What soft shell will perform best in the Himalayas?
I've been looking into soft shells to take on a NOLS [National Outdoor Leadership School] expedition to the Himalayas and have narrowed the selection down to Patagonia's Mixmaster or Beyond Fleece's Cold Fusion. I was hoping you could help me choose one based on durability, performance, and warmth. Kevin Mahopac, New York
Well, for one thing, those two pieces are essentially two different beasts. Patagonia’s Mixmaster ($295; www.patagonia.com) is one of the more exotic soft shells around. It’s a full-featured, hooded jacket and has two kinds of insulation (thicker around the torso, thinner on the arms) laminated to a water-repellent Polartec shell. It’s very nicely designed, very warm, and suitable for pretty severe alpine conditions.
The Cold Fusion, from an interesting company called Beyond Fleece, is a more typical soft shella basic jacket made with Schoeller’s excellent WB-400 fabric. In its basic configuration ($159; www.beyondfleece.com), it’s a simple, snug-fitting jacket with a full zip. You can add all sorts of extraspit zips, attached or zip-off hood, arm pockets, and more. And you can customize the size. Of course, all that also jacks up the price to $250 or more when all’s said and done.
Choosing between the two is tough, and I’d say they match up on durability. I like the Mixmaster, but the Cold Fusion is probably a better multi-purpose garment. That’s because you’ll likely still want to throw a full shell made from Gore-Tex or similar material over it as the Himalayan weather worsens or cools. And when you line them up, the Mixmaster is a heavier jacket (26 ounces, compared to the 21-ounce Cold Fusion) and is really meant to be a garment for severe conditions. So the basic Cold Fusion will be better at filling that “layering or alone” niche than the Mixmaster, and saves you a few ounces into the bargain.
Hope you have a good trip!
To see a selection of soft shells compared and rated across a range of temps and activities, read “The Soft-Shell Game” from the February 2003 issue of Outside.