When we conceived the Golden Nut Award and were brainstorming which products to include, from among the dozens of ideas and suggestions, there is one piece we all agreed on right away: the Arc’teryx Gamma MX Hoody. Almost everyone I know either has or has had one, and with good reason: it is the perfect climbing softshell.

The Gamma MX Hoody was introduced in 2000, and came out simultaneously in Men’s and Women’s styles. The idea for the MX started with a designer who was working on a Gamma SV, but the style lines were tweaked for better mobility. Tom Fayle, Director of Advanced Research and Development at Arc’teryx, ended up spearheading the design to work “the lines based on some of the hardshell mobility pattern developments with inspiration from the Tau jacket and pullover that had just launched.”

The initial style stayed with only one tweak through the prototyping stages but “the sleeve pocket took a few iterations to make it work with the lines as fit was refined.” Kristi Birnie, Director of Colour Design, helped with aesthetic critique and colour placement, while Tanya Hall, Design Manager, developed the Women’s version.

When launched, the Men’s and Women’s styles had identical features but in 2009 there was a design update. Tanya Hall explains: “The women’s was updated to achieve a cleaner aesthetic by changing from two very visible chest pockets, to a subtler/discreet single chest pocket. The men’s was updated to achieve a cleaner aesthetic by changing the very visible two chest pockets, to a subtler look by changing the pocket material to the body fabric.”

However, the main styling has remained the same with any other major tweaks coming in the form of fabric changes: the original design used Polartec Power Shield lightweight, while the current version utilizes Arc’teryx’s own proprietary Fortius 2.0. Regardless of fabric used the MX has copious amounts of stretch. The inside is brushed micropile, which is soft against bare skin and also adds some warmth for mid-winter pursuits. The outer face fabric is smooth and snag-resistant, and even my 2008 model shows minimal wear. The Power Shield fabric, as used from 2000-2008, had a tendency to fade around stitching and other raised areas after a few months of use, and though not a performance detriment it did make the jacket look older than it was. Or, as I prefer to think of it, more experienced!

It’s pretty remarkable for an item of clothing to remain virtually unchanged for sixteen years, but that just speaks to the MX’s solid design. The body is typical Arc’teryx athletic cut: long in the back and shorter in the front, with long, roomy sleeves and a fairly slim fit through the tapered torso. The Hoody version has, naturally, the excellent and unmatched Stormhood, which slips effortlessly over a helmet but doesn’t bind or obstruct vision.

It is one of very few, if not the only, jacket in which the hand pockets are actually situated high enough to be useable while wearing a harness. There are also two chest pockets which are large and stretchy and big enough to stuff in a pair of gloves if needed. I also love the little sleeve pocket on the left bicep, which is not overly big but sized just right for some lipbalm and sunscreen, or a ClifBar or two.

Gamma_MX-2

Sitting here in my MX as I write this, I can’t help but be amazed at how solid all the seams look and how well constructed it is to still be going strong after eight years of use. The contrasting-pocket styling is looking a bit dated, but after all it was designed in 2000 and the  styling update didn’t come until 2009 — a year after I’d bought mine.

Of course, it takes more than great design and solid materials to stand out, and the Gamma MX impresses with its performance in every condition imaginable. By now, I’ve used my Hoody across all seasons and for nearly activity I can think of from ice and alpine climbing to mountain biking and walking the dogs. It handles anything and everything with a shrug to the elements.

The MX’s combination of wind proofness, water resistance, warmth and breathability is hard to beat. It is not absolutely wind proof but it comes close and blocks out most gusts. It’s about as wind blocking as I look for in a softshell. Arc’teryx employ a fantastic DWR finish and in combination with the smooth outer face of the fabric, water resistance is exemplary, even on my 8-year-old jacket: water still beads on the surface though it doesn’t run off quite as smoothly as it did when new.

