I've spent a day hiking in cold, rainy weather as well as hours shovelling snow in the Alpinist and reckon that, between the Pro Shell material and the jacket's design, the Alpinist breathes as well as any other hard shell that I have tried. This was something of revelation to me, having been a softshell apostle since starting to use Buffalo gear in the early 90s.
Having not used hardshells much for ice climbing in recent years, one thing that has surprised me is how warm the jacket is. I've been wearing it over a merino base-layer and R1 pullover – (a stretchy, light Patagonia micro-fleece) and was surprised that I rarely needed to add my belay jacket whilst out ice climbing for a day at about -12. The total windproofness of a hardshell does keep you snug as long as you are not getting sweaty at the same time.
The Goretex is also stretchy and the quality of the design and engineering becomes apparent when you notice that in different panels of the jacket, the material's weave is in different directions to best allow it to stretch optimally with your body. Having done some technical mixed climbing in the jacket, as well as swinging my tools on more conventional icefalls, this works perfectly. The jacket offers no more resistance when climbing than a stretchy softshell and the sleeve design successfully makes sure there is no drag at wrists as you hang from your ice tools.
"...these features make the Alpinist a jacket to put on early in the day and not take off again until in the pub..."
All these features make the Alpinist a jacket to put on early in the day and not take off again until back in the pub. Some years back Marmot started working with Glenmore Lodge instructors, producing a jacket designed for Scottish conditions. The hood on the Alpinist appears to show that heritage, it is big, protective and rather 'British' in design rather than the often more minimal 'North American' style. The jacket is also longer in design than some, giving good protection to your bum and top of your thighs, yet at the same time it has a slim silhouette that fits well under a harness. Two big chest pockets will fit maps or gloves; two smaller ones will protect a phone or small camera from the weather.
Due to the pockets, meaning various layers of Goretex on the chest, I get a small amount of bunching over a climbing harness but nothing particularly problematic. This just seems to be something that afflicts all hardshells. Inside there is a zipped mesh pocket for valuables and an elasticated mesh pocket that would take a water bottle. The jacket also has a zip-out snow skirt, great for skiing, but removable in seconds to save weight. It really is an excellently designed and made jacket, but unfortunately has a price to match. From that perspective, I suspect it's most likely users are going to be professionals who turn out in wild winter weather day after day and need a jacket that gives them great protection whilst being hard wearing. As a longer term investment the price tag might seem less pricey.
Onto the pants
But the Alpinist Jacket is only half of the story. The jacket is half of a modular system designed to work in conjunction with the Alpinist Pants. The pants are the clever bit: they can be a salopette, or the shoulder straps and chest section can be zipped off to make normal trousers with belt loops for holding them up. But the really clever bit is that the trousers can zip into the jacket (the zip that the snow skirt uses) to make a one piece alpine suit. One piece suits are generally reckoned to give the best protection possible in crazy weather (or for skiing in deep powder) but even top technical brands like Patagonia and Marmot haven't had them in the line-ups for years, presumably having found them just too specialist to sell widely. So now the Alpinist system once again gives people the chance to have a one piece suit should they wish it or 'just' a top-of-the-range salopette and jacket combination on other days.
The weather hasn't really been bad enough for me to give the one-piece set up a good test yet, but I have no doubt it is an optimal solution for really bad weather or deep powder skiing. The modular design does mean some compromises though. Steve House has accused Andy Kirkpatrick (and, I think, by default British climbers more generally) of being obsessed with... umm... 'doing number twosies' shall we say? Perhaps Steve doesn't have enough fibre in his diet, because I'm with Andy and our 'regular' brethren on this one. With the Alpinist system, in its suit or salopette configuration you'll just have to lay off the malt loaf or dried prunes as your hill food or make sure you go before you suit up. Also the fly could do with a bottom opening zip to make taking a pee with your harness on less of a fumble.
Alpinist Jacket and Pants
Price: Jacket - £400, Pants - £320
More info: on the Marmot website.
Swiftly moving on to less delicate issues: the fit. The size of the pants and jacket has to be the same for them to zip together as designed, i.e. only a medium sized trousers zips properly into a medium jacket. This means that if you are slightly out of the Marmot's 'ordinary' body shape, you can't mix and match sizes for the best fit. The medium jacket is a good fit for me, although the medium pants are slightly snug over my cyclist's thighs. Secondly the zip-on section to turn the trousers into the salopettes is a bit snug over my stomach. I'm not fat but it feels like that section is shaped according to a medium waist, which must be about 32-34 inch, but my body widens up from my waist toward my chest. Basically it limits what mid-layers I could wear. I have another pair of normal Marmot salopettes in medium that don't have this problem – they feel as if they are cut to fit my lower chest, not the waist.
"...even top technical brands haven't had one-pieces in their line-ups for years..."
The trousers have an internal gaiter, a nice idea but not perfectly realized here. Firstly it seems to be sized to fit over a ski boot, or at least a double climbing boot. It is too big to form a seal around my size 42 Sportiva Trango Extremes – my standard ice boots. Secondly the gaiter has neither eyelets or small loops of webbing to which you can attach elastic to go under the foot of the boot and keep the gaiter down. This compounds the problem of the gaiter being quite loose and I found using it alone with my Trangos it would ride up and didn't stop snow getting into my boots – negating the purpose of it being there in the first place. Just adding eyelets so we can add our own under-boot elastic would be a great help here. The ankle of the pants is also quite loosely cut – again probably with ski touring boots in mind, but they feel a bit flappy near to your crampons when wearing them with light ice climbing boots.
Despite the name, I suspect that Marmot have the very serious ski mountaineering market in mind along with climbers. The one-piece suit option, along with the ski boot compatible trousers, seem to suggest skiers as well as alpinists. The resulting issues aren't huge, but I think the matters around the fit demonstrate that a few compromises are needed to build a modular system that can form a one-piece suit. Those compromises and the rather hefty price is really the only things I have to say against the Alpinist suit, and of course they are only compromises if you aren't a ski mountaineer or freerider as well as a climber. If you do both seriously, then the Alpinist is the suit for you. Overall, it is an excellently designed and manufactured mountain shell. Exactly the thing for professionals who are going to be out in the worst that the mountains have to throw at them day after day. And with the Alpinist pants and jacket zipped together into a one-piece, you have what is probably one of the most protective hard shell systems available on the market.
About Toby ArcherToby Archer is based in Finland, where he works as a researcher specialising in terrorism and political Islam.
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."
Climbing keeps him from getting too depressed about politics. He blogs about both at: