Arc’teryx Sabre Jacket and Pants

It’s been 10 years since I bought new ski clothes so I figured I would treat myself and get the caviar. Here in Southern California, a day of skiing can bring a variety of temperatures ranging from sweltering to icy. As I have said in the past, I love soft shell garments, and that doesn’t change when I choose ski clothing. The Sabre jacket and pants are a Gore-Tex soft shell laminate that is completely waterproof and seam taped. However, they are not your standard stretchy, super-breathable soft shell garments. They are a lot more like hard shell.

It seems like Arc’teryx really focused on weather protection over breathability on the Sabre. That’s fine by me, but I still prefer a bit more breathability for ski gear. For here in Southern California, the light insulation lining the inside of the Sabre pants/jacket works great with just a light base layer underneath for most of the day without overheating. On cold nights and other areas, definitely throw another layer underneath for a little more warmth because the insulation is nothing more than a thin brushed poly liner.

The fit is pretty standard for ski gear: baggy and bulky; but I don’t have any problems with movement even when layered up. As always, Arc’teryx put an Sabre-Jacket-Tungstenawesome storm hood so you can batten down the hatches when the winds pick up and the temps drop without loosing visibility or mobility even when you have a helmet on.

I have always hated powder skirts and rarely if ever used them until I got this jacket/pant combo. The snap closure keeps the powder skirt connected to the pants pretty well. The skirt still rides up a little bit, but for the most part, it stays in place and keeps you dry. It’s not very often that I get to enjoy a powder day, but for the 1 day I did get to enjoy this season, it worked very well. No snow down the pants or under the jacket, I’m happy. The integrated belt for the pants is great too. No problems with loosening, chafing, or discomfort.

The Sabre combo uses the new N80p-X face fabric that is supposed to be more durable, but I already had some wearing issues near the ankles of the pants after only a couple of uses. This might just be bad luck though because there are a couple of small cuts from ski edges just missing the Keprotec patch and cutting the softer fabric a little. Other than that, no signs of wear from all my crashSabre-Pant-Buckhornes.
I also noticed that the face fabric does wet out fairly easily but also dries very quickly so it wasn’t really a problem.

The pocket configuration works great on both the jacket and the pants but I would like the jacket pockets to be a little bigger to fit skins or gloves better. If you’re strictly a resort skier/boarder, this probably doesn’t matter to you.

Unfortunately for me, the lift ticket pocket is on the opposite side of the scanner for the lifts I usually ski. Just a minor inconvenience that can be solved by the bigger cargo pockets and some dancing around at the scanner. I guess that’s normal anyway with those finicky things!

Overall, the Sabre combo is very cool but pretty pricy with some big pros and a good amount of smaller cons. I think this pairing will last me for a long time, but the best part about the combo is I’m not frustrated by my gear and I can focus on skiing or boarding rather than worry about failing gear. The Sabre combo can deliver hard shell weather protection with better breathability (although not quite soft shell breathability) in a pretty durable package. Of course, you look like a stylish dude that knows what he’s doing when you’re decked out in this stuff too.

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How to Layer for the Mountains

So, you bought a fancy Gore-Tex rain shell that the sales guy told you was completely waterproof and you are wondering why you still got wet. The natural conclusion would be that the jacket leaked. Chances are, the water came from you, not the sky. Or you are worried that a soft shell won’t be enough to keep you dry because the manufacturer says that it is “water-resistant” instead of “waterproof.” While that may be true, a soft shell will often keep you drier than a hard shell due to superior wicking and breathablility of a high quality softshell.

While the shell layers may get all the glory, it’s what’s underneath that will keep you warm and move moisture out of the system, or as some manufacturers like to call it, your micro-climate.

A basic layering system consists of 3 parts: base layer, insulating mid layer, and a shell layer to protect your inner layers.

Part 1: The Base Layerbaselayer

The goal of a base layer is to provide a small amount of warmth, remove moisture, and add comfort to the system. Some common materials used are wool, silk, and synthetics like Polartech and Capilene. Each material has it’s own unique advantages and disadvantages.

Wool is my personal choice for base layers. I’m not talking about scratchy, heavy, uncomfortable wool; a nice, soft, Merino wool base is the best way to go. Wool breaths well, keeps you warm while wet, dries fairly quickly, is lightweight, has anti-odor properties, and can actually help regulate your body temperature. The downside to wool is the price tag. A high quality Merino top can cost around $100. Wool also requires more care than other materials because it can shrink in the wash and lose shape over time.

Synthetics are very comfortable and inexpensive compared to wool. They dry very quickly, have excellent wicking properties, are easy to care for, and they have the best mobility from their ability to stretch. The downside to synthetics is odor control. If you can’t wash your base layers often, they start to stink, unlike wool’s anti-odor properties. The other downside to synthetics is that a higher weight is required for the same warmth as wool. For example, a heavy weight synthetic would be comparable to a midweight wool garment. I would choose synthetics for high output activities when a quick drying garment is your highest priority.

