Gear Review: BightGear Solstice Graphene Hoody

BightGear Solstice Graphene Hoody Review


There is no doubt that the single most worn piece of clothing while guiding this summer was the new BightGear Solstice Graphene Hoody. Most people who know me personally know of my affinity for the “sun hoody” category. This is a relatively new essential to outdoor clothing that is quickly growing as evidenced by the half dozen different manufactures that are making these now. I’ve had the chance to try many of them and this one is edging out my long time favorite Patagonia Technical Sunshade Hoody for a couple of reasons that I will get into below, but first… what is a “sun hoody” for and why should you consider adding it to your closet?

BightGear Solstice Graphene Hoody Review
Working at the top of Artist’s Bluff in Franconia Notch State Park, NH

Protection from sun & heat

I’ve had multiple clients, friends, co-workers, and fellow guides ask me why I am wearing long sleeves and a hood when it’s 85 degrees and humid out. They assume I must be over-heating dressed as I am, and surprised when I explain I feel cooler than going bare chested. A sun-hoody is personal shade that travels with you as you move through the mountains. The fabric is super thin and insanely breathable. The fit of this, one of the things that is making it my current #1, is perfectly “looser” which lets air flow through it more freely. When it is a scorching day I wear this directly over my bare skin and there is no more comfortable option aside spending the day in the AC! On cooler days I’ll wear one of my Ortovox merino t-shirts underneath. A great benefit to this is I do not have to wear sunscreen as often as the t-shirt only crowd… this is permanent UPF 55+!

BightGear Solstice Graphene Hoody Review
Guiding Alex F. on the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle… he loves his Solstice Hoody!

Protection from bugs

Our bug season can be brutal in the Northeast. Many people use a few cans of DEET or Picaridin to survive. I treat my main outdoor clothing with Permethrin twice a season and stay bite free all Spring & Summer. No black flies in the eyes. No mosquito bites. Zero ticks. Not one. And I get to skip coating myself with toxic repellents. Win win win! I write more on my bug defense program in this post if interested.

BightGear Solstice Graphene Hoody Review
Friend and summer camp co-worker Julian also rocking the Solstice this summer after I turned him on to it!

Here’s some of the manufacturer deets:

The Solstice Graphene is guide grit plus lab smarts. 

NEED TO KNOW:

  • Function: The newest, best iteration of Bight Gear’s classic baselayer. Graphene fabric takes this piece to new heights with a light-as-air feel, UPF 55+ sun protection, next-gen moisture wicking, and natural antimicrobial properties.
  • Layering: Good for a range of temps and conditions. Wear alone as a sun hoodie, or as a next-to-skin baselayer under other layers when things get cold.
  • Fit: Relaxed

FEATURES:

  • Gen7 Graphene fabric
  • Naturally antimicrobial for reduced stink
  • UPF 55+ sun protection
  • Oversized hood for full coverage with or without a hat
  • Overlap below the chin to protect neck area from sun exposure
  • Fast-drying
  • Raglan sleeve for increased comfort and mobility
  • Thumbholes with extra hand coverage for sun protection
  • Drop tail hem provides coverage and length where needed most
  • Flat seam construction for chafe-free comfort
  • Relaxed fit

STATS:

  • Fabrics: 95% Polyester (.04% graphene), 5% spandex
  • Country of Origin: El Salvador
  • Weight: 7.7oz

IN MORE DETAIL:

This is the best baselayer we’ve ever made. Period. Years of development and iteration led us to a new synthetic fabric that feels like cotton, but wicks like synthetic. It incorporates Graphene nanomaterial for increased heat transfer and odor reduction, and comes in at UPF 55+ sun protection to keep you from getting microwaved up high.


Reading that over reminded me I wanted to talk about the lack of smell, or the “naturally antimicrobial for reduced stink. I’m not sure how this works but I would routinely wear mine for two weeks straight before washing without it collecting any body odor.

Sizing/Fit

BightGear Solstice Graphene Hoody Review

I went with a size large due to a 42 inch chest and I find it to be a perfect “looser” fit. The sleeves are a bit on the long side which I’ve come to like. The material is stretchy enough I can easily roll them up so they are out of the way while climbing but when it’s really blazing hot and sunny I can let them drape over the backs of my hands while using the thumb loops. That back length is excellent for tucking under a climbing harness and it stays put all day.

BightGear Solstice Graphene Hoody Review
Not just for work I lived in this thing all summer including a family vacation to the Maine seacoast. I would think everyone who spends a lot of time on the water would love one of these!

