New for winter 2010, Marmot's Variant jacket is an interesting mix of Marmot's own synthetic insulation in the front panel and Polartec Power Stretch sleeves, trunk and back. The idea is that you get a bit of the plus points of both insulation and stretch fleece making for a more versatile cold weather garment.
The Technical Lowdown
Marmot uses its own Thermal R Eco synthetic insulation in the front panel - it's made from 100% recycled materials - hence the 'Eco' tag - and uses two different fibre types. One is multi channelled to help transport moisture outwards while the other type is hollow to trap air and improve insulation plus reduce weight.
The rest of the jacket is Polartec's four-way stretch Power Stretch fabric, an excellent, technical lightweight fleece that's ideal for wearing under a close-fitting technical shell for active winter use.
Story So Far...
Unfortunately it's not been generally cold enough to use the Variant extensively, what we can tell you is that it has a close, Power Stretch fit and sits nicely under a shell and that the front panel with the insulation in is, as you'd expect, appreciably warmer than the rest of the jacket.
It's also a little less breathable, though as a complete garment, it's significantly better than a full-on, synthetically-filled jacket and appreciably warmer too. That means you can, in colder conditions, use it on the move. The down side though, is that once you've stopped, it's not as warm as a full synthetic duvet-type jacket and, of course, also not as windproof.
We suspect it'll work really well in certain situations - walking into a biting headwind for example or for cold, dry, winter mountain biking or skiing when you need to combine breathability with some frontal wind protection.
Arguably, a normal Power Stretch top teamed with a synthetic vest or gilet would do much the same job - albeit with a covered back - and be more versatile at the same time.
We're inclined to think of the Variant as a Power Stretch top with a bit of added oomph rather than as an insulated top and it works pretty well in that mode based on our experience so far, but it's in specialised situations where you want more wind protection and insulation for your front than anywhere else plus good breathability that we suspect it'll pay off.
If you're, say, a skiier or a dry conditions, cold weather cyclist it could well be absolutely spot on. For more general use though, we suspect there are more versatile solutilons out there - use Power Stretch and a shelll on the move, for example, then layer up with a lightweight synthetic when you stop.
Definitely an interesting bit of kit and one we'd like to try for active use in really conditions.