Silk is very lightweight, but it is not very durable. It is very comfortable to wear on crisp days but it’s not the ideal choice for very cold or very warm weather. Silk would be a good choice for someone who is allergic to wool and does not care for synthetic materials.

The fit of base layers can differ by activity, output, temperature, and preference. A good rule here is in warmer weather, aim for an “athletic” fit; something not tight, but not too loose either. A looser fit will help keep you cooler and will still be able to wick moister away from your body. For cold weather activities, the fit should be form fitting and snug, not tight. A slimmer, more form-fitting garment will keep warm air closer to your body for chilly days.

Part 2: Mid layers midlayer

A mid layer should be highly air permeable and highly breathable. What’s the difference? Air permeability is a garments ability to allow air to flow freely through the garment, while breathability is the ability to allow moisture to move through the garment, mostly away from your body. Both are important to have in a mid layer to maintain warmth and dryness and in helping a shell layer maintain it’s breathable properties.

There are many different materials used for mid layers. I will be talking about 3 different kinds: down, synthetic down, and fleece. There are all sorts of combinations out there on the market with different advantages and disadvantages, but we could be here all day talking about those.

Materials in mid layers are almost identical to sleeping bags: lightweight, water resistant nylon over a fill that traps warm air. Down is the premium insulator. It is very lightweight, very warm, and highly compressible. Down has some big downsides when it comes to moisture, however. Down traps water even better than it traps air and it looses it’s insulating value once it get’s wet. Even moisture moving from your body out through your jacket can lessen the warmth of a down jacket. Fortunately, there are some great new water-resistant feathers out there like DownTek and Dry Down that have been treated with a water-resistant coating. Down is not cheap either, but it sure is nice and warm. Down is great for dry climates and lower output activities in cold weather.

Synthetics are a great choice as well. There are all kinds of synthetic fills out there but some are better than others. My personal favorites are Premaloft and Arc’teryx’s Coreloft. Unlike down, synthetics continue to keep you somewhat warm after they get wet, they dry quickly, are highly compressible, are easy to care for, and transport moisture through a layering system very well. Premaloft is as close to down as it gets in the world of synthetics but with even lower bulk and even less loft is needed to trap heat, so don’t be worried when you see how thin Premaloft jackets can be.

Fleece is a great insulator and feels warm right when you put it on. Fleece is basically the same thing as a synthetic base layer bulked up to a mid layer weight and fit. They are highly breathable, wicking, air permeable, and fairly lightweight, but they are very bulky compared to puffy insulated jackets. I mostly use fleece for crisp days or for a second mid layer on very cold days. A bonus to fleece’s bulkiness is that you can use it for a pillow!

Part 3: Shell Layersshell

There are 2 basic shell layers that most people use: hard shell and soft shell. This is where things get complicated.

Hard shell typically comes in a couple different forms: laminate and nylon. A nylon shell is very simple, usually just a durable water repellent coating (DWR) and nylon. Laminate’s consist of a DWR, a face fabric (typically nylon, this is the part you see), the laminate (this is the part that makes the jacket waterproof), then usually some type of backing material on the inside. The 2 most popular laminates out there are Gore-Tex and EVent.

Nylon hard shells are lightweight and have good water resistance, but they are not very breathable or comfortable next to skin. Nylon by itself is not hydrophobic which is why these jackets are not considered totally waterproof. Most nylon rain jackets have taped seems and are coated in a DWR to shed water quickly. The DWR will eventually wear off and need to be recoated.

Laminates have the highest water resistance and can range anywhere from ultra light to downright heavy. The DWR coating is the first barrier that causes water to bead up and roll of the jacket easily so the nylon face fabric does not “wet out.” Wetting out occurs when you can see the fabric itself absorbing water. The laminate layer is a membrane that works to equalize moisture and pressure. Your shell and your body create a sort of “micro-climate” inside the jacket that has a high pressure and high moisture, if the jacket’s membrane is clean that pressure will push the moisture through the shell to keep you comfortable and dry and not allow any water from the outside to come in. As magical as it sounds, hard shell jackets can be overwhelmed with moisture from the inside which causes a clammy feeling. But I promise, your jacket is not leaking, you are working too hard and the jacket can’t keep up. That is why I recommend hard shell jackets for lower output activities where you may be in the rain or wind for long periods of time and protection from the elements is your first concern.

