First impressions, they say, are very important. So you would imagine that having an initial feeling of almost total neutrality towards the Stretch Man Jacket, this review would be a fairly negative, one-starred affair. After all, for me at least, a hardshell should be just that - tough, robust and protective, attributes which the Stretch Man appears to have none. They also say, however, that the devil is in the detail, and so it is in this rather opinion-changing jacket from US outdoor clothing engineers, Marmot.
Having spent time wearing this jacket whilst mountain biking, hiking in the lakes over a particularly windy weekend, bouldering on clothing-shredding gritstone and for sport climbing, it's fair to say that it's had a stern test in variable conditions and has proven itself to be an incredibly versatile item. Whilst it still isn't what you would call tough and robust in the traditional sense, for most people the Stretch Man makes a great deal of sense. It's light and packable enough to be able to carry in most situations, whether in a rucksack or bundled into a large pocket or bumbag, is water and windproof and has great venting options thanks to two large pit zips which don't bunch up under the arm.
A major strength of this jacket is that it provides all of the benefits of a hard-shell with the weight and feel of a softshell and can form part of a very lightweight, breathable and comfortable clothing system. In fact when combined with a Patagonia Capilene 4 baselayer, Rab Vapour Pull On and Mammut Base Jump Pants, the Stretch Man topped off what is now my hiking outfit of choice.
So what of the jacket's technical credentials? Gore-Tex have had the edge on the lightweight waterproof market for some time with their much-praised Paclite material, but recent materials from the likes of OMM and now Marmot have brought viable alternatives to the consumer, claiming further benefits than simply reduced weight and improved breathability.
The Stretch Man uses a new 2.5-layer stretch material which has the incredible ability to move with your body as you flex and reach and is soft enough to minimise that traditionally annoying rustling noise so often associated with waterproofs. Asymmetric cuffs and a narrowing sleeve profile mean that the weather is kept out without restricting range of movement, while laminated zips provide defence on the pockets, pit zips and main zip.
The hood on this garment is a revelation and fits snugly across the forehead thanks to the fantastically contoured laminated peak and one-handed adjustment; what's more it will easily take a climbing helmet - backing up Marmot's claim that this is a true lightweight summer alpinism piece.
If there are indeed any criticisms of the jacket it is that it has a strangely baggy midriff, great if you want to layer up to the max underneath it, but a puzzling anomaly for the - shall we say - athletically built among us in an otherwise faultless jacket. It's not a sizing issue as the jacket fits perfectly in all other areas and it's not just me as it's been around the pF office a few times with similar feedback. Also there is no hanging loop, but given its credentials as a lightweight jacket truly built for the mountains, this is no biggy.
So from abject anonymity to glorious fame (at least in my wardrobe) the Stretch Man has proven itself to be a staple of the pF kit range with its versatility, lightweight and good looks. They also say never judge a book by its cover.
If you're in the market for a lightweight, multi-purpose waterproof or a summer alpine shell, and providing that you fit into it given its rather odd proportions, the Stretch Man will more than impress. If well functioning, mildly hard-wearing jackets continue to be produced at these kind of weights there soon won't be a reason not to carry one everywhere.
|Marmot Stretch Man Jacket|
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