Thursday, 14 April 2011

OMM Cypher Smock Initial Analysis

When my brother-in-law needed a new waterproof, I directed him without much hesitation to the Rab Demand Pull-On and the OMM Cypher Smock. He didn't need a full-length zip, nor did he require reams of features. He wanted a lightweight and functional waterproof. He wanted something he could stow away until the last minute and shrug on in seconds. He wanted easy. He liked the look of both, but ultimately, availability determined his selection and I reviewed the OMM Cypher, on the basis of his comments about it here once we got back from the Lakes this winter. Sneak preview for the idle amongst you - it was good. Damned good.

Without Mrs M's knowledge, and therefore acquiescence, I was gradually seduced into retiring my Haglöfs LIM Ozone (375g) to everyday use, substituting instead an OMM Cypher Smock of my own (at 258g for a large). I have no need of a full-zip and prefer smocks and pull-ons to what I feel are cumbersome jackets. Additionally, I take the view that Gore-Tex Pro-Shell (or indeed any other membrane shell layer) does not breathe as effectively as eVent and a 3-layer eVent waterproof shell was perfect for my purposes. As, in all likelihood, I'd spend much of my time with my shell-layer in my pack, rather than clothed in it, I wanted it to be as light as absolutely possible, but still effective and breathable. In the Alps, with all the heavy metal I'd have to carry, shedding weight elsewhere is essential.

When the Cypher arrived, I handled it with some delicacy. It's a diaphanous soul but akin to silky sheen titanium, far more uncompromising and subtly resilient than first impressions would have you believe. Closer examination reveals the way in which OMM have cleverly shed weight from the 3-layer eVent shell. Lycra wrists that have no adjustment potential - not likely to find favour with some, I accept, but these along with thumb-loops, suit me and seem to speak more of the Cypher's Original Mountain Marathon origins - this is a fast-mover's waterproof. The orange on charcoal grey and black is like dark chocolate - sophisticated, enigmatic and bitter sweet. It speaks of dark intentions and fearlessness, of a willingness to risk and run. It feels like the waterproof James Bond would wear.

The hood is simple, yet effective. Adjustment is done in the same way as the Ozone with a tug of a cord and locking toggle but far more simply. It's not going to accommodate a helmet, but this is not a climber's waterproof. There are no side pockets, only the ubiquitous (and pointless) Napoleon pocket. Stop, please. Does anyone use it? It vents, I imagine, but I am unimpressed by this addition. The cut is unashamedly athletic. I'm normally a medium and I've gone for a large here. Bear this in mind when selecting your own - how much will you have underneath? When will you use it? How tight a fit do you want or need? Thumb looped elastic cuffs finish off the perfectly articulated arms although I wonder about how easy they'll be over gloves. 

The hem, with a deep skirt at the back, unabashed by another OMM logo, is adjustable through the usual one-handed toggle. Minimalist is the name of the game here too. It rolls up into a neat package to be stowed in the outer mesh pocket of the Gorilla. There are lighter waterproofs - the Golite Tumalo for one, and of course, I have yet to use the Cypher, but it's a 3-layer eVent waterproof that fits me nicely, has all the features I'd want and weighs 258g. It's a great start.

Addendum: this comment was posted on another part of my blog. Anyone looking at the Cypher should read this comment, and my response to it, so that they purchase the Cypher with open eyes.

"Apologies to jump in (negatively) but from my experience, the Cypher Jacket is an over-rated and over-priced piece of "kit". (I'm a working mountain guide/leader and probe member of the Wasdale MRT, so I have a vague idea...)

Bought a yellow one in August 2011 - on back of Best in Test in Trail etc. and was initially very impressed with the lightness, apparent toughness and definite waterproofness/breathability on the hill (although the fit does leave a bit to be desired if you have a remotely athletic/V-shaped chest and normal-length, humanoid arms...). Anyway, took it for a week of Munro-bagging in October half term. Bit cold and wet - but nothing crazy for Scots west coast. And the bloody thing came home black around key stress points and generally knackered in terms of the laminate. Took back to Planet Fear, Keswick. Sent to OMM. Replaced. Hmmm. (Perhaps this isn't as obvious with already black jackets...)

New (yellow) one lasted a bit longer (I am out quite a bit - but no more than 2-3 times a week and obviously the jacket only comes out in the rain). Suffice to say the new one has suffered the same (if more slowly - but to be honest worse) problems. Laminate is fecked all over. I write this on a sunny April day, just before setting off for Planet Fear, where I shall be insisting on a cash refund, so that I can buy something that actually works... (Suggestions welcome but I'm thinking of "cheap" pertex shield instead of eVent... As are Montane and Rab by the looks of it...)

