There’s snow on the hills, lots of us will have vouchers to spend and the sales have started, so now’s probably the best time to look at one of the most expensive bits of kit you can buy: a warm winter jacket for the mountains.
I asked for winter weight insulation for this review expecting a handful of similar jackets and what came in for test had a good bit of variety which actually works out well. If you consider a winter jacket for rest stops, camp or belaying the image of a nice puffy hooded down jacket probably comes to mind – rightly so as pulling on a big down jacket is as much psychological warfare against the cold on a windswept winter summit as it is a piece of good insulation. There are other options though, synthetic fill can still be warm and it’s a better bet in the wet. Lighter jackets layer under a shell easier for warmth on the move and are a good choice for camp too: will you need a big sleeping bag as well as a big jacket? I often carry a lighter jacket on winter camps so I’ve featured a couple here along with a vest, always a favourite combo of mine – make your kit into a flexible a system and save some money.
All the samples were a men’s size large unless noted and the weights were all taken by me.
Women’s version available
A vest is like a secret weapon of warmth and it’s something I use all year round. Alpkit’s new Filoment has a micro baffled construction and is filled with duck down which lofts surprisingly well and the vest does trap heat effectively. The polyester fabric is soft and pleasant against the skin, the main zip has a wide baffle, there are three zipped pockets and the hem and arm holes are elasticated. The collar is mid height and the zip has a chin guard.
I’ve been wearing this along with the next jacket in the review from Arc’teryx and it’s made a great combo, a down vest lets you boost the insulation of other jackets and the Filoment’s tiny packsize and low weight make it a great option for stashing away in your rucksack.
I have this sample in my regular size large which measures up as a 46 inch chest and as it’s a relatively thin vest it’s too big for me unless I layer it over another bulky jacket or top, sizing is something worth thinking about if you want to layer the Filoment over just a baselayer or a light midlayer.
Women’s version available
The Atom makes it into this insulation review because of its versatility as a winter jacket. It’s really a cold weather midlayer and as such does its job very well on the coldest of days, the synthetic Coreloft insulation is warm but the thinner stretch fleece side panels help regulate heat as well as giving you a great freedom of movement. As mentioned in the review above, slipping a vest over the Atom seals up the fleece panels, boosting the heat and making it a viable winter option as well as an excellent year-round stand-alone jacket.
The matt-look nylon shell fabric is pleasant to wear and the Atom is light with a very good, neat but not tight cut. The cuffs are a light stretchy fabric, the hood cinches in very well with a clever one-pull adjuster, the hem is also adjustable and there are three zipped pockets – two handwarmer and one internal.
The Atom is well designed and a great bit of kit to use but for winter summits I feel happier boosting it up with a vest.
Women’s version available
The Ramche looks just like you’d expect a winter jacket to look like but there’s other stuff going on when you look closer. Behind that ultralight Pertex shell fabric the 850 fill power goose down fill has been treated to resist the effects of water and I have to say it does seem to work. I’ve been caught in rain, in wet snow and slept with it on in condensation-dripping tents and the Ramche has dried out pretty fast and bounced back to full loft every time. The torso has large box-wall baffles for maximum insulation and the elsewhere has stitch-through construction with smaller baffles under the arms and sides where the down tends to get squeezed out of bigger baffles. The whole jacket lofts very well even after a good crushing into a stuff sack. The cut is neat, good over thin midlayers or a light shell and it’s shaped for activity too with excellent shoulders and pre-curved arms.
The excellent adjustable hood is big and cosy with a stiffened peak, the elasticated cuffs are wide and Velcro-adjustable, there are two external zipped handwarmer pockets, an inner zipped pocket and an inner mesh stuff pocket. The hem is adjustable and the chunky main zip has a fleecy chin guard.
The Ramche is a real winter-weight down jacket but its weight makes it packable for camp, so it’s a great all-rounder.
The Fenrir is a slim fitting hybrid jacket with anti-moisture treated 850 fill power goose down everywhere but where the designers expect the jacket to get most wet: at the cuffs, hem and collar where there’s synthetic insulation instead. The down fills medium sized baffles in a stitch-through construction which lofts well and with the neat cut makes the Fenrir a jacket which feels warm instantly.
