Award-winning lightweight Gore-Tex Active Shell jacket from top US brand Outdoor Research.
Outdoor Research is one of those North American brands that seems to have been around forever making top notch gloves, hats, gaiters and other accessories as well as bivvies, but in recent years it's moved across into outdoor clothing including the new for 2012 Axiom Jacket made from a stretch version of Gore-Tex Active Shell.
Great Over There, Now Over Here
The Axiom's gone down well in the States with Outside Magazine awarding it a 'Gear of the Year' gong, so we were intrigued to see how it stacked up over here in the UK.
Starting with the basics, it's a lightweight - 340g in a medium - waterproof jacket made from highly breathable Gore-Tex Active Shell fabric complete with fully-taped seams, a full-on helmet-comptatible hood, hand and chest pockets.
It also has what OR calls 'movement mirroring stretch', but we'll call plain old 'stretch' - we think what they mean is that the stretch, which is two way, has been orientated for maximum usefulness. So in the body of the jacket, the stretch is lateral rather than lengthways so theoretically it will work with your shoulders.
North American Cut
The first thing you're likely to notice though, is that it's incredibly neatly cut, styled and detailed in a very North American style. The length is a sort of medium on us, quite harness friendly, and trim but not tight. The sleeves are cut on the long side in a Rab sort of stylee, so they shouldn't pull up unless you're built like a gibbon. For us the jacket's not tight enough that the restrained stretch ever comes into play, but you may be different.
The three pockets are all mesh lined to maximise breathability and allow venting and the two 'hand-warmer' ones sit neatly above harness and pack-belt height. The zips, all water-resistant, are backed with solid fabric to resist minor leaks and the main front-zip has a full internal storm flap.
Humungous Helmet Hood
Because the Axiom's intended to be useable for lightweight technical alpinism as well as for more general mountain use, the hood is a whopping great helmet one that like the latest incarnations from ME, Berghaus and adidas outdoor, is more than capable of both accommodating a climbing lid and providing serious facial protection at the same time, so hats off for that - there are still plenty of 'helmet hoods' out there that struggle with taller models or long necks.
Less impressive is the floppy hood peak. It's not so much an issue when you're wearing a lipped climbing lid, but without a helmet in place, it has a little too much give in it for us, though otherwise the hood fits well and moves fine with a naked head and still offers great facial protection. A stiffer brim would make it even better though. One theory is that US folk simply use a baseball cap under the hood when the going gets gnarly and, of course, that's still an option on this side of the Atlantic.
The two things we can tell you for definite at this point are that Gore-Tex Active Shell fabric is a great choice for fast-moving folk who churn out the heat and it's rapidly become our favourite Gore-Tex fabric by some way. If you run cooler, Pro Shell is tougher and not much heavier, but the combination of Gore's stipulated construction with minimal pockets and so on along with the high breathability of the fabric means it works superbly as a 'stash-until-needed' lightweight shell, maybe teamed with a technical soft shell. It folds away into a pocket as well.
That said, you can almost treat it as windproof thanks to the superior levels of breathability. Obviously you'll still sweat and get hot, but Active Shell clears and dries faster than most other options.
The other 'given' is that it looks and feels great in a North American way. We like the distinctive external seam protection - black on blue on our test jacket - clean, simple lines and understated detailing - no crazy colour-contrast zips or panels here.
But then again, with a full suggested retail price of £290, you'd expect something pretty damn good. More to follow as part of our full Active Shell jacket round-up.
More information at www.outdoorresearch.com/en/or-gear/jackets/shells/axiom-jacket-m-s.html.