I've always thought soft shells looked a bit like posh pub coats, and frankly thought that's where they belonged. I found them a bit heavy, a bit clumsy in the movement and totally rubbish in an impromptu rainfall.
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Looking down the ridge route on Raven Crag, Kentmere
stef_k, May 2010
© Stef Kerek
However, the winter season was long and cold in the Lakes this year, great for ice lovers, but the rock shoes got buried into the bottom of a box. Instead I turned to walking, running and the odd scramble. And, of course, I was aware that soft shells have come on a bit in recent years, so I decided to get this one from Marmot, and give it a go.
"...The soft Driclimb collar and insulated pockets add to its comfort. The Windstopper material is effective at its job, and is bonded to a membrane from Marmot's M Series, which is designed specifically for moving light and fast. The M2 material strives to offer a balance between weather resistance, breathability and thermal protection, and it works..."
When it arrived it looked very smart - something I would happily wear to the pub - which roused my suspicions as to how it would perform. Once on the fellside though, it behaved brilliantly in the wind and cold and was incredibly comfortable. It didn't feel clammy due to a build up of moisture, but breathed well, was warm, moved freely as I did and drizzle just beaded off it. So far so good, though I hadn't worn it in a downpour yet.
Marmot Leadville Jacket
The Leadville proved to be nothing like the memories of soft shells that had stuck in my mind. It was lightweight, totally windproof and water resistant, making it an ideal jacket for running in high winds, light rain and snow. I found a small hole in the interior pocket, which I could easily thread my mp3 through for running, and thought it was a nice touch.
OK, so that's the kind of feature you can find in a posh pub coat, but the Leadville also has plenty of features that are much more useful! The soft Driclimb collar and insulated pockets add to its comfort. The Windstopper material is effective at its job, and is bonded to a membrane from Marmot's M Series, which is designed specifically for moving light and fast. The M2 material strives to offer a balance between weather resistance, breathability and thermal protection, and it works.
"...I didn't find a problem with relying on the Leadville for small downpours or retreats from crags ... except for the absence of a hood! And, at the end of the day, you can always take a hard shell to chuck over the top if it is forecast to rain ... or stay home and put your feet up instead!..."
When running I found the garment so comfortable that I barely noticed it at all. The weather was damp and windy when I first got the Leadville, so I welcomed its warmth too. Considering its warmth, I was surprised at the weight of the jacket - 346g - which impressed me (especially with my initial pessimism!).
Jacket profile. Looking down the Kentmere valley from Ridge scramble on Raven Crag
stef_k, May 2010
© Stef Kerek
The only downside I had discovered so far was that the side panels are made of a stretchy material to allow for extra venting and also extra movement. In short downpours I'd found that the jacket kept me dry, apart from these side panels, which saturated more quickly - allowing water in after half an hour or so.
As the summer season began to approach, I started grabbing every opportunity to get out on the rock. Obviously climbing is not as much of an aerobic activity as running, but it is demanding with a need for freedom of movement and warmth, and the Leadville performed well for spring climbing. I did find it cold for belaying in the wind at the top of exposed Lakeland crags to start with, but that was back in April and I only had a vest on underneath. So I bunged on a few extra layers and remedied the situation pretty quick like.
One issue I had with the jacket was the tightness of the material around my forearms, though. I would like to boast that I have rippling muscles here, but I actually have very skinny arms. Whilst I welcomed this snug cuff for running, as it kept the cold out and discouraged riding up, I felt it a little restrictive when climbing. Others might not mind it! And in any case, I will still use the Leadville to climb in as it packs down small in the sack and is warmer and comfier than any other lightweight jacket I own.
The Leadville packs some heavy punches considering its finesse. In the right conditions it's a nifty little jacket with high spec features resulting in a high level of comfort. I think it's a versatile jacket. The drier snowy winter we've had makes me cross my fingers for a dry and warm summer. I'd be packing the Leadville if I was going scrambling, walking or climbing, even mountain biking perhaps (although I do tend to prefer my old drabs for biking personally!)
I didn't find a problem with relying on the Leadville for small downpours or retreats from crags ... except for the absence of a hood! And, at the end of the day, you can always take a hard shell to chuck over the top if it is forecast to rain ... or stay home and put your feet up instead! So thumbs up for this jacket from Marmot and bonus that it does also make a posh pub coat!
More info on the Marmot website.
About Stef Kerek
Stef Kerek lives and works in the Lake District, Cumbria. She enjoys traditional climbing and when possible trips to the Alps or warmer countries than England. She likes getting out on the hill generally whether running, biking, walking, it's all good peace and space for her.
When she worked in gear shops it was always dangerous because rather than selling clothes, she spent all her time and money trying on and buying kit.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by stef_k: