We like softshell garments. You know that. They are superbly breathable and offer a wider range of comfort than traditional hardshell clothing. Stretchwoven softshells, in particular, with their trim cut and freedom of movement, are some of the more comfortable pieces of clothing to wear while hiking, climbing, or skiing. Their ability to shed enough moisture to keep you dry in most conditions makes them very appealing for the backcountry traveler.
Our biggest complaint with stretchwovens, however, is the fabric weight. Few fabrics from Schoeller Textiles, the self-proclaimed knight of softshell fabrics, are less than 5 oz/sq. yd. Cloudveil addresses this concern with its new Inertia fabric used in its Prospector line of softshell garments. Herein we review the Prospector Pullover and Hooded Jacket.
Cloudveil has developed some of the lightest and most versatile softshell garments available with their new Inertia fabric. The Prospector Hooded Jacket is a fully featured softshell for less than 15 oz, and the Prospector Pullover is a sub-9-oz wind shirt that earns title as the market’s featherweight stretchwoven. Compare this to other softshells that are typically over a pound and lack a hood and the other niceties of the Prospector and you readily see why these garments are worth a closer look.
Inertia does not depend on stretch fibers such as Lycra for its stretch – but is designed with “mechanical stretch” formed during the weaving process. In doing so Cloudveil reduces fabric weight while retaining much of the wind resistance, water resistance, and durability of a heavier nylon/Lycra stretchwoven fabrics. The thin, lightweight Inertia absorbs less water and dries faster than a nylon/Lycra fabric like Dynamic.
Our favorite feature about Inertia is its textured interior and smooth surface, which provides the necessary structure required to most effectively drive moisture through the garment via capillary action (wicking).
At 14.5 oz, the Prospector offers a high feature-to-weight ratio that competes with any softshell on the market. This jacket is loaded with storage with three external pockets and two internal pockets. The jacket’s hand warmer pockets are generous, cut high enough to access above a hip belt, and are mesh lined for ventilation. The single napoleon pocket is also large and has a mesh backing. The jacket has two internal cargo pockets that are perfect for larger items. The jacket’s hood is cut almost large enough to fit over a climbing helmet and has two hem draw cords to seal out the elements and tailor the fit.
Open all of these mesh lined pockets and you get serious ventilation as we discovered when testing jacket ventilation features in one of our high speed wind testing laboratories (a windy bobsled run for suicidal skiers in Montana’s Bridger Mountains). Between the vented pockets and the breathable Inertia fabric, the Prospector Hooded Jacket does an excellent job venting excess moisture and keeping you dry during hard aerobic activity. The brushed wicking lining of the fabric also helps with moisture management and the comfort range of the jacket.
At 8.6 oz, the Prospector Pullover is the king of lightweight stretchwovens. It features the cut of a wind shirt and is suitable for layering over a base layer. A single mesh-backed Napoleon pocket, tricot-lined collar, and hem drawcord round out its simple feature set. Cloudveil recognizes the need for ventilation, even on a superbly breathable garment, by adding a deep neck zipper.
A Little Light for Foul Conditions, No?
We first tested these garments on an October ascent of 14,414-foot Mt. Rainier, the Cascades’ iciest peak and Washington’s highly irritable queen of foul weather. She didn’t disappoint us on our first attempt, where we began the approach to Camp Muir in light rain that eventually degraded into driving sleet and snow in a double temperature inversion that draped trails, rocks, packs, and signs in rime ice as we climbed further up the mountain.
We wore our Prospector shells over 100-weight gridded fleece base layers. Moving rapidly, we generated enough body heat so that the garments handled all of this with aplomb and we never resorted to using a hardshell. Needless to say, the foul nature of Mt. Rainier chewed us up and spit us out, but certainly not as a result of the limitations in these remarkable shell layers.
On the summit day of our second attempt a few days later, we climbed most of the way to the summit, again wearing only the Prospectors over 100-weight gridded fleece. (we added additional layers above 14,000 feet). This combination kept us warm enough in high winds and sub-freezing temperatures with no clamminess or sweat-induced chilling. We added additional insulation layers near the summit when winds reached 60 mph and temperatures had dropped into the teens. We found the two internal cargo pockets of the Hooded Jacket ideal for storing half-liter Platypus bags of water to keep it handy and warm, essential for maintaining hydration on any mountain endeavor.
Warm Weather Use
Since their initiation on Rainer, the Prospectors have been abused in a variety of other conditions in all four seasons, including the Utah desert. In the desert, we found that the lighter Inertia fabric of the Cloudveil garments is great for warm as well as cold conditions. One of our reviewers discovered terrific comfort and utility of using the Pullover as a hiking shirt, finding that the napped inner surface provided great wickability and the shirt’s wind resistance allowed for a very high range of comfort. We think that for mild and warm conditions, most stretchwoven softshells are overkill. The Prospector Pullover, however, due to its minimal weight, makes a great companion for three season backpacking.
It seems that those little Schoeller hang tags and ancient bird logos must cost a lot of money (special thread required to attach them to the clothing, maybe?). At any rate, we’re pleased that Cloudveil is offering high quality stretchwoven fabrics at reasonable prices. The Hoodie comes in at $150 and the Pullover is $115. These aren’t bargain basement prices, by any means, but they are at least within shootin’ range for the rest of us.