How important is it to have mens and women’s apparel? It is possible for unisex threads to fit both guys and gals? Technically garments, like skis and boots, should function the same, after all.
These are questions I asked myself frequently while testing the Strafe Cham Kit this past winter. The highly functional, waterproof and breathable jacket and pants distinguish themselves in many ways but perhaps most notable, at least for me, was the choice to offer only gender neutral sizes and colors.
Before we launch into esoteric contemplations of women’s fit versus men’s, let’s look at the functional elements of the kit.
Strafe Cham Kit overview
Strafe, a Colorado company based a few miles down the road from WS headquarters, has been steadily gaining ground in the ski apparel market since its inception in 2009. Started by brothers Pete and John Gaston, Strafe is all about high performance outerwear that’s tested and conceived in the alpine surrounding Aspen.
WildSnow has covered Strafe in the past but this was my first time wearing it. I have to say, knowing the Gaston brothers and the conditions this gear is continually being tested in, Strafe is one of the more under the radar brands in the outdoor space. I was psyched to spend quality time in this latest iteration of the Cham jacket and pants.
This recent version of the Cham kit arrives on the heels of several other attempts at finding the ideal fabric for high output breathability that maintains weather proofness. In the past, they’ve tried eVent and Polartech NeoShell fabrics. They’ve also tweaked features, including adding a helmet compatible hood (2016), and subtracting the removable powder skirt (2020). You could say the Strafe crew likes to tinker, or maybe they’re just obsessed with getting it right.
The latest Cham kit achieves its breathable-yet-protective qualities by employing a three layer construction similar to previous iterations. What’s unique this time around is the inclusion of Schoeller Aerobrane, a ‘hydrophyllic, ultralight polyurethane membrane,’ (according to Schoeller) which is prized for achieving an ideal blend of breathability, waterproofness and comfort. The electro-nanospun membrane shares similar characteristics to The North Face’s Futurelight. The Cham fabric is pliable, not bulky and offers a great range of motion.
The jacket features two large chest pockets, one interior goggle pouch and smaller interior zippered pocket, as well as a small zippered forearm pocket. It also has a cynchable bottom, taped zippers and seams, a helmet compatible hood and very large ventilation zippers.
The pants feature two large thigh pockets (one with interior electronics sleeve), over-the-hamstring vent zips, a simple web and hook belt and CORDURA scuff guards and heavy duty buttons on the back of each leg. Both the shell and pants are simplistic in nature, yet practical with the features they do include.
You could say gender neutral sizes are so 2020. You wouldn’t be wrong, but that’s not exactly why Strafe opted for the ultimate PC versatility. It’s more about being a small business with a limited budget, but much like we’ve seen over the past year, being put into a corner and trying something new can have positive implications. The gender neutral sizing is conceptually interesting, though it needs some tweaking to really take off.
To appeal to all sizes and genders, Strafe graded the smaller sizes especially and slimmed the fit of the pants. The Cham kit is designed to fit on the more relaxed side, so the fine tuning wasn’t exhaustive. They also offer relatively gender neutral colors: black, light blue with navy shoulder panels, navy blue with gold shoulder panels.
But, there is a difference between a relaxed fit and a baggy one. As a small female (5’5”, 115lb) the extra small Cham Kit was, well, not extra small. It was quite large and a better fit for my gal friend who’s 5’10 and a healthy weight to match. That said, I could still wear it. It was actually kind of fun to fashion myself the steezy freeride skier I’ll probably never be while heading out on tours. Gotta look the part, right?
Fit matters aside, I found the Strafe kit to perform as I hoped it would. On a warmish mid-winter day where snow poured gloriously from the heavens, I opened up those big pit zips and stayed dry for a solid four-hour tour of quick moving uphills and powdery downs. The zippers were easy to adjust for temperature regulation, and I often found a light baselayer was all I needed underneath on uphills. On warmer days when I nixed the pant baselayers, the inner fabric was soft on bare skin, unlike some other hard shells I’ve used that end up feeling clammy and akin to walking around with trash bags on my legs.
On a super cold and windy tour in the high alpine I stayed unbothered by the gusts and single digits temps, but also didn’t find the fabric too breathable as can sometimes happen with these lighter membranes. Having tried Gore-Tex, Event, Futurelight and most recently Schoeller fabrics over the years, I’ve been consistently surprised and pleased at the delivery of Schoeller membranes in terms of general breathability and protection. This iteration of the Cham kit exemplifies those qualities well.
After a dozen or so long tours in the kit, no major durability issues yet. The zippers function as they ought to, the reinforced cuffs have held up to ski edges and the occasional crampon spike. I’ll update if issues do arise throughout the coming spring season.
Room for improvement
Sizing, obviously, but also the pit zips were so large I thought I could crawl out of them. It’s a small thing, but I have jackets with half or a quarter length of zip that provide adequate ventilation.
The buttons on the back of the legs help to slim the pant cuffs, especially helpful when using crampons. But securing them in their tightest setting made the thigh sections of the pants balloon and gave me the comical appearance of a jockey in the 1920s. Not exactly flattering.
On the sizing note, I do think that if Strafe fine tuned the fit just a little more and offered and xxs, they’d have something for women (or men) of smaller stature.
For ski tourers looking for a lightweight kit that is robust enough to hold up to weather and snow, the Cham kit is is a solid option. The jacket and pants are fully featured without being extraneous, and the features they include are well thought-out. Strafe’s choice to go unisex is more interesting to me than bothersome. With a little tweaking, I’m confident they could pull it off.
Sizes available: XS thru XL (see Strafe’s size guide, recommend trying on before buying)
Face fabric: Scholler® Aerobrane, 100% polyester face, 100% polyester backer, DWR treatment
Colors available: Black, Powder blue/navy, Navy/gold
Shop for the Strafe Cham Kit
Manasseh Franklin is a writer, editor and big fan of walking uphill. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction and environment and natural resources from the University of Wyoming and especially enjoys writing about glaciers. Find her other work in Alpinist, Adventure Journal, Rock and Ice, Aspen Sojourner, AFAR, Trail Runner and Western Confluence.