Gear Guy

Cold Fusion X Jacket     Photo: courtesy, Beyond

Q:

Is it worth it buying a custom-built soft shell jacket?

I looking into purchasing my first soft shell jacket. I will be using it in the fall and winter here in Minnesota and for the occasional ski trip to Montana. What are your thoughts on custom-built soft shells and are they worth it? Eric Maple Grove, Minnesota

A:Well, that’s an interesting question. Beyond (beyondclothing.com) is an Oregon-based company that makes a range of fleece and soft shell products (as well as some with Primaloft) that are "made to order." You pick the garment and color, add things such as pockets or hoods, and send in your body dimensions. You then get a custom-made piece and the price really isn’t unreasonable. Beyond’s Cold Fusion X soft shell, for example, has a base price of $199. That can hit $300 by the time you’re finished, but that still compares well with similar products such as the Cloudveil Serendipity ($229; cloudveil.com) or Mammut Laser ($299; mammut.ch).

And the Beyond Cold Fusion X is a great piece. It uses Schoeller WB-400 fabric, a three-layer material that has a tough woven outer, a windproof inner membrane, and a fleece lining. It’s great for winter activities where you’re intermittently working hard—downhill skiing, for instance. And it’s the kind of soft shell I prefer, versus ones that use a more hard shell-like material. Mountain Hardwear’s Torch ($260; mountainhardwear.com), for instance, uses a Gore Windstopper shell with a light brushed lining. That makes it more wind- and water-resistant than something like the Cold Fusion X, but it’s not as warm. In other words, it’s something you’d use more like a windshirt rather than a jacket. The Torch is a great piece, but it represents a little bit of a different take on the soft shell.

I’d certainly take a look at the Serendipity or Laser, as both are high-end pieces that might offer a bit more for the buck. While I think the idea of a custom garment has some appeal, unless you have a really weird body type, I don’t think the custom fit adds that much. And you end up paying for "custom" features that are simply a matter of course elsewhere. So my advice is to price out what you’d like from Beyond, and then compare that to some other makers’ offerings.

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