Over the last few years, the waterproof-breathable textile scene has jumped leaps and bounds in terms of function. Though still dominant (for reasons other than performance), the “industry standard” membrane is still out there—hot, clammy, and plenty waterproof. A few new materials have plain-and-simple surpassed the old standby, and today offer vastly superior performance in the field.
To wit: “eVent DVL,” the latest, greatest fabric from eVent, who’s now owned by GE. Several manufacturers are building out of the stuff, but it’s no surprise Westcomb led to market with DVL in its “Focus LT Hoody” (9 oz., 260g, verified at home; $280). I managed to score one and have taken it along ski-mountaineering, alpine climbing, and rock climbing, notching about 25 days in it. My thoughts:
As with all things Westcomb, it’s very, very well made. Tight stitching and more stitching per inch than just about anything out there means you can forget about the seams. Bomber. Westcomb also uses half-width seam taping, saving weight.
The fit falls between slim/athletic and “full” (or chubby!), meaning you can get a fleece or soft-shell underneath it and at the same time don’t expect it to be close-fitting. The cut prevents most of the over-the-harness billowing that drives me nuts, but it’s honestly a little more generous than I’d like. I’m 5’10”, 165 lbs., so I’d say I’m pretty average build, just to give an idea of fit/body type, etc.
Because it’s a minimalist shell, the Focus LT has just one pocket (upper chest, mesh backed), no pit zips, no drawcord at the waist (more on that in a sec), but does feature a three-way helmet-compatible hood (some other superlight shells skimp on the hood). It seems to me most of us are moving towards minimalist hard-shells, especially in drier climates like Colorado. For a piece we wear relatively infrequently, there’s no reason to haul around zippers, extra stitching, etc.
The Focus packs down to the size of a six-inch sub or if you pack it spherically, then a cantaloupe—plenty small enough to fit in a “bullet” pack, with shoes, a med kit, and maybe a half-liter of water depending on the pack. Totally reasonable size/weight to leave in your pack for anything from Eldo missions to long alpine days.
Long known for top-end quality and craftsmanship (every bit the equal of Arc’teryx, Patagonia, or Rab), Westcomb leaves off some detailing—like the waist drawcord–and rather than just “do without,” they figure a way to still offer some performance while maintaining the weight savings. By installing a bit of elastic at the sides, then using stretch silicone to grip and keep the hem down, Westcomb builds in an elegant and near weightless feature at the waist. As far as I know, Westcomb’s the only alpine-brand using stretch silicone from the cycling industry. (Cycling brands use the silicone around jersey and short hems.)
I scratched around a little in the Focus, but I have to admit I didn’t hammer the thing. Part of that is my near-total aversion to hard shells due to their clamminess (much more on this in a sec). Face fabric seemed durable enough for occasional use rock climbing—start groveling in off-widths, though, and this thing, like most shells, would shred like Jack Abramoff with the G-men at his door. For Colorado (read: fair weather!) climbing, I say this is totally appropriate.
But enough of fit, construction, design…how does eVent’s DVL really work? Infinitely better than the popular stuff, that’s for sure. In 2003 the US Army’s Natick Lab tested waterproof-breathables, and back then three-layer eVent (pre-DVL eVent) was anywhere from 30-200 percent better than Gore-tex XCR at moving moisture. DVL is approximately 20 percent better than its predecessor and it improves upon the “old” eVent by allowing a bit of air permeability, meaning you get some evaporative cooling from the outside environment, while speeding moisture transfer, too.
In testing DVL (and Polartec’s NeoShell, which is also air permeable) one of the things I did was use both shells in the early morn on a bike commute to the gym. No, not “extreme” in any sense, but my ride starts downhill with a chilly, 30-mph descent: perfect for seeing if this “air permeability” stuff amounts to anything.
On cool and cold mornings, I gotta say, the eVent (and NeoShell) garments were noticeably less “warm” in the sense they let a bit of the outside air in…meaning you get a sense of the wind. In both cases I deliberately underdressed, hoping to sense some of the air moving through the garment. Bingo—it works. Now, when you dress appropriately with a wicking base layer and/or a mid-layer if it’s chilly enough, you no longer sense the “cold” from the outside, but you do get the breathability.
I loved the NeoShell in a previous test and the eVent DVL is on par in terms of breathability. Both of these textiles also breathe better the more you’re moving through the landscape—the faster you’re moving (think cycling, skiing), the more air moves through the shell, and the better breathability you’re getting. It’s noticeable in the Focus LT Hoody, and it gets more noticeable the faster you’re going…awesome.
After breathability, waterproofing comes into play. eVent DVL claims it will “resist a 30,000mm water column,” whatever that means. This is on par with the less breathable stuff and surpasses Polartec’s NeoShell by 20,000mm, so let’s call eVent DVL reliably waterproof. I had it in sleet and rain for over an hour at a time and it didn’t wet out at all—some of this is due to the DWR and I didn’t use the jacket long enough to exhaust it. I think, though, with hard shells, the problem isn’t the waterproofing…and DVL performs just fine.
There’s some chatter on the internet about “more” or “less” waterproof, but beyond a certain point, it becomes moot. Mother Nature can only drive rain so hard. Anyway, just fine for waterproofing and DVL.
Taken in total, the Westcomb Focus LT Hoody is a great piece. At $280, it seems a good value to me for the craftsmanship (compare it to the Mountain Hardwear “Blazar”, which is $450—stay tuned for a test because it’s badass!) and design. I wouldn’t change much about the Focus, perhaps just making it a bit more trim through the torso. Other than that, really, really good jacket. It fits into my world as a nice, lightweight shell to have along for rock and alpine routes. I’d even bring it cycling it in a hydration pack, no sweat.
Good job, Westcomb, another success.