The nylon face fabric is tougher than on many other jackets, they’ve chosen durability over the lowest possible weight. Features are minimal with two zipped handwarmer pockets, elastic cuffs and an adjustable hem.
The hood has no adjustment and to keep the hood sitting neatly on my head without it constantly slipping backwards I have to tuck the chin guard under my chin which is a shame as the chinguard is great, coming right up to my nose with a fleecy inner panel guaranteeing no scratches from the zip.
It’s cut for being active and it layers well under a shell. It packs away in your rucksack neatly and would be excellent all-year round insulation if the hood fits you.
The Northern Lights accepts the realities of our weather and plans for rain. The Cocona synthetic insulation dries fast and works well enough as an insulator when damp, while the nylon outer is very water resistant with a superb water repellent finish which keeps the weather out in the first place. The zips on the two external pockets as well as the main zip are the chunky water resistant type and there’s a fully adjustable hood to seal you in. The hood has a wired peak but the fabric of the peak is very soft so it all just folds back against my forehead, a little stiffening in the peak would make a big difference as the size and shape are good.
The two handwarmer pockets have fleece linings, as does the chin area and right around the neck area which is a wee touch of luxury. The cuffs are a soft stretch fabric and are well shaped to allow you to wear big winter gloves. There’s an internal pocket which the jacket stuffs into, there’s even a wee hang loop in there so once its stuffed away you can clip it onto the person in front of you’s rucksack on the descent.
The Northern Lights is warm, it’s a very usable jacket and on wet, cold days, this has been a good choice.
Women’s version available
First of all I’ll deal with the reversible aspect of the Fahrenheit. Gold fabric side out you have two accessible handwarmer pockets, with the black side out the internal chest pocket becomes your single external pocket. We’ll stick with the black as the inner and have three usable pockets, where the handwarmer versions have a nice fleecy lining.
The Fahrenheit is marketed as a ski jacket in Europe but it really is a classic-layout insulated outdoor jacket and a warm one at that with its neat fit and Primaloft synthetic insulation. The fit is very important here, this sample is a size XL and is still neat on my average size large frame but the close fit means instant feedback from the insulation when you pull the jacket on. It’s always important to size insulation correctly, too small and you compress the insulation and it won’t work as well. Too big and you have to heat all that dead air around you before the jacket does its work.
The Fahrenheit is simple with elastic cuffs, hem and an elastic bound hood. The hood isn’t adjustable but it has a peak of sorts formed into it and it sits on my head reasonably well although on descents I still find I want to hook my chin over the chinguard to keep the hood from slipping back off my head.
Warm and packable with cool sci-fi looks, just check the sizing.
The Yukon has the classic down jacket layout, two zipped handwarmer pockets, one internal zipped pocket, lycra cuffs, adjustable hem and a box wall construction. The goose down fill is unique however as it is 1000 fill power which gives the maximum warmth to weight allowing PHD to make a fully featured jacket at a very low weight. The Yukon is very light and the down fill is the softest I’ve ever felt, I haven’t found one single shaft or barb inside the baffles of the jacket. After compression for packing in a rucksack the Yukon needs a shake and some time to wake up before that superfine down fully lofts. It’s very warm once it’s awake and a great choice for cold winter camps.
The fabric is PHD’s own ultralite nylon and has a decent enough water repellency to deflect spills at camp or light precipitation but the Yukon is definitely best kept dry.
The Yukon’s hood is removable via five studs around the collar and can be fastened by double studs at the front. It’s also non-adjustable, but although it does resemble a pixie hat when pulled onto my head it sits there perfectly and doesn’t slip back or forward when I’m moving.
It’s so light and soft it might feel fragile in your hands but this a proper winter mountain jacket all the way, with a relaxed neat fit that layers well over other layers or under shells that aren’t too neat-fitting.
