[Photo] Craig Muderlak
Ice climbing is about high-energy output in cold, wet conditions. Adapting to changing weather can be as much of a struggle as the climbing itself in the winter season. I try to find layers that are versatile across a range of conditions.
I tested the Outdoor Research Iceline Jacket in North Conway, New Hampshire and Ouray, Colorado to see how it performs. Temperatures in Colorado were in the teens and the weather was windy, with blowing snow. In New Hampshire, temperatures hovered in the 20s and 30s Fahrenheit with dripping ice, heavy sleet and falling snow.
The Iceline is a hybrid of both a hardshell and soft-shell jacket, with waterproof fabric in the hood, chest and arms, and non-waterproof fabric in the armpits and sides. This design protects the climber from dripping ice and wet sleet, and the breathable sides release condensation and heat. The stretchy sides, made of Cordura, polyester and elastane, make it easy to raise my arms above my head. Ventia 3L, OR’s waterproof, breathable three-layer membrane is comparative to GORE-TEX. The Ventia layer is bonded inside of 70-denier nylon fabric. The high denier outer material is abrasion-resistant, designed to keep from tearing when pricked by ice screws and sharp picks.
The hard-shell fabric is lined with a fleece-grid pattern, designed to efficiently wick moisture away from the body while also adding warmth. At first I was skeptical of the built-in insulation, since I prefer modular clothing layers. But after several days of climbing in the Iceline, I began to appreciate the additional fleece. It doesn’t add much bulk to the jacket, and provides enough extra warmth, which is useful when exposed to cold wind. On physical leads, the jacket breathed enough that I never overheated. The insulation, combined with its hybrid fabrics, makes the shell adaptable to a variety of conditions.
The large hood fits around a helmet and cinches in place so the wind doesn’t blow it off. It allows a full range of movement, letting me turn my head without feeling restricted. When I wasn’t wearing a helmet, the hood’s large brim flopped into my eyes.
The Velcro wrist cuffs easily opened and sealed around my gloves, keeping spray and spindrift out. Other jackets have Velcro that’s either sticky and hard to open, or not sticky enough and comes undone. The Iceline hits a balance and it’s easy to manipulate the Velcro wrist strap with a gloved hand. The Aquaguard (water-repellent tape) zippers don’t leak in sleet, and their large teeth resist snagging better than small-tooth ones.
I frequently utilized the large pockets on the inside of the jacket. The pockets, located above the harness line, are large enough to stash gloves or belay mitts and the mesh allows the gloves to warm up from body heat faster than solid fabric.
The rugged durability and added warmth of the Iceline comes at a significant cost to weight. Size large weighs 22.7 ounces, close to double the weight of Rab’s Muztag shell and fifty percent heavier than Patagonia’s Super-Alpine mid-weight shell. The Iceline is an excellent front-country piece.
Pros: Durable, weatherproof, breathable, internal stash pockets
Cons: Heavy, hood is cumbersome without a helmet