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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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!
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 email@example.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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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 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!
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!
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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
Once a year Hyperlite Mountain Gear runs a solid sale and it is that time! I reviewed the HMG 3400 Ice Pack a few years ago and it is still one of my most used packs for ice climbing and winter mountaineering.
You can find my original review of it here. You can see the whole line of HMG backpacks here!
I also got a chance to review The Shell which is the most rugged ultralight waterproof/breathable I have ever tested! Find that full review here!
I’ve you’ve been considering picking up one of these award winning backpacks or this industry changing jacket now is a good time to save some money!
Outside Magazine included our Black Spider Hoody in their list of “The Only Winter Clothes You Need.”
The quintessential layer for all high output aerobic activity, the Black Spider Hoody is crafted from Polartec® High Efficiency Power Dry® fabric for superior performance. Functional in a wide variety of conditions, this piece will keep you warm during spring and fall rock climbing sessions and will quickly become a key piece of your system during fast and light winter excursions. For the many who run too hot to wear heavy layers when active, the Black Spider Hoody is the solution to this problem.
Featuring majority flat seams this layer can be comfortably worn against the skin or, depending on conditions, can be worn over a light shirt. A balaclava style under helmet hood, thumb holes on the cuffs and a zippered chest pocket round out the features on this minimalist layer.
Other than wearing this for the commute from NH to Iceland my personal testing would be delayed as my friend Erik’s bag was lost by the airline and I loaned him this piece along with a few other items so he wouldn’t miss a day of touring. We then spent 5 days touring in Northern Iceland.
Made from Polartec® High Efficiency Power Dry® fabric this hoody is an excellent skin layer or can be worn comfortably over a snug fitting synthetic or Merino wool t-shirt. It is definitely thin enough for high aerobic activity.
I went with a size large which was an athletic but not too snug fit for my 5’9″ 180 lb 42 inch chest. It was a more casual but functional fit for Erik who is 5’8″, 160 lb. To select the right fit just use the size chart above and the best measurement to refer to would be chest size.
After the Iceland ski trip I wore this for a dozen or more days while rock climbing back East in early Spring conditions. It’s come back out with me this Fall for more climbing and shows no signs of wear.
Breathable, not “too” warm, quick-drying. Everything you want from a performance minimalist piece. This type of Polartec fabric was new to me and it is really comfortable worn directly over skin. The thumb loops are welcome when slipping my wind shell on and the hood has a nice snug fit that works great under both my ski and climbing helmets. The zippered chest pocket was a great size for my iPhone (and convenient to keep it close and warm).
This is a nice addition to the wardrobe. Normally I would resist Anorak styles but this one has become a favorite. It fits a nice niche between a super thin “Sun Hoody” like the Patagonia Sunshade Technical Hoody and a thicker warmer hoody like the Arc’teryx Elgin Pullover Hoodie. You can pick one up directly from the Made in the USA manufacturer at this link:
This past summer I’ve worn the Kailas 9A Classic Pants more than any other pant in my wardrobe. This Asian brand is not that well known in North America so I’ve had numerous climbing partners ask me about the pants I’ve been wearing. They have a similar style and quality to more common US brands like Prana, Mountain Hardwear, and Patagonia. “9A” by the way refers to the French difficulty rating system and is roughly equal to 5.14d on the Yosemite Decimal System. While these pants didn’t help me send any routes anywhere near that level of difficulty after almost 50 days of rock climbing and hiking in them I’m ready to share my opinions!
These pants are extremely comfortable in a wide range of conditions. Made of quick-drying 4-way stretch Nylon/Spandex blend I found the fabric to be very soft against bare skin. The material is lightweight and very breathable so I wore these without concern on some of the hottest days of the summer. Sizing is Asian so most Americans will want to order up one size. My US pant size is 32/32 and the XL in these fit me perfectly. Follow the size chart and you should do well!
Articulated knees and crotch offer full range of motion and flexibility. The inch and a half wide elastic band around the back really helps the pants stay put under my harness. I have not needed to wear a belt with these as they sit perfectly over the hips with just the button and Velcro front closure. The back belt loop is designed to accommodate a chalk bag for bouldering.
Two front hand pockets add some everyday convenience though there is no back pocket. One of my favorite features of these is the embedded button fasteners for rolling the bottoms up when climbing. No need to do a tight calf roll with these!
Relatively elaborate embroidery gives these a stand-out appearance that has definitely caused people to ask who makes these pants. Durability wise after a full climbing season they show almost no wear and have held up well to the typical rigors of rock climbing.
Quality craftsmanship, good fit, practical features, comfort, and nice style. There really isn’t anything missing from the Kailas 9A Classic Pants. They come in a ton of different colors! Check them out on Amazon here or from the new Canadian retailer Verti Call.