The Vault Regulars

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Berghaus Ardennes AF* Soft shell jacket review

 I was invited to review this jacket (FOC), by BERGHAUS .

 Background Information
The  list price of the Berghaus Ardennes soft shell jacket is RRP £90 but, it can be found cheaper with a Google search. The jacket was first launched in Autumn 2011 and its Made in Indonesia.

Now soft shell is a strange beast, it has never truly found it’s niche.  It also comes in numerous guises. Some quite tough and not very flexible, some soft and very flexible, some with a membrane inner and some without. It’s not definitive.
 Some soft shells are so waterproof that you don’t need any other protective layers whilst others are barely water resistant. And then you come to how warm they are, how wind resistant they are, etc etc. It’s no wonder a niche is hard to define.

The first thing you notice about this jacket is just how tactile the material is, soft and malleable. The outer is made from 86% polyester and 14% elastine. The inner face being 100% polyester micro fleece. It feels more fleece like than soft shell.
It has no membrane though.

Outer material
Design and Test
 As is usual with my reviews, the jacket is weighed and my Medium sized jacket weighs 560grams whereas the attached label suggests it weighs 607grams.
 I was surprised that Berghaus was specifying such a large discrepancy. I can only guess that the 607gr is an average weight through the sizes. Which would be totally meaningless.
 Weight is such a big issue today that customers could be put off buying, just from the weight specified on the label.
If this is just an average, then that needs making clearer or put a size next to the weight so we all know exactly.
  Coincidentally it's same weight as my Rab Cioch soft shell but, whereas my Rab has no DWR* this one has a pretty good DWR* finish and a wind resistance of ‹25cfm.

 The AF or active fit is the cut of the material, which Berghaus states is not body conscious, not baggy. Just a streamlined cut for every kind of activity. This description is an accurate one.
  I find the fit, excellent, perfect even. I'm 5ft 8" tall, and 39" chest.
 Having no membrane, it breaths well and wicks moisture away from the body therefore is more suited to high activity sports when it gets a bit chilly, just as long as you are not wearing a rucksack which would cause this and any jacket to feel clammy. But the penalty of good breatheability is poor waterproofing.

   On a very rainy day, i decided to walk from home just to see just how it performed in the wet and if i could risk doing a longer walk without taking a waterproof. The answer, most definitely is no.
 The water beaded well initially but the rain was heavy and within 10 minutes i felt the cold slow flow of water running across my shoulders and down my back. The outer started getting swamped after 20 minutes.  Half an hour in to the walk i was wet through. I headed for home and i was glad to be getting the wet clothes off.

  From taking off the jacket it took 12 hours to dry, and that was indoors. If i had been backpacking then i can say it would still be wet in the morning after an overnight stop.

 The outer is two tone black and grey colour and has contrasting light grey YKK nylon zips to both the hand pockets and central zips, which i quite like.

 The non water  resistant zips are robust and operate very well although they do let a lot of water in. Each zip has a toggle zip pull for use when wearing gloves. The back has an excellent drop tail and a hem with draw cord and 2 toggle restraints.

 For some reason Berghaus hasn't incorporated a chest pocket on this jacket which i would have liked to have.
 The two front hand  pockets are also quite strange. Not very wide and not a great shape either. Certainly not a comfortable shape for your hands. They are mesh and assist with breathabilty if left unzipped. The bottom section of the pockets gets covered by your rucksack waist belt and if you decide to use them for a small camera or a phone then there is no space for your hands.

 The collar  is excellent and the inside of the collar uses the same material as the outer. I like this. Many jackets use the same material for the inside of the collar as what's used for the inside of the jacket. This is wrong in my opinion because it soaks up water. I think Berghaus have got this right.
Collar and inner fleece facing.

   The collar is deep and a snug fit when fully zipped up and it has a zip garage or chin guard.
 Inside the jacket, the material is micro fleece which traps the air and keeps the wearer warm. I am quite used to wearing this now and i have appreciated the warmth and wind resistance offered. Even when my hands and face have been bitterly cold my body has stayed warm without an outer shell.

  There are two good deep mesh pockets inside but unfortunately they are tapered and just not wide enough to take an OS map. Such a shame and a missed opportunity.

 The sleeve length is not overly long and i could just about pull them over my cold hands. The cuff tension is elasticated without adjustment, but it worked ok for me.
Elasticated cuffs

The jacket, when rolled up, is a decent size if it’s needed to be stored in a day pack or backpack when it’s not being worn.

Renewal of the DWR finish.  
 Wash the jacket in Nikwax Tech wash. Not everyday detergents.
Then either by hand or machine use TX Direct or Nikwax Soft Shell as directed.
The jacket can also  be zipped into a Berghaus shell jacket if it is compatible as part of the Interactive layering system.

 It's been a pleasure to test this jacket. Although finding out it's true waterproofing capability was a bit damp to say the least. It has many good points and can be used in all but the warmest of weather. It can be used as part of a layering system, even on very cold days. Just with a thin base layer this jacket is ideal for high ground due to the good resistance to wind but a waterproof shell layer is required for use when the weather turns wet. Some damp will occur in the region of the back when wearing a rucksack, but this can be expected.
 The pockets let down what is otherwise a fine piece of kit.
 It's niche is still to be decided.

