MERRELL VERT JACKET
TEST SERIES BY KEN NORRIS
March 26, 2009
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kenjennorris at yahoo dot com
Redmond, Washington, USA
5' 5" (1.65 m)
170 lb (77.10 kg)
I have been hiking and backpacking for the past twelve years, going on the occasional overnighter or day hike. In the past year or so, I have begun night hiking and long day hikes (twenty miles [32 km] or more), with an emphasis on light pack weight and speed. These trips center on Washington's Central Cascades (terrain characterized by steep inclines and "moist" conditions) and the Oregon outback (areas classified as high desert).
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
Year of Manufacture: 2008
Manufacturer's Website: Merrell
Listed Weight: not listed
Measured Weight: 2.4 lbs. (1.09 kg) -- combined weight of the liner and shell; liner only: 15.45 oz (438 g); shell only: 23 oz (652 g)
Other details: both jackets are black (it also comes in a green shell and yellow liner)
chest: 39 in. (99 cm)
waist: 34 in. (86 cm)
arms: 26 in. (66 cm)
I received the jacket fresh from the factory and sealed in a plastic bag, complete with a hanger. From the website I could not visualize the relative bulk of the jackets. I envisioned both being thinner and lighter, especially the shell. After some scrutiny in three dimensions, I liken it to a thin version of a typical winter jacket with a zip in liner.
Although the jackets work in concert, their construction warrants separate descriptions prior to discussing their complementary qualities. With that said, I'll start on the inside and work my way out. The liner reminds me of a "puffy coat" -- except it has about one-third of the usual puffiness associated with the category. But it retains the customary quilted stitching that keeps the synthetic fill in place (I assume it's a synthetic because of its water resistant qualities). The elastic cuffs are just right: not too tight or too loose. I especially like the close fit of the coat. It does not inhibit movement, nor do I feel like I'm swimming in fabric. The two pocket openings are roughly seven inches (17.8 cm) long and fleece lined, creating a nice seal against the cold in that the sleeves easily fit within the opening. I had a unique opportunity to test the water resistance almost immediately after opening the package -- a rare hail-rain mix. The water beaded off of the jacket, as it should.
The shell maintains the desired close fit. I have not seen nylon with quite the texture present on the exterior. It reminds me of the jacket I wear while mountain biking that's designed to take several scrapes and falls without any apparent wear. It is also fully seam taped -- a feature I tested in the hail-rain mix I mentioned earlier. No leaks, as one would expect . The interior pocket, obviously designed for an MP3 player, sports a green zipper, presumably so it's easier to see at night. The interior of the pocket includes a mesh pouch with an elastic opening in order to keep small devices from roaming around the pocket space (see the picture below). Unfortunately, this zipper is not accessible when the liner is zipped into the jacket. Only one zipper on the entire jacket -- liner and shell -- is of the waterproof variety: the main zipper on the front of the shell. This surprised me. Merrell advertises the shell as waterproof, but it seems that the pit zippers should also consist of waterproof zippers for this claim to be true. Instead, the pit zips are under a fold of material. Based on some other jackets I own, I expected the pit zips would also simply open into the jacket. Merrell, however, has sewn in a mesh that allows for two inches (5.08 cm) of ventilation along a 15.5 inch (39.37 cm) zipper opening. I'm skeptical that this mesh will allow for sufficient air flow during strenuous hikes. Only time will tell. Like the liner, the two hand pockets are fleece lined. The detachable hood is a nice touch -- the single zipper and four snaps make it easy to remove and secure when it's on. I also found the three elastic cinch cords on the hood (one in the back and one on each side) easy to operate, though perhaps unnecessary.
TRYING IT OUT
When the jackets are combined, I find my movements somewhat stiffened. I attribute this to the combination of the thickness of the liner and close fit of both jackets. But it may also prove easier to move in after a breaking in period. My early movements around the house and to work (which I don't consider tests) involve a messenger bag. The jacket does not bunch around the single strap. In fact, I would go so far as to say it's the most comfortable jacket I've worn under this particular bag. In terms of keeping the elements at bay, both jackets live up to their claims concerning water resistance (the liner) and waterproofness (the shell). The shell, when used alone, has kept me warm, but temperatures here are still hovering in the 40s and 50s F (4-10 C), so only colder temperatures and some altitude will truly test its effectiveness. Because I'm fighting a particularly resilient cold, I have not had a chance to run in either the shell or the liner. The absence of ventilation for the liner will probably limit its usefulness during these excursions (I foresee trying it once, just to see how hot I get and how quickly I stop to tie it around my waist). I also rarely run with a jacket, but I'm curious to see if the shell, with its ventilation, is a worthwhile layer against some of the storms we have around here.