Soft shells are my personal go-to. I know that they are technically “water-resistant” but it’s not very often that a soft shell will leak. If it does, you should have checked the weather forecast before you went out for the day and packed your hard shell because you were probably standing in the rain for hours on end. I use soft shell garments for climbing, hiking, skiing, and everyday use because they are the most comfortable option. Soft shell jackets do have less wind and water resistance to hard shell and they are heavier. However, most of the time you will stay dryer in a soft shell because of the increased breathability and have better mobility because they stretch. Soft shells are very durable so they are great for climbing and skiing where they will come into contact with rough surfaces and sharp points or edges. Don’t be afraid of the term “water resistant” or the extra weight, a soft shell is the best choice for moving quickly in the mountains, particularly in mixed conditions where wind, rain, and sunny weather are all likely for the day. Some soft shells can even be used as an extra mid layer depending on how air permeable it is.

There are a lot of bad reviews and misconceptions about shell layers out there, many of them being about water resistance. The truth is, if you have a shell layer on and you are wet, it’s probably because you are sweating and your mid layers are not transporting moisture out of the system or your shell is not breathing well. It is highly unlikely that your shell leaked no matter what the material. I know, I know, the material is wet on both sides of the jacket. What almost certainly happened is the outer face fabric “wetted out” and your body’s output of moisture was too much for the shell to let out. So what?! I’m still getting wet! My answer to that is: get a soft shell or stop sweating so much. Each piece has it’s place in your layering system, but 90% of the time, a soft shell will be your best choice.

I hope this article was helpful in building a layering system. If you have any questions or concerns, go ahead and leave a comment for me. If you would like more information, check out http://www.rei.com/learn/expert-advice/dress-layers.html and the rest of REI’s Learn database.

Coming Soon!

How To articles on: layering, choosing a tent, choosing climbing shoes, recovery, and choosing a pack.

Gear reviews: HyperIce compression wear, Suunto Core Altimeter, Mammut Trion Lite 40 pack, Arc’teryx Sabre ski pants and jacket, La Sportiva FC Eco 2.0 hiking shoe, Oneill Psycho wetsuit, Black Diamond X4 cams and more.

More editorials, trip reports, gear reviews, and how-tos coming soon.

What do you want to read about? Let me know what gear you want to have reviewed or what how tos you would like to see posted on all things climbing, surfing, skiing/snowboarding, hiking, or other good stuff you like to do outside! Please post comments of categories or particular items you would like to see.

La Sportiva TC Pro Climbing Shoe

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I admit it, I have a thing for La Sportiva. Since the release of the TC Pro, it seems to be everywhere. I see almost as many TCPs in Joshua Tree than Anasazis nowadays worn by all kinds of climbers crushing classics or racking up for their first trad lead. Even sport climbers are jumping on the TC Pro bandwagon. After climbing in these shoes for the better part of the last 12 months, it’s no wonder they are so popular. For any terrain short of severely overhanging terrain, the TCs would be a great choice. Over the summer, I climbed the infamous Serpentine, a run out, polished granite, 5.9 slab at Suicide Rock. For most of the climb your feet are pasted on micro edges or smearing blank nothing with 20 feet or more between bolts. I was a little nervous about choosing the TC Pro for this climb since they are a very stiff in the forefoot and use Vibram XS Edge rubber instead of XS Grip or the old standby, 5.10s Stealth, but they smeared and edged through all three low angle pitches without any major problems (just one slip when I got lazy on the last 5.7 section right off of the belay).

Across the valley lies Tahquitz, home of some of Southern California’s longest routes and best cracks. Thin toes, stiff toe box, and good ankle support make the TC Pro one of my favorite crack climbing shoes of all time. When climbing in a party of three on longer routes, you end up spending a lot of time in your shoes. Take along your TCs, and you won’t be worried about purple feet at the end of the day, provided you sized them correctly. You can jam away in glorious splitter heaven with good protection for your feet. They don’t make jamming painless, especially if you use bad form, but they will cushion the ride and keep you focused on the climbing, not your aching toes. The P3 (Permanent Pivot Platform) works great for maintaining the shoe’s fit even after a year of climbing in them.

My local sport climbing crag, the Riverside Quarry, is loaded with slightly overhanging routes on granite. When you think of a shoe you would sport climb with, the TC Pro is not the first shoe you would think of by a long shot, but I take them there anyway and they continue to impress. I still prefer a slightly down turned or cambered shoe like the Miura for climbing at the Quarry, but I have no performance issues with the shoes on any route that I am capable of climbing there.

I have one gripe with the rand design, however. The TC Pro was designed to be the ultimate all-day crack climbing shoe but I have noticed a common problem at the back of the toe box where the rand is pealing away from the shoe. This is exactly the spot where the shoe would come in contact with the edge of a crack if you had a solid jam. I have spoken with several other climbers and they had the same issue. It’s not terrible and it does not affect the performance, but I can’t help but wonder if there may be a better design. That being said, there are no stitches or tears at all even after a year of jamming in coarse JTree, Yosemite, and Idyllwild cracks.

