2014 Guide to Ice Climbing Jackets

We’re getting deep into the abyss that is fall, the daylight is getting shorter, temperatures continue to drop, the mornings are getting crisper and the weather here in New England is getting worse and worse—or better, depending on how you look at it. Ice has already begun to form in the high country and our first dusting of snow hit the hills just a couple weeks ago. So, with that said, here’s the Climberism Guide to Climbing Shells (hard and soft). These shells were built to protect you while you’re in the shit of it.

Arc’teryx Alpha Comp Hoody
Editor’s Choice | Best Value

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When it comes to outwear, Arc’teryx makes the creme de la creme and their Alpha Comp shell doesn’t leave a dissatisfying aftertaste or pinch your wallet, too much. It’s constructed with a proprietary stretchy, breathable fabric called Fortius 1.0 around the core and under the arms. On the rest of the jacket, shoulders, forearms and hood, Arc’teryx and GORE teamed up and used a new fabric called N40p 3L. It’s a laminated shell-like technology that provides weather-resistant properties. One vented chest pocket and two vented harness-compatible side pockets are all you need. The Alpha Comp probably has one of the best features of all these jackets, a piece of foam integrated into the waist seam to make it virtually impossible to sneak under your harness.
Weight: 405 g / 14.3 oz
Cost: $375
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+ Cost, lightweight, freedom of movement, breathability, foam in waist seam to keep below harness

– Arm length runs long

Millet Alpinist Stretch Jacket
Top Pick

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This medium shell perfectly blends freedom and stretch with Millet’s innovative Ceramic technology. Go ahead and try to find a seam that is not taped, I dare you. Thermo-welded seams coupled with GORE-TEX reinforcements practically beg storm clouds to crawl on over. And when they do, cinch the waist and hood as needed and wrap both cuffs tight with arguably the sturdiest velcro straps on the market. You have everything you need with this jacket, and what you don’t have you can easily stash in any of the many chest pockets. It is heavy material and Millet’s sizing can be hard to dial in.
Weight: 690 g / 24.4 oz
Cost: $499
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+ Freedom of movement, stretch, durability

– Heavy material, sizing

Mountain Hardwear Alchemy Softshell
Top Pick

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The new Mountain Hardwear Alchemy Hooded softshell is a climbing-focused jacket designed for cold, wet and tough alpine climbing. It features a three-layer Dry.Q Elite fabric, a proprietary material developed by Mountain Hardware and used in their premier outerwear pieces. Dry.Q Elite is designed to be air permeable, which in basic terms means that, unlike many other waterproof/breathable fabrics which don’t start to breath until humidity has built up, Dry.Q Elite starts breathing immediately. This means less clammy and more comfortable. The jacket features a helmet-compatible hood, large mesh-lined (good for ventilation) hand warmer pockets strategically placed to allow access while wearing a harness or pack and asymmetrical cuffs for ninja fighting protection.
Weight: 656 g / 23
Cost: $395
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+ Durability, stretch, waterproof treatment holds up well

– Heavy

Westcomb Switch Hoody

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This is one of the lightest jacket we tested. Westcomb has done a nice job with utilizing Polartec’s NeoShell fabric. While the material has some stretch to allow freedom of movement, it toys with being a hardshell. Fully taped and seam seals, the Switch Hoody is about as minimal as it gets, featuring only two Napoleon pockets strategically placed for ease of use while wearing a pack or a harness. Cinch pull chords at the waist tighten down to keep out cool air and dual-zipper pit vents get rid of heat when you’re on the move. The slim fit doesn’t hinder movement because the thin layer of NeoShell used in construction allows a little stretch.
Weight: 15 oz/425g
Cost: $430
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+ Lightweight, freedom of movement, breathability, minimalist design

Black Diamond Front Point Hardshell

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The Front Point jacket is made for the modern minimalist that likes their martini’s straight up. It’s constructed with a three-layer GORE-TEX Pro 80d fabric, and just about every seam on this thing is taped and sealed for additional durability, even the unfinished edges. The pit zips have double sliders so you can easily dump heat and moisture when you start cooking on the approach. Black Diamond has integrated the Cohesive cord-lock cinch system throughout the jacket, which is tucked out of the way. The Front Point was also designed with two harness-compatible chest pockets, two unnecessary hip pockets that are inaccessible while in a harness or wearing a pack, and a helmet-compatible hood.
Weight535 g / 18.9 oz
Cost: $599
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+ Lightweight, durability

– Too many pockets, cost

Rab Neo Guide Jacket

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Rab’s latest mid-weight shell oozes breathability without bargaining durability and functionality. A dynamic Polartech Neoshell fabric taped along each essential seam guards against heavy weather yet bends at all technical movements required by the mountains. Pit zips provide quick ventilation for grueling approaches, and an adjustable helmet-compatible hood will send water skidding down the slopes instead of down your chest, no matter the size of your noggin. Top it off with velcro cuffs, a hem drawcord, and pockets in all the right places and you have yourself an uncompromising mountaineering jacket free of many-a-manufacturer’s Faustian Bargain. Sizing can be tough to dial in.
Weight: 620 g / 21.8 oz
Cost: $424
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+ Durability, freedom of movement

– Sizing

Outdoor Research Maximus Hardshell

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A fairly minimalist jacket, the Maximus was designed with movement in mind. The hybrid construction, made from GORE-TEX Pro 70D fabric and GORE-TEX Pro Stretch panels provides flex in high-use areas like elbows, armpits, cuffs and the helmet-compatible hood. Two hand pockets on the chest give easy access to your cell phone for selfies and instagram (climberism instagram) and the two Napoleon Pockets are tucked out of the way when wearing a harness or pack. Large pit zips run the length of the jacket from the hip with dual two-way zippers to get rid of unwanted heat.
Weight: 584 g / 20.6 oz
Cost: $495
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+ Durability, waterproofness, stretch paneling

– Heavy, breathability

Aether Altitude Softshell

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Utilizing the latest in fabric technology, construction and minimalist design, Aether brings an understated sophistication to the sometimes over-the-top outdoor apparel arena. Their Altitude shell represents the most technical jacket in their line, using Schoellers c_change fabric, a heavy but built-to-last fabric. The jacket features a three-point adjustable helmet-compatible hood, an ergonomic fit with a good range of motion, removable zipper pulls, extended pit zips to aid in dumping excess heat and moisture, hand warmer pockets, two large harness-compatible chest pockets, and two interior pockets. Fit wise, the jacket is on the slim side, but with a size range from 1-5 (we tested out a size 2), it’s easier to dial in the right size than the traditional s-m-l offered by other manufacturers.
Weight: approx. 700 g / 24.7 oz
Cost: $675
Where to find:
aether.com

+ Minimalist design, durability, breathability, waterproofness

– Cost, heavy