The North Face Summit L6 Down Belay Parka
It's way more jacket than most of us need, but if you're after a duvet for somewhere seriously cold then the Down Belay Parka would be a decent choice, says Dan Bailey
Ten women's down jackets from leading brands go head-to-head in this comprehensive group test. What does 'midweight' even mean? And by that definition, which models stand out? All will be revealed...
Year-round camps and bivvies, winter belays, chilly crag or boulder sessions, alpine snow peaks, ski touring, Munro summits, cold weather travel, general winter outdoor use, going shopping on a brisk day... you name it, midweight down jackets are pretty versatile - especially if you tend to feel the cold. Over the last few months our women's test team have put ten down jackets from leading brands through their paces.
What is midweight?
Our ideal here is a duvet jacket that can be used pretty much anywhere, any time - warm enough for winter and mountain use, without necessarily being overkill in spring and autumn weather.
For this review we asked for jackets in the region of 400-500g, a range that we think offers a good balance of insulation versus lightness. Some submissions are significantly lighter than this, while one or two are slightly oversized. There are obvious pros and cons at each extreme. Where a jacket falls far outside the weight range, we didn't feel it fair to 'highly recommend' it in a midweight group. However, the real lightweights are great jackets if you don't need the warmth of a midweight, and in a different review category they might have shone. As for the comparative heavyweights, two jackets came in just above our 500g upper limit, but as they're both fantastic duvets, and warmer than the rest, we bent the rules to give them both a well deserved 'highly recommended'.
Is there such thing as a women's down jacket?
An interesting question, since all these jackets come with a direct male equivalent.
From a fit point of view, the answer is yes. All jackets are cut differently to the men's equivalent, aiming for a more female shape, to varying degrees of success! Obviously not all women are the same shape, but a bit of allowance for hips and waist rather than a boxy square cut can give a better fit that makes the wearer more mobile and able to retain body heat. It is good to see that many brands are updating their women's designs to add improved features and fit.
Then there's insulation. Women generally feel the cold more than men, through a combination of skin temperature, hormones and metabolism, so a warm down jacket is key in a cold weather layering system. We were pleased that a few jackets in the test had proportionately more down than the men's equivalent model, and one even took this into account with its down mapping.
It feels regressive to talk about colours in women's technical gear, but yes, it is worth mentioning that most brands offer a good range from safe and uninspiring to some brighter non-pink/purple options. Let's keep the pressure on and we might get even more choice...
Fill power and fill weight
A higher fill power means that a given weight of down occupies more volume, and thus insulates more effectively. Unfortunately there are two different testing standards, which give non-equivalent values. EU-rated down is superior to US-rated down of the same quoted fill power, but it's not always clear which standard a brand is using. We suspect most are using EU ratings so have assumed parity here.
Tests by the IDFL (International Down and Feather Testing Laboratory and Institute) say that for above 800fp, EU (Lorch) = US minus 50, and for 600-800fp EU (Lorch) = US minus 25. Confused? I bet you are. But if you want more geekery, it's all here.
Fill weight is also an important measure of potential warmth. The more weight of down a jacket has, the more potential insulation and warmth you get, but again there is a balance to be struck between quality of down and weight of down. Obviously a high proportion of high quality down offers the warmest prospects, but is also likely to cost more. Fill weights in this test range from less than 25% to nearly 50% of overall jacket weight.
A quick note on duck Vs goose... duck down is generally cheaper, but only goose down gets you higher fill powers. Below about 750fp the difference is academic, but in premium jackets with a higher quality fill you'd expect goose down. All but one of the jackets on test opted for goose.
Hydrophobic treatment is increasingly common nowadays, and we think that for UK use in particular it is well worth seeking out since it allows the down to maintain its loft (ie. go on insulating) for longer in damp conditions. We have considered the use of hydrophobic down a plus point in this review.
The ethics of down production are an increasing concern for both brands and consumers. Many (but not all) manufacturers now use down certified by the Responsible Down Standard, which encourages a decent standard of animal welfare by prohibiting the worst practises of the industry, such as force feeding and live plucking, and by establishing an audit trail from the farm to the finished product. We were pleased to see that all brands in this test were either RDS certified, or had ethical processes in place.
Baffled by baffles?
How you distribute the fill across the jacket accounts for a lot of its performance, and much of this comes down to the way it's made and the materials that have been used. Large baffles help the down to loft, but the larger you make them the more the down can move around inside, potentially leaving cold spots; narrower baffles work well for lesser amounts of fill, but they entail more stitching on a jacket, and the more seams you have the more opportunities there are for heat to escape and wind to get in. The box wall baffles found on high end down clothing and sleeping bags minimise cold spots but add weight, bulk and cost. Stitch-through baffles are more affordable, and perfectly sufficient in a midweight all-round down jacket - all the models we've reviewed here are made in this way.
