Long term review updated below the fit & function section of this review
a little bit of history
If you’ve visited my blog before you may have seen my previous review of the 7mesh S2S Jersey. I wrote that review back in mid 2015 and if anything, my feelings about the jersey have only gotten stronger (in a good way) since then. I don't shy away from positioning the S2S jersey as a clear standout product that people need to try. Since writing that review I’ve been in contact with 7mesh about what else may be coming. Just as winter has set in here in Southern Ontario, their new Strategy Jacket arrived for me to try out for a review. Truth be told, once I knew the Strategy Jacket was on the way, a little bit of anxiety ramped up. Let me explain. You know when a movie is so good that you’re looking forward to the sequel only to be let down a little? It was that kind of worry. With a retail sticker price of $350CAD could the new Strategy Jacket live up to the expectations set by the S2S jersey?
The new Strategy Jacket from 7mesh is part of their Fall 2015/Winter 2016 collection. In the following review I’ll get deep into the specifics of the jacket and its design but let’s do a quick preface. The Strategy Jacket is what would generally be classified as a soft shell riding jacket. It is available in 1 colour, a medium grey called “Ash” with some great burnt orange detailing. The colour may be better described as a neutral or wolf grey. It’s a pleasing colour, looks good, and will pair well with anything you have in the closet. Like all other 7mesh products it was designed in house (in Squamish BC), prototypes were field tested by the staff and designers themselves, and all materials were chosen and sourced by working directly with suppliers. This hands on approach allows 7mesh to ensure their vision is directly applied to the final product.
This is a long review but if you're considering spending this kind of money on a piece of apparel I suspect that you care about the details and want to make a well informed purchase. Keep reading to find out all the beautiful details.
The 7mesh Strategy Jacket is a whole lot of function in a small package. My first impression was simply, wow. It did not disappoint. The WINDSTOPPER® material is soft to the touch. The fit is true to form in the expected 7mesh style. Honestly, one thing I noticed right away was that it felt different than any other hard or soft shell jacket designed for cycling. There was this certain sense to its coverage that subtly made itself known. I’d describe it as the jacket feeling present where it should but seeming to just fade away in places where it’s best to be discreet. Overall the 7mesh Strategy Jacket feels like more of a piece of equipment than just another piece of apparel.
With the Strategy Jacket being a Fall/Winter jacket there is one big looming question. Is it warm? First impression out of the packaging was definitely confidence inspiring. 7mesh specs claim a weight of 310 grams (unspecified size) for the Strategy Jacket. For reference, my size Large weighs 353 grams on my scale.
design & construction
For this review I’ve had the opportunity for an open dialogue with Ian Martin, Vice-president of Research and Design at 7mesh. After getting acquainted with the jacket on and off the bike, Ian took the time to answer my questions about the design philosophy, their process, and why they feel it makes for a higher quality product. If you’re like me and geek out about the creative process and all the technical details, I hope you will enjoy some of the coverage that this Q&A has helped me to incorporate.
One of the first questions I had for 7mesh was to describe how they saw the Strategy Jacket’s place in the current lineup. Ian Martin described it as a blend between a jersey and a jacket intended to provide the weather protection and coverage of a jacket but with the fit and features of a jersey. The pattern for the Strategy Jacket is complex. By my count it is made up of more than a dozen individual panels in a brilliant mix of two WINDSTOPPER® fabrics from W.L. GORE Industries. To be specific the Strategy Jacket is constructed from both WINDSTOPPER® Softshell 274P and Softshell 174P. As always, product naming can be a little cryptic but I’ll try to break that down. Both of these chosen fabrics include the WINDSTOPPER® membrane but differ by the weight of the outer fabric used in the layered construction. As you can probably guess, the numbers 274 and 174 are reference to the grams per square inch (GSM) weight of the fabric while the ‘P' identifies that this is a synthetic polyester fiber. But why WINDSTOPPER®? Well 7mesh say that WINDSTOPPER® was specifically chosen for its highly breathable membrane and the knitted outer fabric. For conditions of light rain, snow, or road spray, a knit face fabric and a more highly breathable membrane is preferable over the woven fabric typically used in a hard shell.
