The Westcomb Specter LT Hoody is a lightweight alpine-style shell jacket made out of eVent material. The people at Westcomb, based in a factory in Vancouver, used to be involved with Arc'teryx in the early days, and that heritage shows in a top level design, manufacturing technology and quality control, although there are plenty of new ideas – perhaps most importantly not using the global giant in outdoor fabrics, Gore, as their Canadian rivals rather slavishly do. Westcomb might be a tired of the comparison to Arc'teryx – particularly as there has been a legal dispute between the two firms – but, as for about the last six years my only shell jacket has been an Arc'teryx Paclite, it's very hard not for me not to compare the Specter to that jacket. The good news is that although my old shell has proven to be a great design and superb quality, so far the Specter seems to be its match.
The Specter is a serious jacket that makes no real compromises to fashion. Firstly, it is very light at 300 grams. There are lighter shells available mainly made with Goretex Paclite, such as the Marmot Nano that I reviewed earlier this year, but the 300NR eVent that Westcomb uses simply feels far more durable than the thinner Paclite. Indeed, the tough feeling fabric makes you think that jacket should weigh more than it does. Instead, the Specter keeps its weight low through its minimalism: there is one small exterior chest pocket, another small interior one designed to hold an MP3 player and that is about it: no pit zips, no handwarmer pockets – you are going to have to stow your map or gloves somewhere else. I would have preferred the internal pocket to be on the different side to the exterior one: if you have your iPod inside and, for example, car keys in the outer pocket you get a noticeable lump.
The Specter's hood is big and easily takes a helmet. It has a stiffened peak that works very well to keep driving sleet out of your eyes, but can stick up and bump into the back of your head when the hood is slightly cinched but not on and the front zip fully done up. This can be vaguely annoying although no great trauma. Westcomb have gone for the more traditional fully integrated hood design than the style on my Arc'teryx – a stand-up collar that the hood is then attached to. This saves weight and is simple in design. I think the style of hood on the Specter is better when you are wearing it up in poor weather, providing more protection, but the other design wins when the hood is down, and indeed some other Westcomb shells use that solution.
The cut of the jacket is reasonably slim: for me the size medium was perfect on things like sleeve length and around the midrift but very slightly too tight across the chest. This limits what I can wear under the jacket and I think also accounted for the jacket pulling up out of my harness once when I was ice climbing in it (the sleeve articulation is great, which is why I suspect it was the chest sizing that made the jacket lift). It may well be that the Westcomb fit favours those who are of a slim to medium body shape, rather than people who are medium to stocky around the chest and shoulders.
Toby taking his Westcomb Specter For A (silent!) Walk in a Finnish Forest
The finishing on the Specter is of the highest order: micro taping; non-wicking fabric along the hem and inside the cuffs; soft micro fleece against your chin; sculpted cuffs with shaped Velcro adjusters on them; welding and gluing of seams to avoid needle holes that require more tape. The jacket's weight is clearly the product of the craftsmanship visible in the design and manufacture; as you might expect from the proud made in Canada label in the jacket's collar. I would just suggest that Westcomb could a be a little more proud of their own logo: on the jacket I tried it required a hunt to find it – the insignia is neatly embroidered in matt black thread on a black jacket! Clearly this is great if you are going for the Ninja look but I'm certainly vain enough to want my climbing partners to appreciate my hipsterdom...
The Elephant In The Room
.....and the lack of pit zips in the Specter could be seen as a sign of their faith in eVent
This just leaves the elephant in the room undiscussed, the eVent fabric itself. Goretex saw off all its competitors in the 1990s and eVent is the first alternative to get real tractions against the Gore behemoth in a decade. It is believed by many to out-perform the best current form of Goretex, ProShell. Westcomb themselves highlight through their Facebook page some testing done in a US Army lab that tends to support this (it is hard to be categorical because different fabrics breath more or less effectively dependent on various atmospheric conditions) and the lack of pit zips in the Specter could be seen as a sign of their faith in eVent.
With the exception of a pair RAB gloves, this is the first eVent garment I have tried so I was excited to see if eVent was all that it was cracked up to be. I am slightly disappointed to report that so far I'm not convinced I can detect any noticeable improvement over the modern Goretex jackets I have used. I've used the jacket for ice climbing, on my mountain bike and walking in wet, snowy conditions. For ice climbing and walking, the breathability worked great and stayed happily sweat free inside – but then I would expect the same from my old shell made of Goretex. On the bike, cycling reasonably slowly but through 10 cms of fresh snow, there was noticeable moisture inside the jacket after 20 minutes of pedalling. Again I wouldn't expect more from a Goretex shell, but so far eVent doesn't seem to me to yet be a viable alternative to a non-membrane softshell, or simple Pertex top, for this kind of use.
Read more about eVent fabric at UKClimbing.com in this review by Tom Dixon: eVent Fabric
I will return to this review later in the winter after I've had chance to try the jacket more, but overall the Specter seems so far to be an excellently designed and made light shell. It was clearly conceived with climbers in mind due to the serious, helmet-ready hood. Due to its short cut and minimal features it wouldn't be my first choice for a primary winter climbing outer layer, but – sized appropriately – it would be perfect as either a in-the-pack-backup to a softshell for really foul weather or for summer alpine climbing. It is great to have Westcomb available in the UK as they look set to provide some real alternatives for serious climbers, and will keep both the domestic and non-British competition on their toes.