The Variant’s core values are simple: weather-resistant warmth and mobility. Nylon ripstop DWR-treated shell fabric and Thermal R Eco insulation protect the torso; Polartec Power Stretch in back offers plenty of give. The vest has an elastic drawcord hem, making heat retention a cinch.
- Thermal R Insulation
- Polartec Power Stretch in Back
- Zip Hand Pockets
- Angel-Wing Movement
- Main Front Fabric – 100% Nylon Double Ripstop
- Main Back Fabric – Polartec Power Stretch (84% Polyester, 16% Elastane)
- Tested size medium
- Weight – 293 g (10.3 oz)
- Pit to pit – 52.7 cm (20.7 in)
- Center back – 69.2 cm (27.3 in)
- Retail – $140
I have been a fan of Marmot for plenty of years now. They have always been a brand that has deep roots in the outdoors and has translated those roots into function outdoor gear. Over the last couple of years Marmot has begun to have more bold and innovative pieces to their lineup of classics done right. The Variant series would fall into this collection. It is made as a hooded jacket, regular jacket, and vest. I was fortunate to have Marmot work with me in order to do this review.
For those that do not know much about Marmot, they have been around since 1974. The original products were centered around down clothing and sleeping bags; those continue to be at the heart of the brand. They have grown from a tiny store in Colorado to be distributed in over 60 countries worldwide. In all the years, the brand is still all about the highest quality performance product.
The variant is an interesting product, so I tested it several different ways. I used it on colder days where a little extra core warmth was useful. I took it running, hiking, and even cycling. Most of the activities were of the active sort in cold weather. I got a little rain and snow to test in but not too much; I did not go looking for it in this vest.
Over the last couple years there have been more and more manufacturers making clothing that is body mapped. If you do not know what this means, it is designing clothing with different fabric in different locations in order to maximize the benefits. These benefits often include but are not limited to: breathability, stretch, weather resistance, insulation, etc… These body mapped clothing pieces help the end user save money as they can normally get in one piece what normally you would need two or more to do. These body mapped pieces of clothing are also more versatile in their use, generally speaking. The reason why I am covering this is because the Marmot Variant Collection is some of that body mapped clothing. This review will be of the Variant Vest, but it is also available in a jacket and hoody. The series does have a different look to them as most body mapped clothing does. Like it or not, performance triumphs over fashion on these pieces.
The Marmot Variant Vest is a very versatile piece of gear. As a vest, and insulted one at that, it really can be used in many different layering strategies to optimize the performance. The Variant has an insulated from chest and shoulders while using a more breathable material on the back. This gives you wind protection and warmth over the front of the core while still allowing breathability and venting in the back. Of course since there are no arms you still will have both ease of movement and no extra insulation on them. The vest uses Marmot’s proprietary Thermal R eco insulation. This synthetic insulation is made of polyester so it will be able to maintain loft even if it does get wet. Since this is made to be used during active activities, this is an important feature. The insulation is sandwiched between Nylon Ripstop layers that protect the insulation. On the outside the shell has been treated with a DWR (durable water repellant,) that helps it resist rain and snow. The rest of the vest is made of Polartec Power Stretch. Power Stretch is a mixture of polyester and elastane giving it an excellent 4-way stretch. It is very breathable but still will insulate. The fabric has also been designed to move moisture away from your skin and therefore, keep you dry and comfortable if you are breaking a sweat.
The Variant vest has a full-length zipper with a full-length draft flap to prevent unwanted wind from penetrating the zipper. The front nylon shell is wind resistant so this zipper is the only vulnerable place at the front. As a nice bonus the draft flap curls up over the top of the zipper to protect the chin from the top of the zipper. There are two zippered hand warmer pockets on the outside and a zippered internal chest pocket. Unfortunately, the inner pocket does not have an audio port which I think would almost be standard by now. The Variant does have a simple design in that around the arms and at the bottom hem, it has been finished with a basic trim. This trim has a bit of stretch and a clean low profile look. I do wish that the bottom hem was more adjustable with a bungee or something along those lines.
The Variant Vest uses non sustainable materials for its shell and back, but the insulation is their Thermal R Eco. This insulation has been made using recycled plastics. Marmot has some corporate initiative and practices to be as Environmentally Responsible as possible, they are also trying to make the most functional product they can and these don’t always work together. In this case, I gave the jacket a 2.5 for sustainability because the jacket itself is partially sustainable and Marmot is making a conceited effort to do what they can. For more information on Marmot’s initiatives, go to the Marmot website.
