Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Windproof and highly water resistant, long length stays under harness, comfortable hood, very ergonomic and comfortable, versatile, perfect zippers.
Cons: Front interior hood pull cords are harder to adjust than external cords, more chin coverage would be warmer, very expensive.
Best Uses: Alpine skiing, ice and alpine climbing.
The Venta MX is the ultimate cold weather climbing and skiing softshell. It balances breathability with a 100% windproof and highly water resistant Windstopper membrane that keeps you warm when the temps drop and the wind picks up. Two large crossover chest pockets are harness and backpack compatible and the massive hood is actually comfortable when worn over a helmet!! The Venta MX has a near perfect blend of features, weather protection, warmth, and breathability that make it a versatile softshell for ice and alpine climbing, skiing, and other variable output winter activities.
Check out our comprehensive Softshell Review to see how the Venta MX compares to the two dozen other shells tested.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Wind and Water Resistance
The Venta MX uses a Gore Windstopper membrane that’s 100% windproof and highly water resistant. This is laminated between an outer face fabric and an inner liner, and makes the Venta MX is more versatile than softshells without a membrane because it performs better, i.e. is warmer, for climbing up and skiing down mountains. Also important, the Windstopper membrane’s small pores stop melting snow and dripping water that permeates through the face fabric.
Although the outdoor industry lacks a standard for “waterproof,” and Gore doesn’t label Windtopper as waterproof, we consider it to be functionally waterproof in many applications. Other companies, like Western Mountaineering, use Windstopper on their expedition winter sleeping bags. Gore also has a tremendous amount of experience with lamination and Windtopper is both very durable and covered under Gore’s unlimited lifetime warranty. All in all, Windstopper significantly increases the weather resistance of a softshell, which helps to make the Venta MX more suitable for serious weather and for multi-day trips. Windstopper softshells strike a happy medium between windshells and hardshells.
Breathability is the primary reason to choose a softshell over a hardshell. (Style and comfort are less important reasons.) The Windstopper membrane reduces the Venta MX’s breathability relative to softshells without membranes, but we believe that the Venta MX is adequately breathable for most winter activities— not running or cross-country skiing— and that breathability matters less than ventilation for skiing and climbing. When you get hot while working hard the most effective way to prevent overheating (sweating) is to open a jacket’s main zipper. After that, pit zips are the next best way to release moisture vapor, and the Venta MX has two large pit zips that dump heat and open quickly and easily with one hand. Highly breathable softshells without insulation or a membrane are ideal for high output short term activities like cross country skiing and running, but perform poorly for variable output activities like backcountry and downhill skiing, and winter climbing. We tested the Venta MX side-by-side with the Arcteryx Alpha SV (two people swap jackets half way through each day) and our testers were able to observe a significant difference between the breathability of the Venta MX’s Windstopper and the Alpha SV’s Pro membrane. In other words, despite being rather hardshell-like, the Venta MX does offer increased breathability over a hardshell.
The inside of the arms, hood, and lower part of the chest have a brushed backer that’s commonly found on many Windstopper softshells and pants- it lets moisture vapor escape and is warmer than no lining. The inside of the Venta MX’s upper chest area and the entire back are insulated with a lightweight fleece. This combination of materials makes the jacket warmer than uninsulated shells, but not too warm. The jacket is not as warm as the Venta SV; it’s more versatile and better for higher output activities.
The Venta MX is incredibly comfortable!! It’s not crinkly and crackly like hardshells, it stretches slightly, and ergonomic patterning (the elbows are wonderfully articulated) lets the jacket move with you, rather than you move within the jacket. Lifting your arms above your head barely lifts the waist hem up at all. In contrast, many other softshells lift 4-6” when you raise your arms. This jacket ties as the least restrictive softshell we’ve tested. It’s also slightly longer than average, which keeps you warmer when climbing because it stays tucked under a harness even when your arms are above your head. The arms are also longer than average, which helps to prevent snow from getting in to the wrist area when climbing with gloves that don't have gauntlet closures. These features offer a tremendous advantage over the majority of the softshells we've tested.
The Venta MX has nearly the same feature set as the Arcteryx Alpha SV, the company’s top-tier hardshell and recipient of our Editor’s Choice Award in that category. The Venta MX's features are nearly perfect, in this author’s opinion. The chest pockets are large enough to easily stuff gloves, a camera, and some bars inside. While climbing in the jacket some of our testers like to store lead gloves in the chest pockets to keep them warm. Other top rated softshells— including the Arcteryx Gamma MX, Patagonia Northwall, and Outdoor Research Lodestar— have much smaller pockets that make it harder to store things while on the move. Critically, the chest pockets are harness and pack compatible- for that reason we much prefer them to handwarmer pockets. Their crossover design is faster to open and keeps your arms in closer to your chest, which helps to keep you balanced while climbing.
The hood is another exceptional feature on the Venta MX. Like the Alpha SV, it’s very large and is comfortable to wear over a helmet. It adjusts in four places: two front adjustments pull the hood in around your face, the top rear cord reduces the volume for use without a helmet, and a bottom rear cord pulls the hood brim back away from your face, which is excellent when looking up hill or when climbing. Through testing over fifty hardshells and softshells we’ve seen a wide variety of hood designs and, of all of them, we believe the Venta MX is the second best. The only drawbacks are (1) the two front adjustment cords pull from the inside of the hood, rather than the outside. This is not as easy to adjust on the go because you need to unzip the jacket and reach inside. Arcteryx should use the same external pull cord design as the Alpha SV hood. (2) We also would prefer if there was more coverage for the chin, like on the Alpha SV. These are just a minor drawbacks to an exceptionally well featured jacket.
All of our testers found the Venta MX to be very attractive. But the crossover chest pockets add a technical aesthetic that’s not ideal for use around town. Beyond the fact that it’s difficult to put your hands in the pockets while walking, our testers believe that less complicated chest areas look better. For example, many casual softshells (Patagonia Adze, North Face Apex Bionic) don’t have chest pockets, which makes them look better in more formal urban environments. But the Venta MX is a technical alpine softshell!!
Weight and Packed Size
The Venta MX weighs 19.9 ounces on our scale and packs down to moderate size. It’s smaller and lighter than many other fully featured, hooded Windstopper softshells we’ve tested.
An inherent drawback to all softshells is that they’re considerably heavier and larger than hardshells. For reasons stated in our Buying Advice Article we do not believe that softshells are suitable for backpacking and not not ideal for multi-day trips of any kind.
The Venta MX is best suited to ice and alpine climbing. It also works very well for skiing and many other winter adventures. See our full Softshell Jacket Review for our top picks for other activities.
This is our highest rated softshell and one of the most expensive shells tested. If you have the cash to push the performance envelope the Venta MX offers a tremendous amount of performance.
Softshells are poor value when compared to other types of technical apparel like windshells and hardshells. They’re a luxury item for winter day trips. If you have the cash to spend they can be great, but we believe hardshells are a better value if you don’t own one already.
— Max Neale
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OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: March 13, 2013
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