Lighter fabrics are good for loft, but the fabric needs to be durable enough for long term abuse, and densely woven in order to prevent down escaping and to cut wind. A water repellent finish on the outside helps the fill stay dry, so is definitely worth having. 20 to 30 denier is standard for face fabrics in this test group.
For the true midweight, features will be an important part of the weight calculation. Most jackets have two handwarmer pockets plus a chest pocket as standard, but there is a wide variance in the availability of hood and cuff adjustments and the quality of the zips used. For example, a two-way main zip is a great belaying feature, but adds weight to the jacket. We also deemed it useful to have a packing option, whether stuff sack or pocket.
Weight: 499g (size 12)
Fill: 750fp white duck down (110g size 44/38) & TirolWool Celliant
Pros: Athletic cut; good in the wet; totally different to anything else!
Cons: Pointy pockets; lower quality down; not particularly warm for its weight
Weight: 250g (size M)
Fill: 850fp hydrophobic goose down (110g size M) plus some synthetic fill
Pros: Overall quality; great warmth to weight ratio; nice cut
Cons: Sizes small; no two-way zip; lightweight, not midweight
Weight: 270g (size M)
Fill: 900fp (EU) Polish white goose down (120g size M)
Pros: Long cut; top quality down offers good warmth for the weight
Cons: Hood not great; questionable durability; a lightweight, not a midweight
Weight: 419g (size M)
Fill: 750fp European grey goose down (105g size M) and Coreloft synthetic
Pros: Extremely tough, weatherproof shell; everyday practicality
Cons: Short in the body; less down than most; not particularly warm for its weight
Weight: 530g (size 12)
Fill: 800fp hydrophobic goose down (200g size 12)
Pros: A very warm jacket, with excellent fabric and features for serious mountain use
Cons: Hot for year-round use; high price; not a flattering cut; not a midweight
Weight: 570g (size 12)
Fill: 800fp goose down (201g size 12)
Pros: Seriously weatherproof outer; excellent hood; fully featured; very warm
Cons: Extremely expensive; tight on the hips; hot for year-round use; not a midweight
Weight: 324g (size M)
Fill: 800fp goose down (130g size M)
Pros: Excellent warmth for weight; great in snow
Cons: Very expensive; not suitable for wet conditions; a lightweight, not a midweight
Weight: 463g (size 12)
Fill: 750+fp hydrophobic down (190g size 12)
Pros: High down content; long cut; good price; attractive; packable
Cons: Not the highest quality down
Weight: 472g (size 12)
Fill: 750fp hydrophobic goose down (200g size 12)
Pros: Does everything you need, at a good price; nicely fitted
Cons: Not the warmest at this weight; a bit short in the body; slightly basic-feeling fabric and hood
Weight: 401g (size M)
Fill: 700fp goose down with DWR treatment
Pros: Climbing friendly; super tough; good in wetter conditons; packable
Cons: Not the warmest; lower quality down
With an active cut and a combination of down and 'TirolWool Celliant' hybrid insulation inserts for functionality in damper conditions, the Ortles Medium 2 is a versatile jacket that is suitable for all seasons. Though price and warmth for weight are both average, this is definitely the black sheep of the test group and very much provides a "Euro"-styled alternative to the British and North American offerings. For example, it is available in extremely small sizes and has a very different cut and cuffs to other jackets on test. A good all-rounder, which stays warmer than others when wet, and one of only a few jackets tested here that you would actually want to actively climb/mountaineer in! However, you don't get loads of fill for the overall weight of the jacket, and it's not as warm as rivals with a higher fill power down.
The diagonal baffles and body-mapping design on this jacket are attractive and allow for a genuine women's cut. As a result the Ortles Medium 2 is one of the more fitted and less 'boxy' jackets on test. There is good allowance for hips and shoulders without lots of wasted space around the waist, though it could be a little tight on the chest when layered up. This shaping and a long back means that heat doesn't escape whether wearing the jacket over one layer or several, plus you can also cinch the bottom to keep heat in. Other elements of the cut also make this a genuine active layer: underarm panels and long (but not baggy) sleeves allow easy overhead movement.
We found the fit pretty accurate based on their advertised UK size (it is well worth referencing this as their conversion with European/US sizes is not what you might expect). The available size range is skewed small, offering UK sizes 4-14, but the existance of technical clothing in a size 4 is likely quite a revelation for petite women.
At 499g in size 12 (including tethered stuff sack) the Ortles Medium 2 is just within the weight class of this group. Though it doesn't have more than average warmth for the weight, it also doesn't feel like it weighs as much as that either...