Thanks to the brushed micropile inner the MX is warm enough for mid-winter use, though I’ve also worn it over just a T-shirt in warm weather, and the breathability becomes immediately apparent as the shell regulates temperature very well without becoming uncomfortably clammy. Plus, the interior is a nice and cozy place to hang out in so I’ll often use mine as a summer ‘belay’ jacket and, on overnight trips, I’ll roll it inside out and stuff it into the hood for a comfy pillow. The MX has near countless uses as far as I’m concerned.

At $370 msrp the MX is certainly not cheap, and though not the most expensive softshell out there it is at the higher end. But as with most products, you get what you pay for: top-notch performance and quality, backed by Arc’teryx’s superb warranty.

Since I started ice climbing in 2010, and then this site in 2013, I’ve gone through a lot of softshells, first purely out of curiosity and my quest to find the perfect climbing softshell for me, and now additionally as part of this whole reviewing thing, but the Gamma MX Hoody has always had a place in the wardrobe, and is still the one which all others are compared against.

We’re stoked for the Golden Nut Award and what it stands for: gear that is built to last, designed to perform, and proven by years of use and abuse in mountains all over the world. All of us working on this site currently own, or have owned, at least one Gamma MX due to its blend of fit, function, design and performance. It really is perfect.

Gamma_MX_Action-1The MX in action on The Replicant, WI6, Banff.

6 Comments

  1. Hands-down, great write-up, Raf! I bought my Gamma MX Hoody in November, 2012 and have loved it ever since it arrived. I’ve worn it all over the United States at several ice fests and ice climbing clinics. It’s a jacket that when you see another climber wearing one, you wave and smile.

    My only question regarding your review – Have you ever worn the Fortius version? The reason I ask is because there is a significant difference between Fortius and Power Shield Pro. Power Shield Pro, being a soft-shell with a membrane, it far more wind and weather resistant than Fortius, which obviously has no membrane for protection. In turn, the lack of a membrane allows for more breathability. When wet, the Fortius is heavy and is slow to dry.

    I’ve never worn the Power Shield Pro version, so I can’t personally compare the two. I always thought/wished that Arc’teryx would make a Gamma MX Hoody “Hybrid” version with a waterproof hood, shoulders and sleeve tops. Then they re-released the Alpha Comp, but I thought the Fotius 1.0 was a little thin for high, alpine winds.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to produce these articles … They’re fantastic! The new website looks great.

    • Thanks for writing Chris. Yes, I’ve used both the Power Shield Pro and the Fortius 2.0 but I’m not sure there’s that much difference between the two — my MX takes ages to dry if it gets wet, whereas the Fortius versions I’ve used seem a bit thinner and do feel quicker to dry? I wrote this based on empirical experiences but maybe I’ll have to do a direct Power Shield Pro to Fortius 2.0 comparison!

  2. Nice ode to a classic design. I too owned a first generation Gamma MX hoody for many years; and it proved itself to be a versatile piece.

    One quibble though: the fabric in the first generation was regular Polartec Power shield not the pro version that was introduced several years back and featured in Patagonia’s softshell line.

    • The Powershield Pro info is straight from the Arc’teryx design team… I’ll check up on it, though. I’ve used the Patagonia softshells but didn’t think the fabric was new to them, just a new application? Hm, maybe I need to find a contact at Polartec! 🙂

    • Well, you were right — it was Power Shield lightweight. Corrected, good catch!

  3. Steven Kovalenko

    I have a Knifeblade in PowerShield Pro and the Gamma MX in Fortius 2.0. The Knifeblade is more wind/weather/precip resistant. The Gamma MX is warmer, stretchier, and more breathable, while being less of the other things. Knifeblade is closer to “breathable hardshell” concept with PowerShield Pro (and IMO does this really well), whereas Gamma MX is a proper softshell. Both have been relatively indestructible. I run too warm in the Gamma while active, which is why I do not use it. It is relegated to my “beat up at the mixed crag” jacket. The Knifeblade with a single R1 base layer is my go-to layering for 90% of my winter days outside.