Wednesday, 30 April 2014 13:54

Down and Insulated Jacket Group Test

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Insulated Jacket Group Test

With winter approaching it's time to start looking at insulation. Choosing the right down jacket is never easy and it's not unreasonable to say at first glance they all look pretty much the same, but look under the fluffy, puffym style and you'll find a bewildering array of fill powers, synthetic or natural fillings and facing fabrics. While a waterproof either works or doesn't the equation's not quite so simple with insulated products; you need to choose the right level of insulation for a garment's intended use to ensure you're not to cold or too hot for the environment you're using it in. The emergence of hydrophobic down adds further confusion with an alternative option to Primaloft and synthetic fills.

We've spent several weeks putting the 7 jackets through their paces, from climate chamber testing with the TNF and Jack Wolfskin to a flying trip to Iceland with the Sherpa, Bergans and Rohan. We've thrown copious amounts of water over the Berghaus Ilam and Jack Wolfskin Icecamp, both indoors and naturally under a downpour and looked at everything from the ease of using toggles to the length of hood and hem cords. At the end of the day we haven't picked a winner for one simple reason: Each of the jackets has its positives and negatives and how these weigh up depends as much on what you're going to use your insulation for as to what's gone into it.

Kathmandu V2

Weight: 615g

Fill: 85/15  550FP (Fill Power)

Outer: Pertex Microlight

Hood: No

Pockets: 2 Handwarmer, 1 inside

Colours: Black, Mid Blue, Port

Price: £120

Website: Kathmandu

 

Description: A classic entry level down jacket in a tried and tested design. Sewn through arm construction with Box-Wall in the main body to keep the body warm. The 2 Handwarmer pockets are quite small but a fleece lining makes them comfortable and warm, with the same fleece lining used on the collar. Cuff closure combines elastic with a velcro tab with hem adjustment managed by drawcord loops on either side. The main zip is backed by a non-insulated storm flap on the inside made of more durable material and providing good wind resistance.

Positives: Price, Close fit with good cuff and hem adjustment. 

Negatives: No hood, 550FP fill gives limited temperature range.

Our View: The Kathmandu V2 is an entry level down jacket with a leaning towards the fashion side of the market. The 85/15 cluster to feather ratio and 550FP down is the most economical fill of the jackets on test, but this is reflected in a street price as low as £120 (Simply sign up for Kathmandu's Summit Club at the time of buying). A close fit and good cuff and hem adjustment creates a warm microclimate quickly and despite the entry level fill and construction the V2 is ideal for wearing around camp at temperatures around and just below 0C, while looking totally at home for wearing to the pub. It's not going to cut the mustard in a full on Cairngorm winter but within its limitations the Kathmandu V2 is a good performer and there's no doubting its fashion conscious styling looks the part.

 

Berghaus Ilam

Weight: 320g

Fill: 850+ HydroDown

Outer: Pertex Quantum GL

Hood: Yes

Pockets: 2 Handwarmer, 1 inside

Colours: Carbon / Thunder, Blue Aster / Intense Blue

Price: £240

Website: Berghaus

 

Description:  Designed and developed by the Berghaus MtnHaus® team, the Ilam 850 Fill HydroDown Jacket has been designed to keep you warmer and drier during the worst weather conditions. The Ilam down jacket features two distinct warmth zones that maximise the body’s natural heat generation and loss principle and combined with top-end goose down clusters treated to make them hydrophobic provides a real alternative to synthetic fills for damp climates. 2 large handwarmer pockets and an internal mesh bottle pocket provide the storage while the single handed hemcord adjustment and "comfortable fit" make the Ilam easy to slip on when the weather closes in.

Positives: Water repellent down which keeps 90% of its insulation value when soaked, Extremely lightweight but warm through using 850+FP fill. Single handed hem adjustment.

Negatives: Stretch bound cuffs don't fit as well as velcro tabs. Ultralight weight can be deceiving

Our View: The Berghaus Ilam will take some getting used to. Stunningly lightweight and with a loose cut it feels too insubstantial to give more than superficial protection from the cold, but appearances have rarely been so deceptive. The 850+FP fill means you get a high level of insulation for a minimal weight of fill and the loose fit makes it ideal for slipping on over the top of other layers as a belay jacket. In testing the hydrophobic down performed well, remaining warm even when subjected to a continuous, heavy, downpour and offers the same sort of performance level as the best synthetics in terms of retaining warmth when wet - but at a lower weight and bulk. It's early days for the technology but the Berghaus Ilam could be a game changer. The selection of 850FP down and attention to detail we've come to expect from the MtnHaus Team make the Ilam ideal for the UK's damp climate or for anyone taking the ultralight route where every gram counts.

