Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Durable, Warm, stretchy, large hood, slim fit, breathable.
Cons: Not windproof, not as long as Venta MX, chest pockets look odd.
Best Uses: Ice and mixed climbing, winter aerobic activities.
The Arc'teryx Gamma MX is a perennial favorite among mountain guides. The more time our testers spend in Canada, Arc'teryx's home base, the more confident we are that the majority of that country's climbers, and guides more so, own the Gamma MX. If such a thing were true, it would be for good reason; this jacket is one of the best softshells we've tested. Do you live for day-long romps in steep, playgrounds of rock and ice? Do you have the cash for luxurious softshell? If yes, the Gamma MX might be just what you're looking for.
This is a midweight softshell that strikes a near even balance between weather protection, breathability, and mobility. It's very comfortable, has a slew of excellent features, and is a versatile jacket. However, in our ratings several other premium climbing softshells score higher than the Gamma MX. We wish this jacket were longer, so that it didn't ride up from under a harness, and we wish the hood did a better job at protecting your face from the elements.
Check out our complete Softshell Jacket Review to compare all of the models we tested.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The jacket scores above average here because its fabric is quite good at letting moisture vapor escape. Most importantly, it is significantly more breathable than jackets with windproof membranes, such as the Arc'teryx Venta MX.
It sheds dry snow well, but like all softshells, the DWR coating needs to be in good condition if it's going to resist wet snow or melting snow. The jacket fights wind well, but is not windproof. If it's really cold and windy our testers prefer windproof softshells, and, more so, hardshell jackets. We wish this jacket were longer, like the Venta MX, because it can come untucked from a harness relatively easy.
We give this jacket the same score as the Venta MX because our testers prefer the cut of the Venta MX, but the Gamma MX is slightly stretchier. Many of our testers find that uninsulated shells, such as the Patagonia Knifeblade softshell, and all hardshells, move more smoothly over under layers. For example, the fleece interior of the Gamma MX creates more friction when worn over a baselayer, compared to the flat and smooth interior surface of a hardshell. The Gamma MX largely mitigates this drawback by using a stretchy fabric.
In size medium this jacket weighs a whopping 24 ounces. It's among the heaviest softshells tested; it weighs the same amount or more than many of the best backpacking sleeping bags we've tested. One of our testers, who is a huge fan of softshell jackets, took the Gamma MX up the West Buttress of Denali. When he returned he said that it was a very poor choice for that, i.e. other types of jackets offer much more warmth and/or weather protection per unit weight.
We LOVE how this jacket has two handwarmer pockets and two cross-over chest pockets. This makes it very good for use around town and when roped up on technical terrain. The hood is helmet compatible but not as protective or as adjustable as the hood on the Venta MX. The cuffs are not adjustable and therefore cannot seal well over some gloves.
We fancy it a very handsome jacket.
Though a bit heavy, this durable jacket is a top performer for day-use mountain adventures.
Ice climbing, mixed climbing.
See our Price Versus Value Chart.
The women's version of this jacket, the Gamma MX Hoody-Women's, won our Editor's Choice Award for Women's softshell jackets.
— Chris McNamara and Max Neale
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Most recent review: April 26, 2014
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