Renamed for 2018, the ION Shell_Amp Vario Jacket will now be known as the ‘3 Layer Shelter’ Jacket. We had the chance to check it out at Eurobike in early September, where the gang from ION gave us a sneak peek at some other new products they have coming this season. Aside from the name change and the offer of some different colours though, the new Shelter is otherwise exactly the same as the brilliant Vario jacket that I’ve been using and abusing for the past 12 months.
As the most expensive outwear garment from Austrian-based brand ION Products, the Vario is designed as a high-tech waterproof jacket that’s designed to keep you warm, dry and comfortable even when the conditions are anything but. It’s available in five sizes from Small through to XX-Large, and there’s also a women’s specific cut available too.
Although the Vario is a waterproof jacket, it doesn’t really feel like it. It’s made out of a beautifully supple polyester fabric that makes it feel more like a softshell jacket, with a mechanical 4-way stretch fibre providing a flexible and adaptive fit. Waterproof 4-way stretch fabric isn’t totally unique amongst high-end outdoors wear, but it certainly isn’t common, and it makes the Vario an absolute pleasure to wear both on and off the bike. It’s also a significant contributor to the Vario’s high end price tag.
Despite the softshell-feel and the lack of any ‘whish-whish’ noises that you typically get from pedalling in crispier waterproof garments, you can be rest assured that the Vario is indeed an effective barrier against the wet. It’s built with a 3-layer construction with a membrane sandwiched in the middle that offers a hefty 20,000mm waterproof rating, while all of the gaps are plugged up internally with seam-sealed tape.
I’m typically a small in most tops, and the Vario jacket has proven true-to-size. It has a moderate volume that leaves sufficient room to wear additional layers underneath, but ION has ensured it’s sufficiently fitted to avoid flapping about in the wind. If you’re more slender around the hips, the jacket hem can be snugged down via an elasticated drawcord so as to eliminate any breaches in the defence line against raspy wind. If you’re a little curvier around the hips (and elsewhere), the stretch fabric means it’s unlikely to feel restrictive, and with sizing up to a XX-Large, most riders should be catered for. If you’re particularly petite though, unfortunately there isn’t an X-Small size.
The overall cut itself is specifically designed for mountain biking, so the Vario gets a dropped tail at the back and a ‘just right’ length for the sleeves that feels slightly too long off the bike, but absolutely spot-on when you’re in the saddle and in a stretched-out riding position. Both sleeves get a Velcro tab at the cuff for cinching them down over the top of your gloves, which I found was perfectly adequate for keeping cold winds from leeching their way inside the sleeves. There’s also a tall collar for keeping those cutting winter blasts off your neck, and ION has added a hood that can fit either under or over the top of a helmet. The hood features a slightly stiffened peak to channel water away from your face, while an elastic drawcord means you can shrink the opening right down if the conditions have taken a turn for the worse and you need to cover up as much exposed skin as possible. Unfortunately there’s no option to stow the hood, and you can’t remove it either. That said, because the collar comes up quite high and the hood is pretty close-fitting, I found flappage wasn’t too big of a deal unless I was riding in particularly blowy conditions, or I was on exposed descending trails where lashing winds could catch the hood and puff it up like a parachute.
ION has used a full-length waterproof YKK zipper for the Vario jacket, and it forms a nice and tight seal as you zip it up. Lurking behind the zipper is an additional waterproof fabric gutter, which helps to further windproof the jacket, while providing an additional barrier to any water ingress. The same sealed zippers have been used for two hand pockets, one of which also contains a neat built-in glasses wipe.
While I’ve had plenty of waterproof jackets to test and choose from over the past year, the ION Vario has easily become my favourite go-to option. For a start, it just feels dead-lovely to wear. The soft face-fabric makes other raincoats feel abrasive in comparison, and the slightly elasticated construction means the whole jacket moves with you on the bike, without causing any pinch-points or restriction.
It’s performed its primary purpose as a raincoat well, though it also breathes incredibly well. Like any good waterproof/breathable membrane, you’ll still want to wear a nice and thin long sleeve baselayer underneath, which helps to help wick moisture off your skin to turn your sweat into vapour that’s more easily transported through the membrane. In warmer and muggier conditions, a thin merino long sleeve baselayer was ideal. And if things warmed up enough, a quick tug on the ventilation zippers located on the underside of each bicep proved to be an effective method for exhausting heat in a way that didn’t result in actually getting wet. I also liked that these two vents aren’t affected by wearing a backpack – a problem that is present with many other rain jackets.
Although I had concerns about the softer fabric, the Vario has also been impressively durable. It’s had 12 solid months of use (I know – I was surprised that it rains here in Calderdale in summer too…), with regular cycles through the washing machine. It’s been snagged by overhanging tree branches, it’s encountered the rock-armoured singletrack of Welsh trail centres on numerous occasions, and it’s become well accustomed to being mushed into the wet, mud-laden back seats of shuttle vans. Despite not being overly delicate with it, the Vario has stood up to it all, with no damage, or even any colour-fading, to speak of.
I’ve also worn it a lot off the bike too, as the Vario is a great looking jacket that doesn’t look like a sport-specific garment. I practically lived in it during the Fort William World Cup where we were on-site for four days of event reporting. The weather was all over the place that week, with bursts of rain and gusts of wind interspersed with moments of stillness as the sun came out and baked everyone unexpectedly. The Vario handled it all comfortably, and did a much better job than I did of blending in seamlessly during a couple of fancy dinners we were invited to during the week.
With its luxurious fabric and high-tech construction, the ION Vario jacket has become one of my favourite garments for hitting the trails when the weather is either already pish, or it’s looking like it’s about to head that way. It isn’t as lightweight as some of the more minimalist style jackets out there, but it’s still reasonably packable if you’re riding with a small-to-medium sized backpack, and the extra comfort afforded by its 3-layer construction gives it class-leading comfort.
While the fit is spot-on, a stowable hood would be the icing on the cake. Sure it isn’t a cheap jacket, and there are a plethora of different options out there that come in well under the Vario’s price. However, there is no denying this is one top quality piece of kit and one that’s likely to last a very long time. As the saying goes; ‘the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten’. And that certainly applies when it comes to the ION Vario jacket.
|Product:||Shell_Amp Vario Jacket|
|Tested:||by Wil Barrett for 12 months|