 

Jack Wolfskin Icecamp

Weight: 670g

Fill: Fibrecloud

Outer: Airgrid 20D

Hood: No

Pockets: 2 Handwarmer, 1 inside

Colours: Black, Electric Blue

Price: £120

Website: Cotswold Outdoor

 

Description:  The Jack Wolfskin Icecamp synthetic insulated jacket makes its debut in the UK this season. Using Fibercloud insulation, a collection of synthetic fibres clustered together and packed loosely into chambers in the jacket, it insulates like natural down but, being synthetic, it's not sensitive to moisture: a big bonus in the UK's damp climate. Across the shoulders where your rucksack straps might otherwise flatten the insulation, the Icecamp is augmented with a Microguard interlining: a durable, multilayered insulator which resists compression.

The 2 handwarmer pockets are surprisingly large and unusually the hem adjusters located at the front of the jacket, either side of the main zip where they're easily accessible. Cuffs are elasticated with no further adjustment and you don't get a hood with the Icecamp.

Positives: Synthetic fill mainains insulation when wet. Classic style. Large handwarmer pockets. Easily accessible hem adjustment

Negatives: Thin collar with minimal fill and not fleece lined. No hood. Elasticated cuffs give limited adustment.

Our View: Water resistent or repellent unsulation is the big story this winter with improved sysnthetics taking on the new hydrophobic down which is starting to emerge. In tests the Fibrecloud insulation in the Icemap worked well in a combination of strong winds and driven snow, handling temperatures down to -5 with ease at the MIRA Test Chamber. The insulation doesn't have the same loft as the similarly styled Kathmandu V2 but in on-the-hill tests offers a similar, or slightly better, level of insulation for a realtively minimal cost in terms of weight. With a short body length and no hood it's another insulated jacket for wearing around camp and between the tent and pub rather than a whiteout on the hill, but at an entry-level price the Jack Wolfskin Icecamp gives more flexibility for your hard earned money in UK conditions than similarly priced traditional down.

 

The North Face Argento Hoodie

Weight: 900g

Fill: 700FP Goose Down

Outer: Ripstop Nylon

Hood: Yes

Pockets: 2 Handwarmer, 1 chest

Colours: Noah Green/Oriole Orange

Price: £220

Website: Cotswold Outdoor

 

Description: A heavyweight, expedition style, down jacket using plenty of 700FP insulation to provide warmth down to double figures below zero. Quite short for such a high-spec jacket the Argento Hoodie features large handwarmer pockets with a well insulated and easily accessible Napoleon pocket but no internal storage. Hood and hem adjustment has been well thought out with the hem adjusters accessible from inside the handwarmer pockets and the adjustment toggles for the hood forming short loops rather than long cords which can be whipped by the wind. The main zip gets added protection with an insulated storm flap behind the zip and the fixed hood combines both a decent down fill and a soft, fleece, lining around the chin area to prevent chaffing.

Positives: High quality 700FP fill with box wall construction the full length of the torso front makes the Argento a very warm jacket. Excellent hem adjustment. Down filled hood with soft, fleece, lining at the front. One of the best non-snagging zips around.

Negatives: Elasticated cuffs are quite large diameter and may not give total protection. Feels a little "stiff" and inflexible compared to some. Collar baffle could be more substantial. Heavy

Our View: We've no idea where the name "Argento Hoodie" came from, this is a classic cold weather down jacket and definitely not what most people would think of as a "Hoodie". There's no scrimping on the quanity of the 700FP down and it's noticeably warmer than the Jack Wolfskin and Kathmandu jackets from the moment you put it on. The hood's better insulated than many though it's quite shallow and won't take a helmet. If the Argento has a single stand-out feature it's got to be the hem adjustment system which can be accessed from the fleece lined handwarmer pockets, saving both the hassle of getting your hands cold and retracting the cord inside the pocket where it can't snag on objects outside or egt caught by the wind. The ripstop outer fabric has a pleasing matt finish rather than the glossy look and feel of some of the more recent insulated jackets but overall these two highspots don't compete with the feature packed list of the Bergans Sauda at a similar price or offer the weight saving of the Rohan Nightfall.

