This fall, I was somehow incepted with the idea that I needed a new softshell. Okay, it’s not really “somehow”, but more like “willfully”. My North Face Apex Bionic is beginning to show it’s age after 6 years of constant use. While it is still going to be my go to everyday and yardwork jacket, I needed something slightly more technical for aerobic winter activities like hiking, snowshoeing, and shed hunting.
I spent about a week checking Backcountry, Moosejaw, REI, and Eastern Mountain Sports. Yes, I take my time with purchases. During my scouring of the interwebs, I found a couple new things going on:
- Black Diamond has started making apparel, not just gear.
- A lot of companies are pushing these hybrid soft and hardshells using Polartec Neoshell fabric. It’s weatherproof like a hardshell, but stretchy and breathable like a softshell. I’m assuming this is just a market reaction to something Arc’teryx has been doing for quite some time now.
- Almost every retailer now has their own in-house apparel line.
- Most companies are still totally all over the place when it comes to sizing and fit.
I finally decided on the Eastern Mountain Sports Men’s Fader jacket for its materials, price, and fit. And, I’ve been a long time supporter of EMS, since they are headquartered only a few towns over from me. The Fader is at the top-end of soft shell jackets in Eastern Mountain Sport’s Ascent Series, so I was really interested to find out how it performed.
Online and in the store, the jacket immediately caught my eye for its aesthetics and feel. I like soft shells that have a nice hand to it, in that they don’t feel “zippy” or overly plasticky. I find that the newer Apex Bionics have this feel, along with the Black Diamond Crag Hoody, which is at a comparable level to the EMS Fader. While the exterior doesn’t feel hard, it doesn’t feel too soft either, a feature that I love about my Apex Bionic (Note: since my Bionic is from way back, it has a slightly gridded hard face to it – and amazing abrasion resistance). As an upgrade to my Bionic, I wanted a hood and a light interior lining like my Sitka Jetstream.
Materials & Fit
I chatted with an EMS sales rep for awhile about jackets at the Nashua, NH store. Turns out, the guy is also a brand rep for CloudVeil and previously Outdoor Research. Needless to say, he knew his stuff. And while he didn’t necessarily push the Fader on me, he did point me to it when I told him what I was really looking for (basically everything I said above).
Some of the materials and features of the EMS Fader are the use of a Polartec Power Shield O2 membrane, which is sandwiched between the interior fuzzy fleece lining and the exterior four-way stretch soft shell exterior. The 02 membrane is what lends it increased breathability, something that my Bionic doesn’t do. My Apex Bionic breathes due to its fit.
Aside from the materials, the jacket fits me perfectly with its athletic cut and tapered sleeves. I absolutely hate baggy sleeves and armpits in jackets, and this jacket is well cut. The sleeves terminate in a clean cuff, with no adjustment velcro strap. I could care less for these, since I usually wear gauntlet style winter gloves and will cinch them down over my sleeve. The strapless cuff just removes the added bulk. I’ll take it.
It’s got high seated pockets which accomodate access with a climbing harness or your pack’s waist strap on. They are fleece lined and adequately sized to warm up your hands, or hold a cellphone. It also has that odd but stylish upper arm zip pocket, useful for holding your triple A card, a tin of Altoids, or your iPod nano. I’m joking. I’m joking. No one uses iPod nano’s anymore!
In The Field
I was tested this jacket out on a quick hike up Lake Winnepesaukee’s Mount Major. Unfortunately, I forgot my DSLR on the trip and couldn’t get any in-action shots with the jacket. But I can say that the jacket performed well on this fast hike at a temperature of about 50mph with a 10-15mph wind. The jacket is warm when you want it to be, but doesn’t overly heat. Since breathability is a very subjective thing to measure, since it’s really effected by your layering, I think the Fader breathes far, far better than I expected. While I wore a cotton t-shirt, I didn’t take the coat off at all on the hike up.
Unfortunately, the jacket lacks pit zips, which would take this jacket to the next level. So when I began to heat up, I just unzipped down to the chest strap on my daypack. This let the heat exhaust.
On the summit the winds kick up like any other mountain, even though it’s well below 4k feet. Although the Fader isn’t 100% windproof, it does do a great job blocking the wind. I think the jacket is advertised as being 96% windproof from its materials. But the fact that the jacket has hidden seams, laminated zips, as well as a hook and eye front zipper, it really seals the jacket up from the elements. When the winds start gusting, slipping on the cozy hood is really the icing on the cake, as the high loft fleece lines the hood as well.
What’s even better about the hood is that it’s only cinch adjustable, which, while making it helmet compatible, makes it so you also don’t have an annoying draw cord on the back of your head. Ever tried leaning your head back to relax only for it land on a hard piece of plastic? I have.
One nitpick I do have about the jacket, aside from lacking pit zips, is that the inner collar lacks any micro fleece or soft lining. That means, when you’ve got it fully zipped up to help cover your face (It does have a ninja-style full coverage neck) your face is rubbing against some very rough soft shell. For a $250 jacket, EMS could have stitched in a small strip of micro fleece to solve this, and save many a chafed nose, lips, and chin. I might just have to add one in myself.
I really dig this jacket, especially in the Ebony and Orange color scheme, which might be a 2012 color. For Fall 2013, the same dark grey color was preserved, but the orange/red accent color was swapped to a lime green. Along with its visual appeal, the fit and performance of the jacket delivers on the price. While it is steep at $250, I picked up my Fader during a 20% off sale, making it a steal when compared to other jackets at this price point which lack the materials. Even a full priced Fader, compared to the Arcteryx Hyllus Hoody, which utilizes the same Polartec O2 fabric and identical in features, is an awesome buy.