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Dane

Belay jacket review part 1

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Figures on the Narrona deals :) I'm always a few minutes late or $ short!

 

Re: the Review?

I have 3 big trips (big for me) coming up back to back and stretching well into March so I have just ran out of time and energy for the review trying to get all the photos posted, edited etc. while still getting any work or climbing done locally.

 

What is published for details that might help someone else out on their own decision is posted on my blog. I have to think that most will be better served with a lighter jacket for belay use though.

 

http://coldthistle.blogspot.com/

 

If anyone has specifc questions on the jackets pictured above feel free to send me a PM and I'll answer as best as I can.

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Hey, for what it's worth, and at the risk of getting laughed at by everyone(I don't care!), I tried on a quite a few jackets(was looking at mostly down), a year or so ago, and, I really, really liked the North Face Prism Optimus. Now, I preface this by saying its not a big, heavy-duty jacket like the Mountain Hardwear Sub Zero, but, would seem to fit into the category of which you're looking/reviewing. 28oz, 700-fill, a bit of primoloft in the hood, but mostly down in the coat body. Felt like the warmest of the bunch. Nice features as well. Might be worth a look at. Haven't bought one myself yet, but, for the price, warmth and weight, I really liked it.

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"Anyone have any opinions on the Outdoor Research Chaos jacket?"

 

One of the better lwts but sadly in ECO instead of Primaloft 1.

 

At 1/2 might be a deal but the Eddie Bauer Igniter jacket that is similar can be had as low as $50 on sale in store ($100 on the web) and all Primaloft 1 in 100g fill. Been hearing some good feedback from guys that bought them this winter.

 

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Wow Dane

I am pretty surprised by the weight you got for the Helios. I have an XL eVent one and it comes in at 22.3oz. Their clothes do seem to run very small (at least to me) but I am curious as to your comment about their bag technology not working well with their garments if you could expand on that a bit. (I have 3 of their bags and love them)

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The Hooded Helious I had was in EPIC and did in fact weight in at 35.2 oz. on a certified (for weight) US postal scale. Huge surprise to me as FF lists an avaerage weight of 18oz.! But if you look all the jackets are heavier than listed and most right at 10oz heavier than listed by the manufacturer. Most manufactures weigh mediums, some small, I suspect. Or they measure a unisex M which would be a men's small I bet. The Helious I had was size XXL and no way I could wear it. None of the other XLs were a problem being too small but some were too big. The Helious I was barely was able to get on. In fairness Feathered Friends call it a unisex XXL size. Be a surprise though if you ordered via the internet or via phone.

 

One of the issues I had with FF was the dbl zipper on the Front Point. I took minutes (and I do mean minutes) in the store warm, dry and rested to figure it out. Almost asked Todd to get me another jacket that the zipper wasn't fubared on just as I figured it out. The front baffle and dbl zipper is way, way too complicated imo for a belay or climbing jacket. Same technology is awesome on a bag...really a dumb idea on a jacket @ the weight and use intended for a Front Point imo.

 

Trying to switch that jacket back and forth on a climb, while tired, dehydrated, cold and scared would turn the FP into a nightmare for me. Let alone the issue of trying to keep what little heat in as you make the switch from leader to follower.

As a dedicated jacket for climbing, no switching, may be for you but no way I would want to use one.

 

Feathered Friends obviously has the skills and technology to make cutting edge, spectacular, down gear. My only hope is that they take my comments as constructive and improve their line of jackets.

I'd buy one in a heart beat if they did. I love my Feathered Friends bags and find them hard to dupicate let alone beat!

 

The Hooded Helious was one of the jackets I figured I would own...likely one I would be taking on my next Canadain winter trip. Found out it is one of the few jackets in the review I have no desire now to own.

 

For a sewn through down jacket the Narrona is $100 more and imo more than twice the jacket for similar use. And the Narrona uses a lesser quality 750 down compared to FF's 850. Which is a bummer.

 

Harsh statement I know and I feel bad about it. I have friends who work @ FF and it is not something I take lightly doing in public. But in comparison to the other jackets I looked at, those are the cold hard facts.

 

Not to say so would be misleading at best, dishonest at worst.

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I understand what you mean about double zips on a belay jacket. I have a Rock & Ice and with the double zip, it is not something that I would want to be taking off and on all day. Double zips are for parkas that get put on and stay on. The weight that you got for the Helios is about the same as my XL Torre.