In testing the Vert, I will focus on three main aspects: 1.Comfort 2. Functionality 3. The extras.
The biggest key with any jacket is comfort. If it is not true to size, it could constrict movement or bunch up under my pack. Sleeve length can lead to uncomfortable rubbing or difficulty using poles if they are too long. Repetitive movements over long distances at brisk speeds will bring the issue of comfort to the foreground.
In the case of my intended use, I rank functionality even higher than comfort. I can endure a jacket that does not fit just right if I can count on it to keep me warm and dry. My activities demand that I layer, thus the Vert fits well within my plans, whether it be making a bee line for camp in order to get some sleep after a long day of work or running back to the trail head after taking in the sun rise and breaking camp.
The Vert also must keep me warm even when I'm not huffing up hills or running down them. I will encounter rain and snow. If the Vert fails to protect me from moisture, I'll know it in a hurry. The question is whether or not both layers fulfill their purported duties both in conjunction with one another and as stand alone protective layers.
a. Does the jacket run true to size?
b. Does the insulating layer, when used with the shell, limit mobility?
c. Do the velcro cuffs require infinite adjusting so they don't cut off my circulation?
d. Does the jacket work well with a lightweight backpack or does it bunch around the straps?
e. Do I feel like the Michelin man when I wear both jackets, wobbling up hills?
a. Does it keep me warm regardless of the cold?
b. Does the insulating layer require physical exertion or limit it or neither?
c. Will the two-layer system work well within my light weight back packing arsenal or will it take up too much space?
d. Will it keep the barrage of moisture at bay in both rain and snow?
e. Does either layer lend itself to trail running?
f. Does the fabric snag on brush and branches?
g. Do the pockets allow me to store a runner's essentials, like keys?
h. Does the hood impede my range of vision during runs and hikes?
i. Is the hood compatible with a headlamp or does it fall over the beam?
3. The Extras:
a. Will I find the pockets unnecessary or convenient?
b. Are the waist band adjusters a frivolous addition that I won't really use?
I have owned jackets like the Vert. They traditionally have a fleece liner and a bulky, waterproof shell. The Vert has neither, which I consider a step in the right direction. But I'm concerned that the jackets, when used in combination, will impede my movements, especially when I'm using poles. Yet I'm open to the possibility that I may hike up mountains with just the shell, add the liner while I'm at camp (for some extra warmth), and go back to just the shell for the shuffle back to the car. If that's the case, then the Vert may prove an excellent addition to my backpacking methods.
This concludes my report. I would like to thank Merrell for the opportunity to test this product. Please come back in two months for the next report in the series.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
The unusually cold weather and extreme flooding in the Seattle area preempted my planned overnight trips, so I was limited to trail runs and peak bagging. My routine trail runs take place at about 500 feet (152 m) with rolling hills adding variety to the landscape. I run a loop that is approximately 5 miles (8 km) long. Temperatures as low as 10 F (-12 C) froze the moisture usually present in the ground, making for some . . . interesting runs. Add in two feet (61 cm) of snow -- the rare dry variety at that -- and my runs quickly went from training times to adventures in and of themselves. These unusual runs called for the use of both of the jackets, depending upon whether I was dealing with snow falling or cold temperatures.
I bagged three of the four peaks I attempted. Two of these success were on the same peak -- Tiger Mountain. Around Seattle, Tiger Mountain is more of a training route than a "peak," so I'm using the term loosely. The loop I take is around 5.5 miles (8.86 km) long with an elevation gain of approximately 2000 feet (610 m). It takes forty-five minutes to gain the summit via a virtually straight line up a ridge and another forty-five minutes to wind down the "normal" trail. A light rain (Seattleites would consider it more of a mist) fell during both trips. Temperatures were in the low to mid 40s F (4-7 C) for both ascents. The trails were sloppy, demanding strategic foot placement.
The third successful peak bagging occurred on Mailbox Peak (yes, there is a mailbox at the top). Most guide books rank it as the most difficult ascent in the central Cascades: 7 miles (11.27 km) round trip, 4000 feet (1219 m) of elevation gain. It took around 3.5 hours up and back. We trudged through snow, both on the ground (about 1/2 foot / 15 cm) and in the air. Temperatures hovered around 30 F (-1 C). The trail before the top was damp but not soggy.
