"The pockets are large enough for a bottle of wine in each, and can still be accessed when wearing a climbing harness..." Fliss Freeborn and Lewis Mulholland get their priorities in order, in a review of these weather-resistant lightweights.
Sprayway's new Hallin & Charn are lightweight, weather-resistant softshells. The men's Hallin range comes in hoody, jacket, and gilet, while the women's Charn is just a hoody, which tells you all you need to know about the inherent unfairness of outdoor clothing. We're looking at both hoodies here.
The material used is Sprayway's own TecWEAVE Stretch 135, which features a water-resistant finish, as well as being advertised as highly breathable and quick drying. Sprayway are aiming to create a range of clothing that keeps you protected and comfortable when moving in the hills on days with unpredictable weather conditions - perfect, so it would seem, for Scottish summer, plus some overlap into spring and and autumn.
Lewis swears by his Rab Borealis as a softshell windproof layer, so was keen to see how Sprayway's Hallin compared. My own experience with softshells is limited: I've usually popped my trusty waterproof over the top of a fleece and hoped it'll do the job - that is, until I got to try the Charn hoodie. Here's how Lewis and I got on with a his & hers test.
Fit and feel
For me the fit is pretty good. I hover around a UK 8-10 depending on brands and how much bread I've eaten, and the Charn, which I'm trying in an 8, fits like a charm - just one letter different from its namesake. Notably, the sleeves are the perfect fit for me, which probably means they're going to be too short on others seeing as I have arms like a T-rex; this is something you may want to try out in the shop.
The hem on the bottom of the jacket is just the right length too, allowing for lots of movement but not so short as to be riding up and chilling my kidneys whenever I'm on a bike or wearing a rucksack. The hood does stretch over a climbing helmet, and the stretchiness of the material allows for a good few layers to be stuffed underneath too if you wished. However, it's also a fairly flattering fit, which makes it suitable for layering things such as fleeces and waterproofs on top rather than underneath.
Sprayway markets the Hallin jacket for hiking, scrambling, and fastpacking. When it comes to jackets intended for the hillwalking end of the outdoor clothing spectrum, I find one of the key things is a more relaxed fit compared to jackets designed for climbing, and the Hallin is no different. I find the size medium to be a little more boxy around the chest than I'd personally prefer; I often opt to tuck it into my trousers, especially when wearing a harness, to prevent any unwanted flapping in the wind [Fliss notes that this sentence is extremely funny without context]. This fit does allow room for some extra layers underneath, though I'm not sure how often I would layer up underneath a jacket of this style.
Compared to my aforementioned benchmark, the Rab Borealis, I find the length a little short in the torso, occasionally exposing the midriff to the wind when raising my arms above my head. Of course this fit may well suit you if you are one of those short-torso, long-legged people but I'm more towards the other end of the spectrum. The length of the arms seems fairly standard, and the partially elasticated cuffs work very well in that I never really think about the length of the sleeves.
Having never tried out a windproof before, I was impressed: the jacket is lightweight (280g size 12), stretchy and does its namesake job of keeping the wind off too. It could certainly be more breathable, as whenever I am doing hard exercise with only a sports bra underneath, it does trap heat in the underarms especially, but the full-length, analog technology of a zip mitigates some of this muggy buildup.
The fabric does a good job of keeping light rain showers from soaking through to any insulating layers, but it's sensible to take a full waterproof with you if you're expecting anything more than a light spattering. I live in Glasgow and let me tell you, it does not cope with a lot of the weather here - but then nor do I, and that's never what the Sprayway Hallin was designed to do anyway.
In fact, it does what it's designed to do - and more - relatively well. In addition to walking, I have used this jacket running, cycling, drinking pints in the pub, making coffee at the beach, and for walking various dogs - and it has stood up well to each of these tasks. This makes the Hallin a good value option if you're looking for a lightweight outer layer which nearly does it all.
As someone that runs hot I avoid waterproofs as much as possible, and that's where a lightweight softshell like the Hallin steps in. I think it does a good job keeping the breeze off, but in very high winds or at elevation it isn't always quite enough protection. The Hallin is well suited to breezy spring, autumn or summer days, when it's warm enough that you would be too hot in a fleece. I like that it doesn't have too much insulating effect other than its windproofing, and I think this makes it more versatile as you can adjust your layering easily to suit the conditions. Unlike some jackets it feels comfortable next to the skin, and works very well with just a short sleeve t-shirt underneath.
The jacket feels relatively well-made for its price point. It's minimalist for the most part with two hand pockets, a zip and a hood, but all the moving parts have held up well to the abuse I've offered it over the last few months. It's also suitable for more casual occasions; that is, if you don't sit round a fire and let embers melt holes into the sleeves. However, apart from that slip up, there's very little sign of wear from almost constant use, which is impressive considering how many times it's been scrunched into the bottom of rucksacks, or hauled on swiftly at the last minute to keep a breeze off.
To ensure a very thorough test, I have squirmed up some offwidths and chimneys in the Hallin, on some of the most abrasive gabbros, Torridonian and Northumbrian sandstones I could find. I also accompanied Fliss to her Fortnum and Mason Award event while wearing it, where gallons of champagne was consumed and we had a hair-raising adventure across London to get back home. The result is some minor bobbling on the sleeves, but otherwise the Hallin has come out of everything relatively unscathed. To my mind then, it should be able to handle pretty much anything you can throw at it, and is more than strong enough for general hill-going use.
As mentioned, this is a lightweight affair and isn't designed with bells and whistles in mind. Happily, however, the pockets are large enough for a bottle of wine in each, and can still be accessed when wearing a climbing harness too. There only being one option in the woman's range, I didn't have to worry about choosing one with or without a hood, but the hood is a great feature which helps keep cold breezes off without having to carry a hat. The zip is a one-way option rather than being able to be opened from the bottom, but the jacket is light enough to whip on and off in a hurry and isn't designed for tough wintery days where you need to fanny about with harnesses or salopettes.
I have found the Hallin to have the ideal level of features for a summer and shoulder season softshell, as it is rather minimalist. The hood is good for keeping the worst of the wind off, though a lack of any rigidity in the hood or adjustability would limit its use in very bad weather; but of course this is not what the Hallin is designed for. The handwarmer pockets are adequately sized for an OS map should you need.
The Hallin comes in a few retro styled and subdued colour schemes, which you may appreciate as a nice change from the usual garish colourways from many brands. This makes it just as at home around town or in the pub as it is in the hills.
Having always coped with the wind by popping a waterproof on top of whatever fleece I was wearing, the Hallin has suitably converted me to the way of the softshell. This jacket offers good fit, durability, packability and even a decent enough colour for the price, which hovers somewhere around reasonable for a jacket of this standard. It's not quite as breathable as I'd have wanted, but keeping the wind off and the sweat out is the perpetual optimisation problem of nearly all outdoor jackets and for the price tag, this one does as well as can be expected.