I’m not so old school that I only place hexes. Far from it! I clip bolts and use seventy-meter ropes and leashless tools. But with all this new techno-advanced gear, I find some tried and true systems more useful. I like light base layers for exertion and thick ones for rests. The alternation is harmonious with the mountain elements as you travel through. There will someday be a single layer that can do the job of many, but Marmot’s Variant is not it. So for now, I’ll stick to the old ways.
The jacket is simple in design: a thicker synthetic panel warms my core while fleece covers the rest. It has a sleek performance fit and no more frills than a pair of thumbholes and a single pocket. The design is alluring and has a certain attractive aesthetic.
Denali or perhaps the Polar Regions are the only places I can imagine exercising in such a thick layer. Skinning up 3,000 feet in Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains this winter is another such place. Temperatures can be -20F, and without the sun’s radiation, it can be downright frigid. Standing on top of a peak last winter, I recouped my energy and contemplated a new steep powder line. Only after fifteen minutes standing around at 0F (-18C), sipping ginger tea and chewing up my last moose jerky, did I even consider putting on a puffy outer layer.
Disproportionately weighted clothing like the Variant makes an assumption that certain parts of the body need less insulation and wind break than others. And while this hybrid design is conceptually alluring, it’s only functional in certain environments and conditions that are not common. Generally, I overheated during exercise and then suffered sweaty chills during rest, despite having a wicking layer. When I’m not exercising, the Variant keeps me toasty–unless the wind is cutting through the Power Stretch.
I group the Variant with obsolete layers such as the heavy-duty Synchilla jacket. Wind rips right through the fabric, necessitating a windproof layer that makes me overheat. Sure, fancy new designs look good at the coffee shop but this jacket, at least, is not mountain functional.
As the season pushed into late February the Alaskan sun began to show itself once again, and I pulled out my shades for the first time in months. I frequently ripped the Variant’s zipper open, gasping for air and a chance to cool down. The Variant would go back into the pack and I’d climb in my traditional, lighter weight layers.
I visited the Matanuska ice that was now warming up from ceramic to plastic. Runoff splattered me, freezing instantly. I was grateful for the water-resistant front panel as I adjusted my line. Only forty feet off the ground and I was already cooking in the shade of a deep gash. Chills from my clammy sweat percolated down my core–still 300 feet to go. Since then the Variant has lived on a hook in the entry. Each time I go out, I stop and think if this might be the adventure for it, then I grab my good old standbys, and walk out the door.
Pros: Good performance fit, water resistant, wind breaking front panel, durable
Cons: Too warm for exercise, difficult to use in a layering system