Everyone's got a favourite layering system and invariably it seems to totally switch around every few years or so as climbers sway backwards and forwards from hard shells (100%waterproof jackets) to soft shells (very weatherproof but not 100% waterproof).
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For the moment I'm a hard shell man- I'm not going to preach to the soft shell convert here, but if you are in the market for a new hard shell then the Troll Wall Jacket is definitely worth a look.
In a nutshell what anyone is looking for in a hard shell is something with the water and windproof ability of PVC but, with the breathability of a sieve. Oh, and of course it's got to last through years of rough abuse but weigh nothing more than a feather. Not an easy task to achieve, but we are now bombarded with words such as Gore-Tex, eVent and Pertex that seem to assure us that we can sweat like a pig in torrential rain running up a fell, yet stay nice and dry.
The Troll Wall Jacket
UKC Gear, Oct 2009
© Individual Photographers
From full on Scottish thaw and gale winds to alpine north faces where speed is of the essence, this jacket has kept me dry and protected
Of course we all know that the perfect artificial membrane hasn't been invented yet and to be honest I don't know enough about how membranes are made to even begin to say which one is best. But I do know from a lot of trial and error that good Gore-Tex is definitely one of the best.
The Troll Wall Jacket uses the latest top of the line Gore-Tex membrane which has the great eye catching name of Gore-Tex 3-Layer Pro Shell.
Whilst many people will be familiar with 3 layer Gore-tex, 3 layer Gore Pro-Shell is actually relatively new. Marmot started to use it in 2007 and it is Gore's top of the tree fabric. It consisits of a specific high-performance GORE-TEX® membrane bonded to a tough outer material and a specially developed robust inner lining. It's highly breathable and extremely tough. To put the Pro-Shell label on a hard shell (waterproof jacket), the jacket must pass Gore-Tex's highest tests:
"Garments with this construction are engineered to pass our most aggressive rain test, simulating extended vertical and horizontal wind-driven rain conditions. They deliver superior protection against extended wet weather conditions and durability of fabrics, hence the high price tag."
The majority of climbers have used some item of clothing with this emblazoned on the side and it does work.
I've used the jacket in every conceivable weather condition in the mountains. From full on Scottish thaw and gale force winds to Alpine north faces where speed is of the essence. This jacket has kept me dry and protected from the wind but allowed me to push on up big ice fields without arriving at the belay 500m later, dripping in sweat. It even has arm pit zips for extra ventilation (a feature I never seem to remember to use). Don't get me wrong, it'll never be as good for breathability as a soft shell, but when I'm climbing I'm a sweaty person and I can really tell the difference between a good and bad shell.
The Marmot Troll Wall Jacket about to engage in some serious thrutching on a very dry Pinnochio, Mont Blanc Tacul. © Tim E
UKC Gear, Oct 2009
© Tim Emmet
None of the usual wear 'areas' have started yet- ie cuffs, velcro etc – and after this much use that's something that stands out.
As for durability this jacket has been pretty impressive. It really does look like new and it's been through the wars, climbing-wise. I received it last November and it's accompanied me on everything from tree skiing to tight mixed granite chimneys. There have been times when I've been positive that I had ripped it when thrutching my way up some winter climb but somehow its gotten away scratch and tear free. The waterproofness of a shell tends to be the first thing to go but so far it has yet to show any signs of this happening, which is a good thing as its very hard to get the shell back to its original state. None of the usual wear 'areas' have started yet- ie cuffs, velcro etc – and after this much use that's something that stands out. If you are paying £340 for a jacket and it lasts, then durability means value for money.
The Marmot Troll Wall Jacket on the Nant Blanc face, having just romped up the lower ice fields, © Will Sim
UKC Gear, Oct 2009
© Will Sim
One of the things I have noticed with Marmot 'tops' is that they don't fit very snugly. Basically it makes you look like you have grown a nice pair of breasts which whilst are good company at the belay, are less useful when actually climbing as fabric just gets in the way. Okay, it's not a major issue but it's worth trying the jacket on before you buy.
Another thing that every clothing manufacturer seems to be guilty of is deep pockets- again it's a personal preference thing but I want pockets that stop before my harness starts. This way I don't get stuff riding underneath my harness. I understand that the vast majority of people would prefer deep pockets over smaller ones but there is no harm in having both.
The hood is as usual with Marmot, excellent. Great clearance with a helmet on and it doesn't impair any visibility. The chin/ mouth protector (ie when you fully zip up the jacket it extends up to your nose) is great too and when the weather turns foul you can really use this jacket to its intended purpose.
With waterproof sealed zips this jacket can take the brunt of the bad weather without you feeling too much of it. Its even got a removable snow skirt if you are that way inclined.
Snow skirts are attached to the inner of the jacket at around waist level and usually consist of an elasticated tube of snowproof fabric that fastens just below the waist. It is kind of like a gaiter for your upper half and stops any snow from entering underneath the bottom hem of the garment. They are generally found on all snowboarding and skiing specific jackets as well as ski mountaineering jackets and some Alpine shells. The Troll Wall's skirt is removable should you wish to use it solely for climbing and save weight.
...designed to be used in some of the worlds harshest weather conditions and toughest adventures and to that extent it is great.
At £340 this is no dog walkers jacket. It's designed to be used in some of the world's harshest weather conditions and toughest adventures and to that extent it is great. It's lightweight (567gr) and very robust and does everything a top of the range hardshell should do and maybe even more, though I've yet to work out what that is yet. I've been really impressed with this jacket especially how well it has lasted and with that in mind would really recommend it to anyone who has a special taste for thrutching up Scottish climbs or scratching their way up Alpine granite cracks. I have a special knack of destroying all my clothing as soon as I get it but so far this jacket has remained indestructible under my use and when I consider how long it is going to last, the £300 price tag appears to be more amenable.
Stockists: UK stockists
What Marmot say:
Rugged, lightweight Gore-Tex® protection that's worthy of its legendary namesake in Norway. This professional shell's three-layer, weatherproof construction features our Micro Grid woven backer technology for improved internal abrasion and snag resistance, breathability, and decreased weight.
Colours: Black, Dark Cedar, Eclipse, Citronelle, Cayenne
ABOUT JON GRIFFITH:www.alpineexposures.com
Jon Griffith is an alpinist and photographer based in Chamonix, France.
Jon Griffith, left and Jack Geldard
You can view his fantastic photography at www.alpineexposures.com
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Jon Griffith, Alpine Exposures: