When you live in Colorado – especially in the spring or fall – running in the mountains above a certain elevation brings with it a unique set of challenges. Apart from the fact that you can (and will) run into thermoclines where the temperature suddenly drops here and there, weather can roll in incredibly fast and furiously all while your body is asking for oxygen that simply isn;t there. In these cases having a jacket or top that doesn’t bring with it much weight to your gear while at the same time providing the protection and features you need is imperative. The first of the lightweight running (or hiking, trekking, etc.) jackets that we’re looking at this season is the Ultimate Direction Marathon Shell that seems to have what you need for variable conditions in a hyper-lightweight package.
The Marathon Shell is made from 36gsm 20D HexNylon (“gsm” stands for grams per square meter and measures thread density referring to weight in square meters) which is an ultra light, ripstop fabric making this both durable and light. Lining the interior of the shoulders and upper third of the back is a lightweight and open mesh panel which seems to provide the dual purpose of ventilation and creating a small separation for the places where the shell hangs on the body to stave off sticking.
The hem and cuffs of the UD Marathon shell sport a light-resistance, sewn-in piece of elastic to create a gentle seal without being overly tight. Another thing I should point out about the hem is that at its rear the tail of the shell drops a few inches lower than the front to cover your bum – which also makes this a solid choice for a cycling windbreaker if needs be. The collar of the shell is ~2 inches high and the jacket’s main front zipper – which is a half-zip in the men’s model and a full-zip in the ladies’ – runs fully to the top. On the left breast there is a pocket that is roughly the size of a smartphone (you MIGHT be able to squeeze a phablet in there depending on the dimensions). This pocket also doubles as a stuff sack and has a strap which makes carrying the packed jacket easy or a great way to attach the jacket to a pack or the like.
On the bottom left of the front of the Marathon Shell lies a good-sized “UD” logo hit which is reflective while another reflective element appears on the back of the jacket between the shoulder blades in the form of the “Ultimate Direction” brand name. Also on the back and roughly in between the shoulder blades lies probably one of the most important elements of this jacket and that is a flap covering a wonderfully large vent – which is backed by the aforementioned interior mesh.
The shoulders of the Ultimate Direction Marathon Shell are ergonomically designed which, for someone who’s got notoriously broad shoulders, is very important. Through that area and across the back, the Marathon Shell fit me very well. I should mention here that I typically wear a size large in most tops and jackets and this was no exception. However, if you’re on the fence between sizes I would probably opt for the larger of the two since this large fit me just right but if it were any smaller at all I’d have opted for the XL. The fit through the torso was excellent without feeling over billowy and when I was called on to do some scrambling I didn’t find much pulling at all with the possible exception of when my arms were literally extended fully up over my head – but hey, this is a running shell so why would your arms be over your head, right?
Before I really get into how the Ultimate Direction Marathon Shell performed I should give you a brief sampling of the conditions in which I’ve worn it thus far. I’ve worn this in temperatures as warm as 50°f and as low as 10°f (with layers, of course). I’ve also worn it in snow, hail and light-to-medium rain and in elevations from 5,000ft up to 10,000ft.
First, the Marathon Shell is NOT waterproof but it is water-resistant and in snow, the flakes pretty much all blew right away – you know, because I run so fast and all (hehehehe). This was in typical, powdery Colorado snow but in some heavier and wetter spring snow there was a touch more sticking though it was still minimal. In the rain the Marathon Shell actually kept me mostly dry over the course of about 30 minutes of rain though I imaging that if I were in a downpour I may have been quite a bit more soaked. While the high collar kept much of the moisture out water did make its way down from my head and neck every now and then.
When running at higher elevations and climbing I found this to be an ideal shell for dealing with dropping temperatures. In fact, since I sweat like it’s my job, finding a jacket that is light and well vented enough to allow me to put it on to protect my skin (there’s nothing quite like crossing into sub-freezing temps with wet skin) that still allows for good airflow is tough but this did a really great job. Perhaps one of my favorite things when coming back down from these higher altitudes was being able to pack this thing away so easily. In fact, while I love the strapped stuff sack/pocket, the Marathon Shell is so easily compressible that on more than one occasion I simply shoved it in a hydration pack pocket while on the go.
Perhaps the one place where I was a bit concerned was the durability of this jacket (as I am with all super-light pieces like this). However, even with my beating it up and running into more than one errant tree branch (don’t ask), the Marathon Shell has held up like a champ. All of its stitching is remarkably solid and the fabric itself hasn’t even flinched (though I did have to scrub off a couple of marks).
Did you notice I said this jacket was light? The Ultimate Direction Marathon Shell comes in at 3.6 ounces in a men’s large – yep, that’s all. For something this light and high-performing you’d expect to see a pretty steep price tag and while this shell isn’t cheap by any means, it’s also right in line with many of its super-light peers at a perfectly acceptable $100. If you’re looking for a hooded and waterproof option similar (though it’s still double the weight) to this, UD also has their Ultra Jacket which we’ll try to get reviewed soon.
Whether you’re looking for something for transitional seasons or if you’re like me and can find cold temperatures at high altitude twelve months out of the year, having a piece like this is imperative and the Marathon Shell from Ultimate Direction gets the job done very well.
For more information on the Ultimate Direction Marathon Shell, visit https://ultimatedirection.com/wearable-gear/