Summary

If you don’t own a sun hoody yet you need one. A life spent outdoors is a life well spent, but is also one that is prone to skin damage and worse. A sun hoody will keep you more comfortable on more adventures than most any other piece of clothing in your kit. This one, designed by the guides who work on Mount Rainier, is a solid choice in this category! I genuinely feel it is worth full retail ($69.00), but I got some good news! BightGear hooked me up with a discount code for 30% off to share with my readers!

Use promo-code “GuideDaveL” to pick this up for $48.30!

Shop Men’s          Shop Women’s

I regret not getting this review finished sooner as they are just about sold out in men’s with only small and XL left. They do have full size run’s in women’s though and hope to get more men’s sizes back in stock soon! This code is also valid on any full priced items from BightGear!

BightGear Solstice Graphene Hoody Review
Alpine climbing on New Hampshire’s famed Cannon Cliff!

Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. 

Labor Day Deals on Outdoor Gear!

LaborCapture.PNG

I’m up early but it looks like my guiding day might get rained out so I decided to scour the web for some of the better deals on outdoor gear and clothing as most companies end their Labor Day sales today. Below is a curated list of what is not only on sale but something I have personally owned and tested or is on my wish list!

Backcountry has up to 50% off a few brands. Some great deals on Patagonia like 45% off some of the Nano Air and Nano Puff models! I reviewed the Nano Puff back in 2015 here and it’s still one of my favorite pieces! Black Diamond is up to 30% off with the Ultralights set at 25% off now is a great time to lighten up your rack! Some real saving’s on Arcteryx today like almost $200 off the Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots and 25% off the Atom AR Insulated Jacket!

REI is running some sweet deals like 20% off Thule and Yakima racks and roof boxes! 25-30% off most REI, Big Agnes, and Nemo tents and sleeping pads! They also made it easy to find the items that are actually 50% off by grouping them under their “Peak Deals“. Expect limited quantity and sizes in there!

Eastern Mountain Sports is going big with quite a bit of inventory 70% off! 20% off all Black Diamond, 20% off La Sportiva Footwear, and a current coupon for an extra 20% off a full or sale priced item! COUPON CODE: “LABORDAY19“. There is a fairly long list of excluded brands though… you can see the list here. Finally they have summer clearance items listed at 70% here!

Patagonia is running some great web specials like 40% off the Micro Puff and Nano Puff jackets and hoodies visible here.

Just about every retailer is running sales today and since it looks like a wash-out here in the Northeast I think I’ll spend some time today organizing my gear closet and seeing if I’m all set for the rapidly approaching Fall!

Coming soon… I’ve got reviews in the works for the new Wild Country Revo Belay Device. The “Take20Summer” coupon code does work on this item by the way! I also finally got my hands on both the Mammut Smart 2.0 and the Mammut Alpine Smart and testing has begun! Expecting to have reviews on all of these done in time for Rocktober!

Climbing trip to Camden ME in two weeks! I’ve been to Camden twice for some family camping but this trip it’s just me and my buddy Bob heading out to sample the climbing there. Have you been? Must do routes? Let me know in the comments below!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



P.S. The above links are affiliate links. Making a purchase through one of them sends a small commission my way which helps keep content coming. Thank you!

Cascades Climbing Trip Gear List (updated 2019)

Those who know me know I can be a little obsessive about gear. I enjoy making detailed gear lists for trips sometimes weighing everything down to the ounce. I shared my first gear list for ski touring in Iceland this past April and most recently in a trip report for climbing Mount Shuksan in the Cascades. I’ve decided to give the gear list its own post that can be easily linked too without taking up so much space in the trip reports located at these links:

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier

(Note: Originally posted from summer 2017 trip I am currently updating some links to newer or more preferred models)

Packing for Cascades Climbing Trip
Packing for Cascades Climbing Trip

Having over 20 years in outdoor retail I love chatting about gear so if you have any questions about any of my recommendations, or suggestions for better products, please comment below!


Cascades Gear List


Hyperlite Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

Hyperlight Mountain Gear 3400 Ice Pack

At just over 2 pounds this pack has enough space for 3-4 day alpine endeavor’s, rides comfortably, and is made of materials that will last for over a decade of adventure! Also made in Maine!

Buy from Hyperlite Mountain Gear


Black Diamond FirstLight Tent

First Light Tent.jpg

A super lightweight and pack-able 2 person single wall tent. I spent 12 nights in this from car camping between climbs to dug in at 11,000 feet at Ingraham Flats on Rainier and the tent performed perfectly through-out!

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Western Mountaineering TerraLite 25 Degree Sleeping Bag

Western Mountaineering TerraLite 25 Degree Sleeping Bag

This was the best gear purchase I’ve made in over a decade. I have a few sleeping bags from a great heritage -30 EMS down bag to a fairly light 35 degree synthetic sleeping bag but I decided to upgrade for this trip and I could not have been happier for my first Western Mountaineering sleeping bag! I’ll go into greater detail in a review later but for now I’ll just say I slept GREAT in this compressible lightweight sleeping bag!

