New for autumn 2011, the Berghaus Velum is actually available already in June making it, along with the Mountain Equipment Firefox, one of the first jackets made from Gore’s new Gore-Tex Active Shell fabric to go on sale.
The Velum uses a completely new Gore-Tex fabric called Active Shell. All you really need to know about it are that it’s light, not quite as light as Paclite, but not far off, and the most breathable waterproof fabric Gore has produced.
We’ve covered all the details on the site already – see this article – but essentially, Gore has changed the construction process of the fabric by streamlining the way the backer is attached to the membrane. The bottom line is that it’s claimed to be much more breathable than other Gore-Tex fabrics as well as decently light.
The second prong of the Active Shell offensive is that Gore has stipulated how it’s used. Minimal pockets and double layers of fabric mean more breathability and it can be made either for lightweight fast movers like runners and cyclists or, like the Velum, aimed squarely at ultra-lightweight mountain use.
Performance So Far
We’ve been using the Velum for several months now and we’re impressed. First, the fabric really does seem to be significantly more breathable than any other Gore-Tex we’ve used and up in the same ballpark as the best alternatives out there like eVent and the new Polartec Neoshell.
That doesn’t mean you won’t get hot if you’re going hard, but it takes longer and you clear excess humidity faster. If you’re not a fast, sweaty bod, look at lightweight Pro Shell – the Berghaus Mount Asgard Smock for example – which will be tougher though less breathable.
Talking of the Mount Asgard Smock, the Velum has some key similarities – first, the cut is very trim though not restrictive. That’s ideal if you’re a slim, honed, athletic type, but to be brutally frankm if you’re hauling extra lard about with you, you may as well forget it as an option.
Next, it has the new generation Asgard hood which means massive, helmet-friendly volume which will swallow pretty much any bone dome, while still giving decent spindrift-friendly facial protection. Adjustment is by four front-exiting cords and can, if you’re Leo Houlding, be achieved with just one hand and the peak is both stiffened and wired. It’s a bloody excellent hood. Arguably the best out there.
The hem’s adjustable too with a single cord which runs at the rear only and the cuffs have simple but neat Velcro tabs.
All this and it’s light too, a whisker under 340 grammes for our test medium-sized jacket. That’s still not quite as light as the 278g Pro Shell Mount Asgard Smock and presumably if the construction were the same, it would be closer, but it’s still pretty good going.
So it’s light, compact and very breathable with a great, close but non-restrictive technical cut, there must be something wrong with it, no? Well, the cuffs are too tight to roll up, which we don’t like, but isn’t a deal breaker. And then there are the zips.
The main zip is a urethane-coated water-resistant one, but there’s no storm flap, to give back-up, the same with the pockets. That means if the zip leaks at all, the water will go through. In pure alpine conditions where the enemies are wind and snow, that’s not a big issue, in the UK it’s potentially irritating.
That said, we’ve used the Velum is some quite gnarly UK mountain weather without leakage problems, so for now it’s more of a potential weakness than an actual proven one. And that’s it really.
We’re very impressed with the Velum so far – it’s light, very breathable, has a superb, close-fitting cut and a true, helmet-compatible hood that we rate as the best on the market right now.
We do have queries over the lack of back-up for the water-resistant zips used for the pockets and main opening, but so far we’ve not had an actual leakage problem in the real world. And for its intended use in the Alps and beyond, that shouldn’t really be a factor.
The question a lot of people will be asking is where this fabric and this type of jacket stands relative to Pro Shell. The answer, we think, is that while it’s appreciably more breathable and if you move fast and work hard, that’ll be a major plus point, it’s also likely to be a little less durable even compared to the lightest Pro Shell variants.
If you’re choosing between this and an Asgard Smock, we’d say go for the Velum if breathability is your top priority, but if you rarely overheat, the Pro Shell alternative is both slightly lighter and a little tougher.
All in all though, great to use a Gore-Tex jacket that’s right up there and kicking hard in the breathability donkey derby.