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Hands-on Gear Review
Westcomb Shift LT Review
Cons: Not very warm, not as windproof as GORE-TEX shells
The Westcomb Shift LT is the best hardshell jacket that we tried for those who are really aiming to work up a sweat. At only 10.9 ounces for a size large, it is so light that it becomes easy to mistake it for a simple wind jacket while out on a long backcountry skiing mission. But this hardshell jacket offers far more protection than a wind layer. Its Polartec Neoshell air permeable waterproof/breathable membrane was the lightest, most comfortable, stretchiest, and quietest hardshell material that we have seen. Not only that but we found it to be incredibly breathable. Its characteristics are so different than the other jackets we reviewed that it honestly made us question whether it belonged in the same genre! We found the Shift LT to be so amazing that it single-handedly created and filled a hole in our gear closet: the hardshell wind jacket.
The 2015-16 version of the Shift LT remains essentially unchanged from the previous year's award winning debut, with the exception of colors. For the second year in a row, it was our second highest rated hardshell jacket, next to only the Arc'teryx Alpha FL.
RELATED: Our complete review of hardshell jackets
Analysis and Hands-on Test Findings
The Westcomb Shift LT is made with an air permeable waterproof/breathable Polartec Neoshell membrane that our testers found to be very breathable. In our treadmill test where we tried to determine comparable breathability, no jacket felt as cool while working up a sweat as this one. From the moment it arrived on our doorstep, it caught our eye, and we haven't been able to stop wearing it since. Despite its very thin fabric and light weight, we have found it to be plenty durable, a testament to the top-notch construction that Westcomb puts into all of its products. It is also one of the most mobile jackets we tested.
This product does a very good job at protecting one from inclement weather, but we did not think it was the very best one we tried. Our main complaint was that it was not as wind-resistant as the shells that incorporated GORE-TEX Pro. How did we decide this? Well, wearing the same base layers as always, we felt colder in a fierce wind on a high ridgeline ski tour in this jacket. This is probably to be expected since it has an air-permeable membrane.
In our shower test, we noticed that the Shift LT had perhaps the highest collar of any jacket tested, meaning that the face opening when fully zipped up was smaller than any other. While the hood was only barely big enough to shield our face from the rain, the great face protection still meant that not a drop of water entered the jacket. We also noticed that of all the jackets we tried, the Shift LT had the highest quality durable water resistant (DWR) coating. Water droplets literally bounce off this jacket as if repelled by reverse magnetism. And after three months of wearing it as much as any other jacket, both with and without a pack, the DWR coating is still perfectly intact, offering the best durability of any DWR coating. In our shower test (which was conducted after months of abusive field testing) the Shift LT was the only jacket that suffered absolutely no wetting out due to the DWR coating wearing off.
This hardshell is very light and very compressible, although it is still slightly heavier than the lightest jacket in our review, the Patagonia M10. It weighs a mere 10.9 ounces for a size large, but offers nearly the exact same set of simple and minimalist features as some heavier jackets. We wish that it would stuff into its chest pocket like the M10, or came with a stuff sack like the Arc'teryx Alpha FL. Overall, this jacket is so light that it is easy to forget that you are wearing it, and it packs down small enough to make it an excellent emergency layer in the pack.
Mobility & Fit
This model received an 8 out of 10 from our testers for mobility. While it is the most mobile product in the review, it does not fit as perfectly as some of the others. A large part of the jacket's mobility comes from the material used. The face of the jacket is predominantly nylon ripstop material that is very stretchy and supple. However, under the arms Westcomb added panels of lighter, non-ripstop, an even stretchier nylon. We loved this jacket's construction, and wish that more jackets would use the Polartec Neoshell membrane that allows for this stretchiness. We also thought the hood was very comfortable and gripped the helmet well to turn with the head when looking side-to-side, giving great visibility. Our only complaints were that the hem was just an inch or two shorter than we would like, and the cut was a bit baggy in the chest, unlike some other more form-fitting options like the Outdoor Research Axiom.
In our field tests, this hardshell ranked right up there with the very best jackets for breathability. Polartec claims that NeoShell is the most breathable waterproof membrane available on the market, a claim that we were not able to independently verify. However, compared to all the jackets we tried, we can say that it was one of the best. In the treadmill test it felt like the coolest jacket that we tried, even as we worked up a sweat. That said, we did manage to find a hint of moisture that hadn't yet breathed through the membrane close to the wrists, although there was no moisture around the other common build-up site near the collar. Being so light means that the Shift doesn't include venting options like mesh pockets or pit zips, and instead relies solely on the breathability of its Neoshell membrane.
This hardshell is designed to be a fast and light minimalist jacket, and we believe it includes perfectly adequate features for that purpose. However, compared to the most well-featured jackets such as the Mountain Hardwear Torsun, the Shift is lacking in quantity and quality. Overall we awarded it 5 out of 10 possible points. While its hood fits well and is highly adjustable with three draw cord adjustment points, we found that the two front neck pull cords reside inside the jacket, meaning in a storm you must unzip the collar a little ways to access the pull cords - a minor annoyance. That said, we loved the soft felt fabric around the front of the neck collar. Like the Arc'teryx Alpha FL, the Shift LT has only one napoleon style chest pocket, and Westcomb did a great job protecting the zipper from the elements by hiding it within a fold of the fabric. The wrists have adjustable Velcro closures, although we did not feel that the Velcro was as sticky as those on the Arc'teryx jackets. We also wish that the draw cord buckles could have been easier to manipulate with gloves on - they were some of the tiniest of the bunch.
This product is best used in highly aerobic activities where breathability is a must. We loved it for backcountry skiing, cross country skiing, and even running in cold temperatures or when it was raining. Its incredible mobility makes it a great choice for climbing as well. Thanks to its light weight it's also a great shell for backpacking or hiking. In short, it is versatile enough for almost any purpose, and light enough to carry in the pack wherever you go.
MSRP for the Shift LT is $450, which was about the middle of the pack for our review. The Shift is $50 cheaper than the Patagonia Refugitive and we feel it (the Shift) is a much better jacket. While it's not the most affordable option available, we think this jacket is worth the money and that you will not be disappointed.
The Westcomb Shift LT Hoody stands alone when it comes to lightness, mobility, and breathability – three key elements of the perfect fast and light jacket. Indeed, thanks to the air permeable waterproof/breathable Polartec NeoShell membrane, this model is unlike any of the other jackets in this review. If you need a weatherproof jacket but would prefer to feel as if they are not even wearing a jacket, then hands down, this is the choice for you.
Focus LT Hoody
Specter LT Hoody
— Andy Wellman
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: March 2, 2016
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