Buy on Backcountry          Buy on Amazon


Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner

Sea to Summit Reactor Thermolite Sleeping Bag Liner

This goes with me everywhere. It’s super comfy on airplanes as a blanket and in hostels around the world. I also like that it keeps my expensive down sleeping bag clean (extending its life) even after weeks of griming sleeping!

Buy on Backcountry         Buy on Amazon


Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Mattress

Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Mattress

I upgraded from my older, heavier, bulkier Therm-a-Rest Prolite sleeping pad with this in “short” and doubled it up with the closed cell foam pad listed below. It was a great combo for both warmth and comfort!

Buy on Backcountry      Buy on Amazon


Therm-a-Rest RidgeRest SOLite Mattress

Therm-a-Rest RidgeREst SOLite Mattress

Affordable added warmth and comfort, I used a full length model to pair with the short model mentioned above for a very comfortable and adaptable combo.

Buy on Backcountry         Buy on Amazon


MSR WindBoiler 1.0 L Stove System

MSR WindBoiler 1.0 L Stove System

This stove was amazing on this trip! Super fast and efficient for melting snow I could easily budget just 2 ounces of fuel per person per day assuming we had water sources at Lake Ann and below Winnie’s Slide bivy site.

Buy on Amazon       Buy on Backcountry


Food

For dinner and breakfast I went with Mountain House meals. The egg scrambles were one of my favorite. For a dinner appetizer I carried a Lipton noodle soup packet and combined it with a Miso soup packet, great for replacing lost sodium and electrolytes! The Mountain House Pad Thai and Chicken Fajita Bowl both tasted great!


Sea To Summit Delta Spork With Knife

Sea to Summit Delta Spork

Simple lightweight option to make meal time easy!

Buy on Backcountry        Buy on Amazon


Arcteryx Acrux Mountaineering Boots

Arc'teryx Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots

My mountaineering boots of choice, full review of them here. While I LOVE these boots for my cold New England ice climbing and mountaineering adventures they turned out to be a little too warm for Shuksan and Forbidden (but perfect for Rainier, more on that later). My co-guide Jordan who has been having a banner season in the Cascades was rocking the Salomon S-Lab X Alpine Carbon 2 GTX Boots… these things look AWESOME! Basically comfy enough for long warmish approaches, crampon compatible, and climb rock really well… I will be getting a pair of these before my next summer Cascade adventure!

Buy Acrux AR Mountaineering Boots on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon

Buy Salomon S-Lab X Alpine Carbon 2 GTX Boots on Backcountry      Buy on Amazon


Petzl Vasak Leverlock Crampons

Petzl Vasak Crampons

Make sure you select the Leverlock or FL option! Great all around mountaineering crampon in my book! I have led grade 5 ice in them and walked hundreds of miles in them from Washington to Katahdin over the last decade and they are still going strong! I do plan to shave a little weight for these longer glaciated non-water ice routes by picking up a pair of Petzl Leopard Crampons soon!

Buy Petzl Vasak Crampons on Backcountry          On Amazon

Buy Petzl Leopard on Backcountry        On Amazon


Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles

Leki Micro Vario Carbon Trekking Poles

The lightest most compatible trekking poles I have ever seen! I’ve been loving these! I’ve used them all over the White Mountains including a 2 hour car-to-car ascent of the Northeast Ridge of the Pinnacle! You can see them during one attempt in this video.

Buy on Backcountry        Buy on Amazon


Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe

Black Diamond Raven Pro Ice Axe

This has been my mountaineering axe for almost 15 years and is the right balance of weight and durability.

Buy on Backcounty       Buy on Amazon


Petzl Sirocco Helmet

Petzl Sirocco Helmet

Finally got the latest version of this iconic helmet and went into a ton of detail in a long form review last month here!

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Petzl Sitta Harness

Petzl Sitta Harness

I brought this harness for the more technical climbing on Shuksan and Forbidden and my full review of it is here.

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Petzl Altitude Harness

Petzl Altitude Harness

I brought this harness for the less technical Disappointment Cleaver route on Mount Rainier. Super lightweight, pack-able, and able to put on while wearing skis. It is everything I want in a mountaineering harness. Detailed review coming soon.

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Petzl CORDEX Lightweight Belay Gloves

Petzl CORDEX Lightweight Belay Gloves

If ropes are involved these come with me. They were perfect for the warmer daytime glacier temps and offer great protection for rappelling, short-roping, etc.

Buy on Backcountry      Buy on Amazon


Sterling Evolution Duetto Dry Rope, 30m 8.4mm

Sterling Rope Evolution Duetto Dry Rope

A solid choice for glacier and ski mountaineering trips.