Now to the failed peak bagging: Mount Washington. Two feet (61 cm) of snow on the ground in Redmond translated to over four feet (122 cm) on Mount Washington in the central Cascades. The trail starts at 1500 feet (457 m) above sea level, and the summit peaks out at 4300 feet (1311 m). Thankfully, some intrepid souls had blazed a wintry track up to around 2200 feet (671 m). At that point we donned our snowshoes, post-holing for another 600 feet (183 m) of elevation gain. This short gain took us nearly an hour, even with alternating trail blazers. Howling winds ripping through snow-laden trees convinced us that living to see tomorrow was more important than bagging a peak we could easily revisit in the late spring or summer. In all, we logged probably 5 miles (8 km) and 1500 feet (457 m) of elevation gain in just over three hours. Shame, thy name is Mount Washington.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I experimented early on in testing the Merrell Vert with wearing either the shell or the liner on trail runs. The normally mild conditions (around 45 F / 7 C) negated this idea: I found myself quickly overheating, regardless of which jacket I wore (the pit zips on the shell could not dissipate my body heat fast enough). The freakish snow conditions and low temperatures before Christmas, however, made me reconsider their use on these runs. I knew that both the liner and the shell would be overkill, even in temperatures hovering in the 20s F (-7 C up to -1 C). The falling snow prompted me to use the shell with just a wool base layer under it. With the pit zips fully open for a little ventilation, I discovered that the Merrell Vert does have its applications for running. I placed my cell phone in the shoulder pocket, where it did not jostle around or weigh that side of the coat down. My keys went in one of the hand pockets, and my wallet went in the "electronics" pocket. About twenty-five minutes into my forty minute run, I began to overheat. So I simply velcroed the sleeves at my elbow with the cuff velcro straps. They stayed there securely and my immenent overheating never came.
Both summits of Tiger Mountain illustrated another aspect of the Merrell Vert. The first excursion, though not a run, elevated my heart rate to the point that I took off the shell (I was not wearing the liner) about half way up the trail. It packed easily into my small day pack, but not as small as I knew I would need on longer trips when space is at a premium. On the second trip, which took place at night, I carried the liner up until we reached the breezy summit. I quickly donned it, relieved to find that it added some protection against the wind. I was also impressed by the speed with which the fleece-lined pockets heated up my hands. In fact, this is one of those "little" facets of the jacket that continues to give me joy, whether I'm trekking from the parking lot at work to the warmth of the building or watching my kids play in the snow: I know that the fleece-lined pockets, which both the liner and shell feature, will instantly warm up my hands.
On Mailbox Peak I packed both jackets but only wore them for the last 500 feet (152 m) and during our snacking at the summit for fifteen minutes or so. I knew from my previous experiences on Tiger Mountain that wearing either jacket would only lead to overheating. But when I stood still at the summit, I was thankful that I had both jackets. I even wore the liner the entire way down, knowing that I wouldn't have the excess body heat I had on the way up. It was just a tad too effective at retaining my body heat during this descent.
Conditions on Mount Washington prompted me to wear the liner over a wool base layer. I knew we would be huffing it up a decent grade, so both jackets would provide too much warmth. Despite the cold temperatures and sheer volume of snow, this mix of base layer with the shell worked well, even when we stopped to check the map or question our sanity. I was particularly impressed by the way in which the Vert and my snow gloves worked together -- no snow or air got through. And the fit of the jacket actually aided my movement because I was not fighting with as much friction between the arms and torso of the jacket, as I usually do with my other snow jackets. I wore a day pack over the shell. This arrangement did not cause the jacket to bunch at the waist belt, nor did I have any issues with the shoulder straps compressing the jacket at my shoulders. I chalk this up to the fact that the precise fit of the jacket creates an economic distribution of material (there isn't any extra fabric getting in the way). I wore a headlamp for this entire trip (it took place at night) with the hood over my head. Despite the fact that the hood does have a visor, it did not block the beam (I wore the headlamp under the hood). But I've found the hood just a bit too big and difficult to adjust so that it fits my head. As a result, looking to the side by turning my neck is impossible -- I must turn my entire body.
|Night hiking Mt. Washington.|
Over Christmas I acquired some compression sacks that fit both jackets, increasing my confidence that they will work as a part of my lightweight backpacking arsenal. The shell fits in a compression sack with the following dimensions: 5.5x13" (14x33cm). The liner fits in one with these dimensions: 5x11.25" (13x29cm). When zipped together, both jackets create some rigidity. For example, just hanging in my closet, the arms do not flop to the sides -- they extend from either side of the jacket. I was used to a jacket system with a fleece liner, which did not have this same rigidity. This aspect does not limit my range of motion, but it has taken some mental adjusting. I also have a difficult time sitting down while wearing the shell. It wants to bunch at the waist. At fault is the waterproof zipper. Similar jackets use two zippers on one row of zipper teeth so that the wearer may zip up the bottom zipper to the waist while keeping the other zipper at the top. I assume that Merrell has not added this feature because such dual zippers on one row of zipper teeth do not exist in waterproof form.