In a size 44/38 jacket, there's 110g of down fill, which is not loads. With 750fp duck down (all the other jackets on test use goose), the Salewa might feel like the poor relation in the warmth department. It works well when you are active, and retains heat for a ski tour, or when walking or climbing, but it does not give the same comfort as the higher fill power jackets for a long winter belay or lengthy summit break. It is also less compressible, with a less impressive warmth for its weight, than rivals that use a higher fill power down.
However, the Ortles Medium 2 has proved to be one of the better jackets for wet conditions. The down is balanced with TirolWool® Celliant® hybrid wool/synthetic insulation inserts positioned in the hood, shoulders and cuffs to provide heat retention in the parts of the jacket that are most likely to get wet. Reputedly, duck down's smaller clusters also hold up a little longer than goose down to maintain warmth when wet. Either way, with less loft to start with, it seems it has less to lose and during testing the down de-clumped on drying after a total soaking in the Alps. It also feels a bit more breathable than some other jackets on test, allowing moisture out when sweaty. This makes it a decent active layer.
The unbranded lightweight nylon ripstop outer fabric is nothing special, but similarly there isn't much to complain about. Intended for alpine use, it does seem tough enough for most activities, resisting abrasion from pack straps/granite scrambling and snagging skiing the trees. Finished with a DWR treatment, there is also some resistance to water, shedding light drizzle and snow for a while. The 20 denier liner is softer but does not feel plasticy.
With a high collar and relatively snug fitted hood, the Ortles Medium 2 has decent mountain credentials. There is also enough space in the cut to maintain mobility around the head and shoulders when it is up. The hood fits under a helmet (with enough room for hair!) and stands up to wind with a single cincher at the back which is easy to adjust in gloves. The elasticated taping around the face maintains a good seal, but if it had volume control around the front it could achieve a little more in the way of forehead coverage. All in all it's a decent hood for active mountaineering.
The Ortles Medium 2 has three pockets, a chest pocket and two hand pockets. The latter are a capacious four baffles deep, eating up gloves, hands and whatever else you might wish to carry with ease. The zip positioning means that you also have a fair chance of being able to access them while wearing a pack. All zips are robust and smooth to operate in gloves. Our one criticism is that the shape of the pocket follows the entire length of the diagonal baffle, meaning you end up with a sharp pointy bottom to the pocket, in which small things can get lost. Do not put coins in here!
The left pocket also contains a compression stow bag with a mesh panel to release moisture. This is tethered inside the pocket by a bungee – good for not losing it but a bit harder to pack. There is no clip loop but it does not compress the jacket very small, so you might not want to rack it anyway. It is extremely packable though, if squashed into the gaps in your pack rather than compressed.
At first we found the cuffs weird – square-ended without a taper and with a stretchy gaiter inside to provide a seal. This means that you cannot fit your whole cuff into your gloves, but it does work well with gloves either above the gaiter, or under. Indeed, in winter mountaineering or ski touring where you might stop to add a down layer for warmth on top of your gloves, the Ortles Medium 2 cuffs are incredibly useful, as the stretchiness and wide opening means you maintain a heat seal while you need it, but can easily shed the layer afterwards (no velcro faff) without disturbing your gloves.
The Ortles Medium 2 Down Jacket is a warm insulation layer for alpine mountaineering that combines duvet warmth with minimal pack size. Whether used as an insulating mid layer or as an outer layer, the 3D box chamber construction, 730 cuin 90/10 Responsible Down Standard duck down fill and TirolWool® Celliant® hybrid insulation inserts are positioned specifically to provide the right amount of heat retention required by different parts of the body. TirolWool® Celliant® also continues to keep you warm even when it is wet, which is why we use it at the hood, shoulders and cuffs. The lightweight, abrasion-resistant nylon ripstop outer fabric is ideal for alpine use. With a tailored, rear-adjustable hood and high collar for maximum storm protection. Featuring our free motion patterning and ergonomic sleeves and shoulders to prevent hem-lift while climbing. Packs down small into its compression stow bag.
Further details on: salewa.com
Despite its Scandinavian sounding name, Jottnar is a small British company that focuses on functionality and performance. The Fenrir Hooded Down Jacket is no exception with a top-notch spec, plenty of subtle, yet well-designed features, and a superb cut. Unsurprisingly, quality comes at a price: one of the highest on test. The Fenrir is described as providing 'versatile warmth for all occasions' and whilst the jacket performs extremely well for most uses, the addition of a two-way zip would have made it better for belaying with. It's a shame the hood lacks any structure. In most respects this is a fantastic jacket, and in a lightweight group would be at least 'highly recommended' if not 'best in test'. As a lightweight rather than a midweight, it really can't compete for warmth with rivals that have nearly twice as much down. Nevertheless, for non-technical use outside the winter months we would really recommend it.