Buy on Backcountry      Buy on Amazon


MSR Snow Picket 60 cm

MSR Snow Picket

Two per rope team is ideal! I also pre-rigged this with a double length Dyneema sling and Petzl Ange S carabiner.

Buy on Amazon


AMK .7 First Aid Kit

AMK .7 First Aid Kit

I customize mine a little but this is a great base kit at the price!

Buy on Backountry      Buy on Amazon


Suunto MC-2 Compass

Suunto MC-2 Compass

My favorite and trusted compass/clinometer for the last two decades!

Buy on Amazon


Nalgene Tritan 32 oz water bottle

Nalgene Tritan 32oz Wide Mouth Bottle

A staple of every outdoor adventure, I carry two of these for my hydration needs!

Buy on Backcountry    Buy on Amazon


SOL Emergency Bivy Sack

SOL Emergency Bivy Sack

Super affordable and weighs less than 4 ounces means there is never a reason not to bring this!

Buy on Amazon


Revo Cusp S Sunglasses

I have the Solar Orange lens on this pair for lower light conditions

Buy on Amazon


SPOT Satelite GPS Messenger

SPOT 3 Satelitte GPS Messenger

Cell phone service is very spotty on Mount Shuksan. I was able to find a bar or two of service (Verizon) at Lake Ann (southwest side) and send and receive a few text messages. We had no service at the bivy site at the top of Fisher Chimney’s however I was able to FaceTime my wife from the summit! For the times with no service the SPOT GPS Messenger easily allowed me to send “check-in” messages home and in my opinion is an important piece of rescue gear should an incident occur.

Buy on Amazon


Petzl Reactik+ Headlamp

Reactik+.jpg

The new Reactik+ is awesome! Up to 15 hours of burn time from an easy to recharge via USB battery with 300 lumens and able to throw light 360 feet! If you’re due for a headlamp upgrade I highly suggest you check out this model!

Buy on Backcountry


Petzl Zipka Headlamp

Petzl Zipka Headlamp

I always carry a spare headlamp on multi-day adventures and this is my choice back-up model. It’s small enough to fit in my first aid kit but still bright enough to function as a real headlamp.

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Quality Survival Lighter

UST Floating Lighter

Fire-starter is on every gear list, and this one is a good value!

Buy on Amazon


Garmin Fenix 5X GPS watch

Garmin Fenix 3 HR Watch

My current favorite GPS navigation capable smart-watch with optical heart-rate! This is the watch I used to create the GPS tracks linked in the trip report. It also allows one-button waypoint saving and the built in barometer/altimeter was a nice plus to our navigation plans. (Updated this to the newest model which is high on my wish list!)

Buy on Backcountry


GoPro Hero 7 Silver

GoProHero7.jpg

A great little HD cam with advanced features beyond this post. You can see some of the footage about a minute into my Forbidden Peak video! (updated 2019 link to the amazing new GoPro 7 for the great onboard stabilization! <- currently reviewing)

Buy on Backcountry


Anker PowerCore 10000 Charger for iPhone, GoPro, etc

Anker PowerCore 10000

This thing was great! About the size of a deck of cards it packs 10,000mAh which easily provided 4 full re-charges for my iPhone 6s and still have 50% juice left!

Buy on Amazon

Clothing


Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket

Black Diamond Alpine Start Hooded Jacket

I absolutely love this piece and went into great detail about it in an in-depth review here.

Buy on Backcountry       Buy on Amazon


Black Diamond Alpine Light Pant

BD Alpine Light Pant.jpg

I’ve been wearing these back east for most of my Spring/Summer climbing season with multiple trips in Huntington Ravine and through-out the White Mountains so I felt confident taking them as my main climbing pant to the Cascades. Having essentially lived in them for two weeks of non-stop climbing I can whole heartedly endorse the comfort and performance of these soft-shell pants!

Buy on Backcountry     Buy on Amazon


Patagonia Technical Sunshade Hooded Shirt

Patagonia Technical Sunshade Hooded Shirt

This is in my opinion the most critical piece of glacier clothing you can own. I reviewed it in detail here but on a shade-less blazing glacier this one garment offers more protection and comfort than any other article of clothing I own. I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it… EVERY climber should own one of these! I do have a small cult following of “sunshade hoodies” who have “seen the light” or better yet “appreciate the shade” that these things bring… just get one and thank me later ok?

Buy on Backcountry


Patagonia Micro Puff Hoody

PatagoniaMicroPuff.jpg

Feather-weight feels like down but isn’t down ultimate “Light Puffy” choice.