Sidenote: 7mesh is only the second start up to be granted a W.L. GORE license to buy and manufacture with W.L. GORE products.
7mesh have continued their focus on heavy pattern refinement rather than the elastic properties of stretch fabrics. Honestly it’s just such a better way of approaching apparel design. The shaping and placement of the panels is what creates the important pre-articulated shape. This is most evident through the arms and chest of the jacket which you’ll notice as the jacket moves into place when you settle into a riding position. Here is where they add another layer of complexity. Not all of those panels are created equal. In key areas 7mesh have used the heavier WINDSTOPPER® 274P and backed it with a gridded high loft fleece to add insulation coverage to the upper torso, across the shoulders, down the arms, and protecting the kidneys. A lower loft fleece backs the WINDSTOPPER® 174P used in the areas of the lower forearms, front mid section, and lower back where you require more mobility and less insulation. Why have they approached the pattern this way? There are two key considerations. First, 7mesh explains that by their research and feedback, male cyclists have a higher average body temperature and the mid section is kept out of direct wind when riding. Second, The specific makeup of heavier and lighter panels also allows the 7mesh designers to construct a jacket that minimizes the need for layering by building appropriate variance into a single garment.
It should be noted that the gridded high loft fleece does back the whole front of the womens version of the Strategy Jacket.
In terms of traditional features, the 7mesh Strategy Jacket ticks the box on all the usual design elements you’d expect... with a little bit of extra attention to detail of course. The front of the jacket has a full length 3S sized YKK Aquaguard Vislon zipper. This is a plastic closed ended zipper where the adjoining material on the zipper known as the ‘tape’ has been laminated with polyurethane to help with protection from wind and rain. At the top of the zipper you’ll find some appropriately placed fabric that extends up and over to keep it covered from the face and chin. On back of the jersey you’ll find 3 well sized pockets that can all but eliminate the need for keeping anything within your inside jersey pockets. The jackets center pocket is a vertical entry that is more than accommodating for your tool pouch. The two side pockets have an angled entry and are secured by a size 3 plastic coil type zipper. Ian explained that this conscious design choice was made because three pockets offer better storage capacity and isolation than a large single pocket and eliminate any need to open the jacket to the elements for access to jersey pockets like a zippered window.
In each of my reviews I usually have a whole section on branding but you’ll clearly see that the 7mesh Strategy Jacket is nearly devoid of branding. While there are two reflective ink logos on the jacket (front chest and back centre) they are rather discreet. Of course I asked 7mesh about this. The answer to why their use of logos and graphics is so subdued was quite interesting and an aspect I had never really considered. By not incorporating large graphics, the designers are not restricted to working with how and where graphics can be printed. This affords them the greatest freedom to focus on better construction in both materials and pattern in order to deliver on their vision. Once you think about it, it makes sense.
A very subtle but important detail that really differentiates the Strategy Jacket from anything else can be found on the inside. All of the final seams are taped and while taped seams may seam like a small deal, they have a lot of stacking benefits. To start, in a garment designed to protect you against the elements, taped seams ensure that the seam does not become a point of exposure. Seams are where two pieces of material come together and have small spaces between the stitches and where they have gone through the fabric. This accounts for a whole lot of tiny holes for wind and water to make their way through. Taping the seams shuts the door nice and tight. Add to that, taped seams require tighter manufacturing tolerances where the seam material needs to be trimmed down to near 1/16”. All of that trimmed excess material has a positive impact on the final weight. Why? Because all that excess material is dropped on the production floor, not carried on your back. While taped seams may be common practice in other areas of outdoor apparel, it’s unique to cycling. It’s a beautiful detail that you may never notice but you’ll unconsciously appreciate. It’s kind of a big deal.
fit & function - on the bike
With any piece of apparel, the fit and function are paramount. The Strategy Jacket is close fitting and designed to work best over a jersey and base layer. According to the 7mesh fit chart my body shape and proportions fall a bit between medium and large. But since the Strategy Jacket sits overtop of layers, the size large was recommended. I’m very happy to say that it fits just as intended. Overall the volume of the Strategy Jacket is quite low and it works well over both thicker or thinner jerseys, and base layers. After putting in some base miles in temperatures ranging from -5 celsius to +5 celsius I have noted some details about the Strategy Jacket that I really appreciate.