Thanks for all of the information that you accumulated on these jackets.

Any feedback on the Rab parka(s)?

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Thanks for your honest efforts Dane. It's feedback like this that keeps us on our toes :grin:

 

I thought I'd just add a few things to this thread for clarification:

 

1) Unisex sizing has always been one of our weaknesses, and there is a switch between our sewn-through jackets and baffled ones. We spend a lot of time working with our customers to make sure they get the right fit.

 

2) We have the single zipper Volant jacket as our belay jacket. The Frontpoint is more accurately an expedition jacket and wasn't designed to be used as an "on/off" piece for the reasons you explained.

 

3) There's not a lot of "cutting edge" when it comes to stitching or jacket design. The patterns we've developed over the years are a result of much feedback from the field. Advances have, by and large, come in the way of materials. As a small batch manufacturer we stay way ahead of the curve when it comes to what shell materials we choose to hold our down inside the jacket. When shopping for a jacket we educate people to pay particular attention to what those materials are. It's also hard to evaluate the advantages of those materials unless you're using the jacket outside.

 

Here's a little insider knowledge: magazines won't review a product unless it's "new". Other companies satisfy this by re-shaping panels, changing colors, etc to have a "new" jacket to present to editors. We kind've care about magazine reviews...but really not enough to constantly modify our designs.

 

We are coming out with a lighter jacket this summer though - stay tuned!

 

Hope this addresses some of your concerns, and like always if anyone has any questions at all - please give us a call.

 

- Eddie Espinosa

 

 

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can't say about your jackets (i've never owned one) but I must say your sleeping bags are simply works of fluffy art.

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I'll certainly have to second Dr. Layton's positive comments concerning FF's sleeping bags. I've had a number of them over the years, and will again choose their brand even over Western Mountaineering's line up of bags. My current FF Swallow, with Epic shell material is truly a winner.

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We have the single zipper Volant jacket as our belay jacket.

 

single best piece of down gear I own .. going on 15+ years of service

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I own 2 custom built Feathered Friends bags currently and my wife another. I have seen nothing better to date and been using them (although different bags) since the late '70s.

 

But an observation from a reviewer's point of view on jackets of this style. When I talk belay jackets I don't consider anything with a detachable hood a belay jacket. Detachable hoods are a poor design for that use. From the FF web site on the Volant, "The fit is close to save weight, but articulated elbows and full reach sleeves allow unrestricted movement." Again close fit and belay jackets are generally not used in the same sentence. It might well be a great jacket but the Volant isn't a great belay jacket design imo.

 

Both the Volant and the Frontpoint are baffled jackets listed in the "medium weight" section of the FF insulated garments. I choose the two jackets (one sewn through and one baffled) that I thought would BEST represent FF in my review and the only two I would likely have kept for my own use. YMMV obviously.

 

As far as my "cutting edge" comment? Actually there is a immense amount going on in thought, detailing, design, pattern and materials for the best of these types of jackets. Not knowing or recognizing the differences is what seperates the so/so jackets from the truely spectacular. I suggest you do your own research and know what you require for your own needs.

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Dane, i have a Volant with a hood. Trust me. You should get one to review. Its an oven. I will NEVER sell this jacket

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Dhamma? Does your Volant have a sewn on hood and can you get a helmet under it easily?

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Volant is definitely one of my favorite pieces I own. Wish the hood was permanent and not the silly buttons, but it fits over a helmet with ease. The awesome pockets more than make up for the drawbacks to the hood. Would love the volant even more if hood was improved, and a lighter shell fabric was used on shoulders and hood (maybe that is just mine though, and lighter fabrics are already available).

 

Dane, the thing I find most lacking in your review is details. Why not be more explicit about what you liked in the best jackets, and didnt like in the worst jackets? You listed some of the criteria that were important to you, but you didnt really address how any of the jackets met or failed to meet those criteria.

 

like this:

The Hooded Helious was one of the jackets I figured I would own...likely one I would be taking on my next Canadain winter trip. Found out it is one of the few jackets in the review I have no desire now to own.

 

why not a quick "why", as it pertains to your criteria. you obviously are not required to do this, but if you are taking the time to do a review, it seems fair to readers and manufacturers to give real feedback, rather than leave them guessing as to why you didnt like such and such product.

