Who You Callin' Soft?

Dec 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

Waterproof jackets and pants that "breathe" are a hoax—well, most of the time anyway. The problem is, any garment that is truly waterproof can't respire enough when, say, you're digging an avalanche test pit or slogging up Mount Washington with a heavy pack. Heat and perspiration logjam at the shell wall, core temperatures skyrocket, and you're left exhausted, playing the layer-management game: Off goes the shell, in comes the wind, on goes the shell, and so on. Fortunately, there's a cure: a new generation of soft-shell rags that are cut from lightly insulative stretch fabrics. They breathe better than Lance in the mountains, repel drizzle and light snow with aplomb, and oh yeah, they look damn good.

The 12.6 ounce Arc'Teryx Gamma LT Jacket ($185) may-be the best top ever for aerobic activities. Augmented by flow-through mesh pockets, the Schoeller Dynamic fabric breathes like crazy, yet it sheds everything short of a downpour and seems immune to abrasion. Wear it over a midweight fleece in cold weather or with a base layer in mild conditions. [ www.arcteryx.com / 800-985-6681 ]
The Schoeller Skifans fabric in the Ibex Backcountry Pant ($225) is a blend of wool, acrylic, and spandex, with a noticeably softer feel than many all-synthetic fabrics. Thoughtful touches like extra pockets, built-in concealed gaiters, and Cordura reinforcements inside the cuffs make them ideal for both skiing and snowshoeing. [ www.ibexwear.com / 800-773-9647 ]

You'll return from the most grueling grunt looking suave and collected in The North Face's Freeclimb Jacket ($245). The Polartec Windbloc fabric won't wrinkle, and thanks to a fleece lining it's also toasty, water-repellent, and 98 percent windproof. Climbing in the Tetons? The freedom of movement is truly amazing. [ www.thenorthface.com / 800-447-2333 ]

Patagonia's Salopette pants ($245) lend extra coverage to your vital mid-torso area, lessening the wooo! effect from stray drafts. Suspenders keep 'em up, but a zip fly and clever drop seat let you answer nature's call without any hula-dance maneuvers. Fleece lining adds warmth, while the double fabric in the seat and knees provides durability. [ www.patagonia.com / 800-638-6464 ]

With a comfortable hood and fuzzy Coolmax lining, the 19-ounce Ice Floe Jacket by Cloudveil ($295) feels like a broken-in cotton hoody, but it sheds weather like no sweatshirt ever could. The hood and waist snug with pull cords, and mesh pockets allow extra air movement when you need to vent the Schoeller Dryskin Extreme fabric. [ www.cloudveil.com / 888-763-5969 ]

Beth Rodden on crack couldn't exceed the range of motion built into the knees and seat of Marmot's ATV pants ($225); for cold-weather climbing they're unbeatable. Often all you'll need over a base layer, the Schoeller Dynamic fabric has a thin lining of micro-fleece for warmth and wicking. [ www.marmot.com / 707-544-4590 ]

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