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Hands-on Gear Review
Marmot Crystalline Review
Cons: Less rugged, large stowed size
The Marmot Crystalline jacket is a high functioning, ultralight, breathable layer meant for high aerobic, high intensity days outside in inclement weather. It is overshadowed in light weight and athletic performance by the Outdoor Research Helium II, but not by much. For those with trouble fitting the svelte shape of the Helium II, the slightly more feminine curvature of the Crystalline just might fit the bill, at a small cost of 0.7 ounces.
The Marmot Crystalline skyrocketed into the spotlight. It gives the Outdoor Research Helium II a run for its money--keeping up in waterproofness and breathability, as any good rain jacket should. Overall, it couldn't beat the Helium II for our Top Pick for rain protection award, but not by dint of any major flaws. Instead, OR proved itself with better focus on the purpose of the jacket: as an ultralight, simple, athletic rain jacket. No frills, fewer pockets. The Crystalline had a few extras that detracted from its purpose. Still a great jacket.
Outerwear is designed for function first, but style is often a close second. The Marmot Crystalline emerges as a winner in the style department with a bold use of white in a rain jacket. The light color is translucent and elegant, and melds the color you're wearing underneath into the jacket. We were surprised at first by this choice, but quickly grew to like the crisp, crystalline look it lends to your outfit.
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Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Marmot Crystalline is a solid contender in a competitive lineup. It takes no awards this time, but we expect to see it continue to excel in reviews and on (or off, rather) shelves.
This jacket starts with a stellar DWR (durable water repellant) finish that shakes off the competition like, well, water off a duck's back. Marmot also holds the rain jacket industry more accountable by informing its consumers of the actual, tested number describing the waterproofness and breathability. We hope that more companies will start to advertise this number rating to give consumers a concrete standard by which to judge rain jackets. The waterproof rating of the Crystalline is 20,000mm: a strong standard to set.
The Crystalline's breathability is on par with other good rain jackets on the market. A jacket's breathability has to do with the quality of the inner liner or, in the case of a 2.5 layer jacket (like most of the jackets in this review), the membrane treatment. Marmot's MemBrain Strata is soft and supple, sits comfortably next to the skin, and feels less clammy than other similar lightweight rain jackets, even edging out the Outdoor Research Helium II in this category.
Marmot reports the breathability of the Crystalline as 20,000g/m2, again setting the bar high. Our bodies don't necessarily feel these numbers, however. Our reviewers often found that breathability was linked to the feel of the inner liner (the laminate or coating): without getting bogged down by tech specs and materials discussions, our reviewers essentially reported that the more plasticky the inside felt, the more clammy the result. The Crystalline has a softer, more supple feel against the skin than most of the jackets in this review, and we found breathability to be a strong mark with this jacket.
One of our favorite nuances of this jacket is the asymmetrical cuffs. If you live in a rainy climate, it is imperative to have a good rain jacket. And with a lot of high quality products to choose from, a company can really set a jacket apart with attention to details. The cuffs on the Marmot Crystalline rain jacket are a little bit longer on the outside of the arm, and over the back of the hand. This is a spot that inevitably gets wet when you go out hiking in the rain. But Marmot figured out that if they keep the cuffs flat and rigid and extend the outer edge toward the knuckles just a little bit, water beads will launch off and hit your knuckles rather than the back of your hand. This may sound like a small detail, but on long walks, normal symmetrical cuffs (and especially elastic cuffs that bow inward to your wrist) invariably drip onto your baselayer. The small extension also means as you lift your arm, your inner layer does not become exposed as quickly as often seems to happen with standard cuffs.
For those who live in rainy climates, such as the Pacific Northwest, exercising in the rain is a part of life: if you want to get outside, be sure your rain jacket makes the experience a pleasure. For our not-so-fair-weather reviewers, soggy baselayer cuffs are a major pet peeve. The Crystalline addresses this issue with clever ingenuity. The only catch: some of our reviewers found the sleeves to be a little bit shorter than average, so if you have long arms, the novel cuff design is, unfortunately, moot.
The membrane of the Crystalline is also among the more comfortable in our lineup of jackets, as mentioned in the breathability category above. The softer, more supple MemBrain Strata laminate feels less clammy next to the skin when compared to the closest competitor, the Outdoor Research Helium II.
The Crystalline is a very close runner up to the Outdoor Research Helium II. At 6.2 ounces, it is only 0.7 ounces heavier than the Helium II, ranking it well within the ultralight rain jacket category. In fact, we found this jacket to be a solid competitor to the Helium II overall.
This jacket won't be a work horse like the Columbia Arcadia Rain II or The North Face Resolve, but it's not meant to be, really. This is a jacket meant to be on the spectrum of ultralight gear, easy to pack into your ultralight backpack for an ultralight weekend with your ultralight friends. It's thin and light, much like the Helium II, and as such will not hold up to abrasion and heavy use as one of the heavier 2-layer jackets listed above. But for a packable rain jacket, it is certainly durable enough.
Marmot loses its competitive edge with the stowable pocket design of the Crystalline. The roomy hand pockets translate to a baggy stuff sack when stowed. This is likely to be healthier for the jacket long term, as it puts less folds and creases in the fabric every time you stuff it (and the laminates often flake off where a jacket has been most often creased); however, a tighter fitting stuff pocket is much more inviting to clip to the back of a harness in case of inclement weather. The Helium II edges ahead in this realm: it packs into an irresistibly small package that helps seal its fate as a dual-purposed commodity in our packs. We often commandeered the Helium II for use as a wind layer, toting it along on myriad dry adventures in addition to the potentially soggy ones. While the Crystalline will perform very similarly, it didn't match the attention to detail in the Helium II in regards to high performance technical pursuits.
Similar to the Outdoor Research Helium II, this is a jacket for fast-and-light missions, where every ounce counts. It's not quite as light as the Helium II, but it is a better fit for women with narrower shoulders and broader hips.
This jacket walks a fine line between value and performance, managing to eke out a reasonable price for a relatively high performing jacket. If it wasn't already very similar to the OR Helium II, the price is also exactly the same…
The Marmot Crystalline is a very strong competitor to the Outdoor Research Helium II rain jacket. The major differences are in the shape of the jacket, the pockets, and the cuff design. We like the cuffs on the Crystalline, but prefer the chest pocket on the Helium II. As for the shape, that will depend on the body, but in general the Crystalline has a more classically feminine cut: more room in the hips and narrower shoulders.
— Lyra Pierotti
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: January 3, 2016
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