The first thing we noticed about the Fenrir was its size. The 'small' certainly felt very small, particularly if worn as a belay jacket, so consider sizing up; our reviewer is a small in almost all jackets (by various brands) but would have benefited from a medium in the Fenrir on colder days, where she wanted multiple layers underneath.
That said, despite its relatively small size the cut is exemplary, with limited to no hem lift - remarkable for something so fitted. It's very much designed for active use, with a raised hem around the front of the jacket and a drop hem at the back. The former means it doesn't get in the way whilst you raise your legs, while the latter prevents any cold gaps whilst seated and also makes it less likely to ride up when wearing a backpack. An elastic drawcord provides adjustment in order to maximise or prevent airflow depending on how cold you get.
The Fenrir has a feminine fit, with a fitted waist and room around the bust, and a reasonable width across the shoulders (i.e. not too narrow). The arms have a good length (finally, a women's jacket with long arms!) and have an excellent range of movement, with luxurious elastic cuffs. The latter help keep the snow out yet are wide enough to allow you to keep bulky gloves on.
All-in-all it is clear that a lot of time and attention has been put into getting the fit right and other than sizing (which is easy to compensate for) there isn't a fault to find.
At 250g (women's medium) it is very much down at the lightweight end of the spectrum, coming in well below our official 400-500g weight band. There are obvious pluses and minuses with this - it may be lighter and more packable than the heavyweights in this review, but it definitely isn't as warm. That said, the quality of the fill goes some way to making up for its comparative lightness.
Jottnar's ethos is to use the best quality products, so it's no surprise that they use 850 fill power hydrophobic goose down at a whopping 93/7 down-to-feather ratio. In a size medium, 44% of the weight is down (110g) - a pretty high percentage. The Fenrir also has body-mapped and zoned down with women's-specific patterning for optimal performance. As such, it packs a punch for its relatively meagre weight. Nevertheless, there's a lot less fill in this than some heavier rivals. The use of 'DownTek' water repellent treatment is a bonus in terms of damp weather performance, and for extended use in the snow (over time a non-treated fill will get damp through condensation even if you're using it in sub zero weather).
Jottnar have also added 120g/m2 of synthetic insulation to the cuffs, hem, and neck, which gives a much greater level of water repellency than down (even hydrophobic down). This makes it better suited towards the British climate, insofar as we've got rather a lot of wetter weather.
This jacket features delightfully soft fabrics. A 30 denier windproof/downproof ripstop nylon is used throughout - both inside and out - which is clearly a fine line to tread in terms of durability. That said, we've put the jacket through several months of use and whilst we haven't been Scottish winter climbing in it, it's certainly held up to the use so far. But a heavyweight jacket this is not - be careful.
The stitching and general construction (around the neck and shoulders in particular) is of excellent quality and goes a long way in explaining the price: those curved stitch patterns don't come cheap.
The Fenrir's hood is small, fitted, and designed to be worn under a helmet. There is volume adjustment on the back and, even though there isn't a great deal of volume to adjust, minor tweaks are helpful. However it does tend to sit quite high on the forehead, which is less protective than some designs. Like the cuffs, there's an elasticated rim surrounding the edge, which has a comfortable/non-abrasive feel and also helps to keep the wind out. However, with no structure in the brim, this hood won't perform as well in stormy conditions.
The feature that is most conspicuous by its absence is a two-way zip. Whilst the Fenrir is impressively light, its quality componentry makes it a heavy hitter, which makes it all the more surprising that it lacks a simple two-way zip. Granted, it'd have an impact on weight, but where technical climbing use is concerned - be that summer alpine or Scottish winter - a two-way zip really is useful.
When it comes to pockets the Fenrir has two generously sized handwarmer pockets and an internal pocket for safe storage. The Fenrir also comes with a separate stuff sack included, which is handy for travelling with.
Designed for weight saving without compromising on features, the Fenrir is still stuffed with 850 Fill Power goose down, in a premium 93/7 down/feather ratio for great warmth to weight performance. Our water-repellent down from DownTek™ stays dry 10x longer than untreated down. Unlike inferior versions, our water repellency won't wash out and is free of harmful fluorocarbons. Our ethical approach to down sourcing complies with the Responsible Down Standard. Our women's down jackets include body-mapped and zoned down women's specific patterning for optimal performance.
