Lightweight softshell jackets are a summer staple for both walkers and climbers. We compare 11 models here.
The Genesis really wants to be a softshell: it calls itself a softshell, looks like a softshell, feels like a softshell - it's just that when you go out with this jacket on some wild, windy mountainside it starts behaving like a hardshell. Ultimately, this is a comment on the increasingly useless term 'softshell', rather than on the Genesis. I have some reservations, explained below, about the Genesis but overall it is a really serious piece of mountain clothing. You just need to know how it works to know if it is right thing for you.
...It's been a particularly cold winter here in Finland but this combination has kept me snug. In the blizzard on the Cneifion I only pulled my belay jacket out whilst Matt was seconding up the last pitch. In fact that day in normally cuddly Wales was probably the sternest test I've put the Genesis through...
The jacket is made of Marmot's own 'M1', which is their most protective softshell material. Marmot calls it water-repellent, but the material has some sort of membrane in it, plus the jacket is made with welded seams, so as far as I have experienced it is waterproof.
In December I spent a wild day making a winter ascent of the Cneifion Arete above Cwm Idwal. We walked in through heavy sleet, climbed through a raging blizzard, and descended in a mix of wind-driven drizzle, sleet and heavy wet snow. I had no traditional shell and was reliant on the Genesis to keep me dry in these pretty knarly conditions, which it did with aplomb.
Needless to say this M1 material is also completely windproof, something that isn't true of all stretch-woven softshell materials. Of course, the downside of this hardshell-like level of protection is that the material breathes like a hardshell - not perfectly.
The fuzzy, warm inner lining to the jacket does a good job of making this less noticeable than in a smooth hardshell, but I definitely can notice dampness from sweat.
I have found that in the really cold weather we've been having this winter, frost starts to build up inside - particularly along the seams, which are the least breathable areas.
It should be noted that the Genesis has pits zips to help deal with this, although the need for pitzips in a softshell jacket I feel is telling in itself. Having said all that, I've steered clear for many years from membrane materials after having tried lousy windproof fleeces in the past, but the breathability of the Genesis was far better than I expected - technology has clearly improved.
The material has four-way stretch, but is quite heavy and rubbery-feeling, and with the soft lining it can bind a bit on layers below. I've found this leads to some shoulder-drag that pulls the jacket cuffs up my arms. This is very noticeable when ice climbing, and can be seen happening within the first minute of the video below:
This shoulder-drag problem means that if you're not wearing gauntlet gloves, or at least a mid-layer with thumb loops, you can get exposed wrists, which isn't ideal and this is my greatest reservation about the jacket. I've taken to wearing a light windshirt under the Genesis because the slippy fabric doesn't bind and makes the problem of the 'cuff-pull' less regular, although not totally solving it. Sometimes cuffs or hems coming up are a problem caused by a bad fit and therefore it is unfair to criticize a jacket on that basis: what doesn't fit me might be perfect for someone else.
Yet I've always found that Marmot medium has fitted me perfectly in the past (and otherwise this jackets fits me well); so I'm inclined to think it is more a result of the nature of the M1 material than the fit. This brings me back to the identity crisis - a lack of breathability and fabric that does not move perfectly with your body during contortionist climbing moves are both issues I associate with hardshells. But then the hard-shell similarities are also the Genesis' strongest point - its ability to keep absolutely foul weather at bay.
Leaving aside my issues with the material, there isn't much else I don't love about the jacket. The hood is superb: fitting over winter hat and helmet combos with ease. It has a stiff and protective brim to protect from stinging blizzards - again the type of hood you would expect on a top of the line Goretex or eVent mountain shell. The front zip comes high, giving good face protection as well. Two big handwarmer pockets are easily usable whilst wearing a harness and would hold a map if necessary, and there is another large zipped internal pocket.
Finally, there is also a natty little rubber pocket inside to hold your ipod or phone and even a little loop to run your earphone wires in the right direction. Overall the quality of materials and manufacturing appears top-notch. I've been using the Genesis loads this winter - hiking about with packs on, hooking an ice tool over the shoulder whilst swapping on the other, and basically just lots of climbing - yet the jacket still is my smartest looking one for heading out for a beer in the city in the evening. Due to its good looks allied to high performance, the Genesis would definitely be my current choice for resort skiing at the moment.
My only minor concern about its durability is tiny amounts of 'fluffing' along some of the seams (see photo), where the outer laminate layer of the material has started to come up. Because of the nature of the welded seams, this seems to be more an aesthetic issue than anything, but I would hope it doesn't happen on all the seams with time. It appears somehow Marmot need to seal the edge of the cut fabric more securely before they weld the various pieces together.
How warm you find a jacket is a very personal thing, but with its fuzzy interior (although not furry à la Buffalo) the Genesis is definitely a winter or alpine softshell to my mind. Will Sim (in an excellent review of the Genesis on www.alpineexposures.com) says he has been wearing his a lot for alpine routes with just a base layer below it. I've been using mine with a light merino base, a microfleece and sometimes the light windproof layer (as mentioned above) below it.
It has been a particularly cold winter here in Finland this year, but this combination has kept me perfectly snug whilst climbing and walking in temperatures into the -20s. In the blizzard on the Cneifion I only pulled my belay jacket out whilst Matt was seconding up the last pitch. In fact, that day in normally cuddly Wales was probably the sternest test I've put the Genesis through and it did well with just a micro-fleece and baselayer below it. I would happily use it in Scotland without a hardshell if I had a belay jacket with me, and Nick Ord (nickinscottishmountains) rates his Genesis highly as a Scottish winter climbing jacket.
For me, the Genesis' only real weak point is the cuffs pulling down whilst reaching high. As said, I think this is a result of the fabric, but it may not be an issue for others if their shoulders are a different shape to mine.
On the other hand, the fabric's hardshell-like level of protection is superb, as long as you accept that things can get a bit sweaty inside when working hard. Finding a material with the breathability of non-membrane softshell fabrics but that gives the protection of a hardshell must remain the holy grail of fabric designers. Marmot are going in the right direction with the Genesis and M1 fabric but aren't quite there yet. As ever, it is a balance: the Genesis comes down on side of protection over breathability.
For many, particularly in the often soggy British winter mountains, the Genesis may well be what you are looking for. Overall the Genesis is a serious winter jacket that fills an interesting niche between the best non-membrane softshells and the top of the range Goretex and eVent mountain shells.
He describes himself as an "international politics think-tanker, perennial PhD student, hopeless but enthusiastic climber, part-time gear reviewer, often angry cyclist, idealist, cynic."
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See this product at the Joe Brown - Snowdonia shop