The Strategy Jacket is intended for fall and winter riding where you’ll likely have gloves on and while warm, it means you take a penalty in terms of manual dexterity. Here is what the 7mesh designers have done to tackle this problem. Angled Pockets and zipper pulls… This just makes such good sense. Whether you’re just standing around or have one hand on the bars, reaching back and into the angled pocket is little bit of an ‘ah ha’ moment. Like that’s how it’s supposed to work. It only leaves me wondering why all jersey and jacket pockets aren’t constructed this way. All of the zippers include well sized nylon cording loops making it easier to grab and gain access to the jacket. Thankfully this means you have far less need to freeze your fingers in order to get a snack or vent some body heat. The sizing of the rear pockets means I have been easily able to carry all of my essentials, food, and even a Garmin Virb camera for shooting videos. All of this while never feeling over packed or stretched out.
The need for greater visibility in fall and winter months is increased as the general ambient light is decreased this time of year. For this 7mesh have creatively incorporated reflective ink throughout the Strategy Jacket. Both the front and rear 7mesh and WINDSTOPPER® logos are printed in high vis reflective silver ink. There are also small spots of the same high vis reflective ink on the bottom rear hem and on the sleeve cuffs. In total you’ve got 6 flash points of high vis ink to help give you pop to the headlights of drivers on the road. The use of reflective inks is a trend that seems to be catching on but it is still far from the norm. Personally I hope it’s a trend that continues to grow.
The quite generous sleeve length on the Strategy Jacket may bother some but I’ve found that it does provide extra benefit by pulling down over the tops of your gloves to make sure you’re fully protected from the wind. I asked the 7mesh designer if the extra length was intentional or just something I’ve noticed based on my body shape. Ian explained that it was in fact intentional and I’ll paraphrase his response because it was really good. "Somebody may not like sleeves that are a little long, but nobody will be happy with sleeves that are too short”. Right, two hands up for that!
At this point I think we’ve fairly covered the history and design of the Strategy Jacket. Now let’s answer the important question… how well does it perform overall? All of the time and effort put into designing the Strategy Jacket pays off. The WINDSTOPPER® membrane does well to block the ill effects of winter winds. Being able to block out the wind while still allowing body heat to escape seems like a small bit of magic but it’s true. On the road I always felt a sense of protection against the elements. Many times I felt the cold Canadian winter wind across my legs and face but never against my upper body. The Strategy Jacket does what it is supposed to do.
long term update
The winter of 2016 never seemed to want to end. But now that it’s mid May, and while there were snow flurries in Toronto this past weekend, I can confidently say that spring has decided to stick around. It’s not often you’d ever hear me say that an extra month or two of near freezing temperatures is a good thing. But looking at this situation from an optimists perspective, it has afforded me an extra month and a wider temperature range in which to test the 7Mesh Strategy Jacket. In this extended winter period the temperatures ranged anywhere from -5 to +10 degrees celsius. So while my initial review focused on riding in the below freezing temperatures, I think it is more beneficial to you as a reader to add new perspective to the performance of the Strategy Jacket in the above freezing temps.
