I like being proven wrong. Believe it or not, it happens a lot.
A few months ago, I was given the opportunity to test out the new Rab Muztag GTX Jacket. For years, I’ve done my best to stay away from Gore-Tex and any other type of hardshell jackets for all but the worst conditions in the mountains. I have always appreciated the ability of softshells to breathe and stretch while I methodically plod up steep snow slopes. In my mind, Gore-Tex jackets were still too heavy and restrictive in regard to movement.
I already have a few super high-end hardshells collecting dust in my closet. They get used in rain, but not in the snowy environs that I typically try to inhabit. When I got the Rab Muztag jacket, I figured I’d take it out for a few days and quickly switch back to my trusty softshell. Like I said, I was happy to be proven wrong.
It’s been an exceptionally high snow year in Alaska, so I’ve spent most of my winter backcountry skiing instead of ice climbing. Our temperatures have run the gamut of record setting heat to one of the coldest Januarys we’ve had in over a decade.
The first thing I noticed was the lengthy armpit zips. I opened them up most of the way on both sides during the rapid, early season skin up a popular run in south central Alaska. After catching my breath at the top, I did a brief assessment and was surprised to find that I was dry under my hardshell jacket. I’d always associated Gore-Tex with being a sweat factory in high-output scenarios.
Secondly, I found that the jacket moved with me. Unlike the stretchy fabrics of a softshell jacket, the Rab Muztag features intentionally placed panels on the arms, shoulders and back that allow for unhindered movement. At no time in any of my skiing or ice climbing escapades did I feel like the jacket inhibited my movement as I had come to expect with other hardshells.
I’m a sucker for a jacket that has just the right amount of pockets, but not too many. It’s also important that they’re in the right place. Nothing is more annoying than trying to fish out a snack or a headlamp from a pocket and it’s trapped under the waist belt of a backpack or harness. The Muztag’s two large external pockets allow me to pack more than my fair share of candy bars at chest level without feeling top heavy. A separate internal pocket is a great spot to keep my phone handy.
A big hood easily accommodates a ski or climbing helmet, but can be cinched down or rolled up and put away if needed. Wide Velcro straps at the wrists have yet to come undone during epic skiing wipeouts. Long arms don’t ride up when ice climbing. Big zipper pull-tabs are easy to grab even with the beefiest gloves. I’m equally psyched about the burly, waterproof zippers. I have no fears of them failing in the mountains. At 16.6oz (470g), the Muztag is both light and packable.
I’m always looking at gear and wondering what I could cut away. Nothing brings me more pleasure than knowing I was able to cut a few grams off of some backpack. Surely, I imagine, that indiscernible weight is the difference between me making the summit or not! What can I say? These are old habits from days of heavier gear, I suppose. On the Muztag jacket, I couldn’t find anything that I could cut off. It seems I’ve been bested by those crafty designers at the Rab lab!
In a normal spring season in Alaska–were it not for the COVID-19 pandemic–I’d be switching my focus from the big mountains of the Chugach and Talkeetnas to the REALLY big mountains of the Alaska Range. A hardshell jacket has always just been a backup that mostly stayed buried in my duffel bags at base camp during those expeditions. That won’t be the case with the Muztag.
It’s obvious Rab put a lot of thought into designing a truly burly and versatile jacket that doesn’t weigh me down or limit my movement. I often scoffed at folks who wore Gore-Tex, but now I’m thinking I’ve been proven wrong again. And that orange color sure would look nice in pictures…if my partners would take any!
Clint Helander made the first ascent of Mt. Huntington’s South Ridge (aka “Gauntlet Ridge“) with Jess Roskelley in 2017. Their ascent is featured on the cover of Alpinist 59. You can find more of Helander’s writing and photography at ClintHelander.com as well as Alpinist.com.
Athletic cut enables range of movement
Armpit zips vent incredibly well
Gore-Tex material is durable and light
Not as expensive as other jackets of equal quality
I honestly couldn’t find any.