Pro's and Cons of the Ardennes Jacket.
  • Good design and fit
  • Smart for everyday use
  • Excellent collar
  • Wind resistant
  • Warm

  • Not as light as other soft shells
  • Poor pockets inside and out
  • No chest pocket
  • Expensive at RRP
Similar products on offer . Rab Baltoro lite. Mountain Equipment Spartan. Haglof’s Fuse.

My Thanks to Gareth Evans for the chance to review it.
 *DWR - Durable water repellent.


BG! said...

That's a fine and informative review, Alan.

"...within 10 minutes i felt the cold slow flow of water running across my shoulders and down my back. The outer started getting swamped after 20 minutes. Half an hour in to the walk i was wet through."

Doesn't sound like a garment that you'd want to depend on, despite the website's claim that you can "Stay out on your trails longer and push yourself to the limit...", but maybe that means to the limit of the garment, which doesn't seem to be very far.

I also noted their statement: "Be prepared for changing weather conditions" - does this mean "take a proper waterproof shell jacket in case it starts drizzling"?

Seems to me that the DWR and/or the fabric are totally inadequate for anything more than casual use around town, if I'd bought one that performed like yours I'd be sending it back and asking for a refund.

Jules said...

An excellent review, if I may say so, and one which encapsulates the dilemma that softshells present perfectly!

It also covers well the need for the potential user to be very clear in their own mind on what they want a softshell for - what relative proportions of warmth, waterproofing/resistance, windproofing, breatability, etc, they need.

Then, after all that, there is the task of matching that need to a product when often you only have the blurb from the manufacturers to go on, and finally whether the pockets/features actually "work" in real world use. Oh, and whether DWR really means much at all.


I bought a Haglofs Fang earlier this year, and - whilst I have one or two observations after using it for a while - I am generally very happy with it. And it does turn a shower!

AlanR said...

Hi BG.
Its a mid layer. It’s surprisingly windproof and you don’t need much on underneath.
You do need to carry a waterproof for when it rains.
Its certainly nicer to wear than a waterproof if its just windy and not raining.
The DWR will take a light shower. But light is the word.
Like i say, its niche is not definitive. If you bought it because you thought it to be a reasonable waterproof you would send it back but i admit i like it.

AlanR said...

Thanks very much Jules. I spent a lot of time with this jacket. I got to know it very well.
To me its a showerproof, wind resistant fleece. Thats the way to look at it.
It will delay you getting the waterproof on but not for too long.
Apart from the pockets, i found it good to wear.

I havn’t tried or worn the Fang i have only read reviews of what others have written. It’s seems a good piece of kit. Haglof’s do make nice, if a bit on the bright side, gear.

BG! said...

"Its a mid layer."

So it's not a shell layer.

So it can't be a soft shell.

Simples :-)

I have a Rab VR Climb that I'll wear until it's in threads. It's nicely windproof and immensely water-resistant when treated, but although it's soft it's neither a waterproof nor a shell. How it could have been marketed as a soft shell is beyond me, IMO it's just a misleading marketing ploy.

Jules said...

A "showerproof, wind resistant fleece" seems to sum it up nicely! In a way, that's what I was after myself, although the Fang will actually keep rain out for quite a while - 75 minutes in steady rain, and no water ingress. Which is good!

The downside is that it has a hood that is difficult to accommodate under a hard shell as/when you need one. But as a more versatile fleece alternative it ticks lots of boxes, whilst edging towards the waterproof end of the spectrum means it's good for typical spring/autumn conditions over just a baselayer or thin microfleece.

AlanR said...

Apart from the hood it ticks the boxes.

AlanR said...

Don’t be soft BG! Come out of your shell.Please. Marketing, ha, what do they know.

afootinthehills said...

Great review Alan. It sounds similar to my ME Astron which I've had for over a year now. I didn't buy it because it was a 'soft shell' but because I thought it would have a variety of uses in spring and summer whatever the label. In fact I have worn it all year round and bear in mind that I live in Scotland and go out in almost any weather. It's not waterproof but that doesn't bother me. I put my waterproof on. I ought to review it really rather than make an extended comment on your blog. Sorry!

AlanR said...

No worries Gibson, say what you want. I thought you had done the Astron review. Maybe i’m wrong but i think i remember something about it.
I would suggest it’s use is as you use yours.

afootinthehills said...

I think I mentioned it on Alan Sloman's blog last year in the context of whether hoods were worthwhile on soft shells.

AlanR said...

Yes, i do remember something now. I went out to look at one. Only to find nobody had one in Manchester. I came home with the Rab Boreas.

BG! said...

"Marketing, ha, what do they know."

Well, they obviously know that they can put a DWR coating on a fleece and flog it as a soft shell.

Mark my words, it won't be long until marketing folk start putting condoms on turds and calling them sausages :-)

AlanR said...

Laugh! I nearly, woops, better go.

markswalkingblog said...

Alan, good review on this jacket. I did a review on this about a year ago. Good jacket, but I am not sure about it for backpacking, does not easily fit into my system, but others may be able to. I do however use it a great deal for short walks and general casual wear.

AlanR said...

Hi Mark,
Yes i remembered your review and i checked it out to see if you agreed with mine.
I could backpack with it and i probably will. I would say this time of year is ideal for it. I will probably switch between this and a windproof as my body and ambient temperatures change during a walk. Shame about the pockets though.

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