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Good idea. I simply do not have enough time in the day to get it all done. The review was simply for me. (looking to update my own gear) What could be gleaned from my comments by anyone reading what I wrote was a benefit or curse depending on what you were looking for.

 

To be honest..the good stuff does deserve more written detail and pictures. The bad stuff? Why bother? Let the manufactures do their own R&D.

 

Hooded Helious specifically? From the post 8 up....

 

The Hooded Helious I had was in EPIC and did in fact weight in at 35.2 oz. on a certified (for weight) US postal scale. Huge surprise to me as FF lists an avaerage weight of 18oz.! But if you look all the jackets are heavier than listed and most right at 10oz heavier than listed by the manufacturer. Most manufactures weigh mediums, some small, I suspect. Or they measure a unisex M which would be a men's small I bet. The Helious I had was size XXL and no way I could wear it. None of the other XLs were a problem being too small but some were too big. The Helious I was barely was able to get on.

 

Other than they don't make one to fit me, their sizing is all screwy compared to the rest of the world...and the dinky freak'in hood, terrible pockets, tiny ass zipper, and the thing actually weighted in at TWICE their advertised weight!

 

How much more detail do you need :) 18oz hooded, ultra warm, down jackets I am interested in, just never seen one.

 

 

 

 

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This review was like thinking you are about to get a BJ from Angelina, only for her to rip of a mask and realize it Rosie O'Donnell.

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It's not really my style to respond to reviews other than saying "Thanks for making the effort to include us!", but thought I'd just address the assumption that we're not paying any attention to the "immense amount going on in thought, detailing, design, pattern and materials for the best of these types of jackets. Not knowing or recognizing the differenecs is what seperates the so/so jackets from the truely spectacular." Your opinions are certainly your own - I have no issue with them.

 

As the buyer for the retail store, I also have the opportunity to examine down jackets from all of the brands we carry here (Rab, Westcomb, Patagonia, Mammut, Outdoor Research, etc) as well as other manufacturers pretty closely, and we regularly talk to their respective reps and designers about such things. Our owner and production manager spend even more time talking to the different fabric houses looking for "just the perfect fabric", and without the order restrictions that the larger companies have, we're much more responsive to advances in textiles versus folks who have to pre-order fabric for the next 2 or 3 years.

 

I'm genuinely interested to hear what your opinions are, as an end user, on the design advances that we seem to be missing. Like I said...we know we're not perfect and are always looking for ways to really improve our product. :cool:

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Eddie since you asked in public the photo comparison is my obviously opinionated and personal, easy answer. If you want more detail Todd has my phone number and happy to dicuss details any time. The best materials in the world can't make up for dated design work. Or in some cases (like this review) design work directed at different end uses. Some of these jackest were obviously designed for serious climbing...others were just as clearly not designed with that as a end use in mind.

 

Sewn through down jackets from the review

adx.sized.jpg

 

Helious 35.2 oz, loft 3.25" (F#18oz)

 

adu.sized.jpg

 

Narrona 31.8oz, loft 2.25" (F# 24oz)

 

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So Dane, a question. How many days did you get out with the jackets? Or did you just take pictures of them in front of a mirror and play with them in your house?

 

After reading you smear Andrew Bisharat's review in R&I, in which he describes how the jacket functioned after a season of testing for his usage, I gotta say that anything less than full functional testing for at least a couple of weeks in the field doing what you're claiming to be reviewing the jackets for will just be a buyers guide but not a review.

 

In my mind, if there is no time spent in the field, it's not a review.

 

I'd second this sentiment. Isn't this a bit like a restaurant "reviewer" who publishes an article after buying dinner at five places, taking a photo of the dishes after they arrive, and never tasting the food?

 

I think the most interesting piece of information is the disparity between published weight and actual weight, but even that seems generally based on the various fabric and sizing options within a given model. Perhaps a better idea would be for companies to publish the weight of a men's small and a men's large for each item, and one could extrapolate other sizes from there.

 

All this gear talk seems to take away from the focus on climbing. It's great to have good gear, but luckily we live in a time when you can get good gear from all sorts of different places, and even the "bad" stuff is still probably better than the "best" stuff from 10 or 15 years ago.

 

If one were to go back in time, take all of the 2009 AAJ-published alpinists, and make them randomly trade clothes and gear with someone else before their climbs, do you really think their trips wouldn't have been successful?