Scoop drop back hem
For more info see: jottnar.com
The Halo jacket was first introduced in 2010 and since then has gone on to become Crux's biggest selling women's product. This jacket is at the lighter end of this test, it's really not a 'midweight' option, and because of this will not have the same levels of warmth compared to other heavyweights. However, what it lacks in warmth it makes up for in many other areas, like a great fit and plenty of additional features. The New Halo is also a great all-rounder, good for days lounging around at a crag or sticking on as an extra layer on a winter walking day. However much we like it, the weight means that we just can't award it a 'highly recommended' in this midweight review.
Our reviewer usually wears XS-S/size 8, so opted for a small for this review - and the general fit is good. The Halo is long in the body, giving good coverage over the bum, and feels snug. Our reviewer also has a long body compared to her legs, so this is ideal and fits her body shape nicely. It also allows full flexibility of movement, being able to lift the arms overhead and not worry about exposing the midriff.
The Halo weighs 270g in a size M, 120g of which is the down inside. This puts the Halo on the light side for this test, which is also reflected in the fact that it really doesn't compete for warmth with the heavyweights in this review, despite the quality of its fill. However that is a lot of fill for the overall weight of jacket, so warmth:weight is certainly impressive.
Our tester is generally a cold person (with poor temperature regulation!) so when looking for a down jacket has to be sure it will keep her warm even in what others might call milder weather, and yet not overheat when moving. Using 900fp Polish white goose down, this jacket has 10% more down than the men's equivalent. Thanks to the quality of fill here, the highest in the review, the Halo is comparatively warm for a lightweight jacket, and it still holds up in colder temperatures to provide a good amount of warmth without always having to layer up underneath. The Halo provides good shelter from the elements in rougher conditions, as well as on wintry days. When the weather is milder on the hills, we've found it remains quite comfortable over just a baselayer.
The Halo's outer fabric is a 20 denier Pertex Endurance water-resistant shell. This keeps the jacket from getting saturated in light rain, but exposing the jacket to rain for a longer period of time will still cause the outer fabric to soak through. This is typical of most down jackets - they can't withstand a good British downpour!
The face fabric is on the soft side, and quite thin compared to some, but so far has stood up well to some heavy use. That said, we have not yet subjected the jacket to any excessive abrasion through the likes of winter climbing.
The fixed hood has a lycra trim but unfortunately lacks pull cord adjustments. It fits pretty snugly so would need to be worn under a helmet rather than over one. We found the top of the hood sits high on the head, leaving a lot of forehead exposed. For use in wild weather, the fact that there is no structure in the brim has to be considered a big disadvantage, since the hood will tend to flap about in the wind. Overall it is not a great hood for mountain use.
There are two zipped handwarmer pockets and an internal pocket that can turn into a storage bag for the jacket. This is pretty handy if you want to attach it to the outside of your bag or harness for quick access when it becomes cold. It can also neatly fit into a pack.
There is a two-way zip which is handy for harnesses and belaying, but unfortunately we found this zip quite flimsy and have concerns that it won't hold up to extended hard use. There is a zip garage at the top so it keeps the zip away from your chin. All zippers have good grab toggles for winter gloves, and this has proved useful when out on the hills.
Lycra edged cuffs keep wind from blowing up the sleeves and the jacket secure either under or over gloves (depending on the size of the glove). An adjustment toggle at the waist allows the wearer to either bring the waist tight when it's particuarly cold or windy.
The Women's Halo has 10% proportionately more down than the men's equivalent. This new version of the Women's Halo jacket has been updated with a Pertex Endurance water-resistant shell and the hood is now integrated (fixed). We have refined the overall fit by making it slightly more snug and longer in the body. The down quality remains our market-leading 900 fill-power sourced entirely from Poland and guaranteed to be 100% ethically recovered.
To find out more visit: crux.com
The Thorium AR is part of Arc'teryx's all-round line, which seeks to combine the technical design of their alpine gear with more robust materials. Despite a lower fill power and fill weight than most other jackets on test, we were pleasantly surprised by its warmth - though of course it doesn't compete with the insulation heavy hitters in this review. With everyday (and potentially not so everyday) durability in all seasons and conditions, the Thorium has the versatility to cope with anything from mountain adventures to Sunday walks in the Cotswolds. It is relatively expensive, but should be tough enough to last many years. However you don't get a particularly impressive quality or amount of down for the money, and the Thorium looks heavy for the insulation on offer.
The Thorium is cut for a regular fit and in practice this means it's possible to fit two or three layers underneath. It has come out true to size, with a medium fitting various body shapes who would normally wear a size 10/12.