 Clothing to be linked soon:

Patagonia Fitz Roy Belay Parka

EMS Powerstretch Climb Hoodie

EMS Powerstretch Long Underwear Pants

One synthetic T-shirt

One Ortovox Rock & Roll Boxers

One pair midweight socks

One pair heavyweight socks

One pair lightweight glove liners

One pair midweight Outdoor Research Project Gloves

Outdoor research sun ball cap

iPhone 6s+ with headphones & charger


Crevasse Rescue Kit- Petzl Micro Traxion, SL OK, Tibloc, Sm’D, Oscilla
Personal Climbing Gear- Kong GiGi with Black Diamond Magnetron and Gridlock, Magnetron and Petzl Reverso 4, Cordelette with Petzl Ange S, 2 prussiks, knife, Petzl Cordex Belay Gloves on Petzl Ange S, Petzl Attache anchor biner
Group climbing gear- Alpine Rack and Draws
Group climbing gear- Sterling Nano IX 60m rope
Group climbing gear- Sterling Nano IX 28m rope

Thanks for reading! Got a question or comment? Please comment below!

All trip reports done!

Part 1: Fisher Chimney’s, Mount Shuksan

Part 2: The West Ridge, Forbidden Peak

Part 3: Disappointment Cleaver, Mount Rainier



Affiliate links help support this blog

Deal Alert- Arc’teryx 25% Off! My Top Ten Picks

I’ve been a huge fan of Arc’teryx for quite a few years now and Backcountry is running an awesome sale on all Arc’teryx including footwear and gear! Below you’ll find my top ten picks from the sale, some of which I have linked to my in-depth reviews.

Ski Boots

Arcteryx Procline Boots Review
Light and comfy enough for a steep volcano scree field in blue jeans- photo by Matt Baldelli

Arc’teryx Procline Carbon Lite Boots– Arguably the greatest savings during this sale Backcountry has them listed at 45% off!

Mountaineering Boots

Arc'teryx Arcux AR Mountaineering Boots
The author testing the Arc’teryx Acrux Mountaineering Boots- Photo by Brent Doscher

Arc’teryx Acrux AR GTX Mountaineering Boots– My in-depth review is here.

Approach Shoes

Arc’teryx Konseal FL Approach Shoes– Just started reviewing them and so far so good!

Climbing Harness

Arc'Teryx FL-365 Climbing Harness Review

Arc’teryx FL-365 Harness– My in-depth review from this past winter is here.

Backpack

Arc’teryx Alpha FL 30L Backpack– While I haven’t personally tested this pack yet quite a few of my friends swear by this pack so I feel comfortable including it here!

Light Insulated Puffy

Arc’teryx Atom LT Hooded Jacket– This is the perfect insulated light puffy and standard issue to the guides at Northeast Mountaineering where I work.

Sun Hoody

Arc’teryx Phasic Sun Hooded Shirt– Everyone needs to own a “sun hoody” for protection from both UV and biting insects. This one is an excellent choice!

Ice Climbing Pants

Arc’teryx Gamma MX Softshell Pants– Prime choice for a winter mountaineering/ice climbing pant!

Hiking/Climbing Pants

Arc’teryx Palisade Pant– Perfect for warm weather hiking and rock climbing!

Hiking/Climbing Shorts

Arc’teryx Gamma LT Shorts– Super comfy stretchy climbing/hiking shorts!

Lightweight Gloves

Arc’teryx Gothic Gloves– Just a nice light-weight stand-alone glove or liner, perfect for 4 season use!

This is definitely a good time to save some money on one of the best brands in the industry! The above models are just my top ten favorites. You can see everything in the sale at this link!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

Affiliate links above support the content created on Northeast Alpine Start at no additional cost to you! Thank you.

Gear Review- BightGear Caldera Down Parka

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
BightGear Caldera Parka Review- Photo by Alexandra Roberts

I’m fortunate to be able to review about a half-dozen of the industry’s best belay jackets each winter. Chances are from December to April I’m spending 5-6 days a week climbing frozen waterfalls or teaching avalanche courses up on notoriously cold Mount Washington. This gives me a lot of field time to put these jackets through the ringer and form some opinions which I am happy to share with you to help you navigate the myriad of choices out there!

A month or so ago a fellow guide introduced me to BightGear, a new brand born under the prestigious umbrella of Cascades based Whittaker Mountaineering. At its core this brand is an authentic “Guide Designed & Tested” label. Before a product is even released it must be tested for over 100k of vertical climbing.