Women’s version available
The Infinity Endurance is another classic looking jacket that hides a few welcome upgrades. The Infinity has a stitch-through construction and 850 fill power goose down fill which has anti-moisture treatment. The outer shell fabric is the highly water resistant Pertex Endurance on the upper arms, shoulders and hood with a lighter Endurance coated grade of Pertex elsewhere which makes for a very weather proof jacket. That’s something that’s always good in a down jacket if the fabric’s light enough to let the down loft fully without restricting it which it does here very well, the Infinity puffs up easily after compression.
There’s one internal zipped pocket, one zipped outer napoleon pocket and two zipped handwarmers, the cuffs are elasticated, the hem is adjustable and the full length zip has a wide baffle behind it. The hood is excellent with good adjustment and a nicely sized peak. The peak is wired and there’s enough stiffness in the fabric for the peak to keep its form. The whole chin area has a large fleecy patch which is very nice indeed. Just because we’re in the mountains doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate the soft touches.
The fit is neat but not restrictive with a great range of movement at the shoulders for wearing on the move. A great mountain jacket and that extra weatherproofing could make a difference.
The SJ9 brings Snugpak’s looks bang up to date for 2015, this has to be the nicest looking jacket I’ve tested from the brand. Looks are only fabric deep however and inside we have a thick filling of Softie Premier synthetic insulation which is quilted to keep it lofted and in its place. This makes the SJ9 a little bulky but makes it warm too and it can compete well with the down jackets in the review. The nylon Paratex outer fabric is soft but strong: Snugpak kit happily takes a beating.
The front zip is a chunky water resistant type, the hem is adjustable, there are two low profile zipped handwarmer pockets and one internal zipped pocket. The hood has a roll-away strap and incorporates a large collar which stays upright while the top of the hood can be pulled up and down independently. The hood is adjustable but works best over a helmet or a hat, on a bare head the thick insulation scrunches up around my face a wee bit. The cuffs are an excellent design with an elastic inner cuff set back at the wrist that seals off the outer cuff which has a thumbloop. It works with thick or thin gloves and I can also roll my hand inside it if my fingers are starting to get a bit nippy.
There’s no getting away from the weight of the SJ9 and that bulky pack size, but the warmth and water resistance make it a real contender. Sleeping in a snow hole? I’d take the SJ9 over a down jacket any time.
The Elysium again fits the classic look of a mountain down jacket and features stitch through construction, two zipped handwarmer pockets which hide the adjusters for the hem drawcord, one zipped napoleon pocket and one large internal mesh stash pocket. The hood is a cracker, very well shaped with a wired peak that holds its form and excellent multipoint adjustment.
The down is 700 fill power which lofts very well after compression and the fabric is a lightweight nylon ripstop which has a light water repellency to it, rain is best avoided. The cuffs are very comfortable with an inner cinch that holds the sleeves down but keeps the cuffs clear of gloves and lets you see your watch easily. It’s the little things that stand out.
I can take a medium or a large in The North Face and when this large sample came in I thought it was maybe too big until I took it out and pulled it on over the rest of my gear where it was a perfect fit. Not only that, it was by far the longest jacket in the review. All the rest are the hip length insulation we’ve become used to where the Elysium covers my backside making it warmer and more protective. It does have less down than the other jackets here but, that extra coverage makes up for it, this is a cosy jacket.
Some of the jackets here could easily have featured in my lightweight insulation review a few months back, it shows that materials have got lighter and better performing so the brands are seeing ever lighter kit as dedicated winter-wear.
I had some issues with non-adjustable hoods and while I know it has weight and retail cost implications to engineer a good adjustable hood I think I’d rather have something that could be made to fit well or maybe just have no hood at all.
If I had to choose just one jacket, the old-style big warm down jacket will always win in winter, it just feels right and the protection and insulation they give you is worth the care you have to take and expense, especially if you look after them, down gear lasts well if treated kindly.
One thing worth noting is that most of the jackets here came with a stuffsack of one kind or another. As I packed and unpacked the jackets, swapped them around, drying them out and the like I lost most of the stuffsacks and ended up using the same drybag for them all. So none of the weights include a stuffsack and as it turns out I don’t think it’s much of a selling point anyway as they were mostly small, black and I can’t find them!