Cypher Jacket/Smock (2 from 2 tested) is a pile of cack. Very thin/too thin eVent (the missus has a Rab Latok, slightly heavier eVent which seems OK so far). So, be warned. Do not buy (unless you're an "all the gear, no idea" type)." Winst0n.

And my response:


Not sure why you felt the need to put the word "kit" in inverted commas or to suggest anyone buying the Cypher is an "all the gear, no idea" type - I don't see how those comments add weight to your arguments and could be misconstrued and somewhat superior and rude. I'll assume that's not how they were meant.

I've also placed your comment, and this response, in the body of the post of my Initial Analysis of the Cypher which you seem not to have read. I'll quote a couple of parts: "When the Cypher arrived, I handled it with some delicacy. It's a diaphanous soul..." and "...this is a fast-mover's waterproof...". And for me personally - "[a]s, in all likelihood, I'd spend much of my time with my shell-layer in my pack, rather than clothed in it, I wanted it to be as light as absolutely possible, but still effective and breathable." This is an ultralight piece of "kit" where OMM have sought to keep it extremely lightweight and devoid of features. With ultralight "kit", especially a hooded, waterproof garment weighing 260g, I do not expect robustness to feature high on my list of priorities - it requires kid gloves but that is the trade-off for ultralightweight.

Your review of the Cypher is extremely helpful as anyone thinking of purchasing the Cypher needs to know if it is likely to fall apart at the seams - I invite others with similar experiences to comment as it's essential to the review process that poor quality is exposed - but I am not sure that the Cypher was intended to be used 2-3 times a week in the way that you so obviously do use it. I doubt Pertex will shed water and breathe as well as eVent - I find the Tumalo to breathe more poorly but I also think that's just membrane shells all over. When you say it is "too thin", you may well find waterproof pertex even worse. The Tumalo, for example, is certainly thinner in feel than the Cypher. My brother in law is a professional sailor. He has ditched his waterproofs in favour of the Cypher and the conditions he gets wet in are far worse than those we do.

Finally, I am sure Planet Fear in Keswick are grateful for the free advertising in respect of their customer services but, again, it is not relevant to your argument against the smock. Thanks again for your comment."


  1. Lots folks will claim Paclite is rubbish let alone Pro-Shell. Yet I have rolled up at campsites to dry out after very wet days on the hills with mates using Paclite while I had an eVent jacket. Yet they were no wetter or soaked more than me. Seen mates as dry using other Gore-Tex tops as me while using eVent many times. So to say Pro-Shell is not as good as eVent is debatable in the real conditions of on the hill. Lab test and all that might say it is. I always have liked eVent but I know it needs to be cleaned more to keep its effectiveness. I use eVent but doubt you will see any difference in real terms on a hill in the wet if you wore a Pro-Shell top. I do like smocks and am sold on them. I also like that top. Looks good. As you know I went with the Demand top. eVent and superb. Still I would be as happy with say a Berghaus Asgard top or that new PHD one. neither eVent.

  2. There comes a point, on a wet day, where no membrane fabric will keep you dry - paclite, eVent and ProShell all fail at some point. The main difference is breathability - eVent breathes better in my humble experience and so you stay drier, inside, for longer. Whether in reality you notice that on a hill is debatable and so much of this is marketing and personal feeling. If you like a product, you'll tend to believe it's better regardless of whether it actually is. eVent is easy to clean so I am not particularly bothered by that - regular cleaning of eVent is better than irregular cleaning of Gore Tex which is what most would end up doing.

    As I said in my post for Philip Werner recently, there is going to be a revolution in the membrane fabric world soon - it is already happening. It will be interesting to see if that evolves the market or simply enlarges it.

    I like the Demand and I looked very carefully at it. I think you'll love it.

  3. I have had days walking when I wonder if I would be any more wet and soaked if I had not worn a waterproof at all? Many things help like a good base layer etc to keep you dry and a good breathable jacket. I do think that we will see massive leaps forward with Neoshell. All in all we win with better kit and hopefully kit as breathable as Paramo without the weight and too warm in summer issues.

  4. Napoleon pockets - I'm with you on this one Maz, what is the point?! My shell goes on and off as conditions dictate and anything I want to keep dry will be in a dry bag in my pack.