Some impressive numbers from BightGear that speak to this process:

WEAR TESTING BY THE NUMBERS

  • 2016 – Over 1.2 Million vertical feet of wear testing by our guide team of primary fabrics used in 76 sample prototypes to build 19 different styles.
  • 2017 – Reached over 48 million vertical feet of wear testing and use of 143 prototypes by our team of 60+ guides, and thousands of RMI climbers on Mt. Rainier.
  • 2018 – On target to reach over 100 million vertical feet of testing with the launch of the Bight Test program on mountains and outdoor playgrounds around the world.
BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Guide designed and tested on the slopes of Mt. Rainier- photo courtesy of RMI/NEM Guide Jordan Cargill

Pretty cool right? Having learned all this I was more than happy to receive the BightGear Caldera Down Parka for a demo. After a month of testing in a variety of conditions I feel I can fairly share my opinion on this piece. In the realm of down insulated belay parkas the Caldera easily competes with the best in class options out there! Let’s start with the most noticeable then finish with the minutiae.


How Warm Is It?

BightGear stuffed this parka with over 6 ounces of 850 fill power HyperDRY™ Goose Down. That’s a lot of high loft quality down, and the result is a parka that feels like a nice sleeping bag for your torso. By using more I-beam baffles in the construction of the parka (vs sewn through) BightGear completely eliminates cold-spots. The arms and hood feel just as lofty as the torso which I prefer in this “over all” type parka. I’ve worn this over my other layers down to -16 Fahrenheit while demoing snow pits at 4,400 feet on Mount Washington. Even after an hour of standing relatively still while teaching the basics of snow-pack evaluation I was kept toasty.

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Using the volcanic capabilities of the Caldera to dry out after attempting to climb a full shower Black Pudding Gully- Photo by Alexandra Roberts

How Dry Is It?

The BightGear Caldera uses a silky 20D nylon rip-stop with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish. Most of the days I tested the parka were in temperatures well below those where I would encounter any liquid precipitation. I did expose it to a rather drippy ice climb a couple weeks ago and noticed water beads off as expected with a DWR finish. I also wore it over a soaked soft-shell jacket following a deluge of an ice climb and it dried me out quite quickly without feeling like it absorbed to much of the moisture. I’ve become a huge fan of the DWR treated down used in this parka as I believe regular down would quickly become a wet lump of non-insulating feathers under similar conditions.

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Legit testing by one of the most renowned guide companies out there! Photo courtesy of Jordan Cargill

How Light and Pack-able Is It?

BightGear lists the weight of a size large at 646 grams (22.8 ounces). My home scale weighed my large in at 640 grams (22.6 ounces). This is within an ounce of other similar style/priced options. It easily stuffs into my Hyperlight Mountain Gear waterproof stuff sack and if packing space is at a real premium I can use my extra small compression stuff sack to get this down to the size of a 32 ounce water bottle!

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Easily stuffs into my Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ultralight Stuff Sack
BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Gets even smaller in my XS compression stuff sack

Minutiae

BightGear included a lot design choices to further make the Caldera one of the best down parkas I’ve ever tested. The hood fits perfectly over my climbing helmet and is well stuffed with down making it a comfortable place to retreat in the harshest conditions. The brushed tricot lining on the inside collar is super cozy when in “full turtle” mode. This same lining is in the well positioned hand warming front pockets. Articulated elbows make this jacket fit great over my other layers and the PowerStretch cuffs seal out cold and snow while playing in deep snow. There are also two stretchy inside stash pockets that can hold gloves or a water bottle.

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Be warm and toasty hood easily fits over my climbing helmet

Summary

It is clear that the BightGear Caldera Parka was designed by working mountain guides. It has everything you want in a big down “puffy” and nothing you don’t want. Of all the down parkas I have tested this one stands out as a top-pick for many reasons, not the least of which is the “half-sleeping bag” type feeling you get when you slip this on over your other layers. If you are looking to upgrade your belay jacket this one would be an excellent choice!

BightGear Caldera Parka Review
Essentially a nice puffy down “sleeping bag for your torso”… with the right layers and a bivy sack this is a great option for a bivy sleep system.

Exclusive 30% Off Discount!

I am super excited to be able to offer my readers a 30% off discount on ANY thing from BightGear’s Website! While I can not post the code publicly here all you need to do is shoot me a DM through Instagram, a PM through Facebook, or go old school and shoot me an email at nealpinestart@gmail.com! This discount is only good until April 1st, 2019 so don’t delay!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. 

 

Gear Review: Arc’teryx Acto FL Jacket

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
Arc’teryx Acto FL Jacket Review- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Over the last three months I’ve been testing the Arc’Teryx Acto FL Jacket and the results are in. Simple and efficient design makes this a great piece as an approach soft-shell for both ice climbing and back-country skiing.

How I Tested

Starting in November I wore this jacket on multiple early season ice climbs including the season’s first ascent of Standard Route at Frankenstein Cliffs. I wore it during one of three trips up the Black Dike at Cannon Cliff and on a half dozen ski tours on Mount Washington including one summit day where temps where in the lower teens and winds were 45-65 mph. I’ll go over the details in the order I feel they are most pronounced.