This jacket has a distinct waist and room for hips, with adjustment cord to enable a closer fit. However, due to its large baffles and general cut, it does look on the square side. Though it has a drop hem at the back, the Thorium also lacks the length in the body (and therefore bum coverage) of many other jackets in the test, so is perhaps not the ideal choice for belaying if you have a long torso. The sleeves are a regular length, with a lightly gathered elasticated cuff, and panels and shaping under the arms allow free overhead movement (which fortunately prevents the shortish back from riding up and becoming even shorter!)
The Thorium weighs in at 419g in a size medium and is lighter than you would expect to look at it. Warmth is good, despite a relatively low down fill weight, though warmth for overall weight is not as impressive as some lighter jackets with higher fill power down.
The Thorium has a proportionately low fill of 105g of 750fp goose down, distributed only in the sleeves and around the body. This isn't the highest quality down, so despite the wide baffles it doesn't loft (or compress) as well as the higher fill powers in the test. However,despite the relatively low fill weight percentage, the down is targeted to where the warmth is needed.
As part of this 'down composite mapping' system, the hood is insulated with Coreloft 140 synthetic fibres, while the cuffs and underarms are Coreloft 80. The theory here is to use synthetic in high-moisture areas to maintain warmth and performance, and in practice we've found this works pretty well.
A super warm duvet jacket this is not, but with the down in the right places in combination with a tough weatherproof outer, our testers were comfortable in most conditions, only really suffering on a static winter belay.
Updated with something called Arato, a 30 denier nylon face fabric, this is one darn tough jacket. Short of accidentally setting fire to yourself or having a terrible accident with an ice axe, the outer is bombproof! It is also treated with a DWR finish, and this is noticeable in wet conditions, repelling water more readily than most other down jackets we have seen, while snow just slides off. The fine weave also helps protect from the elements, keeping wind out, and all the more importantly, down in.
The hood is one of the Coreloft 140 synthetic insulation zones of the Thorium. This has proved useful in wetter conditions, and during testing we haven't noticed any discernible lack of warmth from not having down here. The downside (no pun intended – Ed) is that the hood is less compressible, so doesn't work under a helmet. This hood is also too low profile to work over a helmet, and requires strategic ponytail placement to cinch down close enough around the face to provide significant coverage in wilder mountain conditions. The single toggle adjustment is easy to operate in gloves. It also has a comfy soft lined collar and is stiff enough not to get knocked around by the wind.
The Thorium comes with the standard three pockets – two handwarmer and one inside chest with integrated stuff sack. In keeping with the solid fabrics and all-round build quality, the YKK zip pulls are tough and can be (wo)manhandled in winter gloves. The main zip also has a chin guard and wind flap. It isn't two-way, but the shorter body length means belaying is plausible without one.
The 2.5L integrated stuff sack isn't the most compact of carrying options so you are unlikely to want to drag it up a technical pitch on your harness. However, since it is made of the same 30 denier fabric as the shell, we've found it tough enough for the leader to drop a rope and haul it up to the belay without any appreciable damage.
Exceptionally versatile, hardwearing and warm, the Thorium AR Hoody performs as a cold weather midlayer and as a standalone. The Thorium's regular fit is streamlined and layers easily under a hardshell in cold conditions. Lofty 750 fill European grey goose down gives incredible warmth for little weight, is durably resilient, and packs easily. The outer is updated with durable and subtly textured Arato™ 30 nylon. This lightweight material withstands abrasion, packs compactly and has a DWR finish to repel moisture. Arc'teryx Down Composite Mapping technology combines the goose down insulation with panels of Coreloft™ synthetic insulation in the hood, cuffs and under the arms, areas prone to moisture. Down is used in the sleeves and around the body's core. The Thorium is equipped with a synthetically insulated Stormhood™, two zippered pockets secure small essentials and updated to include an internal zipper pocket with a stuff sack. Redesign updates the face fabric to the durable and subtly textured Arato™ 30 and concealed zippered hand pockets.
For more info see: arcteryx.com
It may be edging towards the very expensive end of the spectrum, but the Neutrino Pro is a refined offering from Rab, with plenty of high quality hydrophobic fill, a nice long cut and some excellent details. This is one of the heavier jackets on test here, coming in above our 400-500g criteria. Thus it's also one of the warmest. As a result it's not a great all rounder, being too much for summer use - however it's a good snug refuge for chilly bridge season crags, winter on the UK's hills, and trips to the alps and beyond. This is a great choice if you feel the cold, and more than up to some serious mountain use too.
For real cold weather use, the Neutrino would take joint first place with the ME Sigma. It does test the definition of 'midweight' but you get a lot of jacket for the money, so on that basis 'highly recommended' is well deserved.
