Looking at the jacket and pants its clear to see this is high end outerwear. If you have seen brands like Arcteryx you will be familiar with a how a high quality garment should look and initially inspecting the Ridge jacket I was very impressed. The construction felt solid, the seams were all neatly sealed and the overall feel defiantly was what you would expect for a jacket this cost.
Probably the most striking aspect of the jacket was the actual feel of the material. Often higher end shell jackets which use Goretex can have a rather rough feel and the outer material can be a little unforgiving offering little in the way of stretch. The material used on the pants and especially on the jacket, has a much more natural feel. It is incredibly light and has a smooth feel to the inside. The outer material is very easy to fold and even stretches a little, compared to many equivalent jackets it feels much more like a lighter rain jacket.
The pants feel to use a slightly firmer material, possibly to increase durability but they again offer a really unrestricted fit and feel.
I would be testing both jacket and pants in a size large. At 5'11 and 160lbs the lrg fitted me fine but don't expect a baggy fit. This is outerwear designed to fit and even if you up size, it's not really going to give a baggy fit. I could have actually got away with a med in the pants but they do have a good amount of waist adjustment so I could make them work. One small factor I did notice with the pants is they don't have any belt loops at the front. They have a long section at the back that you can run a belt through but it's weird in my opinion that there are no belt loops at the front. I did not have any problems during testing. You can attach the pants to the jacket to seal out snow and it has the added benefit of helping to keep them up.
Helly sent me the jacket and pants back in March and I have been wearing them on and off ever since. In that time they have certainly seen nearly every condition you could imagine, being used all over the mountain in both winter and summer.
I was testing a number of touring products at the end of last season and this gave me the perfect opportunity to really put the outerwear to the test in the type of scenarios it was designed for. Freeride can mean a lot of things but Helly are expecting users to be using this at the more extreme side. This may mean multi day tours, single long hikes to get to a face or just riding hard in-bounds. The common ground here is that users will be out in all conditions and working hard. Helly Hansen use their propriety Helly Tech professional membrane and have done a great deal of research into improving the breathability of this membrane culminating in the new membrane being the most breathable Helly have ever used.
If you have not been touring before you would probably be surprised how warm you get. Even in the cold, skinning uphill can get pretty warm fast and often maintaining body temperature can be hard. You get hot and sweat so you remove your jacket but then when you stop you will soon cool down and it can often be a case of constantly adding or removing layers.
What would be ideal is a Jacket and pant combo which offered wind resistance and protection when your not moving but could breath and allow airflow like you were not wearing a jacket when you are moving. Many high end jackets claim to do this but where most fall down is breathability. They are great at keeping you dry but just cant keep up when you start working hard and sweating. Even some top end Goertex jackets can feel rather like a sauna after a short while hiking.
The Ullr outerwear is different, the jacket in particular breathes really very well. While touring I was finding I could keep the jacket on the whole time and even on warmer days I would not be overheating by the top. One of the big factors which makes this jacket and pants so good is how well they are vented. The Jacket has large, mesh-less vents beneath both arms and the pants have a long vent which again opens fully, down the outside of each leg. Other brands often use a mesh to cover vents and although stopping things like snow getting in if left open they do restrict how much airflow you can get in the jacket or pants. The vents on the jacket allow a good amount of airflow and having them extend a good way down the body means you can get airflow round the back, an area which often overheats especially with a pack.
The placement of these vents and also the other pockets on the jacket have been carefully considered. The skiers using of this type of outerwear are quite likely to be wearing a pack when they ski so making the pockets and vents easily accessible without removing the pack is important.
Helly have done a great job here and even while testing with 4 different packs I am yet to find one which does not work with the pocket placement. The two lower pockets sit above the hip belt of all the bags I have tried and the toe inner pockets sit just inside the shoulder straps. The arm vents can be fully opened and closed around the pack straps. This may sound like a small thing but it can be extremely annoying to have a pocket or vent be covered by a strap and it could become a real issue if you are caught in a slide, having things easily to hand could make all the difference in those situations. The pockets on the pants sit slightly lower and are designed to be accessed without hiking up the jacket.
When things do become too warm the light weight and ease of which you can fold and compress the jacket means it can be stuffed into the the fullest of packs. I even found I was able to stash it in the helmet carrying section of my Evoc bike bag, something I was not able to do with any of my other ski jackets.
In the Wet Stuff
At this level I expect the waterproofing to be excellent and comparable to Goretex. Initially I did wonder how an outer fabric so soft and stretchy could offer any real protection but even in the heaviest of rain I have never had any water making its way through. Water beads on the surface and being so smooth the drops simply run off before they are allow to begin to wet out the material. I did wonder if wearing a pack would affect the shoulders but even with the extra pressure from a pack I never had any problems.
When it actually decided to snow rather then rain the snow skirt and wrist gators did a great job at keeping snow out. The snow skirt is pretty tight but it stretches and really does stay in place well. The wrist gators are quite thick and really one of my only real complaints. I found them a little thick to fit under some gloves and although they are really warm they can get a little damp and certainly in the summer they are far to warm. I would prefer a thinner material be used here, I like gators but they are maybe a little bulky on the ridge jacket.
