Gear Review- Patagonia Fitz Roy Down Parka

I’ve had three full winter seasons testing the lofty Patagonia Fitz Roy Down Parka and it has been a consistent performer in the category of down belay jackets. Let’s take an in-depth look at the good and the bad and determine if this is the right choice for you!

Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka Review
The author on the summit of Mt. Rainier- Photo by @cfphotography

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Insulation/Warmth

It is important when comparing down jackets that you consider both the fill power of the down (generally 700+ is used in higher end pieces), and the actual amount of down used (generally varies from 2-8 ounces). The Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka is stuffed with 6.4 ounces of ethically sourced 800 fill goose down. This is a very generous amount of the heat-retaining-super-lightweight-and-compressible natural insulator! Similar priced models from other manufacturers often have 4-5 ounces of down (if you can even find out from them).

Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka Review
Lounging out at 9,000 feet on Mt. Rainier- photo by Alexandra Roberts

What this means is this “puffy” really is “puffy”. It feels like a big down sleeping bag that fits over all of my other layers (including soft-shell or hard-shell jackets). Baffled construction on the core and quilted construction on the arms keep this quality down where it is needed and eliminates “cold spots”.


But is it warm?

I’ve worn this now in ambient air temps down to -16°F (-26°C) with wind-chills between -30°F to -40°F below zero (-34°C to -40°C)! When worn over my typical winter mountaineering layers I’ve stayed toasty teaching avalanche courses, camping at 11,000 feet in the Cascades, and belaying partners on long pitches of technical ice climbing. It is without a doubt a toasty pound and a half part of my clothing system!

Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka Review
The author spends a lot of time standing in the snow teaching avalanche courses! Photo by Matt Baldelli

Weight/Compress-ability

At only one pound six ounces (about 620 grams) this is the lightest full winter belay jacket I’ve tested! It also packs down into a very small stuff sack to maximize the available space in your smaller ice & alpine climbing packs. I lost the original stuff sack that came with the jacket but upgraded (and downsized from the original) to this amazing Hyperlight Mountain Gear waterproof stuff sack!

Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka Review
Hyperlight Mountain Gear MEDIUM DCF8 STUFF SACK – 9” X 12”

Shell Fabric/Performance

Patagonia uses a really silky and thin Pertex Quantum® fabric with DWR (durable water repellent) finish to fend off moisture. This is a positive for making this puffy extremely light-weight, pack-able, and breath-able. However it also makes this piece most suitable for extreme cold conditions when liquid precipitation is pretty much out of the question. If the forecast calls for “mixed” or freezing rain I’d suggest reaching for a heavier less pack-able synthetic belay jacket (like the recently reviewed Outdoor Research Perch).

Basically don’t expect this shell material to resist much liquid water. I managed to soak mine in a dripping ice cave while ice climbing on an unseasonably warm day and it was clear this piece is better designed for arctic cold dry days and not warm/damp days. It did however regain full loft when dried that evening!

Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka Review
Another cold day on Mount Washington with the Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka keeping me happy & warm!

Fit/Comfort/Features

I went with a size large for my 180 pounds, 5′ 9″, 42 inch chest, 34 inch waist build and it fits great over my typical winter ice climbing/mountaineering/back-country ski clothing kits. The hood is the perfect size for fitting over my climbing/mountaineering helmet and a drawcord on the back pulls the sides back so you don’t feel like you are wearing horse blinders.

Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka Review
Making breakfast high on Rainier as the sun rises- photo by Alexandra Roberts

The elastic wrists have the right amount of tension, hand-warming pockets are properly sized and positioned a little higher to be harness friendly. A bottom hem draw-cord helps keep heat from escaping out below and the front zipper runs high enough into the collar/hood area that I can go into “full turtle mode” when it is really too cold to be outside.

Rounding out the features a small chest pocket keeps my phone & lip balm handy and a large stretchy internal pocket on the right side will keep your gloves or mittens warm and dry (and prevent them from blowing away) while you attend to what ever fine dexterity task crops up.


Summary

This is one of the best down belay jackets out there at a fair price, especially when considering the amount and quality of the down Patagonia used. While there are some durability concerns with a piece made with such silky then fabrics (especially considering all the sharp stuff ice climbers carry) my parka only has two pea sized holes in it after 2 seasons which were easily patched with my favorite field repair stuff, Tenacious Tape. If you are in the market for a lofty warm down belay jacket this one should be on your radar!


Shopping

You can also save some money buying one of these now as most retailers have them on sale as we quickly approach Spring however inventory is really low! Check out the lowest prices at the links below! I will re-post this next Fall when the new colors & inventory hits the market!

