The Marmot Essence was one of the first stripped-down, minimalist micro-shells on the market when it arrived a few years back. The jacket has gone through something of an evolution since then- dropping some features such as the latex cuffs while gaining others that were missing from the first generation including underarm ventilation. The 2012 Essence weighs a scant 170 grams and is squarely aimed at minimalists- trail & ultra-runners, fast-packing enthusiasts and climbers. What was once a niche market has now become one of the hottest trends around- the less-is-more, ultralight scene is where its at. Brands are putting their clothing & equipment on crash-diets, shedding grams quicker than a jockey in a sauna. Back to the Essence, the original micro-shell, its lightness can’t be disputed but how about performance and functionality? Quite simply, is it any good?
My own journey to the world of minimalist shells came from a simple desire to have a jacket that can pack into a small running pack and also just be light and small enough to take with me every time I travel. After a little online research I was led to the Marmot website and the Essence jacket. I have to say that I was smitten immediately- the combination of barely-there weight and pack-size and a design that looked both functional and aesthetically pleasing ticked all the boxes. I will admit that I have been an admirer of Marmot´s gear for years but never actually owned a product- mainly due to the fact that the gear was hard to find where I lived. My new home city is more Marmot-friendly I discovered when a week later I walked into my local outdoor store and was greeted by the gleaming orange glow of the Essence jacket just arrived in stock for Spring ´12. Fate? Coincidence? – call it what you will but after trying on a Small & a Medium, choosing the latter and paying, I walked out with a very light shopping-bag and a very big grin.
So the first lesson I learned about the Essence was the fit- I have always, always worn Small and would have bought a Small online without giving it too much thought but when I tried it on instore it felt tight across the back of shoulders and the sleeves were a touch too short. The Medium was perfect, still slim-fitting but with a bit more room in the chest and shoulders and a nice length to the sleeves. Fit aside, the Essence is everything (and more) I expected from the Jacket. With a stripped-down jacket like this each of the few features really need to shine, really need to have a clear purpose for the jacket to be deemed a success and here is where it excels. First of all the fabric used, Membrain 2.5, has surprised me with its excellent breathability combined with the simple but effective underarm ventilation while both trail-running and skiing, never building up much or any moisture on the interior and the soft feel of the fabric too is a big plus making for crinkly-noise-free running. Its obviously waterproof too and has performed admirable in deluge after deluge. The water-resistant zips perform well both on the jacket and the pocket and the addition of a soft chin-guard is a nice touch. Cuffs are non adjustable but have not caused any issues while the hem is draw-cord adjustable and pretty straightforward. A real highlight for me is the packability, using the chest-pocket as the stuff sack makes for lightning-fast and easy packing. There is actually plenty of room left after stuffing the jacket away, squeezing the packed jacket will compress it down even further to about the size of a tennis-ball- impressive and small enough to not even have to think that it might not fit somewhere. The hood does its job well, is big enough for using with a helmet and has a good, packable, peak. If I had one wish it would be that the hood was more slim-line for running and not helmet compatible but its far from a deal-breaker.
Thats it- thats all the features so whats left to say?
Well I can best sum it up by saying that the Essence has become a constant companion, traveling everywhere with me but staying out of sight and out of mind until the dark clouds close in and the first raindrops start to fall- put simply, a fantastic minimalist shell.
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