One area I do like a lot is the cuff. They have an extremely large Velcro section and you really can seal the arm well and have no worries that the cuff will come lose. Even when scrambling through trees and rocks I never had the cuff release, again maybe a small thing but I did find it useful at times. They are easy to use in gloves or even mittens however I did find some of the larger more bulky gloves I had struggled to fit in the cuff. Although they are big they don't actually open very far but there was only one pair of mittens I found to be a bit tight.
The gators on the pants are a bit different to what you may expect. They use a much thinner stretchy material and I did wonder how durable it would be but so far I have had no issues. I have found they work really well especially with boots with a big range of motion. The stretchy material fits over the boot really well no matter what position you are in.
The hood has a good amount of adjustment featuring a pull string either side and one on the back making it easy to adjust weather you are wearing a helmet or not. Without a helmet I did have to pull the back adjuster quite tight to keep it in place when windy but I do have quite a small head. One thing I did find was if you have the hood adjusted tightly it can be a little hard to put the hood up and down with the main zipper fully done up. It was not a big problem but I did notice it a couple of times throughout testing.
The overall feel of both jacket and pants is excellent. They give a great range of motion and never become heavy or wetted out even in the heaviest of rain. To get some of the photos for this article I was wading around in rivers and even that was not enough to wet out the pants. I did find after washing a few times the jacket began to wet out in high abrasion zones but it should be noted I was just washing the jacket with normal washing detergent, something I will talk about more later.
When you are spending close to $1000 on outerwear the last thing you want is for it to fall apart. This issue is compounded by the fact people buying this type of outerwear will potentially be in environments where scrambling over rocks and bushes is not uncommon so being built to survive the abuse is very important.
To properly test this, I treated this outerwear in a way which would make most Arcteryx wearers wince. I was scrambling over rocks, climbing through trees and bushes and generally doing anything you would avoid doing if you had just paid $1000.
I fully expected to do some damage but even the worst I could throw at it, it easily shrugged off. The pants in particular held up really well. They have a reinforced section at the bottom which although not very â€œcoolâ€ really did a great job of preventing edge slices and other damage.
I even had a few crashes on the bike wearing the jacket and again was pleasantly surprised to see I had done no damage. I would not want to be crashing in the bike park but out on the trails I had no concerns wearing the jacket.
For an outer material which gives such an unrestricted feel it is very durable something which I must admit surprised me. Over the last 7 months the worst that has happened is a small amount of fraying of the thread on one wrist and overall its actually survived a lot better then most of the other outerwear I have tested despite how badly I have treated it.
The Bad Points
As they say, nothing is perfect and unfortunately there is one main issue with the jacket. It gets really smelly. I do admit I use this jacket very differently to most jackets, if I'm going out and I know i will be working hard and sweating this is the jacket I will wear. So you would expect it to need washing more regularly but it does seem to need washing a lot.
I think a big part in the problem is just how well it breathes, it is constantly talking moisture through the fabric but I think the fabric it's self is holding onto the bacteria more then it should. Obviously you can wash the jacket and reading Helly's website it says to just wash with normal detergent, not something I would normally not recommend. To test it I washed it like this a few times and it does seem to work fine. The smell goes and the jacket is good until you work hard again and the smell returns.
Having to wash a jacket a lot is not really a bad thing but with outerwear like this you don't really want to be washing it constantly. The is a waterproof coating applied to the outside and constant washing will remove this. I would recommend a proof wash every now and again but the smell is only really an issue if your wearing this jacket to work hard.
When I was testing in the resort I was having no problems but once I started touring it got nasty pretty fast. Overall I can expect the smell to some extent as it performs so well in terms of breathability. All my bike gear needs washing after 1 ride in summer so if you are working hard you have to expect things will get a bit stinky. Interestingly I had no issues with the pants at all.
There is no denying it, this is expensive outerwear and to be honest it's probably not for many people on this site. If your outerwear requirements are keeping you warm and dry while looking steezy in the park, well no it;s not for you and you probably have not read this far anyway but if you are the type of skier who will get after it, no matter what Ullr is definitely worth a look.
If you can compare the feel of the Ullr jacket to some other top end jackets it will be easy to see just how different the feel is but it really works. The fit is excellent and offered some of the most unrestricted movement I have ever had, the waterproofing has been what i would expect from a high end jacket and the breathability has far exceeded my expectations.
If you like to work hard while skiing this could seriously be your new outerwear, I truly have never used anything which breathes so well and my preparations for tours have become much easier as I can just wear the Jacket all the way, most of the time.
Most of the top brands offering Goretex will have outerwear offering similar waterproofing, so if you mainly ride the resort then although Ullr is excellent it's on par with other options. Where the Ullr range really wins for me is the breathability and fit and if you plan on touring this coming season I would highly recommend checking it out.