Let’s get this out of the way. I’m a sweater. For as long as I can remember, whenever I start physical activity, my body flips a switch and out comes the sweat. Doesn’t matter if I’m fat or thin. So when I read about jackets with “waterproof/breathable” membranes, I always have to chuckle a bit, because I know that I’m the kind of guy who would sweat jogging bare-chested (sorry for that mental image) on a cool day, and if I have a waterproof jacket on and I start some vigorous movement, I’m quickly going to become a sauna. So I have pretty realistic expectations for how today’s hardshells perform, and I’ve been able to use a number of them with different membranes, designs and technology.
The first thing I noticed wearing Westcomb’s Shift LT Hoody was that I could feel air from outside the jacket cooling my body. This was different from what I’d experienced with other waterproof jackets, and was reminiscent enough of wearing a softshell that I wondered whether the Shift was truly waterproof.
Now, after nearly three years of use, I can confidently say that yes, the Shift is fully waterproof and yes, more air seems to make its way through the NeoShell membrane than competing technologies. All in all, Canadian outdoor clothing manufacturer Westcomb has constructed a comfortable, minimalist lightweight hardshell jacket suitable for all manner of outdoor activities, and biased toward the technical.
The Shift LT Hoody marries Polartec’s NeoShell membrane with Westcomb’s high-quality design and attention to detail. Weighing in at 12.8 oz in an XL, the Shift is not the lightest of this genre I’ve tried (Patagonia’s M10 and Alpine Houdini are both fully waterproof and weigh less), but the marginal weight increase is accompanied by greater comfort and more breathability. Westcomb has used two different face fabrics to add durability to some of the higher-wear areas while keeping the jacket light. One thing that keeps me coming back to the Shift again and again is how quiet the jacket is. The three-layer fabric-membrane-backing has a soft, supple hand that wears like a softshell and avoids the stiffness or crinkling noise present in some other hardshell jackets.
The Shift also keeps the weight down by eliminating extraneous features. A single Napoleon chest pocket is the only storage option; there are no hand-warmer pockets, but I can’t say I’ve ever missed them. Another noteworthy omission is the lack of underarm pit zips featured on some jackets to aid air circulation. Westcomb’s rationale seems to be that, with a jacket as breathable as the Shift, one shouldn’t need additional venting. I can see their point, and though there are times when I definitely value a set of pit zips, for this jacket I’m happy to trade some venting for less mass.
When fully battened down, the Shift surrounds its wearer with a protective cocoon. The jacket’s main zipper does a fine job keeping the weather out and is backed by a small flap for good measure; all the Shift’s zippers are water resistant. Hook-and-loop closures at the wrists function well and are lightweight and soft. I’ve also found them relatively easy to use while wearing gloves. Shock cord and a toggle cinch the bottom of the jacket tight; the back is cut lower than the front for added protection.
The Shift’s hood is excellent. A high neck reaches above the chin, especially when worn over a climbing helmet, which the Shift accommodates with ease. The two-way adjustable fit keeps the hood snug around the head even without a helmet and allows for easy side-to-side head turns. A stiffening strip ensures the brim directs water away from the wearer’s face.
Westcomb hasn’t forgotten details such as zipper pulls and fleece at the chin and where the collar touches the nape of the neck.
Seam taping throughout ensures that water doesn’t circumvent the Polartec NeoShell membrane. I’ve worn the Shift more than any other hardshell (including during my trip to Akadake), and have never experienced leakage or seepage. The durable water resistance, or DWR–the application to the jacket’s outer surface that repels water to keep the fabric face dry and maintain air circulation–is excellent. Even after years of use, both in the great outdoors and around town, carrying packs and bags, etc., water still beads off the Shift. This has been the same with other Westcomb products I’ve used; the company’s DWR is impressive over the long term.
NeoShell’s claim to fame is that instead of simply transferring water vapor from inside the jacket, out, it also allows for a small amount of air permeability. This was what I felt when I first used the jacket; fresh air filtering through from the outside to speed the drying and vapor transfer. Much of the time, this is exactly what I’m looking for. However, due to its permeability, the Shift is not my jacket of choice for very cold, windy environments where windproofing is even more important than any waterproof qualities; I go with a more substantial shell when resort skiing, for instance. The Shift’s thin material and minimalist design do make for an easily packable garment.
Without a doubt, even lighter, though less-breathable hardshells have their place; I would take the lightest possible on a day trip without rain in the forecast, for example. But if precipitation is a possibility (or a sure thing), I invariably reach for the Westcomb Shift.
Westcomb Shift LT Hoody
|Measured weight||12.8 oz (Size XL)|
|Waterproofing||Polartec NeoShell, DWR|