In the store, size TC Pros with a toes flat or slightly bent fit and no tighter if you want to be comfortable. They are a leather shoe, but the synthetic lining helps keep them from stretching too much so don’t worry about them stretching out so much that they lose performance. There is definitely an initial break in period for these just like any shoe, but especially for extra-stiff shoes. If you have not been climbing in similar shoes before, the bottom of your feet will be sore until you get used to the shoe so don’t panic when your feet hurt after dropping $180 on a pair of climbing shoes. Give it some time, climb a lot and you’ll be used to it in no time!

REI Pinnacle 35 Pack

The REI Pinnacle 35 pack was designed as an alpine climbing, ski mountaineering, and cragging backpack. This pack has some huge plusses and a few minuses. You can also use the pack for day hikes or even an overnight if you had to carry heavier gear.

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I personally use the Pinnacle mainly as a crag pack in Joshua Tree and for the occasional alpine route. The 35 liter volume is spread out between 2 compartments, a large main compartment and a smaller front crampon pocket. The main compartment is the perfect size for my trad rack, quick draws, a set of alpine draws/slings, harness, helmet, shoes, and various cordage and the front crampon pocket works well for small items like energy snacks or a small water bottle. On top of the pack, there is a sweet rope carry system that keeps your rope nice and neat for the approach and makes loading and unloading the rope really easy. The material used for the pack is really burly ballistic nylon, so far no problems with areas away from zippers (more on that later) even after lots of abrasion on J Tree grit, and Sierra ice, snow, granite, dirt, and mud, ice axes, crampons, and being over stuffed with other semi-sharp climbing gear. Of course, there are signs of wear, but the pack is holding up well.

I do have a couple of things I was not so happy about with the Pinnacle though. The hipbelt is pretty stiff and uncomfortable for long approaches, especially when the pack is fully loaded. Since the pack only has a frame sheet and a fairly light metal frame, you really want to keep the pack weight as low as you can, otherwise you end up carrying much of the weight on your shoulders rather than your hips. I ended up exchanging my first Pinnacle because the crampon pocket zipper tore after just a couple months of use. So far, I have not had any problems with the replacement, but only time will tell. A little bit larger crampon pocket that expands to a more open shape would help out there. The pack itself feels a little bulky compared to other alpine packs with a lot wide design and wider straps and hipbelt than most aline packs so it can feel a little awkward on very steep alpine terrain.

For the price, you can’t beat the REI’s Pinnacle packs. With the exception of the crampon pocket zipper, the pack has stood up to everything I could throw at it. If you’re looking for a solid crag pack for a full day of gear or a budget conscious alpine pack and you can live with a bulkier design (it will be an advantage for some, especially as a crag pack or for bigger climbers), the Pinnacle should make your short list.

Bishop, Ca and the REI Magma

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I spent last week camping, climbing, and skiing near Bishop, Ca and I got a good opportunity to test out my new REI Magma sleeping bag.

PERSIMMON/STEEL

The Magma is rated to 7 degrees on the European Norm (EN) lower limit, has a waterproof shell material, 800 fill power down and weighs just a little over 2 pounds. Those specs are impressive to say the least, and the bag did not disappoint.

I was comfortable when temps were at their lowest, but when they got above freezing, I was wishing I had a cooler bag. But, that’s pretty standard for a mummy bag. It seems that most people believe you can ventilate just fine with a mummy bag, but it’s not as easy as it sounds on cold nights when it’s too cold to be out of the bag, but not cold enough to be all the way in it. If you’re looking for more versatility, get a quilt. This bag was just made for colder temps than we had in Bishop last week.

This bag is considered by REI to be one of their high performance bags with a slimmer cut for minimal weight and maximum warmth, but I did not feel squished or too tight in the bag at all. Granted, it’s not as roomy as my Marmot Plasma, but I never had an issue with the cut of the bag. In fact, it felt great! There was so much down all around me that it was like sleeping in a cloud. As a note, a lot of people ask me about cold weather sleeping bags that are not mummies, and they just don’t exist. If you’re planning on sleeping in cold weather (less than 15 degrees) you’re just going to have to deal with a tight bag and a high price tag.

The waterproof shell did an excellent job keeping tent condensation out of the down. We slept in a 2 man, 4 season tent that always gets condensation build up on the walls and gets other bags wet, but the Magma stayed dry all week. Of course, I’m still not going to throw it in the creek or sleep in the rain with it like some people might want their gear to be able to do, but this bag is not TOTALLY waterproof. The seams are not taped and the inside of the bag is not waterproof, so don’t try to float down a river in it.

If you’ve got the cash and you need a high end, lightweight, really warm bag, this one should make your short list. I loved the bag and I think for what you get, the price you pay is worth it. I was not able to push the limits of this bag but I do have a ski/alpine climbing trip in the Sierras coming up soon so I will try to do a follow up after using the bag for backcountry snow camping.