoody Jacket


As a great “everything you need, nothing you don’t” jacket, the Stance belay jacket scored high with testers throughout the cold winter and spring months from ice climbing in Rocky Mountain National Park to subfreezing sport climbing. The PrimaLoft One insulation plus burly Pertex nylon outer material creates a tank of a jacket that you don’t have to worry about blowing out with an errant ice screw or axe pick. The sleeves narrow around the wrist, which made sliding gloves on top a cinch, and a large helmet-compatible hood was crucial in super-cold temps at Hidden Falls, Colorado. Double mesh pockets on the inside warmed shoes, gloves, and water bottles, too. Fuss: We wanted a two-way zipper on this belay jacket. $229;

Arc’teryx Beta LT Jacket


Many hard shells claim the title of “most breathable waterproof jacket,” but only this jacket actually lived up to that assertion on sweaty, steep approaches and mild-temperature ice climbing in the mountains of Colorado. “This was the first rain jacket that made me say, ‘Wow, waterproof layers really can be breathable!’” one tester said after glacier travel and ice climbing on Chamonix’s Mer de Glace. While most waterproof pieces are the one barrier in your layering system that trap moisture, the Beta LT uses the new Gore-Tex Pro, which claims 28 percent more breathability when combined with a thin and flexible 40-denier face fabric. Our tester said, “It was warm, and I was working hard enough that I should have been sweating buckets. When I started to descend, I realized I wasn’t wet at all.” Two high hand pockets and a helmet-compatible hood make this an ideal all-around shell that you can leave in your pack permanently. $499;

Ibex Indie Boulder Zip-T


“While my climbing partner put on a sweatshirt, took it off, put on a windbreaker, and then had to take that off, I chuckled while staying cozy in my pullover,” one tester said after a fickle-weather day in Eldorado Canyon, Colorado, when temps ranged from 40s and cloudy to 60s and sunny. Made with Ibex’s Indie fabric, the midweight, 18.5-micron merino wool sweater was great as a baselayer and midlayer for cold mornings and warmer afternoons. With a touch of the more durable (20-micron) Shak fabric on the back of the arms from elbow to wrists, the Boulder Zip-T didn’t pill or abrade even when our tester sunk his whole arm in wide cracks to wrestle with gear. It’s super-soft with an athletic fit, and the design is relatively stylish, so the trend-conscious tester didn’t feel like he was rocking geeked-out sportswear around town. $125;

Patagonia Capilene 4 One-Piece Suit


Imagine wearing your favorite midlayer: It breathes just the right amount when you’re working hard, but keeps you warm when the mercury drops. Now take that and cover your entire body from ankles to neck. That’s exactly what Patagonia has done with this onesie. It’s the same fabric (Polartec Power Dry High Effiiency) as the 2013 Editors’ Choice Award-winning Capilene 4 Hoody, so the spaced-out grid pattern pulls sweat off your body and the wider channels allow for more air flow and breathability. We loved this piece for cold days ice climbing in Colorado and Wyoming, where the one-piece design kept testers warmer in the midsection. “When I reached up for a high ice-tool placement, I didn’t have to worry about that gut-punching gust of cold air on my stomach,” said one tester. The front zipper extended down to the belly button, so you can vent as much as you need to. Don’t worry about complicated bathroom breaks; designers integrated a thoughtful drop-seat in the back (vertical zips on each side with a horizontal opening and overlapping fabric) and a front setup for men that’s similar to boxer-brief underwear. Women’s has a high neck, and men’s includes a hood. $199;