The Archangel Breakthrough: Stretch Alpine Climbing Clothes With No Compromise In Weather Protection

Piolet d’Or-winning alpinist Graham Zimmerman collaborated on the new Outdoor Research alpine climbing kit that just might “save your bacon” in bad weather.  Introducing the newest addition to our high alpine climbing collection, for moving quickly and efficiently—even through the most difficult moves—no matter the storms that come your way.

When Outdoor Research ambassador Graham Zimmerman chooses gear for a big alpine objective, he envisions the toughest, most technical parts of the climb. He packs the monopoint crampons for negotiating the most delicate ice pitches, sacrificing ease and comfort a different pair might offer on the snow climbing or soft ice along the way. To save weight, he packs a half sleeping bag that relies on his layering to keep his upper half warm. Each part of his kit is selected specifically for the absolute most challenging terrain. Those fast-and-light skills and philosophy have rewarded him with big-mountain first ascents, and a Piolet d’Or—the alpine climbing equivalent of an Olympic gold medal. But with clothing, focusing on flexibility and efficient movement has cost him weather protection during those climbs.

“I was always wearing soft-shell equipment because it stretches better, it breathes better, it moves better,” he says, even on big new routes, like multi-day ascents in the Alaska Range or places like the Himalayas, Karakoram and the Pamirs. Graham points out there’s a reason soft shell has been so popular for so long: it climbs well, it’s quiet. And for the most part, it worked. But then there were the times he’d get stuck out in a storm. “And man, I was wishing I had something that would actually keep that moisture out or keep that wind out,” he says. “I felt like I was a little more on the edge of survival than I needed to be, given the situation.”

Graham Zimmerman climbs ice at the Ouray Ice Park in the Archangel alpine climbing jacket and bibs with Gore Tex Pro with stretch technology.Graham Zimmerman climbs ice at the Ouray Ice Park in the Archangel alpine climbing jacket and bibs with Gore Tex Pro with stretch technology.

When Alex Lauver, Outdoor Research’s director of commercial innovation, reached out about a new fabric with exciting problem-solving potential—GORE-TEX® Pro with stretch technology—Graham and the rest of the climbing team were psyched to collaborate. Alex laughs, remembering meeting with the team to show them the new technology. “They were like, ‘Build me a onesie out of this stuff,’ ” he says.

After a couple years of development and fine tuning, the results might not be an alpine onesie (that would cost around $3,000, Alex points out), but the all-new Outdoor Research Archangel GORE-TEX Jacket and Archangel GORE-TEX Bibs have the OR alpine climbing team thrilled nonetheless. 

“We're no longer having to make that choice between, do I want to be able to climb well, or do I want the top level of protection,” Graham says.

Full Weather Protection

The hood, arms and main body of the Archangel GORE-TEX Jacket are GORE-TEX Pro 3L, providing gold-standard protection from the elements. “It's a piece of equipment that fully seals off the storm,” Graham says. “It means that you’re more able to survive when things get gnarly.”

The jacket is fully seam taped with YKK AquaGuard Vislon Zippers, and features a helmet-compatible wire-brimmed Halo Hood with HoodLock, to keep moisture out. It’s so storm-proof, Graham feels compelled to offer a disclaimer:

“I think it’s important to say that does not mean that we should go out and get ourselves stuck in storms,” he says. “We still want to climb in the good weather. But in the mountains sometimes things turn a little sideways, the storm comes in a little early, and having a piece of equipment on that will keep you out of that can save your bacon.”

Built To Really Move

The squall-proof aspects of the Archangel kit are unparalleled, but what truly sets it apart is the GORE-TEX® Pro with stretch technology stretch panels on the shoulders, bib knees and inner legs. The jacket’s hybrid mapped construction allows for big reaches and stretches without compromising on protection or durability.

For Graham, the jacket solves one of the toughest problems: How to be able to reach a hand overhead without having the jacket pull up out of a harness and expose the waistline. “The Archangel uppers are designed to make sure that you can move effectively, but the jacket stays in place, which is very exciting,” he says.

The key was precise placement of the stretch panels in both the jacket and the bibs, angled in exactly the right direction. Alex and Graham worked together to nail down the perfect arrangement, using the fabric on the bias for maximum stretch.

Emilie Drinkwater climbs ice at the Ouray Ice Park in the Archangel alpine climbing jacket and bibs with Gore Tex Pro with stretch technology.Emilie Drinkwater climbs ice at the Ouray Ice Park in the Archangel alpine climbing jacket and bibs with Gore Tex Pro with stretch technology.

Streamlined For Efficiency

As Alex and Senior Outerwear Product Manager Charlie Berg were collaborating with Graham and other members of the OR alpine climbing team, one request rang clear: Climbers wanted a streamlined design. “It's amazing how challenging it can be to design something that is so simple,” Graham says.

That means the Archangel GORE-TEX Jacket features pockets that are harness-compatible, and no superfluous bells and whistles to get caught on a carabiner or snag on something. The cut of the kit is trim, allowing for some layering but avoiding any excess bulk that might get in the way.

“Oftentimes design means adding more,” Graham says. “Whereas with a piece like this, fit is everything, design is everything, but less is more.”

Emilie Drinkwater climbs ice at the Ouray Ice Park in the Archangel alpine climbing jacket and bibs with Gore Tex Pro with stretch technology.Emilie Drinkwater climbs ice at the Ouray Ice Park in the Archangel alpine climbing jacket and bibs with Gore Tex Pro with stretch technology.

A Kit For Full-Body Protection And Mobility 

Alex and the team extended their problem solving beyond the jacket. “With pants, the interface between pants,  jacket and harness is always a little wacky. It's always a little hard to figure out,” Alex says. They eliminated the issue by creating a short bib—one specifically designed with a drop hatch for easily answering nature’s call, even in a tight spot on a climbing route.

Like the jacket, the Archangel GORE-TEX Bibs eliminate the necessity of choosing stretch for gymnastic climbing moves over weatherproofing. 

“When you're slogging through the snow to the summit, that’s a sweet time to have some waterproof pants on it will keep you much more comfortable,” Graham says. Plus, on multi-day pushes, there’s another specific moment when Graham will be excited to have traded in his soft shell pants: when crawling into his sleeping bag.

“For years I've been dealing with climbing into my sleeping bag with my soft-shell pants just frozen. They've got a little bit of moisture in them and there's a little bit of snow in them and you just can't get it all off. So you just end up climbing into your sleeping bag with some frozen moisture and snow on there—and that's always just shitty. But with these pants, you won't have to do that because it'll shed all that moisture.”

Graham Zimmerman climbs ice at the Ouray Ice Park in the Archangel alpine climbing jacket and bibs with Gore Tex Pro with stretch technology.Graham Zimmerman climbs ice at the Ouray Ice Park in the Archangel alpine climbing jacket and bibs with Gore Tex Pro with stretch technology.

Ready For Multisport Use

While the Archangel kit was designed with alpine climbers in mind, Charlie says the super durable, streamlined system speaks to a number of sports—perfect for a wide range of adventures in stormy environments. Since most mountain athletes don’t limit themselves to a single sport—even elite climbers like Graham—the Archangel kit is designed to be an all-around storm-proof setup for a wide range of backcountry pursuits, from mountaineering to skiing and beyond. (Charlie notes: The pants are cut slim for agile mountain maneuvers and should accommodate ski touring boots, but not bulkier alpine or snowboard boots.) Whether it’s a ski approach to a climbing objective, or a snowy bike approach to a ski objective, this literally flexible kit is pared down to perfection.

 

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