If you’d shown me this jacket but covered up the logo, I could have spent a considerable amount of time guessing which brand it was; and I don’t think that I would have ever said that it was a Trekmates product.
Until a couple of months ago I didn’t associate Trekmates with ‘proper’ mountain gear at all; they’re known for their cheap and cheerful entry-level gear and not sexy labels that say “Soft-shell”. But consider this jacket, and a host of other Trekmates products which we’ll be reviewing over the next few weeks, the re-birth of the British brand. They’ve had a serious cash injection, and are raising their game with some stonking gear that can match more expensive brands in terms of quality.
The re-birth is heralded by Trekmates’ sponsorship of the British Association of International Mountain Leaders (BAIML), and they say that this jacket has been designed with the help of some of those Mountain Leaders so that every feature is just what’s needed on the hills. I’ve had a jacket on test now for a few weeks, and it’s been with me as the season has changed from pleasantly Autumnal to bitter Wintery chill.
In brief, the BAIML Soft Shell Jacket is a shower-proof, windproof, moderately warm but breathable jacket which is cut in a shape that allows you to bend over, stretch up and carry a pack without exposing any skin to the elements.
In less brief terms, the jacket is made from a very densely woven fabric with a fleecy inside face and a smooth outside face. It is so closely woven that a brief rain shower won’t penetrate the fabric, and thus it can be deemed as shower-proof. Prolonged rain will cause it to wet out (soak up water) and leak, but this isn’t designed to be a full-on waterproof jacket like much more expensive Gore Tex and Neoshell competitors. This is designed to cope with a brief shower as you hike, so that you don’t need to put on an extra layer until you see the rain setting-in for a session.
The dense fabric is also windproof, which does a great job of keeping you warm on these very cold and windy days we’ve had lately. I’ve found myself crossing open fields and wishing for thicker trousers, but keeping warm up top. The generously-sized hood (just big enough for a helmet) with its variety of adjustment straps also does a superb job of keeping the wind off your ears. It also has a wired-peak, so when the rain and wind do suddenly pick up, you can avoid getting a face-full.
I generally don’t ever bother cinching down a hood, but Trekmates have included a velcro lashtab to do just that if you don’t like things flapping around behind your head.
The main zipper on the BAIML jacket is showerproof, and there is a rain-channel/windblock behind it. This is the only negative point about the jacket. My sample uses a really thin and floppy bit of material for this, which gets in the way of doing the main zip up quickly and folds over on itself too easily. I’m feeding this point back to Trekmates and perhaps the retail version of the jacket will address the issue.
There are two large hand pockets on the front of the jacket. They’re lined with a textured mesh, which is snuggly on cold fingers and allows the warmth from your belly through. Of course, in warmer weather this also works as a sort of vent!
A third pocket resides on the left chest, and it’s massive. You could quite easily keep 3 or 4 phones in there before it felt like it was getting full. Apparently, they don’t like it if you attempt this in Phones4U – be warned.
Internally, if you’re the kind of person who likes to carry loads of stuff in your jacket (I’m not), there are mesh map pockets on both sides.
Styling wise, I really like the BAIML jacket. It’s just black, with grey zips and a two-tone Trekmates logo. It’s a jacket that looks subtle and contemporary on the hill, and just as good queuing up outside that trendy new bar as all around you freeze in their designer shirts. The cut is simple, with large panels of material and a fit that is on the generous side. When I first donned the jacket I felt that the sleeves were too long, but having gotten used to that I now see the benefit when raising my arms to throw balls or, er, climb gates. Being a softshell, the jacket has some degree of stretch in it, which is nice when you need to repeatedly bend elbows and shoudlers (for instance, with walking poles).
In terms of warmth, the jacket is fully lined with the fleecy inner. Velcro cuffs and a bungee waistcord keep out breezes, and once sealed in I’ve been snug when wearing baselayers and a microfleece underneath in temperatures down to 0C. It’s not an insulated jacket though, so layering will be needed.
Priced at £100, the BAIML jacket is very serious competition for similar jackets from more established apparel brands like The North Face, Columbia and the like. If you covered up the logo, only the tiniest details would tell you the difference in brand – like the plain zipper pulls and storm cuffs where otherwise bigger brands would have stuck a logo. If you’re in the market for a bit of a bargain, have a look at these jackets. (They’re only available online until 2012)
SUMMARY: The Trekmates BAIML Soft Shell Jacket is a great-looking, comfortable and useful jacket for colder climates. With fleecy interior, generous fit and enormous hood you can seal out the coldest wind. It’s not fully waterproof, but instead benefits from good breathability. Cheaper than more established apparel brands of the same quality, it could be a bit of a bargain.