The water flows down the next pitch like a blanket. I plunge my hand through the torrent, the water pushing hard and seeping up my sleeve. We glance back toward the car park, an hour away. The wind whips across the slab, lifting an uppercut of freezing water on to my chin. Rock climbing in Snowdonia in December - madness? Probably, but I got a chance to test the Marmot Exum shell layer. The question is: Did I stay dry?
I've not had the opportunity to take either the jacket or the trousers out winter climbing... yet. I've used them in pouring rain, bright sunshine, gale force winds and hail storms. They've had a thorough beating and so far they're still cutting the mustard.
The first thing that struck me when I got hold of the Exum jacket was how light it felt. For what is essentially a full weight outer shell, I couldn't believe the difference in weight between this and my older XCR jacket. Sticking them both on the (highly accurate Tesco) kitchen scales – I found that my old jacket weighed in at a hefty 900g, while the new bantam weight Exum, slipped in at half that – under 450g, wow. Quite how this adds up in terms of durability I really don't know, having only had the jacket a few weeks. However it seems quite tough, so I hope it'll do a good few years service. It sits comfortably in between a Paclite and a full weight Gore-tex.
The fit is excellent, the hood superb – it's very well designed; turning with your head, making sure you don't miss out on all those mountain panoramas. The pockets are nice and high – perfect for harness wearers (I usually have some flapjacks in there when I'm out instructing – it's handy to be able to whip them out on belay ledges, before the students arrive!). All the pocket and arm-pit zips are the waterproof variety – keeping my flapjacks in perfect condition.
The sleeves are great, a good length and cut, with ergonomic shaped ends and Velcro wrist tabs. The main zip (which isn't a water-proof zip), is covered by a good sized external baffle that again sticks down with Velcro and this is backed up with an internal baffle. A pretty good water-proof system that didn't let any rain through to my mid layers. The Velcro on the outer baffle is made in small tabs, not a continuous strip - obviously saving a few grams. Snow can clog Velcro though, so I'll be interested to see what happens there.
Made from Goretex 'Pro Shell', which is in part how Marmot have shaved off so much weight, the Exum is a mixture of normal and rip-stop fabric. The 'Pro Shell' was 100% water-proof, which is what I was expecting from a company as experienced as Gore. It shed water really well – beading rain on all the panels and fabrics. The jacket has pull cords and toggles in the usual places and the nice finishing touches that you'd expect from a top of the range garment; Dri-clime fleecy lining around the chin and so on.
A fantastic, light weight, mountain jacket. All the features you need, none that you don't. A hood that goes over a helmet, a cut that is designed for climbing and a great fabric choice. Perfect. Will it last countless Scottish winters? I don't know, but it's amazingly light and 100% water-proof.
I didn't like these as much as the jacket – I must admit, but I wouldn't write them off entirely. They are, like the jacket, exceptionally light for a full weight garment. They have a nice re-enforcement right where the crampons usually scuff – not bad so far. They also have nice, easy to use, full length zips on each side. So what didn't I like?
To be fair, when Marmot asked for my sizes and I said “Long and skinny, legs like a sparrow”, they warned me that the trousers might not be a perfect fit. They were a bit wide in the leg for me, and a little short. I'm 6'2”, with a 34” leg, and I weigh about 2.5 stone, so it's no surprise. Like with any garment - it's best to try things on.
So my only real concern is the zip baffles. I'll state now that they kept me totally dry, but the baffles themselves don't stick down with Velcro – instead, they are held over the zip by their own stiffness. I was a little worried that after floundering around in snow, there might be a bit of leakage.
The 'braces' were nice and lightweight, simple to use and not too fancy. The trousers came in black, with again a mixture of rip-stop and normal fabric. The snow gaiters looked pretty much perfect, with a great Velcro feature for getting them over winter boots. They have an emergency 'drop seat' feature, for dropping something off in those awkward pre-route moments.
Lightweight, stylish trousers. Cut for the average sized person – not the twig legged sport climber. Possible worry on the baffle, however it hasn't failed me yet. All the other features looked more than up to scratch. I'll be happy to give them a go through the winter and report back in due course.