Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $359
Pros: Perfect fit makes it comfortand and unrestricting, customizable features.
Cons: PacLite is less breathable and less durable than Gore Pro Shell and Active Shell, hood is restricive when worn over a helmer, no interior zip pocket option,
Best Uses: PacLite is best an an occasional use "insurance piece"
The Beyond Clothing Ridgeback is a custom-built hardshell jacket. Just enter measurements for your body and chose from various build specifications, and the computers and people at Beyond sew up a jacket custom made to fit your unique body. The Ridgeback, therefore, is the best fitting hardshell we tested. Itís comfortable and unrestrictive, and the ability to build a jacket that fits your body and your intended uses is awesome!!
Unfortunately, the Ridgeback uses Gore-Tex PacLite, an outdated waterproof breathable material typically found on budget, occasional use hardshells. We believe the Ridgeback would be significantly better if offered in Gore Pro Shell or another higher quality waterproof breathable material. We therefore, prefer other shells and can recommend the following options.
Our top rated and lightest lightweight shell is the Arcteryx Alpha FL. This piece weighs a mere 9.5 ounces, has is slightly more breathable (and therefore slightly less warm) material than the Ridgeback. The Alpha FL is our top rated lightweight hardshell for hiking.
Stepping into the medium duty category, the 14.1 oz Patagonia Super Pluma is out highest rated all-purpose hardshell with handwarmer pockets. Go for the Super Pluma if you want one shell for skiing, hiking, climbing, and everything else.
For the most durable and versatile piece of mountain climbing body armor choose the Arcteryx Alpha SV. This shell represents the ultimate in simplicity and function, and boasts a slew of well-refined climbing specific features. The Alpha SV is ideal for climbing mountains that cross multiple climates: start low by bushwhacking through dense, wet forests and finish up high on technical ice and snow. The Alpha SV is much more durable than the Ridgeback. Itís also more durable and has more room for layering than any lightweight shell or the Super Pluma.
For those on a budget we recommend the L.L. Bean Gore-Tex Ascent. At $350 this jacket is nearly half the price of the Arcteryx Alpha SV, yet it has the same Gore Pro Shell membrane (just not the fancy face fabric) and is backed by L.L. Beanís unlimited lifetime warranty. The Ascentís features are a far fry from those on the three-abovementioned shells, and the pattering is less ergonomic, but it provides a reliable jacket that will protect you from the elements for years to come.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Beyond Clothing is a small Seattle-based custom company dedicated to making the best fitting cold weather apparel. Each item (whether it be the Ridgeback jacket, softshell pants, or a fleece jacket) is made to fit your unique body. The order process takes place online and is simple and straightforward. We measured nine parts of our upper body and then answered eight questions about our build (how jackets normally fit and how we like them to fit). Software analyzes your information, creates a pattern, and a human makes the cuts and sews the jacket together.
The Ridgeback is Beyondís top-tier hardshell. It uses an American made 2.5 layer Gore-Tex membrane very similar to PacLite. For $359 the shell comes standard with two handwarmer pockets and a hood. From there, you can from several additional features: pit zips cost an additional $30, inner pocket ventilation $30, and an inner cargo pocket $45.
The best part of the Ridgeback is the jacket's customized fit. Based on our experience testing the companyís Cold Fusion Shock softshell and the Ridgeback we can definitively say that you get the best fit with Beyond. The shell is supremely comfortable, provides an unrestricted fit, and is simply a pleasure to wear.
Though the fit is superb, the Ridgeback could be improved significantly through better materials and better features. This is the only hardshell tested that uses a 2.5 layer PacLite material. PacLite is less breathable and less durable than Gore Pro Shell, and even less breathable than Gore Active Shell. In many ways, PacLite is an outdated technology used on budget hardshells. It was designed for weekened warriors that wanted something lighter and more packable than Gore's higher end products. Since the Ridgeback is a "top tier" shell we believe it should have the best materials available- like the other eighteen shells tested. Gore Pro Shell would be great, and ideally another version (with a half length zipper and no pit zips) could be offered with Active Shell. We canít recommend a custom made shell thatís cut with PacLite.
As for the jacket's specific features: the hood on the Ridgeback we tested could be slightly larger to better accommodate a helmet. The two-way main zipper is only necessary if the shell is sized to fit over your harness (most climbers wear the shell tucked under the harness). Perhaps the type of hood and zipper could be offered as options when building the jacket.
After testing Beyondís Cold Fusion Shock (an exceptionally good softshell) we had high expectations for the Ridgeback. Unfortunately, we donít believe that itís worth getting a custom made shell out of PacLite. ProShell and Active Shell, though not made in the USA, are superior waterproof breathable technologies. See our Best Hardshell Jacket Review for more information on the types of waterproof breathable technologies.
— Max Neale
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Most recent review: June 26, 2012
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