New colors and inventory have arrived!

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Patagonia Fitz Roy Parka Review

The author reaching the summit of Rainier (14,410 elevation)- photo by Cait Bougault

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

 

Gear Review- Outdoor Research Perch Belay Parka

The Outdoor Research Perch Belay Parka is a weather bomb-proof choice in the growing field of belay jackets.  I’ve been testing this jacket heavily since mid-last-winter and when there is any chance of freezing rain or -30 wind chills I’m likely selecting this piece out of my quiver of belay jackets for a warm piece of mind. Let’s take a look at what Outdoor Research put into this portable oven!

Outdoor Research Belay Parka Review
The author standing on avalanche debris from the 1/12/18 monster wet slab avalanche in Tuckerman Ravine, Mount Washington

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Insulation

Not all synthetic insulation is created equal. In the case of well known Primaloft did you know it comes in three different qualities? Black, Silver, and Gold? For this high-end piece Outdoor Research used the highest level of Primaloft Gold, which is the most thermally efficient and compressible insulation that Primaloft makes.

Outdoor Research Perch Belay Parka Review
Outdoor Research Perch Belay Parka Review

Not only did Outdoor Research select arguably the best synthetic insulation available they distributed it intelligently through the parka but using 200 grams/m2 in the torso and 160 grams/m2 in the lower body and lower sleeves. This maximizes thermal efficiency without having a parka that won’t fit in your sleek ice climbing pack.


Shell Material

Following the trend of using the best possible synthetic insulation Outdoor Research went with the well known Pertex brand of shell fabric for the shell material. Like Primaloft there are options here and they selected the Pertex “Endurance” material which incorporates an ultra-thin air permeable coating that is both highly breathable, water and wind resistant. This layer protects the insulation material from the elements to maintain loft and retain warmth.

Outdoor Research Perch Belay Parka Review
Pertex Endurance Shell Fabric
  • Composition – 100% Polyamide (Nylon)
  • Weight – < 35g / m2
  • Air permeability – 1.0cc (max)
  • Optimum strength to weight ratio
  • Windproof
  • Downproof

    Weight/Pack-ability

At 30 ounces this jacket comes in a little heavier than my other synthetic belay jackets and obviously a down jacket would be an unfair side to side comparison in the weight department but what you gain with those extra 8-10 ounces is security in the harshest and sometimes wet environments. While I love down belay jackets for real cold & dry conditions the truth is, especially this winter, that we often see rain, freezing rain, mixed precipitation, followed by some insane cold snap. In these turbulent weather patterns a synthetic belay parka is a safer choice, and I don’t mind the extra weight. Surprisingly despite the “sleeping bag” feel of this parka it manages to pack down to a very reasonable size. One of my favorite features is it stuffs into a velcro compartment that is part of the jacket! No random included stuff sack that I am sure to mis-place!

Outdoor Research Perch Belay Parka Review
Internal velcro-storage option
Outdoor Research Perch Belay Parka Review
Stuff size easily fits in in my small 2400 Hyperlite Mountain Gear Ice Pack (and is the perfect size for a pillow on overnights)

You will also notice in the upper photo that there are two large oversized internal mesh pockets that easily fit a water bottle or your bulkier climbing gloves while you are adjusting crampons or performing other dexterity requiring tasks (no need to leave those damp gloves on the freezing ground right?)


Minutia

Rounding out the feature set here is an properly sized hood that easily fits over my climbing helmet but also has chin draw-cords and a goggle draw-cord on the back to help the hood move with your head when looking around. Speaking of the hood there is a semi-stiff visor that has been very welcome when dealing with any type of heavy precipitation. It’s the first belay parka I’ve seen this feature on and it definitely makes a difference when climbing out of that dripping ice cave! Two hand-warmer pockets, a standard zippered chest pocket, and velcro cuff’s top off the small details.


Outdoor Research Perch Belay Parka Review


Summary

If you have ever been cold while waiting for your partner to finish a lead, standing around top-roping at the local crag, transitioning to crampons and mountaineering axe at the base of the steeps, or just eating an apple during a quick snack break mid-trip, you should have a look at this belay jacket. This caliber of jacket is part of my “unexpected bivy” gear list, meaning I think about it as a sleeping bag for my torso. Combined with a bivy sack and proper insulated pants I’d be confident spending the night out in some pretty horrid conditions (though I’d prefer a warm bed).

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Thanks for reading!

See you in the mountains,

Northeast Alpine Start

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