Our reviewer switches between size 12 and 14 depending on the brand's typical fit. In this case we went for a 14, anticipating using the Neutrino Pro belay jacket-style, worn on top of several other layers in winter conditions and on chilly summits. Accounting for the fact that the size is thus fairly generous, the overall fit still seems on the loose side. There is plenty of room in here for other layers, and the cut should accommodate women with broader shoulders/larger hips. Hem length is generous too, giving plenty of weather protection around the waist and dropping at the rear to provide nice snug bum coverage. It's not as fitted or flattering as some though - you do feel a bit of a Michelin Man in it!
The sleeves are good and long too, so you don't get a cold wrist when reaching up. The part-elasticated cuffs are wide enough to fit easily over bulky ski gloves, while the adjustment tab gives you a closer fit here if you need it.
At 572g (size 14), plus 18g for the stuff sack, the Neutrino Pro is beyond our midweight range, and at the heavy duty end of the all-rounder category. You are however getting a lot of jacket for the weight, so if you're anticipating colder conditions then this is definitely one to consider.
With 800 fill power goose down, the Neutrino Pro has a high quality fill which lofts really well, and compresses readily when you want to pack the jacket away. You get a lot of down for your money, a full 200g of it in a size 12 jacket, and with this in mind (along with the general cut) the Neutrino Pro is one of the warmer duvets in this review. Rab suggest it'd be good for Kilimanjaro, or winter in the Alps below 4000 metres. While we haven't used it in either of these settings, it has certainly proved itself really snug over the winter in Scotland. We think the warmth and fill weight on offer here is well-judged for a warmer duvet, so if you feel the cold this would be a good choice as a belay or mountain refuge. Usefully, Rab have used water resistant-treated down here (a fluorocarbon-free Nikwax treatment), and the fact that this gives it a serious performance advantage in damp conditions adds to the Neutrino Pro's versatility.
On the outside is Pertex Quantum Pro, a very light and thin fabric that offers high levels of water and wind resistance while still remaining breathable enough for comfort. This is enough to shrug off some light drizzle, or the odd drip if you're mucking about on ice, while the level of wind resistance on offer here does make you feel warmer and better protected when you're out in less friendly conditions. The fact that the outer feels this weatherproof really boosts the Neutrino Pro's credentials as a serious mountain jacket; we think you could wear it on an alpine belay, for instance, without being troubled by a bit of spindrift. This fabric may be light, but it doesn't feel so thin that we've been unduly worried about snags and tears. Inside, meanwhile, it's a softer Pertex Quantum. This feels nice next to the skin, and more importantly it's made light enough to allow the down inside to loft to its heart's content.
The hood is sized to accommodate a helmet, and there's no restriction to head movement even with the collar zipped up full, so the Neutrino Pro works well as a belay jacket. The hood also cinches down effectively onto a helmet-less head - the best of both worlds really. Adjustment is via a tab at the rear, plus two side toggles. These are concealed in the edge of the hood, which compared to traditional external adjusters makes them both neater and easier to operate when wearing gloves - it's one of those little touches that help give the Neutrino Pro a real quality feel. There's a bit of a peak to help keep the weather out of your eyes, and this has a stiffened brim so that the hood holds its shape in high wind - a big bonus for winter/mountain use versus jackets with a soft hood. When not needed the hood also rolls away, secured with a velcro flap.
The two fleece-lined zipped hand pockets are large enough to hold ski gloves; you also get a zipped inner pocket, which is a good place to carry your phone. Many mountain jackets these days feature inner mesh pockets for keeping gloves warm when you're belaying; given the Neutrino Pro's mountain credentials it's a bit of a surprise that it doesn't, though we've not suffered from their lack as yet. This jacket is too big to stash into one of its own pockets, but a stuff sack is provided, which makes for a compact bundle when you're carrying it in your pack. You could also hang it from your harness - a clip loop is provided.
The YKK Vislon main zip is chunky and robust; it also has a double zipper for easier belay loop access, and it's backed with an insulated draught-excluding flap that has been ever so slightly stiffened to help prevent snags - another of those little touches that set the jacket apart from some of its rivals. Down at the hem, the adjustment toggles can be operated one-handed; they're also tucked up out of the way for a neater finish.
If you're taking on the likes of Kilimanjaro, or planning alpine ascents, the Women's Neutrino Pro is the lightweight down-filled mountain jacket that will take you from basecamp to the summit and back. A technical mountain jacket suitable for winter alpine conditions up to 4000m, the Women's Neutrino Pro uses weather-resistant Pertex® Quantum Pro outer fabric deals with spindrift and snow. 800 fill power of ethically-sourced hydrophobic down locks in the warmth. The helmet-compatible down filled hood features a wired peak, and concealed adjusters. A two-way front zip with synthetic insulated baffle behind maximises warmth, and an internal zipped security pocket keeps the essentials safe. Lightweight and packable, with a stuff sack included, the Women's Neutrino Pro offers warmth, comfort and protection from the weather whenever you need it.
