CGR tests out the versatile softshell from Californian climbing company Marmot.
The peak of high performance innovation, the Nabu Jacket, utilizes new Polartec® Neo Shell® fabric to blend stretch, waterproof and breathable qualities together.
From a company that started out life making down clothing Marmot has come a long way and is an established name on the climbing scene.They were one of the first companies to make garments using Gore-Tex and are one of their oldest customers. Their products are synonymous with quality and function so we were very pleased to receive the new Marmot Nabu Jacket at CGR HQ for test.
The Nabu Jacket isn’t made with Gore-Tex, it’s made using Polartec NeoShell a new fabric that is totally waterproof as well as offering the breathability of a softshell. The feel of the fabric was classic softshell, with a smooth outer face and a laminated, gridded wicking surface inside. It felt nice, soft and flexible to wear. Polartec market the NeoShell as one of the most breathable waterproof materials on the market.
The M category of Marmot softshells denote the protection it offers, with M1 offering the highest level of protection and M3 being the lightest. The Nabu jacket is an M1 softshell, so I could expect it to act in the same way as a hardshell in terms of weather protection, it didn’t disappoint.
The seams are mostly taped, the only area I could find with no seam tape was the brim of the hood and the cinch area on the neck. All the other seams in the jacket were fully taped. On all the days I wore the Marmot Nabu Jacket, I never even bothered to take a hardshell as I didn’t need one. The jacket acted as good as a hardshell and was warmer in winter. I used the jacket extensively for 6 out of 9 days on my MIA training this August, some of that weather was truly hideous and I was dry enough most days. The jacket dried out in good time for the next day and was waterproof again.
The cut was excellent for climbing, it fitted nicely over a midlayer fleece and under a harness. I could use my ice tools very well with no impedance from the arms. The jacket had a minute amount of rise but only on very long reaches. The Nabu Jacket fabric felt robust enough to continually have the ice tools on my shoulder for crossover moves, the jacket performed really well for ice climbing and I loved it. I wore it during a Scottish trip last Easter; we might have been in the Alps to be honest it was that good. I used the jacket on several days with just a baselayer on and felt totally comfortable. Extra insulation was provided in the microfleece lining in the pocket area which went up and around the chest area. When the temperature got cold on the belays – I just whipped a belay jacket on and was very toasty.
Now there very few roadside ice venues in Scotland so the jacket’s breathability was tested on the walk-ins. Now, if I’m honest nothing is totally breathable even your skin as it sweats. OK, maybe a string vest is breathable but hey you’d be very cold as well. So, there is always a compromise between being comfortable in windy and rainy conditions and comfortable when walking uphill with a pack on. I often walk in a very thin baselayer and change at the base of the route, the Nabu Jacket compressed well in the pack when I used this system. Sometimes though, the weather is a little less accommodating and the shell had to be worn. There are no pit zips ( a plus for me as I find them pretty useless most of the time) so the only ventilation comes from the pockets and the front zip. So, I did sweat on the walk ins. The bonus was how quickly I dried out when I reached the route base.
Another feature of NeoShell is the stretchy nature, now a stretch fabric that is waterproof isn’t anything new, but the marmot Nabu Jacket is really stretchy which was great for all technical climbing, whether it was rock, ice or mixed. I really felt I could reach up and the jacket moved with me. I never felt inhibited in climbing movement when wearing the jacket. Although the jacket feels a little more bulky than a regular softshell you should be aware that it is a ‘wear all day’ piece, so is likely to be on rather than in your pack – which is where a hardshell usually lives.
The sleeves worked well with the stretchy fabric and the cuffs opened enough enough to get gloves on underneath and cinched tight enough to have gloves outside them. I really liked the no-frill cuff cinches. Nothing fancy and they worked – quite refreshing that Marmot didn’t see the need to play around in a vital, yet simple part of the jacket. I could operate the cuff cinches with gloves on. I could also operate all the zip tags with gloves on, although in keeping with most jacket manufacturers they could have been more glove friendly.
All exterior zips were of the water resistant YKK Aqua Guard. They did a good job of keeping the rain out and worked well in all conditions. This is important as zips are opened and closed all the time when winter climbing in particular. The Marmot Nabu jacket has 5 pockets, 3 external – two hand and one chest. I don’t really use hand pockets that much but I do rely on a chest one. It was big enough for a camera, phone or an extra pair of gloves; but not big enough for a map. The external one had a headphone slot to help feed the wire inside the jacket.
Finally, the all important hood: the hood worked well enough but the neck extension could have been a little higher as it didn’t work perfectly with a helmet on. The hood fitted over a helmet but it felt just a little too tight and had a tendency to slip back. This is why the jacket has scored 4 stars for performance when it should have scored 5. Without a helmet it worked great, it has a stiffened brim and cinched up nicely around my face to provide protection in driving rain. Further adjustability is provided at the back, which was a little awkward to get at with gloves on. I could fine tune the adjustability and once set it stayed set.
The jacket scores very highly ***** for versatility as you could use it for all your winter climbing, alpine climbing, hiking and general climbing and in conclusion the Marmot Nabu Jacket is a great jacket for Ice Climbing and general winter mountaineering. It affords as good protection as any hardshell and is perfectly shower,snow and rain proof, much more so than a standard softshell. The fabric probably isn’t robust enough for gnarly winter thrutching, day after day, but has proved fine for UK winter climbing and mountaineering. It is very breathable and a highly versatile climbing jacket. For most UK winter conditions you’ll be fine with a base or midlayer, the Marmot Nabu jacket and a belay jacket.
Why not receive our latest reviews and gear news via your inbox by following out blog: perfect for all gear freaks! Just sign up via the home page link in the sidebar. We never keep an email list (too much hassle – we’re out climbing) and we would never, ever pass your email address on to someone else (no, no, no that would be very unethical).