PHD are the kings of down kit. Indisputable. OK their kit isn't the sexiest in the world but it's ridiculously light and warm ... and custom made. I took their Hispar jacket to Alaska this year for six weeks and in a way it was the wrong jacket for me but I was still able to put it to the test. Essentially the Hispar is a mountaineer's jacket rather than a climber's jacket. At 700g and packed with the best down in the world it will take you down to -25 degrees. It would be the perfect jacket for those seeking 6000m peaks but wanting to keep weight down to a minimum when walking up them.
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Wakey wakey...morning on the Moonflower
UKC Gear, Dec 2010
© Will Sim
The Hispar jacket's design is a bit Bonington style rather than sleek and modern. It has a low cut which covers you right down to your legs. As I said, not for climbing anything technical in but perfect for keeping you really warm when you need it to. At the end of the day it is actually designed for multi-day peaks not single push light and fast European Alpine style. For that I'd definitely recommend taking a look at the PHD Alpine Ultra Jacket - at 330g it looks incredible.
The Hispar's outer is a tough 'Drishell' fabric with a soft inner MX liner. It is stuffed with top quality 900 EU down, which does an amazing job at keeping you warm. In fact there is nothing better for weight to warmth ratio. It comes with a fully detachable hood with a side baffle over the zip so that you don't get a cold neck and features chest high pockets that won't interfere with a harness. It really packs down to nothing, which considering its warmth rating, is a real bonus.
The Hispar did exactly what it said on the label. I guess the biggest test it got was when bivying up above The Shaft on the Moonflower buttress. We spent 6 hours sitting on a small chopped ledge with our down jackets and a small bothy bag just big enough to get our upper bodies in. Not the worst bivy in the world but then again not the best either when you're a good way up Alaska's most famous mixed climb and the temperature's plummiting to -20. The jacket fared well and even though I was very dehydrated and pretty tired I managed to stay relatively warm: I definitely appreciated the extra length in the jacket at this point.
PHD categorise the Hispar as their superlight mountain range. The Hispar bag I found incredible in Alaska this year. It was light and incredibly warm. The jacket follows very much the same suit but due to its cut this is the kind of kit you want to use on non-technical peaks such as Island Peak, Mera Peak, or Aconcagua. For these kind of ventures it's as brilliant as you can get for warmth to weight ratio. As I say though, it's worth looking at the Alpine Ultra or the Yukon if you want the same lightweight and warmth properties but a more technical cut.
And onto the Minimus down trousers
Down trousers: once the preserve of high altitude mountaineers, they are now being used for completely different uses. From single push light and fast tactics to lazy days on glacier base camps, down trousers are making a come back across all outdoor clothing brands but nevertheless they might still seem to us Brits a bit of a specialist item. Think again...
These down trousers are incredibly light at 230g, pack down to the size of a small mug and will ward off even the coldest temps at base camp. Think 'over trousers' rather than anything you will want to climb in. They slip on over any pair of trousers straight away with an elastic waist belt and, while I thought that they were going to be an unwarranted luxury in Alaska, they ended up being the piece of kit I used the most.
I learnt a lot about glacier base camp life in Alaska this spring. Six weeks on a glacier gives you a lot of learning time and one of the key factors were creature comforts. If you're planning on spending a lot oftime in a cold home - which is what Alaska tent life feels like - little things like down trousers make the whole thing a whole lot more amenable, especially when the sun sets and everything turns truly Baltic.
"...This year a strong French team opened up the Moonflower and slept for five hours above the Shaft in down trousers and jacket before moving on again..."
The PHD Minimus trousers feature an M1 outer and inner with 800 down filling. M1 is an incredibly light but tough fabric that PHD use in a lot of their kit. I never had any problems with it wearing or getting holes in it even after weeks of almost constant use. The outer shell is also designed to be baggy to allow the premium 800 down to loft as much as possible meaning that whilst you might feel like the Michelin man at times, you will also be as warm as he probably feels as well.
There's not really much to say about down trousers as the design is simple and the function easy to understand. If you find yourself heading towards colder climes then these really are a nice piece of kit to have along with you. A luxury item they might seem but when in base camp you want to minimise the amount of time spent in your tent and that often means sitting outside in very cold air temps: coupled with a down jacket it basically means that you become a fully mobile sleeping bag, which is handy when it's -20 outside.
The new breed of super alpinists are starting to see the potential for down trousers as well for huge single push tactics. Coupled with a down jacket you can have a good brew rest for a few hours without getting cold which is one of the ultimate psyche killers. It also allows you for a super light sleeping system if you plan on catching a few hours kip on a route before moving on again. This year a strong French team opened up the Moonflower with this tactic and slept for five hours above the Shaft in down trousers and jacket before moving on again.
I thought these were awesome in Alaska. A great creature comfort that I wore nearly every day. If you're looking into doing big single pushes then they also have their advantages as mentioned as well. With an RRP of £142 you might be put off - had I not the benefit of hindsight I would not have given them a second look but these will accompany me on every expedition from now on.
PRICE: Jacket £380, Trousers £142
MORE INFO: on the PHD Website.
Hispar Down Jacket
Minimus Down Trousrs
About Jon Griffith
Jon Griffith, UKClimbing.com gear tester and Editor Jack Geldard.
© Mick Ryan - UKClimbing.com, Jul 2008
Jon Griffith's first climbing days were in the Avon Gorge at Bristol. After university he moved to Chamonix, where he works as a professional mountain photographer: www.alpineexposures.com.
"It's hard to pick one specific type of climbing that I prefer over the others but I think my heart still lies with big mixed alpine routes that potentially involve a couple of nights bivying. I am still getting used to the whole Chamonix 'get back in time for the last lift' style - I still include bivying as a part of any decent mountaineering experience. I am also still getting used to crack climbing - it hurts.... a lot."
UKC Articles and Gear Reviews by Jon Griffith: