Marmot Zion Jacket
Phil ice climbing in his Marmot Zion Jacket
Catalog weight: 18oz (probably a medium, maybe a small)
Scale weight: 28oz (large); Really, Marmot? Really? 10oz difference? I guess maybe if they measured a small.
W.L. Gore and Associates patented their first WPB fabric circa 1976 and revolutionized the outdoor clothing industry. Many companies since then have worked to improve the waterproof-breathable category with some nominal improvements (mostly in the total weight of the membrane/treatment and the face fabric that they match it to), but you and I both know that waterproof AND breathable usually aren’t on speaking terms when you’re out huffing it up some canyon. Sure some fabrics will lose that clammy feeling within a few minutes or they may have some pit zips that alleviate the symptoms but unless temps are really low and/or you are not sweating, feeling clammy comes with adding a shell.
Well. . . that’s not exactly the case anymore. Polartec’s new Neoshell membrane has come a long way from our old and beloved Gore-tex partners.
Hiking uphill, 20 degree weather, comfortable in t-shirt and Zion Jacket
For disclosure purposes, I sweat. I sweat a lot! When hiking up to our usual ice cragging area with temps in the 20’s and only wearing a t-shirt, I drip sweat from my brow, my back, my legs, and usually have some beading up on my forearms. I know that is gross. I understand; my wife tells me about it occasionally. However, you need to know that in order to understand how great Neoshell is. This past winter I have used Marmot’s Zion Jacket (featuring neoshell) almost exclusively (I have dabbled in dry-Q elite). With the Zion Jacket I make that same approach wearing my usual silkweight long-sleeve tee, plus the Zion! The results? I still sweat a ton…. But now it gets moved outside the jacket like I’ve been promised it would by so many other fabrics for so long! I dump my pack to get racked up and I’m already dry. Literally.
But enough about the fabric (which is awesome), the jacket as a whole deserves some consideration.
6'3", 185lbs, Zion Jacket in size Large
Hood is a little tight across the mouth/lips with helmet on
I am 6’3” 185lbs. and I have the Zion in a large. The medium fit well, ridiculously well in fact, but had one drawback: on the official harness/jacket untuck meter it was a 9 (totally un-tucked from the harness within 2 ice moves and moving over my gearloops). So I compromised by going with the large that bellows out a little above a harness or hipbelt because of the additional volume (not too much of a compromise in my opinion). Dave Searle's un-tuck meter: http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/2011/12/my-2-pence-on-midlayers-by-dave-searle.html
Marmot paired the neoshell membrane with a super comfy liner fabric (think brushed suede or butter-jersey) and a burly shell fabric that will probably hurt the rock more than the rock will hurt it. It is a soft-shell format that most other companies aren’t doing with neoshell. At first I was a little disappointed with the heavy-handed construction, but have found solace in a few key facts:
First and foremost, the Zion has impressive insulative properties. Good enough in fact to help eliminate a mid layer piece in your layering system. This helps compensate for the heavier nature of this shell without sacrificing too much versatility (more layers can usually handle a broader temperature range) because of how breathable it is – it acts like your midlayer, with the benefit of being stormproof. For example, a normal layering system could be MHW’s wicked lite long tee (5.6oz), Patagucci’s R1 Hoody (12.8oz), and Arcteryx’s Alpha Lt (super sick and 12.9oz); total weight 31.3oz. A layering system with the Zion that will easily handle upper teens and low 20’s while climbing is as follows: MHW’s wicked lite long tee (5.6oz), and the Zion (28oz). That’s it. Simple, and with a total weight of 33.6oz. I figure for 2oz more I have a broader range of comfort without having to stop and remove or add layers. That's pretty sweet. The best part is, when the jacket is on, I really don't notice the extra weight; and this jacket rarely comes off. If you are venturing into colder climes take the R1 and the Zion (40.8oz for an action suit that will take you to around 0˚ F).
Second, the face fabric has and will continue to stand up to my abuse. I have scuffed this jacket against Ogden quartzite and SLC granite without any sign of wear.
Lastly, the combination of fabrics is exceptionally stormproof and doesn’t make that awful hardshell noise. ‘Nuf said.
The Zion includes 5 pockets: 2 handwarmer pockets, 1 napoleon pocket, 1 sleeve pocket, and 1 internal pocket. All are fleece lined and very comfortable. The two handwarmers are spacious enough for keeping your lead gloves warm and dry and to stash your skins in, while the napoleon is big enough to hold a 12oz drink along with your lip balm and has a headphone portal. I have found that the sleeve pocket works great to hold GU packets or chomps and the internal pocket never gets used. The Velcro adjustment at the cuff works very well for the wrap-around tab configuration they used. The hood is helmet compatible, and has two adjustments: the usual hood aperture pulls and a rear circumference pull cord help you batten down the hatches and take out volume.
Harness/Hipbelt-compatible pockets with water-resistant zips
One internal zip pocket and soft brushed lining
Now for everyone’s favorite part…the nitpicking!
The two handwarmer pockets that are purported to be hipbelt compatible have a problem I find happens a lot among climbing jackets. The upper portion of the pocket is visible and usable above a harness; still, the lower offending portion is cut off – effectively making the pocket opening smaller. Such is the case with the Zion’s pockets. Though to be fair, the zipper pull is at the top in the closed position so the pockets really are usable with a harness on.
In my opinion, and for my head, the hood is a little low on volume. With the hood up over a helmet and fully zipped, my chin and lips abut the zipper area forcefully enough for me to usually keep the zipper slightly undone. If it were a perfect hood, it would fit over my helmet, fully zipped, with some room inside to make adjustments or at least offer some more stretch in the fabric.
The last thing is the fit. Like I said, the medium offered a much more trim fit which I usually look for, but the angel-wing technology failed a bit and it would come untucked. The large has extra volume in strange areas that l notice when I’m at home critiquing the jacket, but actually really don't notice when I’m out using it. However, the angel-wing mumbo-jumbo still fails compared to my standard - the Arcteryx Alpha. The Alpha's hem moves about 3" from arms down to arms up. In contrast the Zion moves at least 5". When pinned under a harness the stretch of the fabric helps in this area. In Marmot's defense (I really like their products), many of their other jackets that I own don't move nearly as much as the Zion.
At least 5" of lift in the hem when arms are raised. I guess they forgot the angel-wing on this one.
All in all this is a very nice jacket. As with all pieces of gear, it could be improved upon. Anyone can take their favorite piece of kit and say, "if this small problem was fixed, this would be perfect." This jacket falls under that category. Yet, even the way it is made right now, it does what I want all gear to do: go unnoticed. I don’t ever have to think, “I’m starting to overheat I’d better fiddle with my pit zips/take off a layer,” or “this is way more wet than I expected, I wish I had brought my hardshell.” And that is well worth its few short comings.
Overall I would give the jacket 4 stars out of 5. I love everything about this jacket except the minor hood issue and that I had to get a large to keep it tucked into my harness. It easily establishes itself among the best winter ice and alpine climbing jackets available.