Review: Marmot Zion Jacket

Marmot Zion Jacket
Marmot Zion Jacket

Winter Shell
Marmot Zion Jacket
$400, 1 lb. 4 oz. (men’s medium)
Sizes: men’s S-XL, women’s XS-XL

Backcountry skiing at around 9,000 feet around Galena Summit, which separates Idaho’s Smoky Mountains and Boulder Mountains (with views north to the better-known Sawtooths and White Cloud Mountains), on a day with lightly falling snow, wind on exposed ridgelines, and temperatures in the 20s Fahrenheit, I needed a shell jacket that could keep me comfortable and dry as my body cycled frequently between overheating and feeling chilled. The Zion Jacket did just that. Waterproof-breathable like a hard shell, it looks, feels, and behaves in some ways more like a soft shell—and offers more seasonal range and weather versatility.

In fact, although being waterproof traditionally defines a hard shell, Marmot calls the Zion Jacket a soft shell; and for all practicable purposes, it’s designed more for situations where soft shells excel: in sub-freezing temperatures and snow. I also wore the Zion on days of backcountry skiing in Idaho’s Boise Mountains, in temperatures from the single digits and low teens—with wind chills below zero at times—and in bright, warm sunshine on cold winter days. Updated this year with the newest iteration of Polartec NeoShell fabric, the Zion is 30 percent lighter than the previous version, and fully seam-sealed and waterproof, while delivering good breathability: I’d get sweaty on uphill skin tracks, but my base layer would mostly dry out underneath the Zion when I skied downhill because the Zion moves moisture quickly.

Marmot Zion Jacket
Marmot Zion Jacket

With good stretch and fit, the Zion feels light and not bulky, yet I easily layered a lighter jacket or a vest under it. The polyester lining is soft for warmer temps in rain where you might not wear a long-sleeve base layer. It has the features of a technical climbing/backcountry shell: long pit zips with water-resistant zippers, and pockets with water-resistant zippers on the chest, front, and one sleeve, one zippered internal pocket, as well as an adjustable hem and cuffs. The front pockets are large enough to hold climbing skins. The fully adjustable, helmet-compatible hood fits nicely: I skied downhill in powder with the hood up and it consistently moved with me, never impeding my peripheral vision, and the stiff brim kept falling snow off my face.

Final Word: It’s very supple and comfortable and has great breathability for a fully waterproof jacket, although some water-resistant soft shells are more breathable. Choose it if you need a shell for fall through spring backcountry skiing or ski touring, climbing, snowshoeing, or cold-weather hiking or backpacking where you might encounter rain or really wet conditions as well as snow.

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See all of my reviews of outdoor apparel, soft-shell jackets, and rain jackets that I like. See also my stories:

“Why and When to Spend More on Gear: Part 1, Packs and Tents, and Part 2, Rain Jackets, Boots, and Sleeping Bags
The Simple Equation of Ultralight Backpacking: Less Weight = More Fun
Buying Gear? Read This First
My 10 Most-Read Gear Reviews
10 Smarter Ways to Think About Your Layering System

NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.

—Michael Lanza

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