So after couple of years and a very wet winter last year on Ben Nevis’ Tower Ridge it became clear my Rab Polartec Neoshell just wasn’t cutting the mustard as a true winter waterproof shell.
Before I start .. I love Neoshell to wear. Its the softest, most flexible hard-shell I’ve ever come across that claims the levels of waterproofing and breath-ability it does. For climbing its a dream. But.. its not “truly” waterproof when it really comes down to it. The membrane is very good but with sustained wetting eventually that uber soft, uber flexible and breathable membrane has to give…
I note this season at least one large brand has now stopped using it while some still do so it still has its place.. mostly in cold, “dry” snow and ice conditions.. ideal for apline or icy dry Scottish winter climbing.. but not if its going to be wet…
So… I need a new shell.
My criteria isn’t simple so its hard to find .
1 – I don’t ideally want the rhino hide, rustling paper of some fabrics (typically in my experience the Gore Tex ones)
2 – It needs to be waterproof, ideally to about 20,000mm head
3 – It needs to be breathable, I run hot on walk ins so need it to vent well
4 – Pockets I can actually get to with a harness and pack on.. ideally napolean pockets
5 – a good helmet compatible hood, wired if possible and one i can shape to fit my wee head and velcro cuffs for keeping snow out
6 – A good colour… no affect on performance but hey I hate black or dark gear
7 – robust enough to cope with a Scottish winter but cost less than £300.
So after much hunting around, trying on and almost giving up I stumbled across the Fjern Orkan shell on the outdoor discount eTailer SportsPursuit.
If never heard of Fjern but it immediately caught my eye for its climbing look and the fact it was eVent fabric which I’d heard might be the balance I was looking for. It didnt have the chest pockets I usually crave but the pockets were listed as set high enouhg to clear a harness. At a heavily discounted price down from £300 it was also perfect price wise!! I figured if it sucked I could take the hit so I pressed buy and it arrived a fast few days later.
Fjern as a company first .. hard to find! If you google them you tend to hit retailers sites, or eVents site.. finding Fjerns own page is a quest ! But find it I did – click here . Fjern is a UK based company made up of outdoor enthusiasts (Hikers, climbers , skiers) who believe in the “Nordic spirit of adventure” which I actually really like. Yes its manufactured in China but most kit is these days, with the quality and design set at the domestic base (this case in the UK) If you follow my blog you know I really champion smaller companies and family business – so far so good.
The Jacket now.
The Below test is taken from the Sports Pursuit website and is the science bit (shortened)
Engineered with the worst alpine conditions in mind, the ORKAN gives you the confidence to strike out into the wilderness, whatever the weather.
Crafted using eVent® fabric with Direct Venting™ technology, the ORKAN keeps precipitation out whilst allowing perspiration to escape. Packed with technical features including a fully adjustable helmet compatible hood, internal taped seams and an anatomical fit.
Waterproof rating 20,000mm
Breathability JIS 1099 B1 26,000 g/m2 24hrs
- Waterproof, Windproof, Breathable, Lightweight and durable 3-layer fabric with Nylon face
- Unique eVent® membrane with Direct Venting™ technology
- DWR finish (Durable Water Repellent) helps repel water from fabric surface
- Taped seams and seamless shoulders for added waterproofness
- Anatomical shaping for fit and comfort, designed for technical layering
- Articulated elbows for freedom of movement
- No-lift gusseted underarms
- Fully adjustable helmet compatible hood with laminated & wired brim
- Laminated centre front zip guard with soft tricot trim zip garage
- Extended high collar for extra face protection
- YKK water repellent zippers
- Two large zipped hand warmer pockets, positioned high enough to avoid harnesses/backpack straps
- Internal stretch mesh pocket, large enough for storing gloves, map, goggles etc
- Underarm pit zips with water repellent zippers
- Moulded zipper garages to protect closure from snow and rain
- Hypalon Velcro cuff adjusters
- Adjustable drawcord hem with drop back for extra coverage
- Fabric weight 138gsm / Garment weight (size M) 540gm
So – how did it do?
As a test the conditions were pretty good – a winters day in the high Cairngorms, winter climbing with my buddy and gear test expert Davy Wright (part of the MyOutdoors Test team).
We arrived at the Cairngorm ski centre around 8am, the wind strong already and the temperature around -5c so layers and shell straight on. First thing I notice? Hood works well.. cinches down as needed and my chin is covered with the collar well. No ballooning like some other shells. The cut is athletic meaning its neat where you don’t want too much volume but (as in this case) is cut to allow movement of the arms etc when climbing.
Next think I notice that I like is the high side pockets, easily accessible above harness or rucksack straps and great for warming hands which is what I need right now as we prep to head off up into the Coire.
Off we set to wards Coire an t-Sneachda and to see whats in nick (if anything). The wind is howling straight at us making the walk to the lochain tougher and colder but again the hood sits well, shielding my eyes from the worst of spin drift being blown at us alike white sandblast.
With the 30-40mph headwind the going is slower than usual and its about an hour and a half walk in but the eVent works its magic and I’m not sweating at all despite the thin baselayer and mid layer (result!) , in fact in terms of comfort i am very pleased! No faffing to add/drop layers as I usually have to do.
And if I had found the going too warm there are 2 zipped pit vents (with decent pull cords)
To be honest, by this point I’d forgotten all about the jacket.. which is actually the sign of superb kit.Iit just works when you need it to.
We get to the crag base, gear up and head up to the start of the route.
The route itself was a steep snow ramp , followed by iced up rocky couloir and then a step rock and ice section before topping out over snowy broken ground onto the arctic summit plateau of the Cairgorms. The point of telling you this? At no point in all my movement, climbing, grabbing gear, standing at belays or anything else did i get annoyed with a flapping hood, tricky to access pocket or the jacket riding up as I climbed on my axes. basically it was perfect! The dropped back and clever articulation throughout the cut of the jacket means movement is totally unhindered, no matter how gymnastic.
The cuffs can be cinched as much as wanted d off via the Velcro tabs and the chin guard is layered in soft fabric so wont rub your face red raw. A helmet fits under the hood perfectly with draw cords allowing for individual fit.
The wind as mentioned was ferocious when out of the lee of the hill but while I could feel its edge I wasn’t cold. Tired and elated yes.. but very comfortable !
Its here that eVent and GoreTex differ I believe (and I’m open to say don’t have any science to back this up – if any GoreTex Brands out there want to, just get in touch and I can happily test one ) .
If you tend when climbing or walking, to feel the cold the windstopping properties of Gore will work better for you , bit you sacrifice comfort and potentially breath-ability for it. For eVent you may feel the wind a smidge more but you can breathe well and dont get such a stiff fabric so if you tend not to run cold its ideal.
Weather wise the Orkan didnt get the full deluge test yet , snow and ice made no ingress on the membrane and it beaded perfectly and retained a dry top feel, but back home it was bucketing with rain and it seemed to stand up to it fine, beading well, not wetting out (as I live in Glasgow this test will continue often! )
My verdict overall on my heavily discounted, “unknown brand” eVent Shell?
Its a keeper!
So much so that within 24hrs I had sold on my Rab NeoShell and look forward to more mountain days in the Fjern.
Whether you are walking, scrambling or winter climbing I genuinely recommend this shell. It feels great and looks pretty smart too (I know less important but still a decision point for some).
You can connect with Fjern on Instagram here . They stock a small but focused range of both mens and womens clothing and I will certainly be checking out other items.
Their site can be reached here .
For completeness I didn’t receive this jacket as a test “freebie” but purchased it so I hope you read my test as genuine. All feedback welcome! And if any brands would like me to do an honest test and review please do get in touch,