While descending from the summit of Mount Adams I had a gear desire for something more. The temperatures were too mild for full summit gear but to windy for a base layer. Surely a magical piece of gear existed too meet this need but it was not in my pack that day. First Ascent’s Sandstone soft shell jacket is that piece of gear.
Soft Shell 101
You may have heard the term soft shell before or you might be wondering what it means. I am not a gear scientist but I will do my best to sum it up. Traditional hard shell jackets are typically about as waterproof and windproof as clothing gets. This is what you wear for the 10% of the time when the rain, snow or wind is unrelenting. But this protection comes with a price. Hard shells just aren’t very breathable even if they have Gore Tex. eVent or Hyvent. So you might be able to keep the weather out but your own sweat inside the jacket will have you soaked.
This is where the soft shell comes in. These garments are way more breathable than hard shells but not quite as waterproof. The idea here is that you can keep most water out and still vent your own body heat to prevent excessive sweat buildup. Can you see where a jacket like this might come in handy? Soft shells can be just the ticket when you are highly active in cold but mild conditions; which is most of the time if you do any outdoor sports.
I rest my case about why soft shells rock; on to the gear review!
First Ascent’s Sandstone
Eddie Bauer recently launched the First Ascent brand to get back in touch with their mountaineering roots. When you hear Eddie Bauer you might think of tweed field jackets or pleated khakis but First Ascent is legit. They launched the line with an ascent of Mount Everest and their team currently includes no less than 18 mountaineering, skiing and kayaking legends including Pete Whitaker and Ed Viesturs. The Sandstone Soft shell is First Ascent’s lightest and most breathable jacket designed for high output activities.
The Sandstone weighs less than 12 oz, has a water resistant DWR finish, and features hand pockets along with an mp3 player/Napoleon pocket. It also lets you standout or be subtle with three color choices; lime green, bright blue, or black. There is no insulation in this jacket; it is just a thin shell. This jacket is designed to fit close to the body with an athletic fit. As you can see the Sandstone is designed to be an active layer. These stats all sounded good to me so I ordered mine in blue and couldn’t wait to use it.
Eating Pop-Tarts in my Sandstone Jacket
I first broke out the Sandstone Soft Shell on the last day of winter for an ascent of Mount Washington. The temperatures were in the 20s and a light snow was falling; it was soft shell weather. The jacket deflected light snow with ease and had no trouble venting my body heat as I climbed toward the Lion’s Head trail. I appreciated the athletic fit while using my ice axe on the steeper sections of Lion’s Head winter route. Once above tree line I shed the Sandstone for more traditional summit garb.
My only concern with this jacket is durability. It has held up fine so far but the material is very thin and porous. This is great for breath-ability but I am not sure how it will hold up over time as it faces numerous tree branches, accidental falls or my car keys in the pocket.
First Ascent’s Sandstone soft shell does exactly what it promises; it is the perfect layer for 90% of time that you are outside. It also looks great at the office or walking to the bar in a light rain.