It doesn't seem so long ago that Windstopper jackets came out and presented the first real alternative to waterproofs shells. They were heavy but they breathed better and were much nicer to wear all day than hardshells, and since then softshells have got lighter and better to the point that virtually every mountaineer owns one.
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Still smiling despite the miserable conditions in Leysin. Photo Katey Lemar.
© Charlie Boscoe, May 2013
The Speedri jacket is Marmot's latest offering and first impressions were certainly favourable – this thing is LIGHT. Marmot have made the jacket out of FusionDri fabric, a brand new laminate technology which provides unbelievable breathability (50, 000gm per 24 hours for the number-crunchers out there), and they have also added a thin wicking backer to the inside of the Speedri in order to pull moisture away from the body and increase comfort during exercise. Impressive stuff on paper, but assuming that most people reading this aren't experts in the details of clothing fabric, I figured I better see how the Speedri fared in the mountains.
The first test was a pretty ideal one for a jacket like this, as I headed out with the foehn wind blowing hard in Chamonix; bringing with it the usual combination of warm and unsettled weather. This makes going out in the mountains pretty tough going, but it is a perfect test for a jacket like this which is designed to take sweat away, and keep precipitation out. The ascent to the Col du Tour Noir is quite a grind, but the Speedri was the perfect compromise between keeping the wind and rain out and getting rid of the sweat. The 15 denier stretch fabric is light without being too flimsy and letting the snow in, and the 2 laser drilled air vents are well thought out so as to aid breathability without creating a weak point for potential entry of moisture or wind into the jacket. A promising start.
In the coming few months I used the Speedri for just about every mountain activity, and in virtually every type of weather, and the highest praise that I can give the jacket is that I ended up using it without giving it any thought. It's often funny how kit that a couple of months ago was an ever present in your rucksack suddenly seems outdated and sits at home gathering dust, and so it was with my old shell jackets. The Speedri seems to have all the good points of the older kit, but isn't too heavy, and is waterproof, simple and devoid of clutter.
So, time for the details. Well, the good news is that there isn't too much to report here, as the Speedri is what plenty of climbers have been looking for for years – a simple, functional jacket with absolutely no unnecessary faff. There are 2 pockets around the midrift (which start at about the right height – roughly where the top of a harness waistband reaches) and a small one on the left chest. The hood is excellent (ie. Big but with 3 simple adjustment points to shrink it if needs be), and the draw cords around the waist work well and decrease the waist size enough to grip tightly around a skinny climber's hips. Happily enough, that is it for features – no pit zips, no silly adjustment systems and nothing that you don't need.
There are only really 2 downsides with the Speedri. Firstly, the lightness of the jacket means that it does have its limits, and in order to prolong its life I didn't do much granite climbing in it. I think the odd route would be fine, and it worked great on mountaineering routes, but I suspect that it may not last long if you made a habit of thrutching up gritstone chimneys. Mind you, show me a jacket that would! Secondly (and this really is pedantic), the Velcro on the cuffs was not quite long enough, so I couldn't do the sleeves up quite as tightly as I would have liked. They did up fine, but another 10mm of Velcro would have been good.
On the Grengletscher, high above Zermatt. Photo Tom Grant
© Charlie Boscoe, May 2013
So there you have it – a hardshell which is as softshell-like as they come. Functional, light, breathable and versatile – the Speedri really does illustrate how far kit has come on in the last 10 years. If the improvement remains this fast, I may well be reviewing an air conditioned jacket by 2023!
For more information visit Marmot Website
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About Charlie Boscoe
Charlie Boscoe is a skier and climber based in Chamonix. His popular blog on Chamonix climbing conditions is: chamconditions.blogspot.co.uk. He and his partner, Sharon Wray create and run expeditions to the Himalayas, Andes, Alps and Atlas Mountains, and offer bespoke expedition planning. See his website: www.mountainworldltd.com.
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Charlie Boscoe: