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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Red Ledge Unisex Exile Softhell > Test Report by Jamie DeBenedetto
by Jamie DeBenedetto
The Red Ledge Unisex Exile Hooded Softshell (that's a mouthful so hereafter I'll refer to it as the jacket, the Exile or the Softshell) is part of Red Ledge's line of softshell jackets, although they don't actually use the word jacket anywhere on the webpage description. The one I received is red with a black interior. From the looks of it there are three main fabric types being used; the first, which makes up the interior and the inside of the pockets, Red Ledge calls "micro-tricot" or "brushed micro-fleece". It is very soft to the touch. The second is the main softshell fabric. Red Ledge calls this "stretch woven smooth face polyester". This covers the majority of the body, the lower part of the sleeves, and the storm flap. The final fabric used and second part of the shell is called "woven ripstop polyester". This fabric covers the Napoleon pocket, the hood, the shoulders and down the top portion of the sleeves. (in the picture, it's the material that looks darker) The two exterior fabrics have been combined with an 8% blend of spandex resulting in the entire jacket having a slightly stretchy quality. Additionally, Red Ledge merged the softshell materials with their exclusive laminate called T-Core LX with DWR finish. Along with seam sealing this laminate is supposed to give the Exile jacket an exterior that is windproof, waterproof, and breathable. It's important to note, however, the jacket is NOT seam sealed as sold.
Beyond the fabrics, there are several features so I will list them in bullet from to keep it simple.
The Exile Softshell arrived on Friday November 16th, 2007. Upon initial inspection is looks to be in good order. No loose threads or open seams, and all zippers and draw cords function correctly. The fabric is a bit stiff but I think that will come around with wear.
The only informational material enclosed with the jacket were the garment tags, the hangtag and barcode tag. I found the hang tag information and the website material to be helpful but some things were missing that I personally find useful when considering a purchase. Most notably is the absence of the jacket's weight. Secondly, I was unclear whether the seams were already sealed and whether or not the entire exterior was treated with the T-Core LX laminate. I was left to assume it was since the manufacturer claims this softshell is waterproof and windproof and this is the material responsible for that. I'd rather not assume so a bit more clarification would have been appreciated. (I did find out later from the manufacturer that in fact, the seams are not factory sealed.) Finally, although the country responsible for making this garment was clearly noted on the barcode tag and on the garment tag, I find it helpful when manufacturers list this information on their website promotional material as well. I prefer not to buy items made in certain countries so when I'm considering a purchase the ability to locate this information easily is important to me.
The Exile Softshell is pretty much what I expected after viewing the product on the manufacturer website. This particular item has a fully featured color picture on the Red Ledge website, something the other softshells listed don't have. This feature along with the option to enlarge the picture and change the colors made it pretty easy to tell what I was getting. The only things I could not discern from the webpage clearly were whether or not the hood had a beak and the color of the ripstop nylon sections; they look almost black in the picture.
My first impression of the jacket was that it might be too large. Given the specs on the manufacturer's website I felt pretty sure the size Large was what I would need given the sleeve measurement they have listed. While the sleeves fit just right, the jacket seamed a bit roomier than I'd like in the chest. I did, however, go into this test with the notion of using this jacket with other layers so I added a few insulating pieces I would typically wear in cooler conditions and tried the Exile on a second time. I'm pretty sure it will be fine. In fact, the extra room in the chest and underarms was welcomed because I could move very easily and I didn't have to worry about crushing the material of the under layers.
Honestly, I'm excited to try it out. Right off I like the stretchy feel of the fabric. It makes moving around in the jacket very comfortable despite the initial stiffness of the material. I am hoping the stiffness fades with use. The jacket also has a bit of a "new" smell? It's not offensive but I'd rather it smelled like a campfire, like the rest of my outdoor clothing.
I hope to get it into snow and rain as well as windy conditions so the T-Core laminate can really be run through its paces. I know rain is likely but snow could be more challenging here in the desert southwest. I have a few trips planned that will hopefully proved the opportunity but I never know what will happen in winter here in my drought stricken state.
This is the second of three reports; all opinions and observations in this section have been gathered after two months of using the jacket.
Day hike in the Deem Hills in North Phoenix, AZ, elevation around 2,000 ft (610 m). This trail is boulder rich with lots of cactus and small palo verdes sprinkled along the route, the typical Sonoran Desert trail. I experienced thunderstorm conditions with frequent wind but no significant rainfall. Winds that day hit 6 mph (10 km/h) up to 24 mph (39 km/h). The temperature hovered around 60 F (17 C) with 90% humidity.
The Red Ledge Unisex Exile Hooded Softshell was a little too hot to wear while moving in these conditions. Despite wearing only a long-sleeved t-shirt underneath the jacket, I quickly warmed up beyond what I consider comfortable. Since I was hiking in stormy conditions and my body temperature was ever changing based on how much the wind was blowing and how much I was working, I put on and took off the Red Ledge Softshell several times. In some cases unzipping the full front zipper was enough ventilation but other times not. Beyond getting a feel for the temperature range of the Exile, I was very much able to evaluate its windproof qualities; they work! On the top and windward side of the hill I was trekking up I was blasted by strong winds, none of which I noticed through the jacket fabric.
One of the jacket's negatives became obvious quite quickly on this inaugural run. The Exile is a bulky little number. It just doesn't condense for storage in a pack very easily. Since I was constantly donning and then removing it, I decided rather than hassle with rolling it up and trying to squish it into my daypack every few minutes, I would just hang it from the lower section of my shoulder strap. This worked fine but it was still more cumbersome than I would have liked.
One feature I liked was the zippered pockets. I came to appreciate their security on this outing. Because I was taking the jacket off regularly and walking with it dangling from my packs' shoulder strap, it would have been easy for the items in my pockets (cell phone, keys, tissues) to fall out and become desert treasure. With zippers, I didn't give loosing these things a second thought.
This was not a hike but a home test during a significant rain storm. Rain is iffy around here and while I would have rather tested the jacket in the rain while on the trail, that opportunity was not presenting itself at the time. Instead I threw on the Exile and played in the rain in my backyard for about an hour with my children. The picture to the right shows how well the jacket's outer fabric shed the water initially. About a half hour in, it started to rain harder, with larger more intense drops and that's when I began to feel the first sensation of wetness on my shoulders. I stayed out in the rain for ten or so minutes longer and then I went inside to see if in fact my t-shirt was wet. It was! The second picture on the right shows the two wet spots on both of the shoulder areas of my white cotton tee.
Two-day car camping trip in the Santa Rita Mountains in Southern AZ, elevation 5,500 ft (1,700 m) in camp. Weather conditions were rainy and windy off and on all day and throughout the night. The lowest temperature I experienced while wearing the Exile on this trip was 40 F (4.5 C). I was wearing it over a long sleeve t-shirt, a lightweight fleece and a lightweight down jacket.
I chose to wear the Exile around camp on this trip instead of as my main outer layer while hiking. Unfortunately, after the water break through in my backyard test, I just didn't trust its ability to keep me dry on an extended trek in consistent rain, sleet and snow. On the positive side, the jacket did a wonderful job of keeping the wind away and shedding the light rain I experienced before and after the hike and on the second morning.
I found the longer cut of the Exile really handy while in camp. After my long day of hiking I did as much lounging around the campfire as I could. Even with a few layers beneath the jacket, it covered my backside well while sitting and bending. The sleeve length worked fine for me too. The adjustable cuffs fit well over both a liner and a thicker pair of fleece gloves I used that evening. In this setting the fit worked fine.
The pockets were plenty spacious, effortlessly holding my gloves, car keys, a flashlight, and tissues. I could easily manipulate the zipper pulls with gloved fingers. The hood and collar on the other hand did not impress me. Even when fully cinched the hood lowered my peripheral view somewhat. Also when cinched, the elastic draw cords brought all the hood fabric in, creating a bunching of the outer edge of the hood. In heavier rain, water dripped down onto my nose so I think a beak would be a nice addition. The issue I have with the collar is one of comfort. When fully zipped, the two top edges of the zipper poke into my neck below my chin. A soft bit of fabric covering this junction would be a welcome improvement for very little weight gain.
I spent the better part of a December day goofing off and sledding with my kids in the snow outside of Flagstaff, AZ. The elevation of the snow play area is 7,800 ft (2,400 m). The weather was clear and calm with temperatures hovering around freezing, give or take a few degrees, all day.
Between wiping out on the sled several times, the snow ball fights and the snow/water mix dripping off the sled as I carted it up the hill a hundred times, I was plenty exposed to moisture. The Exile Softshell, which was the only outer layer I brought with me, took the abuse like a champ. I think this is really the jacket's element. I was never cold and I never felt any dampness break through onto my fleece. In fact, I was so warm and dry, I had to strip off a few layers at one point after lugging both my son and the sled up the hill a few times.
