Strafe, a relative newcomer in the clothing market, was founded by two hard core brothers who more than walk the talk. (If we could just get them to walk uphill a lot slower we might be able to keep up for even a second.)
The Cham 2 is the second generation of Strafe’s lightest, touring oriented shell jacket and pants. They are made from Polartec’s waterproof/breathable Neoshell.
Neoshell simply breathes way better than any other fabric I have ever used, allowing for far greater comfort across a wider range of temperatures, weather conditions and levels of activity. This is accomplished with no compromise to blocking wind or precipitation.
Beyond the fabric, the Cham 2 iteration is a well thought out piece of gear with a supple hand, drapes well and allows the body to move unhindered going up and down. Simply put, it feels good to wear.
The hood and collar are protective when the weather turns ugly but unobtrusive when not in use. The two voluminous, pack friendly chest pockets are simple and swallow up more items than imaginable.
Gripe: because of their large volume, sometimes smaller items get lost in the bottom and can be a bit difficult to retrieve. Or because the pockets are so big (skin sized) and I tended to load them up for quick access to items, it was hard to remember everything I had put in them only to discover something a few days later I thought had gone missing. That might be a sign of early dementia, for which excessive uphill is the cure, so I’m good.
There is one smaller outside pocket high up on the sleeve for the smallest items. Inside pockets are a zippered pocket on one side and a larger drop in pocket on the other side, both of which I use often. With all of the stuff I have crammed in the pockets it makes one wonder why I bother to carry a pack at all.
Long pit zips offer exceptional ventilation but would be better served by double slider zippers to make it easier to open and close such a big opening.
The Cham 2 pants follow suit with a lightweight Neoshell construction. The pants also allow one to move freely making it seem like they are barely there. The edge guards cover a large area but don’t feel like boat anchors around your boots. Well placed thigh pockets are accessible and function as thigh vents. The waist band is lined with a comfortable, lightweight brushed fleece and Velcro tabs on the outside to fine tune the fit.
A complaint is Strafe abandoned the waterproof zips on both the jacket and pant vents and replaced them with coil zippers and draft flaps which makes it difficult to make adjustments on the fly.
This kit is hardly a one trick pony as I use both for lift serviced skiing as well as touring. I have not found the lighter weight gear to be a compromise while thrashing and bashing tree lines at the resort or elbowing my way to the bar for an apres ski beer.
My last but not least favorite piece was the North Face Summit Series L3 Ventrix Hybrid Hoody. I literally lived in this grid fleece hybrid jacket 24/7 for the entire trip. Even prior at home, whenever I put it on, it felt like being wrapped in a cocoon of warmth and contentment that enveloped my entire being. Was it how it draped, the feel of the fabric, the thin layer of insulated air that surrounded me, the collar that wrapped around my neck? I don’t know but it just made me feel good without weighing me down.
The L3 has a bit looser fit that does not hinder movement either with the hood up or down. It works well as a stand-alone piece or as part of a layering system. I often would skin up in the L3 and add the Cham 2 shell over it for the way down. This jacket actually is a combination of grid fleece covering the hood, sleeves and side panels combined with lightly insulated sections covering the front and back. These panels use a breathable, wind blocking fabric with strategic perforations on the inside to increase the ventilation. There are two zippered hand warmer pockets and one zippered inside pocket.
The only change I would make to the L3 is to put the inside pocket on the outside and make it a chest pocket for easier accessibility.
I wish I could tell you how well the L3 packed down inside my pack — but it never left my body. That is not something I can say about many pieces of gear. Now if I can just get a L3 onesie with feet to sleep in at home I’ll never lose another wink again.
Check out part 01, Antarctica Trip Report