Though I had hoped to extend the versatility of the Merrell Vert into my more aerobic excursions, for me its application is limited to summit stops, descents, and below-freezing adventures. Does the jacket have some design flaws? Yes: the hood is too big and loose fitting, and the shell is not made to sit in. Despite these issues, my field testing has prompted me to get rid of my other snow jackets. None of them fit as well nor pack down as compactly nor keep me as warm.
This concludes my field report. I would like to thank Merrell for the opportunity to test this product. Please come back in two months for the next report in the series.
LONG-TERM TEST CONDITIONS & PERFORMANCE
During the long-term phase, I took my excursions to the next level: mountaineering. I summitted Mt. Ellinor (5944 ft / 1812 m) in the Olympic Mountain Range of Washington State. The excellent conditions (30-45 F / -1-7 C) did not demand I wear either the shell or the liner until the top, at which point I donned just the shell. I wore it for the glissade, which amounted to about one-quarter of a mile (0.40 km) of distance and 1500 feet (457 m) of elevation loss. Sitting on my butt, I did notice that the Vert had a tendency to ride up my back during the glissade, but I can't imagine any other jacket not doing the same (I like to glissade at high speed). This constant contact with the snow pack did not penetrate any part of the shell. I also packed the liner into a small stuff sack, an addition I have made routine since discovering just how small the liner packs down.
|The view from Mt. Ellinor.|
I also continued my experiment with the shell as a running jacket during occasional trail runs in the rain and relative cold. One recent run in particular -- 4-5 miles (6-8 km) long at 38 F (3 C) -- echoed my previous experiences. Running is not the perfect use for the shell, but it is a functional use. It has plenty of pockets for my keys, phone, and wallet. The hood provides excellent protection from the rain (though it limits my peripheral vision). I can position the sleeves wherever I want them thanks to the hook and latch cuffs. It does have a tendency to "float" while I run, which creates an annoying rhythm. I can live with this rhythm as long as it keeps me dry and warm -- which it does.
The true test of any waterproof jacket for me is if it's my de facto choice for the mundane. In the case of the Vert shell, I consider it my rain jacket, period.
I wear the liner everyday, everywhere. It comfortably fits under my messenger bag for my journey to work. It keeps me warm during our unseasonably cold, late winter (below freezing most days). The fleece-lined pockets continue to provide instant warmth, a trait I still marvel at. I love that it has the benefits of a "puffy" coat without the bulk (does anyone really enjoy looking like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man?).
In terms of using the two jackets together, I rarely do. Each repels rain on its own. If I'm outside engaged in an aerobic activity that demands a jacket, wearing both of them together would be overkill.
I have abandoned all of my other winter coats in exchange for the Merrell Vert, giving them away to relatives as if I've arrived at the pinnacle of jacketness, shunning lesser alternatives. My reasons are many: a comfortable, stream-lined fit free of excess material when it comes to wearing it under a backpack (though it still moves around during runs); a versatile liner that wards off the typical winter chill of the Pacific Northwest and packs down to a small size; a jacket system that does not impede my movement, even when I'm huffing up trails with the aid of poles or summiting a mountain with an ice axe.
The packability of both the liner and the shell has made the Merrell Vert a staple of my backpacking arsenal. I can't wait for the snow pack to melt so I can enjoy more of the lightweight backpacking I so enjoy . . . with the liner conveniently stowed as an emergency source of warmth. I also will reach for the shell when the rain starts pouring. It is a dependable ward against even the heaviest of rains, and it, too, packs down to a manageable size for stowing. I'll probably even still run in it . . . I would rather cope with the way it floats that get soaking wet. Will I use the jackets in conjunction? Yes, but only during the most extreme adventures when the cold is constant and severe and the snows are deep and falling.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2009. All rights reserved.
This concludes my test of the Merrell Vert jacket. I would like to thank Merrell and Backpackgeartest.org for the opportunity to experience such a great product first hand.
Read more gear reviews by Ken Norris