The Spire Jacket from Marmot
The planetFear test team took Marmot's latest entry-level Gortex Performance Shell jacket / pant combo - the Spire - for a recent test flight in the North Wales and the Alps. The big question of whether an entry-level shell can perform as well as a top-end shell was at large throughout the test, and after several weeks of intensive use the Spire gave us a fairly decisive answer.
Marmot claim big things in their marketing copy: they would lead us to believe that the Spire could hold its own against the top-end shell products in their own range and those of other leading brands. "We didn’t skimp on anything when designing our most affordable offering in a three-layer GORE-TEX® Performance Shell" they gush. "With exclusive features like the laminated wire rim of our Gale Force hood, and laser drilled pocket backing for enhanced breathability, the Spire jacket is the perfect go-to shell for intense outings." The funny thing is that when you first pull on the jacket, that this all begins to sound true - and like a damn good deal for just £220 RRP.
The Spire jacket and pants on test in a very wintry North Wales in January 2010
On first wearing the Spire jacket and pants, we were struck by the feeling of quality the two garments exude. They both provide a level of comfort and fit that is more common to top-end hard shells that sell for north of £300 than to bargain-basement material. This is partly due to the outstanding fabric - Gore-Tex Performance Shell is undoubtedly one of the very best waterproof fabrics currently available, and comparable in terms of flexibility and water repellence to Gore's market leading Pro Shell.
The cut on both the jacket and pants is generous, giving plenty of freedom of movement, with strong attention to the needs of climbers and skiers: the jacket has high front outer pockets for easy access when wearing a harness and long, ergonomically-cut sleeves, which means the waist doesn't ride up. The Pants also feature a very decent amount of forward articulation in the knees, meaning even the most extreme freeride postures are catered for. Some ice climbers may find the Pants a little on the 'baggy' side as a result, but we'd consider this a minor inconvenience when you've got a pair of trousers you can both climb and ski in.
The Spire Pant showing the articulated knee - great for skiing and boarding as well as climbing.
We were continually impressed on how well the Spire combo performed, from steep water ice climbing to long days out ski touring. The inclusion of a powder skirt in the jacket, plus detachable salopette straps on the Pants, gives maximum flexibility in terms of activity choice. The Pants also have removable internal gaiters, which is a useful touch. We also liked the so-called 'Gale Force Hood' - a giant, peaked cape that will keep out even the foulest of spindrift conditions.
The Spire Jacket - rear view
A day at Grand Montets in January proved the point: we got the first lift up to the top, then skied untracked powder down to the top of Rive Gauche, abseiled in and climbed Nuit Blanche, Stevie Haston's classic two-pitch WI6, then skied out. The Spire jacket and pants took this multi-activity day in their stride, which is really not something that can be said of many more expensive so-called 'technical shells'. What often happens with such products is that specific design requirements overtake the bigger picture of a garment that can be used for different activities - climbing, skiing, and snowboarding, and as a protective shell for cold mountain days in the summer as well as in the winter.
Having used the Spire jacket and pants extensively for the first three of these four activities, we have been very impressed with how quietly and competently they've handled the very different demands of going up on ice and down on snow. In short, if you're looking to save money on expensive ski-specific kit and buy a hard shell combo that skis as well as it climbs, then you really can't go wrong with the Spire.
The Spire combo performing in style on a ski mountaineering foray in Switzerland
Technical details: Spire Jacket
◦ GORE-TEX® Performance Shell - Gore-Tex Performance Shell
◦ Micro-Stitched and 100% Seam Taped - for maximum waterproof protection
◦ ERG Hood Adjustment System
◦ Integrated Laser-Drilled Pocket Backing for Enhanced Breathability
◦ Helmet Compatible
◦ Gale-force Hood with Laminated Wire Brim
◦ PitZips™ - Underarm Zip That Extends Into the Body for Aggressive Venting
◦ Pack Pockets™ with Water-resistant Zippers - Pack Pockets with Water-resistant Zippers
◦ Zip-off Powder Skirt - Allows Removal of Powder Skirt When Not Needed
◦ Internal Mesh Storage Pocket
◦ Elastic Draw Cord Hem - For Adjustability in Serious Weather
◦ DriClime® Lined Chin Guard - Moisture Wicking Fabric Protects Your Face From the Zipper
◦ Angel-Wing Movement™ - Allows Full Range of Motion in Arms so Jacket Doesn't Ride Up
Technical Details: Spire Pant
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