The ME Vega (and the women's version, the Sigma) is a midweight down jacket with a stitch through construction and a helmet compatible hood. I would describe the design as timeless, and being neither thin nor thick the Vega is a very versatile jacket. It is perfect for anything from an early (summer) season ascent of Mont Blanc, as a belay jacket when mixed or ice climbing, as something for cold camps and bivvies, or as an emergency layer when winter hillwalking or ski touring. Of course for most readers this sort of jacket will get most use in between goes bouldering at Stanage plantation; walking back from the pub on a crisp winter evening; or perhaps the most ferocious testing ground of all, the Basecamp marquee at Kendal Mountain Festival.
Having used a previous version of the Vega on a trip to Alaska (a jacket which I still have and consider near faultless), I was intrigued to see if Mountain Equipment have improved on the design.
In 2012 ME gave Tom Livingstone and I Vega Jackets for a trip to Denali. At the time, I was a little apprehensive that the jacket wouldn't be warm enough, though my worries were unfounded, and it keep us nice and warm as we slogged to the summit, after climbing the Cassin Ridge, in the Baltic evening shade.
To the untrained eye there is little discernible difference between the 2012 Vega and the current one; the chief improvement is the down inside.
The women's equivalent of this jacket, the Sigma, seems to differ from the Vega only in the cut. I'm 180cm tall, and weigh about 80kg, and wear the Vega in size Large. I'm normally between a medium and large, depending on brand and fit. I would say the large is slightly but not excessively oversized, in that it fits easily over climbing layers, but doesn't swamp me when worn over a hoody on the way back from the pub (remember those?). The women's version, the Sigma, has a slightly more fitted shape.
Length wise the Vega fits my slightly long arms, and has good length in the body. However in an ideal world the back of the jacket would be slightly longer, as it doesn't cover all of my bum! The cuffs of the jacket are elasticated with a Velcro tab that can be adjusted, depending on the thickness of gloves being worn with it. These work well, but I have used other jacket with Lycra bound cuffs, which are bit simpler, and work just as well.
ME advertise the jacket as weighing 620g, while my digital kitchen scales make it 630g not including the stuff sack; either way it hits a really useful sweet spot between lightness/packability and warmth.
Down and construction
The jacket has a stitch through construction. Put simply, this means that the inner and the outer of the jacket are sewn together to create baffles, which are filled with goose down. This is a great option for a lightweight jacket like the Vega, as although a stitch though construction does create cold spots, it is lighter, simpler, and cheaper than using a box wall baffle construction. In use I do not really notice any cold spots.
Mountain Equipment have filled the jacket (size large) with 235g of 800 fill power goose down. This is 15g less than my 2012 version, but that used lower quality 750 fill goose down, so the new fill should more than make up for it.
Mountain Equipment don't use hydrophobic down in any of their products. I have always been fairly cynical of hydrophobic down, and consider it mainly marketing spin. In my view down is an amazing insulator for cold dry environments. I fail to see how adding a coating to it can make it 'waterproof' in the way most of us understand the word. In short, if you need to stay warm in a cold, wet environment then use synthetic insulation instead.
The outer of the jacket is a 30 denier, water resistant and windproof fabric, that ME call Drilite Loft 30D. In my experience this fabric is highly water resistant. I have yet to make it fail despite using for it belaying when cascade climbing (not a dry activity), and wearing it to run to the shops in Llanberis during the autumn monsoon. That said I would never recommend using a down jacket for Scottish Winter climbing. The unpredictable weather and maritime climate make synthetic insulation far more appropriate most of the time.
The Vega features two external hand warmer pockets, which are opened and closed with chunky YKK Vislon zippers. The down is on the outside of the pockets, insulating cold hands, and allowing them to be warmed by your core.
It also has an internal mesh chest pocket, which is handy for storing valuables. Larger internal mesh drop pockets would be a useful addition, especially for keeping spare gloves warm whilst belaying, or rock shoes warm whilst bouldering. But I guess they don't really fit with the minimalist design of the Vega, and I can live without them.
The 'Half Dome' hood on the Vega is perhaps its standout feature. Mountain Equipment have elasticated the internal baffles, something they call an EXL lining. This gives a snug fit when using the hood over just a hat, but when worn with a helmet the elastic stretches, increasing the size of the baffles and the hood. This makes the hood the perfect size for wearing with and without a climbing helmet. The hood has a water resistant Drilite inner, which protects the down in it when pulling the hood up over a wet climbing helmet or waterproof jacket.
Unsurprisingly, considering its minimalist design, the Vega doesn't have many other features. The jacket comes with a simple stuff sack, and there is elastic in the hood and hem that can be cinched in to reduce drafts.
Durability and value
Obviously if you are doing technical climbs then sooner or later your will tear a hole in a jacket like this. Thankfully, despite having done a fair amount of that sort of climbing, in both this jacket and its predecessor, I am yet to rip a hole in either. In my experience high quality down jackets like this last a very long time, providing they are stored uncompressed. If I hadn't been reviewing the newer version then I would still be very happy using my previous Vega. The jacket retails for £340, so not exactly cheap, however considering it will last for many years I think the Vega represents good value for money.
The Vega is a high quality midweight down jacket, made from top quality materials, with a minimalist design. It is perfect from everything from bouldering and winter hill walking, right through to winter alpinism and expeditions. Crucially it won't look out of place in the Broadfield or KMF basecamp - if such things are ever allowed again! If you are in the market for a new down jacket I cannot recommend this one enough.
Mountain Equipment say:
A leading light in modern alpinism; the Vega is the only choice for uncompromisingly fast and light mountaineering goals. A lightweight and water resistant down jacket: perfect for fast and light winter sports when not being burdened by a heavy load is a primary concern. Designed around a tailored alpine cut and a grown on Half Dome hood to give complete upper body insulation.
- Sizes: S-XXL (men) 8-16 (women - Sigma)
- Weight: 630g size L (our weight)
- DRILITE® Loft 30D outer fabric; totally windproof and highly water resistant
- 235g (Size L) of Goose Down with a minimum content of 90/10 800 fill power
- Stitched-through baffle construction throughout
- Optimised down distribution and fill weights using a baffle-by-baffle approach
- Half Dome HC hood with EXL® lining
- 2-way YKK® moulded centre front zip with offset insulated rear baffle
- 2 zipped hand warmer pockets with moulded zips
- DRILITE® Loft 30D inner hem and hood lining
- Adjustable cuffs and dual tether hem drawcords