Let me start by saying that across all temps the GORE WINDSTOPPER membrane works well to shield you from the negative effects of cold winds. Now once the temperatures did get above the freezing mark, I was able to easily and comfortably start extending rides far beyond my normal winter threshold. While still quite comfortable in the range of -5 to 0 degrees celsius, the sweetspot seems to be from 0 to +5 degrees celsius. At these temps I felt well protected, covered, and warm without any chance of suffering from a core temperature drop. On a few occasions the ambient temperature rose to just over 10 degrees celsius before the ride was over. When the mercury hit those double digits I did start to feel overdressed and a need to shed layers underneath.
Long term durability is respectable. Over the past 100 days I’ve treated the 7Mesh Strategy Jacket no different than any other piece of apparel. Both inside and out, the Strategy Jacket shows no signs of coming undone early from wear or wash. All the stitching is intact, no colours are fading, and the DWR treatment continues to work well. Through everything the varied weight fleece backing on the inside of the Strategy Jacket was able to expeditiously wick moisture away from the body. When I could feel my back and arms sweating, the feeling was quick to pass from the front of my mind and keeping my attention on the road. Don’t judge me but during a hastily executed mechanical repair on the side of the road I did manage to get the sleeve caught amongst the chainring. I nicked two very tiny holes in the sleeve but it’s had no negative effect on the usability of the jacket and it was easily repaired.
The more I get to ride around in the 7Mesh Strategy Jacket, the more I appreciate it. Adding it all up, the 7Mesh Strategy Jacket is a piece of equipment easily relied upon from -10 to about +10 degrees celsius. That gives the Strategy Jacket a range of nearly 20 degrees! Now that spring has settle in I’ve transitioned over to the 7Mesh Synergy Jersey. This change is giving me a greater sense of the overlapping range that 7Mesh has been laying out for their customers. Keep an eye out for a review on the Synergy Jersey coming soon.
From the background section above you know that iteration and refinement are a big part of the 7mesh process. So while I’m more than impressed, here are two refinements I’d recommend in future revisions of the 7mesh Strategy Jacket. I really appreciate the way the different GSM weight fabrics and fleece backings have been varied throughout the pattern, but sometimes I did feel the need for the gridded high loft fleece to be extended all the way down the forearms. My arms began to feel the winter cold, not from the wind but simply from the low temperatures. The forearms sit exposed to the full forces of the wind and air and I bet that some extra fleece backing here could help.
The high height collar with its soft touch backing works well. However, when the wind starts to gust it seems to always find a spot across the back of your neck to sends shivers down your spine. Even with a good beanie or winter cycling cap under your helmet there always seems to be enough space for the wind to catch. To address this it would be great if the back of the collar was raised just a little bit. I fully appreciate that this is a tricky trade off because the back of the neck is one of the fastest ways to regulate your core temperature. So in effect, adding more height to the collar may also add unwanted insulation when the mercury rises.
The bottom line is where I like to sum up all of the review into a succinct point. Here is what I have to say about the Strategy Jacket from 7mesh.
- Is this a good product? One word: yes.
- Does the jacket fit and perform well? Two words: quite definitely.
- Is it worth the price and investment? Three words: very much so.
In the world of cycling it seems that far too many vendors say they are setting a new standard but in reality are all just in a race to achieve marginal gains. You can’t set or reset the standard when your approach is to make things the same way as everyone else. Why is 7mesh different? They are clearly playing the game differently. A hands-on, in-house approach with direct involvement of vendors as partners along with a design philosophy that starts with a vision means you produce a different end product. That’s clear the moment you put one one. The use of heavy pattern revision, pre-articulation, and attention to detail right down to the seams means you’re getting a product that is unique in cycling.
To make the most out of the Strategy Jacket, I do recommend you follow their guidance and pair it with their jersey that follows the same attention to detail in design and construction. To take the performance of the Strategy Jacket even further I suggest that until 7mesh hopefully may one day make their own accessories, you should pair it with a WINDSTOPPER® based beanie and shoe covers. This top to bottom combination will all but make you blind to the bone chill of winter winds.
Outside of online sales, access to 7mesh has been limited but they have been steadily building out their list of local stockists. Word is that a Toronto partner is about to be announced.