It's spring-time and Haglöfs has expanded its range of fast-moving lightweight kit with new bike and running-specific clothing and, in the case of running, footwear.
It's distinctive stuff with a striking mono-colour theme that looks particularly good on the Asics-powered running shoes, but we wondered whether there was any big advantage in going for an activity-specific garment rather than one of Haglöfs more general Intense ones.
Enter our test guinea pig, a sample of the new Gore-Tex Active Shell Scramble Jacket, a waterproof aimed specifically at cyclists and mountain bikers which we've been using for the past few months. It has a number of bike-friendly features, but would that, we wondered, make it worth choosing over the excellent, slick-cut Endo Jacket made from the same fabric and one of our favourite all-round lightweight waterproofs.
What's The Same?
Kicking off with the similarities between the two, both use the same highly-breathable Gore-Tex Active Shell fabric, which is our favourite Gore fabric ever - watch out for the new Pro coming later this year though - and gives a great balance between protection and breathability. No difference there then.
And then there's the weight. Both our medium test jackets weigh a decent, though not ultra-lightweight 320g, though to be fair, the Endo has a hood whereas the Scramble doesn't. Finally, though there are detail differences, the overall cut of both jackets is very similar - decently wide at the shoulders and tapering neatly down to a narrow waist with minimal flapping potential and both have a drop-tail for added butt protection.
We've reviewed the Endo in the past, but it's one of our favourite lightweight jackets. Its replacement is the Gram which, as far as we can see, is more or less identical in terms of performance bar some minor changes. It's a hooded, Active Shell full-zip top wth a great fit and a hood that gives enough protection for most fast-moving scenarios. The one thing we were a little iffy about initially were the Lycra cuff sections with thumb-loops, but so far they've held up well and we even use them occasionally.
The minimal single stretch chest pocket is enough for us and the jacket packs down compactly enough to stow in a small-capacity daysac when not needed. And when it is called for it's kept us consistenly dry both from the rain and by dint of good breathability. It looks good too in a sort of feral green colour and we've used it for walking, scrambling running and biking.
Yes, biking, which brings us to the new Scramble Jacket and what makes it a bike-specific shell. One obvious difference is that it doesn't have a hood, instead there's an adjustable high collar with a sort of soft-shell liner. Why? Generally cyclists don't use hoods thanks to wearing a helmet and a flapping hood can be annoying and impair over-the-shoulder vision on the road in parcticular.
Then there are the cuffs. Where the Endo has those thumb-looped, soft-shell panels, the Scramble gets longer sleeves with a slant cut, adjustable cuff which is designed to cover the back of the hand in a riding position. Its a nice touch and means the join between gloves and jacket is protected where the Endo just stops short.
Finally, the drop-tail on the Scramble is a little longer, which looks odd standing up, but lean forward onto handlebars and it gives added butt protection in a riding position, not much more than the Endo, but a little. The production version also gets some silicone gripper stuff to hold the hem more securely in place in combination with a rear-half draw-cord adjuster. Nice.
Finally, the most obvious major difference is a big, zipped pocket at the back covered by a protective flap which is, in turn, held in place by two magnets. It's the one aspect of the Scramble we're not 100 per-cent convinced by. First, while road cycists traditionally carry all they need in jersey pockets, they also tend to favour ultra-light waterproofs that can also be squeezed into a pocket, the Scramble's too bulky for that, so it's a 'from the beginning to the end of the ride or not at all option'.
Then, rather than having a waterproof liner, the pocket is backed with a soft shell fabric which, when it gets really damp, can wet out and feel uncomfortable against the small of back - we'd prefer a waterproof backer to the pocket, though that might not be possible.
Most mountain bikers, on the other hand, use some sort of hydration pack to carry spares, water and tools which renders the pocket redundant, which isn't the end of the world, but the handy magnets, which work brilliantly to keep the protective flap in place on the road, can get rubbed by a pack and looking at our test jacket, we're a little concerned the fabric could wear through on the high-points over the magnets and you can see the wear marks already. One to keep an eye on.
First thing to be clear on is that these are both cracking jackets as they ought to be with suggested price tags of £230 for the Endo and £260 for the Scramble and in an ideal world we'd have one of each please. Back in reality, we'd have to say that while if you're only going to use it for riding a bike, the Scramble works really well in most situations.
For long road rides though, it'd be nicer if it were more compact, so you had the option of stowing it in a pocket, while for mountain bikers, we reckon the pocket is superfluous and potentially a wear-point too. But the cut, the long sleeves and bias-cut cuffs and the high, adjustable collar all do an excellent job.
That said, the Endo is still an extremely versatile jacket and if you're mixing up running, riding and walking, its useful hood makes it a better choice. And while the cuffs are a bit of a Marmite feature, they don't seem to create any problems in the real world.
For road riding, at least where you don't need to stow the jacket, we'd go for the Scramble every time - handy pocket, good cut and features and decent fabric. For mountain biking, it's less clear. Yes, the bike-specific cut still works, but the pocket seems superfluous and, in some mountain biking situations the hood, which would be a pain on the road, actually comes in useful.
Finally, for all-round use, we'd go for the Endo or its successor, the Gram Jacket - there's also a lighter 215g Gram Comp Pull - for its versatility. Yes, it's compromised a little in biking terms, but it still does the basics decently.
More Haglöfs information at www.haglofs.com.