For me, a softshell means two things: a trade in waterproofness for breathability, and the ability to work as a subsitute for a hardshell. Because of this, when Ames Adventure Outfitters gave me one this past spring, I wore it a couple times, and then it went in my closet because it just didn’t meet my criteria for what a softshell could be.
The Vapor Trail follows a new trend in outdoor clothing: zonal construction. It fits my first criterion for a softshell fantastically well. Marmot uses a fairly durable, windproof fabric on the tops of the arms, the front of the body, and the hood. On the bottom of the arms and back, they use a thinner fabric that trades that windproofness for breathability. Both fabrics are treated with DWR, but only the thicker one actually resists water. The design is cool, but the question that kept me from using it was “is it going to be useful?” After all, it definitely didn’t fit the second criterion of substituting for a hardshell. Thankfully, after about five months of owning it, I finally decided to give it a shot.
Turns out that the things that made me suspicious of it’s viability are in fact some of the Vapor Trail’s greatest strengths. It’s a jacket designed to be worn with a backpack, and it does that job well. The windproof front keeps you warm, and the breathable back lets you sweat a little less underneath your backpack. Because of the relative lack of water resistance, it’s not well suited to take as your only layer when backpacking; but, where it does shine is in cold weather. Ideally, situations where there isn’t any precipitation, or if there is, it’s snow. When you’re climbing in a backpack, or winter camping, you product a lot of heat, and so wearing a baselayer and the Vapor Trail is enough to keep you warm, and the zonal construction is enough to keep you from sweating up a storm. It has Marmot’s Angel Wing
articulation, which allows you a decent amount of arm lift without the jacket moving significantly. Although I could wish for more aggressive articulation, more like Stoic’s 3D-Ergonomic, the Vapor Trail is still flexible enough for all but difficult rock, and mixed climbing, where you need full overhead movement.
All in all, I’ve become a pretty big fan of the Vapor Trail. I have a lot of jackets, and yet it’s still found it’s way into the mix of the ones I use, which says something for me, anyway. Thanks again to Ames Adventure Outfitters for providing one for my use and review. Check them out at www.goaao.com.