Splattered periodically throughout the last two months of testing have been other short uses of the Exile jacket. I have worn it around town many times, on several occasions before hiking and on a couple of quick exercise hikes on local desert trails near my home. Temperatures ranged from as low as 44 F (6 C) up to the low 60's F (20 F). Weather fluctuated from calm to breezy up to mild thunderstorm conditions, including light rain.
This is the third and final report of this test series. All opinions and observations in this section have been gathered after four months of using this jacket.
In all, over the last four months I have worn the Red Ledge Unisex Exile Hooded Softshell in the outdoors a total of twelve times. This involved day hiking, night hiking, camping and sledding. I have also worn it on at least fifteen other occasions around town. I tried to use it on windy, rainy days whenever possible but sometimes the weather was calm and cool, especially in the earlier months of the test series when we were in the early stages of winter. These final two months have been more spring conditions here in the "Valley of the Sun" (Phoenix, Arizona) with temperatures currently lingering in the low 50's F (11 C) for the overnight lows. The few hikes on which I have been able to use the jacket recently have been short night hikes without any significant weather.
Packability & Weather Performance
I've carried the jacket quite a lot, usually by cramming it into my pack, tying it to the outside of my pack or tying it around my waist and it's more unwieldy than I cared for. It's not as easily compressed as I'd like so I give it a somewhat low rating for packability. I'm fairly certain this is not a characteristic of the type of material the jacket is made from, however, so I have put up with it. Given this, I would not choose the Exile for backpacking. My packing strategy is to carry the smallest capacity backpack in which I can still stuff all my gear. This means I rarely have extra room inside my pack. Furthermore, I do not like to tie things to the outside of my pack because the prickly plants of the desert I hike in have a tendency to catch items and destroy fabric. I believe car camping and trips to the snow were more ideal locations for using this jacket. It seemed to be in its element on these types of outings.
I haven't any new discoveries to report on the weather performance of the Exile. I still find it working well in windy conditions and in mild to moderate rain and not so well in heavier, steady rain. Despite having a problem with soak through at the tops of my shoulders during the Field Report phase, the jacket did a nice job overall of repelling rain and because of this I never had a chance to test its thermal efficiency when the majority of the jacket was soaked through. Conversely, I had several opportunities to try the Exile with various layers of clothing to get a feel for its ideal temperature range. For me personally, the warmest temperature I could use the jacket, while wearing only a T-shirt underneath was 50 F (10 C) while actively moving, and 65 F (18 C) while at rest. The lowest temperature I experienced while wearing the jacket was just below freezing, about 30 F (- 1 C). In this case I was wearing two lighter layers underneath and walking up hills carrying kids and sleds. When at rest, in that same temperature, I began to get chilled after about a twenty minute lunch break.
Fit & Features
I had my doubts about the fit since the Exile is a unisex garment but I have been swayed. I like the longer, more roomy cut, especially when I've had several layers on underneath and when I'm sitting or bending. I would have preferred a slightly slimmer fit around the torso area and upper arms but ultimately this allowed for freedom of movement when I had more layers on. I wouldn't say it's overly flattering for my figure but I didn't expect that from a unisex jacket.
The features all worked together nicely to keep the weather at bay. On cold blustery days I truly enjoyed being able to cinch up the waist and the hood and close the wrist cuffs in tightly around my gloves. Even though I was mostly pleased with all the Exile's features, the roomy zippered pockets were my favorite because I new I could trust that whatever I put in them would still be there even if the jacket was tied around my waist or sloshing back and forth on the outside of my pack. The cumbersome hood was my least favorite, mainly because it did not have a beak and because when cinched I had restricted visability.
Care and Cleaning
I have washed the Exile Shoftshell one time since receiving it. This was after a two day camping trip back in December. Not only was it a bit muddy from two days of rain, it also smelled quite a lot like a campfire. It washed easily and the fabric did not retain any odors. The new jacket smell I noticed when I first took it out of the package is now completely gone. The fabric is a little bit softer after the wash too.
I don't have any problems with durability to report. All components - zippers, pockets, the hood, cuff straps, and draw cords - have held up perfectly through the test series. I have not noticed any loose strings or maladies in the inner or outer materials despite having worn it as the main outer layer while sledding, while hiking off trail through brush and while walking with it dangling from my pack strap or waist.
Aspects I like…
Aspects I feel could use improvement...
My thanks to Backpackgeartest.org and Red Ledge for the opportunity to be
part of this test series.
Read more reviews of Red Ledge gear
Read more gear reviews by Jamie DeBenedetto
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