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
Well, thats 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 isnt unreasonable. Beyonds Cold Fusion X soft shell, for example, has a base price of $199. That can hit $300 by the time youre finished, but that still compares well with similar products such as the Cloudveil Serendipity ($229; cloudveil.com) or Mammut Laser ($299; mammut.ch).
Beyond Cold Fusion X Jacket
Cold Fusion X Jacket
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. Its great for winter activities where youre intermittently working harddownhill skiing, for instance. And its the kind of soft shell I prefer, versus ones that use a more hard shell-like material. Mountain Hardwears 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 its not as warm. In other words, its something youd 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.
Id 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 dont 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 youd like from Beyond, and then compare that to some other makers offerings.