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!
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).
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!
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 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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
The author reaching the summit of Rainier (14,410 elevation)- photo by Cait Bougault
See you in the mountains,
Northeast Alpine Start