 

Sherpa Khumbuche

Weight: 685g

Fill: 750FP Goose Down

Outer: Ripstop Nylon

Hood: Yes/Removable

Pockets: 2 Handwarmer, 1 Napoleon

Colours: Black/Kharani, Neelo/Kharani, Lama Red/Kharani

Price: £240

Website: Sherpa Adventure Gear

 

Description: An insulated jacket designed by Sherpas, who know a thing or two about extreme weather, from a company run by Sherpas for Sherpas. With an iconic expedition look and feel the Khumbuche has quality written all over it. With 750FP goose down filling in a box wall construction this is a no compromise, high performance, jacket that will keep you warm when the temperature drops well below zero. Large handwarmer pockets allow easy access with further storage available in a sizeable Napoleon pocket. Unusually the inside also features large mesh pockets which can easily hold anything from an OS map to gloves or camera gear. The main zip can be protected from wind and water with an external, insulated, storm flap which stays down using a combination of velcro and press studs.

Positives: 750FP down in abundance combined with good hem and cuff adjustment makes this a very warm jacket. Lightweight for such a high performance.

Negatives: Hood/neck closure poorly fitting, long drawcords on hood adusters.

OurView: There's no getting away from the fact that we love the Sherpa Khumbuche, but just wish they'd sort out a couple of slight niggles. It looks good, feels the way you picture a down jacket feeling and is more than capable of seeing you through a Himalayan base camp trek, and at £240 it's at the right price. The velcro and stud fastening storm flap may not be to everybody's taste and using short velcro patches rather than a continuous strip can leave gaps but in practice these soon flatten against the main body when any wind is applied. Hem adjustment is pretty much the industry standard toggles and cinch cord system, located on either side and forming small loops which can easily be tucked back inside the jacket, and the cuffs come with velcro tabs to close the sleeves right down. The hood adjustment while working well produces cords which are long enough to get caught in the wind and whipped into the users face but the real niggle with the Khumbuche lies in the hood/neck closure. Flaps either side of the collar, forming part of the hood, should secure the hood while adding protection at the front of the neck and chin but unfortunately these flaps are slightly too long, or have the velcro fastening poorly positioned. With the flaps drawn across to the maximum extent allowable by the velcro they sit slightly away from the main body of the jacket rather than sitting flush and leaving an uncomfortable gap which can channel the wind onto the lower face as well as being susceptible to strong gusts pulling it open. A short strip of velcro added to the line of strips on right hand flap, however, would allow the two sides to close securely and overall it's not enough of an issue to detract from an otherwise excellent jacket for really cold weather.

 

Bergans Sauda

Weight: 1000g

Fill: 85/15  550FP (Fill Power)

Outer: Pertex Shield

Hood: Yes

Pockets: 2 Handwarmer, 2 Chest, 1 Sleeve, 1 internal

Colours: 12 colours available

Price: £230

Website: Bergans of Norway

 

Description: A full-on cold weather down jacket, packed with features and performance. 750cuin of 750FP down makes the Sauda a heavy and bulky jacket that may be overkill for a walk to the pub but out on the hill will more than pay back any weight penalty. The 2 large handwarmer pockets, with insulation both inside and out, are complemented by a pair of storm flap protected chest pockets and a sleeve pocket; nicely positioned on the lower arm rather than the traditional position high on the left arm for external storage while the internal pocket doubles up as a compression bag for packing the jacket. Underarm pitzips and lycra wristwarmers with thumb loops add to a strong feature list which includes MP3/headphone routing from the left chest pocket to inside the jacket and up to the hood.

Positives: Loads of top end 750FP down. Lots of pockets with insulation on both sides of handwarmer pockets. Soft, fleece, lining around collar/chin. Helmet compatible, easily adjustable hood. Pitzips for ventilation. Wrist warmers. Reinforced elbows.

Negatives: Heavy. Sewn through construction on main torso. Narrow internal main zip baffle

OurView: A strange combination of lots of 750FP down in a sewn through construction rather than the more efficient box wall construction but it works. The warmest and most comfortable jacket in the group test the Sauda slips on like a cross between a glove and a duvet, yet thanks to pitzips has the flexibility to cope with warmer temperatures where you'd normally expect to overheat with this quantity of insulation. We usually detest thumb loops, but on the Sauda the hands slide naturally into place in the combined wrist warmer/thumb loops in such a way as they feel natural; they also provide a perefct seal against wind and snow entering the cuffs. The luxury of down both on the inside and outside of the handwarmer pockets makes a real difference while the same level of attention means a well filled neck baffle and fully adjustable hood.

