I figured there was a catch. I’ve long struggled with outdoor apparel with a small waist but broad shoulders and short legs for my height. Getting enough freedom of movement in my shoulders for climbing often meant sizing up to a billowy torso. And if I didn’t size up, the jacket was often too short for my torso and arms, and the pants were too small in the thigh.
Made Custom Apparel assured me that these woes would end with its brand. The MSRP, which starts at $1,000 for the set, surprised me. It equals other “stock” high-end shell systems I’ve used for alpine or ice climbing. So I agreed to test the custom shell system during a week of ice climbing in Alaska’s backcountry.
I hiked, snowshoed, rode a snow machine, and flew into drainages and side canyons around Caribou Creek and the Matanuska Glacier to hunt for first ascents. And I climbed in temperatures barely into the double digits. The wind was often relentless, and the snow was waist-deep.
I scrambled and climbed near my limit. And I hung or stood on icy belays, sometimes for over an hour. The Made Custom Apparel Hard Shell Jacket and Pants got dragged over sharp granite and ice, and gouged by crampon points and ice axes. The shell was constantly abraded from my climbing harness and backpack shoulder and waist straps. I didn’t have the luxury of babying it; instead, I abused it with no regard.
In short: The Made Custom Apparel Hard Shell Jacket and Pants fit my unique anatomy better than any other off-the-rack shell system I’ve used. It provided the range of motion and coverage required to climb in the hostile Alaskan winter. And it emerged unscathed, an anomaly for shells I use for backcountry ice or alpine climbing. There were a few minor nicks against the system for climbing, but overall, I was super impressed.
Made Custom Apparel Hard Shell Jacket
- Fabric Sympatex or Polartec NeoShell
- Venting options Custom
- Pockets Custom
- Hood Custom
- Colors Custom
- Immaculate fit
- Durable fabric
- Customer-chosen features
Made Custom Apparel Hard Shell Pant
- Fabric Sympatex
- Venting options Custom
- Pockets Custom
- Colors Custom
- Immaculate fit
- Custom options
- Extremely durable
- Cut for skiing or snowboarding
The Made Custom Apparel Process
The first step was to choose between Sympatex (more heavy-duty) or Polartec NeoShell. I went with the former since my objective was ice climbing, and I have historically damaged shells in a single trip. Made Custom Apparel offers several colors, and I chose Chartreuse for the highest visibility against snow or rock for rescue situations.
Choose Hard Shell Jacket Options
The next step involved choosing the features — almost everything you can think of for a jacket. Pricing starts at an MSRP of $550.
- Main zipper style and color
- Hood style
- Wrist closure style
- Jacket length options
- Hand pocket placement and zip color
- Arm pocket placement and zip color
- Back pocket option
- Under arm/back of arm vents and zip color
- Interior pocket options
- Key clip, zipper chin guard, and main zip bottom snap options
- Logo placement and color
Choose Hard Shell Pant Options
The Hard Shell Pants are all Sympatex and have fewer options. Pricing starts at an MSRP of $450.
- Hand pocket and zip color options
- Thigh pocket options
- Pocket internal accessory choices (phone sleeve, key clip, electronics holster)
- Back pocket options
- Front/side fly options
- Belt and suspender options
- Thigh venting options
- Reinforced in-step option
- Lower hem zip options
- Gaiter option
- Logo color
I chose options that suit me for alpine and ice climbing. This brought my jacket’s MSRP to $650 and my pants’ to $640. The total price is still the same (or better) than a few high-end shells I had already tested. For example, the Arc’teryx Alpha SV has an MSRP of $1,448 for the jacket and bibs.
My custom-fitted jacket tipped the scales at 1 pound, 2 ounces, and the pant came in at 1 pound, 4 ounces. These are the exact same weights as the aforementioned Arc’teryx Alpha SV in my size.
A feature I have for almost all my hardshell pants that didn’t exist as an option is eyelets at the lower hem for an elastic cord. Made Custom Apparel tags both shell items as “Ski and Snowboard,” so not having this available makes sense. The brand said it is considering adding this after I told them I preferred to have it for climbing.
The next step was to scan my body from the front and side. Made Custom Apparel uses a phone app to do this, which instructed me to do so in my underwear. The app says the image isn’t stored, so don’t worry about breaking the internet with your barely clad body.
I got my 9-year-old daughter to help, and in only a few minutes, the scanning process was complete. Made Custom Apparel generated a pattern with the aid of AI, then an experienced pattern-maker gave it a final pass.
Once the pattern was established, it was a waiting game. The brand advertises a 4- to 5-week waiting period, which it met with my order.