    I'm at a crossroads here, I'm ready for a new summer waterproof but do I go for one of these eVent smocks or wait another year and see who brings out the first true UL in Neoshell? Hmmmm.

  5. Neoshell. No question. Why go with tried and tested when you can go with new and innovative? That's partly what our blogs are about aren't they - trying new stuff and testing it against the old guard?

  6. Hi Maz  Good comments and great piccys.  Can you drop me a line

  7. Writing as the founder of OMM ( but no longer involved as I sold the business 18 months ago.)
    Being neutral now I can buy any brand I need now without prejudice. But one always starts with some cross reference.  I have been using my ( stretchy and flexible) OMM Kamleika waterproof garments now for several years and mixing with various prototypes in eVENT. I needed a new jacket for doing the TGO -Challenge starting mid May 2012 and decided to go with the Cypher because I trust the eVENT fabrics knowing which people have used it and give honest views and my own use as well. I also liked the hood adjustment which is featured as on garments 50% more expensive. As far as legs go then I am staying with my Kamleika pants which are stretchy and there is still nothing else like them. But they wear out and I accept that.   The report said 'black around the seams' and indicating de-lamination but very unclear language so cant comment further. My advice is yes do get a cash refund but dont make the same mistake  again. Anything so light has a limited life span and for a working jacket this is not what I would choose. Pertex shield is also very very light, get something for working must have heavier fabric and construction, why does weight matter? These garments are in the first instance made for racing and lightweight backpacking. 'Use your loaf' is what my old dad used to say to me!              

  8. Sorry Maz - I wasn't trying to be superior (to you/anyone). I was just a bit irritated that a (well two) £130 jackets had failed after 1 week's light trekking (the first case) and a few months on and off use (I really don't think I've used either jacket heavily - the rest of my kit is light - OMM/Terra Nova packs and so on...) hence I was using the inverted commas to suggest that the Cypher isn't the piece of kit it's suggested to be (in places like Trail, where it won best in test...). Also, "kit" rhymes with something I think (given my annoyance) more appropriate...

    And I posted here as this was one of the most prominent pages on a Google search for the jacket...Just to stress re usage, I really didn't use the first jacket heavily at all. I mean, I was in Scotland and it rained plenty but as this is meant to be a lightweight, breathable waterproof (which it was) I would've thought it would last longer than a week without de-laminating (I think we walked 3 or 4 times and I probably used the jacket 2 or 3 of those days). £130 for about 18 hours use is pretty bad!The second jacket has lasted longer (I think I replaced the first just before Xmas) but is now de-laminating all over (as well as at key stress points). I've probably been walking less than usual recently and again largely with lightweight additional kit, so I don't think it's had particularly heavy use. Either way, I think a £130 jacket (and that was pretty heavily discounted) should last longer than a few weeks/months. My old Trespass stuff (usually £20 to £40) still works as badly as the day I bought it :o)
    Obviously I might have been very unlucky to get two bad jackets - and there must be others out there with different experiences. But on my experience I don't see how this jacket is good for light trekking, medium trekking / backpacking, never mind adventure racing (if you intend to use the same jacket more than 6 or 7 times before it fails!). 

  9. Thanks for the clarification which makes your points far more credible and therefore important. It's frustrating when kit fails in the way you've described (and two instances makes it more compelling I agree). What's odd is that I have had no such problems after far more use than you describe (nor has my brother in law). I don't think Robin Evans over at Blogpackinglight has either. In fact, my brother in law ripped his arm on a mast, fixed it and it's still going strong so you can see the sort of abuse he's given it. I wonder whether, as both yours were from Planet Fear and both yellow, they were from the same batch and it's the batch which was faulty? We'll probably never know.

    We all take risks with the reviews we read, and who delivers them, and a balanced picture is essential (which is why I published your comment and replicated it so it was in a place most likely to be seen). I spent a fair amount on a Hilleberg Akto (which is legendary) and it was simply not up to what I wanted it for - there was so much condensation that my down sleeping bag got saturated. I also used the OMM Villain (which I love) on the CHR and with a weight above 10kg (I was carrying rope), my shoulders were killing me. Good kit sometimes doesn't suit us and sometimes kit fails in the way you describe. Thanks again for the comment.Thank you also for the essential job you do as a member of the Wasdale MRT.

  10. Strongly suspect you might be right on the bad batch theory... They were pretty heavily reduced. Hmm.

  11. PS. I do like OMM stuff - I have their Classic 32L pack, which is pretty brilliant/light.