The Bergans Sauda is undeniably a heavy jacket, weighing in at 3 times that of the Berghaus Ilam, but with the sheer attention to detail and packed feature list this is a jacket designed to take the worst of the weather in its stride. Surprisingly flexible for such a bulky jacket the Sauda, with reinforced elbows and a truly helmet compatible hood, could prove a popular choice for a Scottish winter where the "breathable microporous waterproof coating" of the Pertex Shield combined with a DWR coating to promote beading should be able to handle even a prolonged shower.

 

Rohan Nightfall

Weight: 560g

Fill: 800+FP (Fill Power)

Outer: Polyamide

Hood: Yes

Pockets: 2 Handwarmer, 1 internal

Colours: 12 colours available

Price: £245

Website: Rohan

 

Description: Another example of appearances being deceptive, Rohan's Nightfall is another perfect example of using high fill power insulation to reduce weight and bulk while maintaining performance.

The Nightfall Jacket features a large, removable, insulated hood which adjusts with Rohan's One-Pull™ system for a nice, close fit with a fleece lined collar and "throat guard" adding to the comfort levels. The 2 hardwarmer pockets are only fleece lined on one side, reducing weight, while the internal pocket doubles up as a Packpocket™ for travelling. Hem adjustment uses the traditional cinch cord and toggles with cuffs adustable using the slimline velcro adjusters.

Positives: Ultralight 560g. 800+FP down for really cold weather protection. Minimalist but highly technical design, Box wall construction in torso front.

Negatives: Narrow cuff tabs tend to roll the cuff ends, single sided fleece lining in pockets.

OurView: Rohan's Nightfall is another of those down jackets that outperforms initial appearances thanks to the combination of real attention to detail and top quality components. The 800+ FP down means you get plenty of insulation without the bulk of the Sherpa and Bergans jackets and what appears to be a rather flimsy offering turns out to be capable of providing warmth well below zero. In comparison with many jackets designed to handle temperatures below -5C the Nightfall is quite minimalist, saving weight wherever possible, but not at the cost of performance. The single-pull hood adjuster, for example, gives quick and easy adjustment but avoids both the weight and the inconvenience of cord loops, or lengths, hanging down the front of the jacket where wind can whip them up into your face. The soft facing fabric of the "throat guard" on the inside of the zip only covers the top 6 cm where it will make a difference and as mentioned the handwarmer pockets only get a fleece lining on the outer facing side. The shell is a hardwearing but, at only 28gsm, is an incredibly light polyamide which again contributes to an overall weight lower than many less capable jackets.

 

Conclusions:

Comparing insulated jackets is an absolute nightmare, there's so many variables that there's no such thing as "the perfect one". As explained in out Buyers Guide to Down choosing a down jacket involves a compromise between down fill power and weight combined with cost and purpose. While it makes sense to pick a high loft down and box wall construction for really cold environments and high altitude it's overkill to do so for a jacket you're going to wear around a lowland camp site or walking to the pub - and the cost difference between low and high fill power can be astronomical. Throw in the issue of the damp British climate and you've got another choice; synthetic, hydrophobic down or down with a totally waterproof fabric like Pertex Shield.

At entry level there's a straight fight between the Jack Wolfskin Icecamp and the Kathmandu V2, both available at around £120 and both featuring a short, classic, cut that sits towards the fashion end of the market. While the V2's additional loft looks the part there's no getting away from the reality that at the same price point the synthetic filling of the Icecamp makes it our entry level choice.

The two lightest jackets on test, Berghaus' Ilam and Rohan's Nightfall, both make use of high fill power down with Rohan using 800+ and Berghaus 850+ to keep weight at a minimam and both take a rather minimalist and functional style. At just 560g the Rohan would normally walk away with the lightweight prize but Berghaus have got a real game changer on their hands with the Ilam; not only does it come in at 240g lighter than the Nightfall but with its HydroDowntechnology it's made down a realistic option for the UK winter.

At 685g the Sherpa Adventure Gear Khumbuche is a serious insulated jacket at a minimal weight. The design and fit inspire confidence and produce instant results while the longer length and better hood put it ahead of the North Face Argento. The Bergans Sauda, however, packs in a list of features that ticks just about every box. Only 50g heavier than the Argento the combination of double insulated main pockets, superbly integrated wrist warmers and better quality down in the Sauda show the attention to detail we've come to expect from Norwegian outdoor kit and a performance that puts it alongside the Bergahus Ilam as our jacket of choice.