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The Sidecountry 20 doing its job well with my skis.
© Heather Swift, Mar 2012
Marmot Women's Alpinist Jacket
Marmot's latest offering in an ever expanding outdoor gear market states its intention loud and clear in the name, 'Women's Alpinist Jacket'. I would expect an alpine jacket to be suitable for a whole range of mountain activities: rock climbing, snow, ice and mixed routes, skiing and touring. I'd want it to be both waterproof and breathable, allow full arm movement, fit well with or without layers underneath, have a spacious hood, pockets that are accessible despite rucksack straps and a harness and, of course, look good. I took the Alpinist out in the Chamonix Aiguille Rouge for a ski tour and then some powder action.
The Alpinist carries a whole host of technical features, including top of the range Gore-Tex Pro Shell fabric, taped seams, a helmet compatible laminated wire-brimmed hood, zip-off powder skirt for skiing and underarm ventilation zips. How would these cope with the rigours of the Glacier du Mort? Skinning, two boot packs and a ski down later, here's what I found.
Before even leaving the lift queue, friends were calling "Wow, I like your new jacket!" In the macho mountaineering world of hard climbs this may seem trivial but the reality is I don't think anyone, male or female, wants to spend a fortune on kit that doesn't look good. Marmot are bang on trend with contrasting waterproof zips and bright attractive colour options. So far so good, and soon to be tested out for real as the day developed.
The fabric and features came into play almost instantly on the initial skinning and boot pack up a col in blazing spring sun. Gore-Tex market Pro Shell as 'extremely tough, extremely breathable, durably waterproof and windproof'. I found the fabric trapped very little moisture during the ascents. As always, though, I was happy to open the underarm ventilation. The 3-layer fabric feels soft with a smooth finish, which I liked: I've found fabrics that glide less likely to snag on rough rock and don't stick to snow so much. The Alpinist kept out the wind well after topping out onto a ridge, as did the hood, which snugly went over a ski helmet and features a soft DriClime chin guard. As expected, Gore's top fabric had no problem shedding snow flakes once the clouds hit us, and any water just rolled off.
"Comparable jackets were similar prices but I didn't find many that had the snow skirt, which makes Marmot's Alpinist stand out as a real all-rounder."For the ten years I have climbed it has been a continual problem finding shells that fit well, and the Alpinist ticks nearly every box. I'm just over 5' and athletic in build. The cut worked well for my short frame: not too long in the body, sufficient width for my climber's shoulders, sleeves the right length and width, unhindered arm movement when climbing, room for a mid-layer and, as already mentioned, the hood takes a helmet. For good measure, drawcords on the helmet and hem ensure a good fit.
The main pockets caught my attention the most. Four in number, they were always accessible as they sit both above and below the harness waistband and, as they open in the middle of the jacket, it is very easy to get into them. Marmot have also added a useful sleeve pocket to hold a lift pass, and two internal mesh pockets. The snow skirt worked well on its big powder day outing, though I barely registered the fact it was there - a sure sign of its success as no feature that gets in the way is a good one.
A price tag of £380 reflects the quality of the fabric, construction and and attention to detail on this jacket. It is clearly designed for more technical outings and I will have no qualms taking it out on longer routes this alpine season. Shopping around I found comparable jackets were similar prices but I didn't find many that had the snow skirt, which makes Marmot's Alpinist stand out as a real all-rounder.
The only criticisms I had are minor: without a mid layer I developed something of a paunch (you can't have it both ways), I never use a pocket without a zip, making one of the internal ones unusable to me, and there is an extra Velcro tab on the hood that is on the short side, giving very little difference to the fit.
Marmot's Alpinist: definitely well suited for climbing and skiing in the Alps!
Designed for all aspects of snow sports, these are made from two-layer Gore-Tex Performance Shell fabric with in-built gaiters, waist adjustment tabs and Cordura scuff guards.
As a smaller woman with an athletic build, i.e. no hips, I found these trousers fitted perfectly, with room for a layer of thermals underneath while still allowing comfortable movement. There was no excess fabric anywhere, and the waist tabs have just enough room for adjustment to make them sensible without adding unncessary bulk. I found the legs well cut with room down the thighs and over the knees to allow total freedom when boot packing.
The three pockets are also well thought out and placed - not too many and the right size to hold keys, phone, lift pass and money. Marmot have also included tough Cordura crampon patches: self explanatory and I think a neccessity for any pair of trousers aiming at the backcountry market. However, it was a seemingly small feature that stood out: the waistband is lined with soft-to-the-touch DriClime fabric, meaning it feels good to pull these trousers on, and this also helps to wick sweat away.
A look round the shops quickly confirmed that at £200 these trousers sit well in the middle of the market. A further look round showed that similar offerings from other brands were more expensive at around £300, making the Palisades good value for money.
So, any critisims?
Two small ones. Firstly there are no ventilation zips, which makes them a little warm for difficult/long climbs or late season tours. Secondly the Gore-Tex Performance Shell attracted a little more snow than I expected once the initial newness had worn off.
The Palisades Pants are well designed and cut, ideally suited for piste, off-piste and intermediate touring, and above all good value for money.
Sidecountry 20 Rucksack
This little number is very clearly designed for the off piste and touring addicts among us. My shovel and probe went straight into the purpose-built front pocket; a perfect fit with a little extra space for if needed, and thankfully they have not come out since. These important items safely stowed inside the smaller section - what else of this bag?
The main pocket fits a touring rope, water bottle or bladder, extra layer, ever vital food and contains a variety of internal pockets; one of which is a functional stretchy zip-up goggle holder. There is a little room left over after this but not much, making the pack unsuitable for more involved tours requiring more equipment or a longer rope. The insulated shoulder strap works well with a hydration system and the small external pockets were useful for holding accessible snacks and cash.
"My shovel and probe went straight into the purpose-built front pocket; a perfect fit with a little extra space for if needed, and thankfully they have not come out since..."
My initial reaction was: "Wow, straps everywhere!" but during the course of various days out every single one has come in useful. It held a pair of skis so solidly for boot-packing I could hardly tell they were attached to it. No movement + no off balance = happy Heather. Ice axes strap on easily too, as well as a snowboard.
The Sidecountry looks good too: there's a bright colour option for the bold, and contrasting zips and graphics on some of the panels mean it fits in well with current trends. Price wise at £90 the pack offers everything you would expect, comparing well to equivalents by Black Diamond, Millet and Mammut.
The pack only comes in one size and plenty of room getting a good fit over the shoulders chest and hips ... if you are bigger than a certain size! Luckily at just over five foot I was also just over that size and by pulling in all the straps I could get it to fit.
The Sidecountry 20 is a great pack for off-piste and touring with all the feaures you need, well priced and designed ... but make sure you try before you buy if you are slightly built!
Marmot Alpinist Jacket
Marmot Palisades Pants
Marmot Sidecountry 20 Rucksack
Heather Swift is a trad, sport and alpine climber based in Chamonix, France. She grew up close to the gritstone edges of Derbyshire, but has since moved onward and upward with mountaineering trips to South America, ascents of north faces in the Alps and regular bouldering and sport climbing missions to venues such as Fontainebleau, France and Finale, Italy. She also draws, plays the guitar and likes fashion.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Heather Swift: