Lets start with what I still consider the gold standard of insulated soft shells, the Arcteryx Gamma MX @ $350 US $ currently.
From the Arctery web site:
"Breathable, wind-resistant, lightly insulated hooded jacket constructed with Fortius 2.0 textile for increased comfort and mobility. Gamma Series: Softshell outerwear with stretch | MX: Mixed Weather."
"This wind-resistant, breathable hoody is perfect for alpine specialists looking for enhanced mobility. A tough, highly wind-resistant outer face sheds moisture and a light fleece backer adds warmth while wicking away moisture.
Helmet Compatible Stormhood™
Honestly the last time I can remember using a insulated soft shell (Gamma MX) for climb was March of 2009 on Curtain Call with Jack. It was cold outside, little wind and the ice wet. The Gamma MX was a perfect choice in jackets for the day. Jack was wearing a Mammut version of a similar fabric and pattern. Cutting edge and good gear for 7 years ago,.
My original Canadian made Gamma MX
Mind you I still use a lot of "soft shells" just nothing like the Gamma MX that is insulated for my own climbing climbing. I do how ever use a number of lwt insulated garments as "climbing sweaters". The entire Arcteryx Atom lineup has been good. The choice in Arcteryx Atom garments depending on temps. Or the RAB Xenon are some all time favorites for cold weather winter climbing. I really like the Pertex shell RAB uses. But stretchable shells that offer good durability, water resistance and weather protection from Westcomb, Arcteryx and Patagonia are my likely choices these days for climbing or skiing over a insulation with rare exceptions.
So back to the Gamma MX. My first MX cost me the then seemingly outrageous price of $300 back in 2003 iirc. So up front the garments last. This one was passed on to a buddy working on a ranch. He used it as his every day jacket rain or shine till seams started exploding. It then went back to Arcteryx for repair and he is still using it today.
The reason I don't use insulated soft shells for climbing now? They are certainly warm and wind resistant but I've not found one that breaths well enough to climb in. The criticism continues even with the newest Gamma MX.
The fit of the Arcteyx version is excellent for me. High marks there for detailing, pattern, fit and finish. Just as I should be in a $350 dollar outdoor jacket. The Gamma MX is no longer made in Canada and the fabric not as heavy/warm/windproof as the originals but still a good weight IMO and very stretchy. Decent wet weather protection for a while anyway and they dry quickly when wet. No question this thing is durable. Most will give I away or recycle it on Ebay long before they wear one out. High praise there.
My take on the Gamma MX today? Not warm enough to ski in alone mid winter. Not warm enough for most cold weather outdoor actively unless you are moving quickly. If you are working hard the Gamma MX doesn't breath well enough to justify the weight or durability. The Atom LT is a better option for me while climbing. It breaths much better than a Gamma MX. They are a straight across trade for me in similar weather conditions. The Atom LT is lighter and breaths better. The Gamma MX is more as in, way, way more durable in use.
Some folks love climbing in an insulated soft shell. There are some great ones out there. The Neoshell versions really impressed me and still do for over all weather protection. And nothing wrong with the Gamma MX. As I said earlier I still think it is the gold standard of the category. Neoshell is the only thing I have seen that enhances a good insulated soft shell.
So how does the Carthartt Crowley jacket figure into the technical soft shell mix?
It reminds me at least in feel, warmth and weight of the very best of the Neoshell versions of insulated soft shell.
But first two important numbers....a Gamma MX, size XL and comparable with a slightly roomier fit, the Carhartt Crowley in Large.
Gamma MX Hoody is 1# 13oz. and $350.
Crowley Hoody is 2# 3oz and $120.
The weight difference is noticeable. So is the durability and wind protection advantage going to the Crowley on both points. Think of the MX as a bespoke sport coat for a Fall or Spring night on the town. The Crowley as a nice fitting leather motorcycle jacket for protection on your sport bike.
The Crowley I might delegate as a full time mid winter ski jacket with a slick insulated layer under it. The MX makes a good piece of kit on the hill if you are moving or the temps mild.
You might wonder why I am so interested in a insulated soft shell now. For the last few months I have gotten up just prior to dawn and put on what ever I thought would keep me warn in the coldest part of the day as I walk a few hundred yards to a barn to move/feed 100# hay bales around outdoors, no matter the weather, clear, rain or now snow prior to sunrise. Interesting to me what I have learned from the experience that applies to my other outdoor interests and may be yours. Wrestling with 100+ lbs of dead weight that is hard to get a handle on first thing in the morning is like having to lead a hard pitch first thing after a bad bivy. Rather unpleasant. What have I learned? I really want warm feet walking through thigh high wet grass. I want a decent hood on the jacket (wind). And the least amount of clothes to keep me warm and no bind while working. Pretty much what I want on that hard mixed pitch after a bad bivy. Jacket has to be TOUGH and abrasive resistant to survive even a week around the horses and barn. If the jacket collects hay on sticky fabric (inside or out) it won't be comfortable for long. From my memory snow seems to stick in a similar fashion. Insulated soft shells are the perfect barn coat or at least could be. Price has been a big deterrent for me in such an abusive environment. The best materials are water proof (Neoshell). All the best soft shells in this category are pretty abrasive resistant. The high quality insulated versions might well be warm enough 99% of the time in the "barn" environment even mid winter.
I was so convinced that the Gamma MX was the answer to the "barn coat" that I went to Ebay and bought one "new with tags". Then before it could arrive I found the Carhartt Crowley version in the local Carhartt store and bought that as well. Hard to resist the low buy in $ amount truthfully. The Ebay price on the Gamma MX and the retail price on the Carhartt added together got me into both jackets for a good bit less than full retail on a Gamma MX. If nothing else it was a nice score I figured.
Two weeks later I am more impressed with the Carhartt than ever. Enough so to add a rare new gear review here :)
Carhartt Hood? Works with a climbing helmet no problem. Big enough and decent vision. Hood has a simple draw string system and a good chin protector on the high zip front with a pull tag. All the pocket zippers also have the same nice pull tags.
Cuffs? Tapered cuff Velcro closure.
Pockets? One zippered chest on the outside, two zippered hand pockets on the sides. Pockets are deep unlikely you'll loose much from them even with the zipper down. One Velcro tabbed drop pocket internally and two that are not sealed that are unintentional pockets....that work good for something like sun glasses or a light glove/hat. All the pockets are a light woven fabric lined to enhance breathability and lower bulk is my take on it. The plan seems to work.
Nice gusset around the hemline. Draw string there as well.
Bottom line here? Even for twice the price the Crowley is a damn nice jacket. At $120 it is a steal. Equally at home on lift served skiing or a cold mixed route that requires some chimney stuffing. Likely more than one Harley rider will wear it on his bike. Basic black for color has some appeal. Nice jacket to haul on your next plane flight to where ever, just to maintain the image. And it is comfy. Good enough for a dinner date, beer and a movie And it makes a decent barn jacket that I won't ever worry about trashing. It is a insulated soft shell jacket I would actually take on quick shots of alpine mixed climbing. That is HIGH praise from me.
This jacket was a really fun find. I've put some decent mileage on it doing everything BUT outdoor pursuits unless you consider riding a horse something exciting. For the most part I just find it a quick way to get really dirty. So far all that has spit shined up with just a wet wash cloth on the Carhartt Crowley. Be curious to see to it looks this time next year. Don't imagine there will be any surprises the way Carhartt builds clothing.
Best $120 I have spent in a long time. The new Gamma MX I ordered? It is here, still got the hang tags on it. Still one hell of a jacket even at $350. I'll be saving it for spring skiing :)