The fit of the Made Custom Apparel Hard Shell Jacket and Hard Shell Pant is what you would expect from outerwear based on a body scan. I didn’t think an off-the-rack shell combination could ever match how the custom-made system fit.
The jacket’s sleeve and torso lengths covered everything while reaching overhead, a common shortfall of most jackets for me due to my long torso. And the torso isn’t oversized like when I have to size up to get the shoulder room. The interior volume is just enough to work with my base layer and an active insulation layer without anything binding. And I can cram another insulating layer underneath for drastic situations.
The pants fit me well around the waist, and I don’t have to run any adjusters all the way in. I have small hips but larger thighs; both dimensions fit well with a base and light insulating layers. The suspenders I added are on the minimalist side of the spectrum. I didn’t notice them during use, which is what I want in all my bibs.
The three-layer Sympatex is a lot softer and more compliant than GORE-TEX Pro with Most Rugged Technology. It has a very similar hand to GORE-TEX Pro with Most Breathable Technology.
The Made Custom Apparel Hard Shell Jacket and Pant in Action
The fit enamored me, but that wouldn’t matter if the shell didn’t protect me from the Alaskan elements without failing. A solid week of backcountry ice has consistently caused at least some damage to even the most expensive shells. And more than once, a week of ice climbing has caused a complete failure. I don’t do anything more demanding to outerwear than big, backcountry ice climbing. I have a pile of damaged shells as proof.
Approaching our objectives meant a combination of flying in a helicopter, riding a snowmobile, and slugging it on foot. We traveled over frozen creeks in narrow canyons and across massive glaciers. These approaches subjected the shell to sometimes extreme winds and temperatures as low as single digits.
On route, the Made Custom Apparel pieces got endlessly poked and scraped by sharp metal. They also got bombarded at belays by falling ice. I forced the gear into climbing ranges of motion and balling up at desperate hanging belays. And the shell kept my insulating layers working in consistently windy conditions.
The Sympatex-clad shell was supremely windproof. Super-cold wind blasted me on the snowmobile and at belays, often with the additional insult of swirling spindrift. The Sympatex fabric never seeped any perceptible wind. On routes when we went as light as we could, opting to leave puffy belay jackets on the ground, this wind-blocking ability saved me from cold injury.
To avoid soaking my base layer with sweat, I had to open all my chosen venting options on demanding approaches. I had the main zip, pit zips, and thigh zips wide open, and with temperatures in the single or low double digits, it sufficed. I cannot say that Sympatex was more or less breathable than GORE-TEX. But I had to use the same strategy to avoid overheating in all the GORE-TEX shells I’ve used in Alaska, regardless of version.
The Made Custom Apparel Hard Shell Jacket and Pant claimed a first-ever for me. It’s the first shell system to return without damage from a multipitch ice climbing trip. A true first! No holes, nothing delaminating, no broken zippers, no busted cord locks. I can attribute damage to human error (crampon points) or conditions and characteristics of the routes, but it’s still notable that this shell system is the first to come home almost unscathed.
The routes’ features and conditions were comparable to any other trip and I operated with the usual disregard for my gear. I dragged screws and picks across both my jacket and pants, scraped them across granite and sharp ice, and occasionally caught my crampon points — the usual. The only damages are stains on the pants and a busted zipper pull tab on the jacket.
A Few Nicks
I had zero complaints about the jacket. Other than the broken zipper pull tab, it performed seamlessly.
The Hard Shell Pants fit me well 95% of the time. At hanging belays, when I had no choice but to hang in my harness with my knees bent at 90 degrees and pressed against vertical ice, I wished the knees had a more generous cut. With my knees bent that far I didn’t have enough interior volume to accommodate the two bunched-up layers underneath without compressing the insulation to a large degree. And since there was no slack, the lower hem rode up pretty high up my boot.
Also, the cut of the pant at the lower hem is larger than necessary, which allowed the wind to sometimes enter during these hanging belays. Again, I realize Made Custom Apparel patterns to fit ski boots, not climbing boots, which are less voluminous. The addition of metal eyelets at the lower hem for an elastic cord could largely address both complaints.
Made Custom Apparel made good on its word that its Hard Shell Jacket and Pants would deliver an exacting fit. Its scan and patterning systems successfully translated to a unique fit that worked for my body’s abnormal dimensions.
The Sympatex was comparable to GORE-TEX in weather resistance and breathability. And the Hard Shell Jacket and Pants had unmatched durability.
Finally, the pricing. Yes, spending over a grand on a shell system can seem overkill. But other premium shells have similar pricing, and I always dealt with some fitting issues.
I can confidently state that until something better comes along, this shell system will remain a top pick for Alaska.