Ease of Movement (20%)
Torso Sizing (40%)
I am normally a size medium in my outdoor apparel. I have, however, opted for a small on the ROM Jacket and could have probably used a small on the Zion. With this confusion in place I ended up testing the medium on the Variant Vest. Where on some of the others, I could really go either way, I found the Variant to run large. A small would have fitted me much better, even when I layered over a thicker baselayer. The Variant Vest is made to fit trim as the Power Stretch back will hug the body and stretch when needed. For me, the vest was on the loose side. Both around the shoulders and the torso I had extra room. This is also why I mentioned above that it would be nice to have a bungee cord adjustment to tighten up the bottom if it was too loose. Even so I would have to suggest sizing down on this vest especially if you are between sizes.
Even though there was extra room, I still found the vest very comfortable. The inner shell material is soft and comfortable. I always wore the vest with a baselayer of some sort, but it is soft enough to go without if you like that look. The Power Stretch material is very soft and comfortable. You will find some baselayer made exclusively from this fabric as it is equally at home as a baselayer or midlayer. It also provides excellent ease of movement with the 4-way stretch. I must say I have always been a fan of Power Stretch. Soft, stretchy, and just plain comfortable wear. One of the nice things about the Variant Vest is the flatlock seams. These avoid the typical ridges and help prevent extra chafing you may get. It is only a small detail, but for an active vest it is good to see. The Variant has a medium to tall collar around the neck which added some extra warmth, especially nice when it was snowing out. It was snug enough to not let any snowflakes down my neck. The neck even has the nylon shell outer layer so it also blocks the wind.
Weather Resistance (15%)
I tried to test the vest over quite a few activities this fall. I got it out for some runs, snowshoeing, hiking, and cross-country skiing. The nice thing about a vest is that it is unrestrictive so you can really use it for any activity where you would like more warmth. This vest is even warmer than most due to the insulated front. When I wore it running it was too much. It was a windy, 32 degree day, and I thought it would be good over a thin baselayer. I tend to be on the warm side, and this set up proved to be too warm as I had to zip open the front to keep from getting too hot. That is one of the nice things about having a full length front zipper is you can easily adjust the venting. Skiing, snowshoeing and hiking however, were much better suited to the vest. These are more stop and go activities, or at a lower intensity, and the vest was just right for warmth. Not too much insulation and still a good amount of breathability. I did like how the front of the vest is wind resistant. Insulation does not do as well if the wind can cut right through it. I even think this would work well on the bike but was not able to put it to that test.
The Variant Vest is low profile so it can easily layer under even the tightest shell jackets. I even had one size larger than I would like and no issues layering over the top of it. The trim on the armholes and bottom hem are low profile, so there are not any uncomfortable spots when you have a shell over the top. All the zippers are also lower in profile for this reason. All the pockets worked as expected. My only disappointment with them was the lack of audio port in the chest pocket. I like to put my iPhone in there when out on my own and route my headphone up. I could still do this with the pocket the way it is, but it necessitated me having it unzipped slightly.
As for the durability, I have not had any issues. I know that Power Stretch is super durable from some other clothing I have and in general, nylon will last as long as you take care of it. As with most Marmot pieces I have owned I would not expect any issues, they make good stuff. While I would not suggest going out in the rain or snow in just a vest. I can say that in the little rain I did get while wearing it, the drop just beaded up and rolled off. The DWR worked as advertised, and I think like other jackets with these types of outer shells you can expect it to stay dry in a light rain but anything that is longer in duration or a hard rain it will soak the insulation. Of course, you will be in a vest so your arms and back will get a little wet too.
Overall, I think this is a great concept. I wish I would have been able to try a small as I think this would have been much better. The medium was just too large on me. Even looking at the size chart which suggests a medium, I would say size down unless you like it to be on the looser side. The sizing will be entirely dependent on your torso size, and I would rather have a snug-fitting vest over a loose one. Apart from the sizing the vest was pretty sweet. The insulation is just enough for most activities without being bulky. It also has wind resistance, which makes it warmer than most other thin insulating layers, think fleece. With the breathable back, it also makes it a good choice for active activities. If you are looking for a little extra warmth for your core, but want to not get too warm, the Variant Vest will serve you well. I must say the more body mapped options the better, they are so versatile. The Marmot Variant vest retails for $140. I found it good for skiing, hiking, snowshoeing and think it would work for cycling and even some running. As always, your mileage may vary.
Pros [field name=iFrame]
- Low profile makes it easy to layer over
- Wind resistant front
- Excellent mobility with Power Stretch back
- Breathes well
- Good amount of warmth for low to medium intensity activities
- Fit was large
- No audio port from the inner chest pocket
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