The Alpinist Mountain Standards reviews apply Alpinist's tradition of excellence and authenticity to gear reviews by providing unbiased, candid feedback and anecdotal commentary to equipment tested (hard) in the field. Our panel is comprised of climbers who use the gear every day as part of their work and play. Only the gear they would actually buy themselves, at retail price, qualifies for the Alpinist Mountain Standards award. The five-star rating system is as follows:
One Star = Piece of junk.
Two Stars = Has one or more significant flaws, with some redeeming qualities.
Three Stars = Average. This solid piece of gear is middle-of-the-road on the current market.
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Five Stars = Is there such thing as perfection? An Alpinist Mountain Standards award-winner.
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Ibex Shak Lite FZ Sport: Frontcountry Function
Posted on: February 6, 2012
What started as a gift from a client that I planned only to wear out of courtesy, inadvertently became my go-to layer for climbing, skiing and traveling. If my house were on fire, my Shak jacket is one of the items I would grab on my way out.
The Shak retails for $135, and is entirely made of New Zealand Merino wool (excluding the threading, zipper and oddly cool ibex horn logo). Weighing just under a pound in a size medium, it's fifty percent heavier than a comparable synthetic layer. It comes in a variety of colors, all tastefully semi-natural tones, and has a full front zipper and thumb holes. Ibex markets the Shak as "semi-fit." It's not skin tight like a superhero getup, but still snug enough fit comfortably and look casual.
While Ibex nailed the look and feel of the Shak, what really makes it stand out for me is the way it functions. Despite being made of wool, the Shak does not itch at all. The fabric is very high quality Merino wool sourced from New Zealand, where the sheep are bred for their very fine, thin hair. Researching for this review, I learned what many people believe to be a wool allergy is actually irritation caused by individual wool fibers scratching at your skin, causing itching and rashes. The wool fibers used to make the Shak are twenty-one microns in diameter (for reference, human hair is around sixty microns).
That extra-fine fiber is spun into yarn and double-knitted to make a fabric that stretches four ways (up, down, in, out), making it really comfortable to move in. The wool itself has some flexibility, but most of the stretch comes from the knit. The jacket retains its form well and is wrinkle-free when I dig it out of the depths of my pack.
I wash the Shak with all my other clothes and usually let it air dry, but when I toss it in the dryer shrinkage is minimal. I imagine that if I threw it into a really hot dryer and let it go forever it would likely do some harm, but that is the case with half my outdoor wardrobe.
The collar has a comfortable, double thickness fabric, and I never had any issue with the zipper. The fabric never bled; it faded slowly, but minimally, and in a good way. There were no durability issues, but I did manage to wear a few small holes in it when I really abused it rock climbing, mostly the classic belly holes from catching it in my belay device or locking carabiner.
I tend to struggle with frontcountry dress codes, so I appreciate the cut and look of the Shak. Guiding in Europe, where I make abrupt switches from the mountains to town, I'm dressed appropriately in terms of weather and style. But most of all, this jacket is a warm, breathable and functional layer. I would not hesitate to pony up and buy this jacket again for myself or someone special.
Pros: fit and material work for climbing, skiing or lounging; made from a renewable resource; breathes well; still warm when damp; extremely comfortable; always looks sharp.
Cons: will wear faster than synthetic fiber shirt; slightly heavier than synthetic; on the spendy side.
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