 

It's a far-flung comparison, but good climbers will succeed not because their synthetic belay jacket has a dead-bird skeleton or an eddie bauer logo on it, but because they were good climbers who picked the right climb at the right time, with the right style of gear. (IE down vs synthetic coats, single-wall tent vs bivy bag, double ropes vs single, etc)

 

Sterling is the 'Right rope for Chris' but I think that's got more to do with them offering him the biggest trip budget than his inability to climb equally hard routes on (XXX BRAND'S) ropes.

 

 

 

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I'd second this sentiment.

 

It aint rocket science. No matter how we would like to confuse the issue. Doesn't take but a few minutes to figure out if a jacket will work or won't for your own needs. 30 seconds of that would be just trying on your normal size. If you actually know your own needs, size and what you are looking for.

 

Testing a baffled down jacket for a year while clipping bolted rock climbs is like testing a Cilo for a year as a book bag. Or a Porsche GT3 while driving around town. Dumb ass use for a product specifically designed to be used else where...unless of course you need a book bag or need to stay warm with a $300 down jacket sport climbing or a 90K$ town car that looks hot. I can think of better ways to spend my money...but wait most reviewed gear in a publication is FREE to who ever writes the review ..so they didn't spend any of their own money buying that "stellar piece of perfect gear". Funny that. Funny, ha, ha, on us generally with a few exceptions if you believe everything you read.

R&I usually does better.

 

No question more gear suggestions are made and endorsed because of the coin involved than the quality of the gear. I spent enough time to buy every jacket in my review twice over just getting the basic info I wanted. How you choose to use the info or what you choose to call what I have published is up to you. I got what I needed.

 

The use as a "belay jacket" in my context is not for the typical day at Ouray freezing in the creek bed but as a required piece of survival gear in an alpine climbing environment.

 

In Ouray (or your local hockey rink) most anything will work to keep you warm. How the pockets or hood are designed or the insulation material used in manufacture will have little or no signifigance.

 

How you dry out after a hard mixed lead a full days walk from the highway just might make those details a little more important to you. But there is a lot more going on in a "belay jacket" by my definition than just staying warm.

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I have to agree with Dane's statements regarding length of time needed to assess a coat. If you tried out every coat for a year with manufacturers constantly making changes you'd be comparing this years offering by company A to last years offering by company B; by the time you'd reviewed 5 jackets The first would be hopelessly out of date. I recently bought a coat, I tried everything I could find that was close to what I was looking for, but not more than a few minutes on any given garment. I think this is typical shopping for most of us. We drop 100's of dollars on items we have never really tried in the field. When reading reviews for anything, be it clothing, electronics, music or whatever you must take into account your faith in the reviewer. If you don't trust them, don't read the review. Personally I appreciate Dane's well thought out and researched reviews.

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Seems like everyone is taking this a bit seriously. :)

Myself, I enjoy reading a review whether I trust the reviewer's opinion or not because they might have thought about some manner of usage or gear combination or alteration that I haven't. It is, after all, up to us to decide what works for us on any given trip (as was mentioned above). One review might be more useful than another for me depending upon what I can take from their insights, but generally they all get me thinking about what gear will be good for me.

 

I know when I started climbing I bought loads of gear, and a good percentage of it was crap and ultimately went unused. Now when I buy a peice of kit it almost always sees consistent usage and I almost always like it. That of course is because I have gotten out there and figured out what works for me and what doesn't, and learned what I can and cannot buy before I have tried out the kit for myself. I think it is fair to say that an experienced and discerning climber can figure out what are generaly effective features for gear and what aren't. I also think that it should be pointed out that Dane has been reviewing belay jackets here, not ice tools. I would read a review casually of ice tools when the reviewer hadn't placed them, but would take any conclusions with a large grain of salt. I will take more from a review on jackets because the utility of the peice if mostly obvious (put each side by side and compare cut, cuff, zipper, hood, pockets, etc), though without usage fabric innovations and such things and can't be evaluated.

 

It's funny, having just gotten back form a trip with a pile of new clothes and new crampons, I loved the clothing system I put together for myself, and was dissatisfied with the crampons. And I think if I'd looked harder at the crampons I would have figured that out without even putting them on my boots. Fortunately they won't be a waste because I can change what I don't like about them, and even this mentality I have only in the last few years developed. That's why I read reviews. ;)

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