Breath-ability

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
Close up of the fleece “backer” that gives this soft-shell a broad range of comfort and excellent breath-ability

The most noticeable feature of this jacket is how well it breathes. The highly air-permeable Aerius™ fabric is no joke. It is difficult to overcome this jacket’s breath-ability even when you are crushing your uphill approach at Munter Rate 6. This level of breath-ability is really important as this “minimalist” piece does not have any side zips for ventilation. It does not need them.

Water-Resistance

As is common with soft-shell style jackets this piece is not water-proof, but has a DWR (Durable Water Repellent) finish. I found this to be adequate on the early and very drippy first ascent of Standard this past Fall. The second pitch had a steady light shower thing going on and I made it to the end of the pitch with only a little bit of “wet out”. If freezing rain or rain is in the forecast I’d reach for one of my hard-shells, but for cold & active this has just enough water/snow resistance for me.

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
First ascent of a drippy Standard Route for the 2018/19 ice season- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Durability/Abrasion Resistance

While it is always hard to comment on this after only 2.5 months of testing I can attest that I scummed my way up the chimney section on the Black Dike and bushwhacked though some dense pine trees in Gulf of Slides and on Mount Willard and have yet to put anything on this jacket that shows it has been on some adventures, so I’m going with yes, it is durable and abrasion resistant!

Hemlock™

I’ll admit I did not read any of the manufacturer’s description before starting my testing. I like to have no preconceptions when I start the review process. So it took me a moment to figure out why sections of the bottom hem felt like they had a four 4 inch long cylindrical foam/gel-like straws sewn into it. This was something I hadn’t seen before it and I think it’s quite an excellent idea. This feature is designed to prevent the jacket from coming un-tucked from your climbing harness when making repeated over the head arm-stretches (ice climbing). It is an elegant and effective design choice and one I think will appear on many technical soft-shells that are specific to wearing under a harness.

Pockets

In keeping with the fast & light minimalist design the jacket only sports two high “cross over” hand/chest pockets. The few times I wore this jacket casually I missed hand pockets but that’s not a fair dig as this is not a jacket designed for casual wear, it’s designed for sending it in the mountains at a quick clip!

Hood

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
Arc’teryx Acto FL Jacket Hood

Arc’teryx did make a clever design choice with the hood changing the material here to lightweight Tyono™ 30 nylon StormHood™. This material is less breath-able than the main material used in the jacket but much more wind-resistant. The informal “try to blow through the fabric” test makes it seem twice as wind-resistant than the main material. The hood fits perfect without a helmet on, which leads me to one of my only negative marks on the jacket. The hood is really a tad snug when worn over a helmet. If you have a low profile helmet like the Petzl Sirocco or Black Diamond Meteor III it would probably work, especially if you are a small or medium sized helmet vs my XL sized melon. I do like the stiffened visor when wearing it without a helmet though!

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
A bit snug while wearing a helmet

Sizing/Fit

Following the Arc’teryx size chart I went with a size large based on my 42 inch chest. Other than the hood being snug when wearing a helmet the arm and waist cut felt great. I would layer my Merino wool t-shirt and a light fleece or wool hoody under the jacket. I could easily put my big puffy belay jacket over this when needed. I especially liked the snug elastic wrist cuffs that kept both spin drift and occasional drips running down my arms.

Weight/Pack-ability

Arc’Teryx listed this at 440 g / 15.5 oz. My home scale on my size large weighed in at 490 g / 17 oz. This puts the jacket towards the heavier side of “minimalist” jackets but I’m not sure that could be helped given the base fabric used. I’d take the a few extra ounces for the amount of comfort-range this piece affords. While the jacket isn’t super pack-able I haven’t really had a reason to not be wearing it during day missions.

Arc'teryx Acto FL Jacket Review
Arc’teryx Acto FL Jacket Review- photo by Alexandra Roberts

Summary

Arc’teryx designed this jacket as a minimalist piece for fast & light missions alpine missions and while not the end-all-perfect piece the Arc’Teryx Acto FL Jacket comes darn close to perfection. While I would like to see the hood enlarged a little bit there’s really not much I would change given the end-goal. If you are in the market for a super-breathable rugged soft-shell give this one a look!

A media sample was provided for purpose of review. Affiliate links help support the content created here. Thank you!

Gear Review: Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket

Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket Review


The Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket is an excellent choice for a goose down belay jacket at an competitive price. I’ll go into some details in a moment but I must say I had a little bit of reverse sticker shock having spent a dozen days testing this jacket before sitting down to write about and discover that it retails for $349.95. Ethically sourced 800 fill goose down with high performance shell fabrics and mapping? Backed by Outdoor Research’s amazing Infinite Guarantee? How did they pull this off? Let’s get into the details and find out if this is a piece for your winter adventure kit!


