The Iceline Jacket & Pants from Outdoor Research have been designed specifically with ice climbers in mind, and are aimed at the more moderate-weather, wet-ice climbing days rather than the frigid depths of winter (i.e. most of the time?). The Iceline(s) offer most of the protection of a hardshell in a quiet, softshell-like construction, though they are not quite as breathable as pure softshell fabrics. Naturally, the Iceline kit functions together very well, but after most of a winter climbing in these, I love the jacket but don’t feel as strongly towards the pants.
The Iceline Jacket
The jacket uses what OR calls “Hybrid-Mapped” construction to place Ventia 3L (mostly)-waterproof-breathable fabric over most of the torso, over the arms and shoulders, as well as the hood. The lower body panels and underarms are made of a stretchy Cordura/spandex blend for unrestricted movement and enhanced breathability. The Ventia has a grid-fleece backer for added warmth, though as a side-effect it is also comfortable next-to-skin (yes, I’ve used the Iceline over just a T-shirt; it was warm).
FIt of the jacket is excellent, with long sleeves, roomy shoulders and an unrestrictive hood. It has enough room to wear over a heavy mid-layer, though most of the time I’ve been wearing it over a silkweight base with a mid-weight fleece or Polartec Alpha pullover. The jacket moves with you, and stays tucked into a harness no matter how hard your arms are flailing. The hood is big and roomy, and allows complete freedom of movement when up and over a helmet (I’ve never used it without a helmet…). Overall cut is trim and athletic, and the jacket doesn’t bunch up and obscure your harness or front-points.
Pocket configuration is the best I’ve ever seen. There are two zippered hand pockets, which I will continue to maintain are near-useless on a climbing-specific jacket, and I honestly can’t remember when I would have ever used them. They are mesh-backed so they function as vents if needed. The reason I never use the hand pockets are the two large chest pockets. I love chest pockets — they’re accessible when you’re wearing a harness and/or pack — and they are perfectly positioned to sit above a waistbelt so fragile items (say, camera or sunglasses) don’t get crushed. The ones on the Iceline are mesh-backed, and stop a few centimetres below the bottom of the zipper line so even if you forget to close them, most items won’t fall out. The Iceline also adds two more pockets of a kind more commonly found on belay parkas than climbing jackets: dual interior drop pockets. These are absolutely fantastic for stashing extra pairs of gloves and ensuring they don’t fall out the bottom of your jacket. They’re big, mesh-backed and positioned high enough to stay out of the way of a harness most of the time: again, perfect for keeping thinner leading gloves warmed up and secure.
In addition to all these pockets, there are also two heat-pack pockets inside the cuff. I tend to run pretty warm so I’ve never used these but it’s great to see the attention to detail and thought that went into this design.
Functionally, the main fabric is as water-resistant as I’ve ever needed a climbing jacket to be. I’ll bring along, and use, a hardshell if it’s completely miserable but I find that most of the time a highly weather-resistant softshell is more than enough. The Iceline jacket easily passes this mark and adds even more wind-blocking and water-resistance, yet also remains breathable enough to wear on long approaches or strenuous mixed routes.
The fabrics are also very durable and highly abrasion resistant. The Canadian Rockies offer up a constant parade of sharp rocks and prickly branches, and the Iceline has remained puncture-free. About the only thing that bugs me about the jacket is the back length: while it has never come untucked from a harness, it feels a touch too short and I often find myself re-adjusting it just for peace of mind. Oh, it also has a double-slider main zipper, again something I just don’t get on a non-insulated layer (though I’ve heard other people like the double-slider, and it really doesn’t impact my usage so it’s not really an issue).
I love how this jacket fits and functions, and find myself reaching for it more and more often, even when I don’t need its weather protection.
The Iceline Pants
Whereas the Jacket uses hybrid construction, the Pants are made solely of Ventia 3L for maximum protection. However, whereas in the jacket I’ve never managed to wet-out the fabric, I’ve regularly gotten wet knees when climbing dripping-wet ice. I suspect this is due to the fact the fabric doesn’t have ‘breathing’ room underneath when stretched tight over your knees, but it is slightly disappointing to see. I would like to see full-hardshell fabric used on the upper thighs and over the knees.
The pants sport articulated, pre-shaped knees and a slim cut for minimal crampon-snagging. The cuff has a stretchy, zippered panel should you wish to wear them with ski boots. There are also grommets for an instep lace, as well as a cuff drawcord that can apparently be used as an instep lace (I haven’t tried this, as I rarely, if ever, use instep laces, but it’s there if you want it).
Two of my favourite features of the Iceline Pants are at opposite ends of the spectrum: one, the high rear waistband, which blocks drafts while the other, large zippered thigh vents, let cool air in as needed. I’ve long been jealous of backcountry-skiing pants with vents, and with the Iceline Pants I finally have a pair of climbing-specific pants with that exact same feature — and I love it. But, as nothing is perfect, there is room for improvement: OR, could you please add another zippered vent just below the knee and over the calf?
The waistband lining is soft and comfortable against the skin, though I usually try and keep my winter layers tucked in, which is where the extra height at the rear of the pants helps a lot. It’s a nice touch. And, if you’re so inclined, the waistband has attachment points for suspenders. There is no size-adjustment, but the pants do come with a belt which, other than getting pulled through the belt-loops all the time, functions as expected.
The pockets I have a love-hate relationship with. There are only two, a right-side zippered slash pocket at the front of the pant that is not-quite big enough to fit my hand into, and a left-side back-of-thigh pocket, also zippered, that is actually quite big and comfortably fits an iPhone 6+ and then some. It’s not the best for larger items, like gloves, as it forms into a large bulge poking into the inside of the pants, rather than sticking out. After some use I’ve decided I somewhat like the left-rear pocket but the right-front pocket is a bit too small to be overly useful. Additionally, with the thigh vent open, the left-rear pocket can no longer be zipped open without holding down the fabric (and thereby needing two hands to be opened). And as small as it is, the right-front pocket does come in handy for stashing lip balm or small snacks (except when you’re wearing a harness, when it’s half-covered by the leg loop). I’ve also, on several occasions, pulled open the tight vent instead of a pocket and ‘stashed’ something down my pants, only to have it fall out beside my boot a couple steps later. Like I said, I’ve got a love-hate relationship going with these pockets.
Thanks to the grid-backed Ventia fabric, the Iceline pants are warm, and the soft-fleece inside cozy against bare legs. I love the fit, the performance and the thigh vents but the pockets infuriate me — I can’t put my hands anywhere, and it’s hard to stash gloves or snacks in them. These are really the main reasons I tend to leave the Iceline pants behind in favour of less-weatherprooof pants that actually have two hand pockets that fit my hands, and ideally a thigh pocket or two for stashing stuff. I’d like to see the pants gain two hand-sized front pockets, and the semi-rear pocket moved to the side like a regular cargo pocket (or better yet, two cargo pockets?).
Iceline Jacket — This is one of the best-designed and best-functioning jackets I’ve used. Fit is excellent with long sleeves and a roomy hood, the fabric is breathable yet highly weather-resistant and I love the multitude of pockets. Though the back length feels a bit short, it hasn’t proven to be an issue. Highly recommended.
Iceline Pants — I like most of the pants’ design features: the cut is great, the two thigh-vents are awesome and the fabric performs very well unless it’s very wet. I don’t get the pockets, and as someone who uses both hand-pockets and thigh cargo-pockets a lot, this is a deal-breaker for me and I’ll often pick a different pair of pants for this sole reason.
Disclaimer: I am part of the Outdoor Research Insight Lab, and received these products for testing, feedback and review.