Manufacturer Description

Your new trusty 6000 meter puffy, The Alpine Down Hooded Jacket is loaded with the durability, weather resistance, and warmth to withstand high altitude’s howling wind and biting cold, yet still stows away snugly by packing into its own left-hand pocket. Pertex® Quantum Pro provides beefy durability on the shoulders, sleeves, and hood, while the lighter-weight body traps the insulating powers from 800-fill responsibly sourced down in a baffled construction that eliminates the cold spots notorious to fully-quilted jackets. Brimming with feature-packed details like Dynamic Reach™ Underarm Panels, elastic drawcord hem and cuffs, pocket placements that don’t interfere with your harness, and a helmet-compatible halo hood, the Alpine Down doesn’t compromise on functionality, or exceptional warmth.


How I Tested

I started testing this jacket during the snowiest and coldest October in twenty years on Mount Washington and throughout the White Mountains. I used it on multiple early season ice climbs at Frankenstein Cliffs and two trips up the iconic Black Dike on Cannon Cliff in November. I also used it while teaching a mid-December avalanche course in Gulf of Slides on Mount Washington. All in all I put about 12 solid days behind forming my opinions on the jacket.

Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket Review
4,600 feet in Gulf of Slides, Mount Washington

How it Performed

Warmth– At this price point I have tested few jackets that felt as warm as this piece does. Outdoor Research stuffed this piece with 182 grams (6.42 ounces) of 800 fill power goose down with a baffled construction to eliminate cold spots. While not quite as toasty as my Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka this jacket comes in about $100 cheaper!

Water Resistance– The main torso shell material is Pertex Quantum Y shell treated with a Durable Water Repellent (DWR) finish which gives decent water resistance. Slightly more durable Pertex Quantum Pro makes up the sleeves and hood. I only encountered frozen precipitation during my testing and if liquid precipitation is in the forecast I usually reach for my heavier bombproof synthetic belay jacket, the Outdoor Research Perch Belay Jacket.

Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket Review
Rapping off Dracula, Frankenstein Cliffs, Crawford Notch

Wind Resistance– I summited Mount Washington in 50-65 mph winds and felt this piece is pretty much wind-proof. Any jacket of this construction would typically be considered windproof so no big surprise there.

Breath-ability– Another high mark this piece breathes excellently due to it being a down jacket with high end shell construction. No issues at all with breath-ability.

Weight/Pack-ability– My home scale weighed this piece about three ounces heavier than the claimed weight (19oz / 538g Avg weight for size L). My size large weighed in at 22oz / 634g. The left front hand pocket zipper is reversible so that you may stuff this into it’s own pocket. It fits the inside-out pocket with out to much fuss and the resulting pack size is about 12 inches by 5 inch football shaped “pillow”.

Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket Review
About 22 ounces on the home scale

Sizing/Fit– I found this to fit true to size with a large easily fitting over my active climbing layers at the belay with some room to spare. The “halo” hood easily fit over my climbing helmet and has a three part draw-cord system to help it stay in place so you can keep that important peripheral vision! While the hand pockets are positioned a bit high to “not interfere” with a harness I’ve never tucked in this style of jacket into my harness before so I feel that is a moot point. This goes over “everything”. Stick to the size chart when ordering.

Minutia– Two nice big stretchy internal pockets provide a good spot for drying my technical ice climbing gloves or holding a water-bottle. There’s an internal zipper “media pocket” with port but I tend to keep my iPhone in a closer to skin layer anyways so I didn’t really use this. Tricot brushed fleecy collar is super comfy when zipped up in my cocoon. Articulated underarm panels allow full overhead reaches without lifting the bottom of the jacket to high. Bottom up zipper is nice for easier access to belay device.


Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket Review
Warm and cozy while hanging out in a mid-rap ice cave

Summary

In the field of 800 fill hooded down belay jackets the Outdoor Research Alpine Down Hooded Jacket is a strong contender. Enough down was used to make this feel like the warm puffy a true belay jacket should. The quality of the shell fabrics and mapped construction are impressive given the price range was kept to the below $400 level. Using some hydrophobic down would really have made this a stand-out but I could see that increasing the manufacturing cost to the next level so… at the price I have yet to see a full down belay jacket of this quality that is also backed by one of the greatest warranties in the industry. For true cold New England or high altitude conditions it would be hard to go wrong with this piece.

Buy on Backcountry

Buy on Moosejaw

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start



A media sample was provided for review. Affiliate links support this blog.