For more info see: rab.equipment
One of the more technical mountain-oriented duvets on test here, the Mountain Equipment Sigma has a female-specific, active cut and blends the ability to move unhindered with quality insulation and protection from the elements. It's best suited to colder seasons, but still versatile enough that it can be used for a range of activities in varying conditions. The face fabric is highly water resistant, which makes up for the lack of hydrophobic down. It's a fantastic go-to piece for when conditions are less than ideal and would definitely be slugging it out for best in test in a heavyweight class.
For real cold weather use, the Sigma would take joint first place with the Rab Neutrino. It does test the definition of 'midweight' but you get a lot of jacket for the money, so on that basis 'highly recommended' is well deserved.
The Sigma has a snug, athletic fit. Our reviewer usually wears a size 8 (XS) in other jackets and whilst this jacket is a tight fit, it retains a good range of movement. It is longer at the back to cover the bum and the cut around the waist stays down when lifting the arms, which is perfect for climbing. The elasticated velcro cuffs also fit over large ski gloves.
The cut works well worn with a top and a thick base layer underneath, but is tight around the hips and we would recommend trying the next size up for someone with a larger chest or if wanting to wear more layers.
In a size 8, the jacket weighs 490g inside the stuff sack, which is on the heavier side of the jackets in this review. Indeed in a standard M/size 12, it is above the official top end of our weight class. However, with the snug athletic fit and the extra warmth that comes with the weight, it seems like a reasonable trade-off.
The Sigma's goose down has a fill power of 800, meaning it's very warm and also packs down nicely when shoving it in a bag, yet lofts out again when released. In a size 12 you get 201g of down, which is nearly twice as much as some competitors in this review. As a result this jacket is more a heavyweight than a mid weight. It's also a lot warmer than some of the competition, which of course has pros and cons depending what you want to do with it. This jacket packs more of a punch than many heavier down duvets on the market, so for those expecting cold conditions it is a very good option. The down fill has also been zoned differently across the baffles, so you get more insulation where most needed.
Mountain Equipment has worked with the same goose down supply chain for the past ten years, which also adds confidence as to the quality and ethics of the down.
The Sigma's Drilite water-resistant fabric goes a long way to make up for the fact that it doesn't have hydrophobic down. This is very weatherproof stuff; at a full 30 denier, it's also significantly thicker and tougher than the outer fabrics used on some other jackets on review. Like the Arc'teryx Thorium, moisture still beads on the fabric and shows no sign of wear after months of regular use. However, the bright orange does make it difficult to have an inconspicuous wild wee!
The hood is well insulated and baffled and can comfortably fit a helmet underneath. There is no drawstring at the back, but a high neck and adjustable cords at the front suffice. It is also easy to adjust with large gloves on. When looking from side-to-side with the hood up and a helmet on, there is a great range of movement, and the brim holds its shape in tough conditions. A fab mountain hood!
Pull strings at the bottom allow you to adjust the front, sides or rear of the coat separately and they are easy to use when wearing gloves. Adjustments at the cuffs make them compatible with even large ski gloves.
The pockets are a good size and have front-facing insulation to help keep hands warm when belaying or standing still for prolonged periods. There is also an internal mesh pocket which is useful for keeping gloves or valuables warm and dry.
A tough two-way YKK front zip means this is a great jacket to belay in.
A leading light in modern alpinism; the Sigma 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 active alpine cut and a grown-on Half Dome hood to give complete upper body insulation.
Fit: active cut
For further info visit: mountain-equipment.co.uk
The L3* Down Hoodie is part of The North Face's performance Summit Series, designed as "the ultimate alpine midlayer" with a focus on unrestricted freedom of movement. A lightweight interloper in this test group, the L3 offers high loft warmth-for-weight and is excellent for active use in cold winter conditions where the shiny face fabric sheds snow brilliantly. Though it has serious techy credentials, this is definitely not an all-round jacket that you can also use in wet British/Alpine conditions! It works really well with a pack or a harness and minimal features keep the weight down, so save the L3 for fast and light.
*L3 = third layer in a six-layer mountain system (men) or five-layer mountain system (women) (Hmmm...! - Ed.)
The L3 represents the midway point of cut in this test - lightly shaped around the waist but not super fitted. This allows it to function well as an active midlayer/ transition extra layer by leaving a bit of space for warm air to be trapped but also having enough shape not to create annoying bulges when worn underneath a harness or a pack.
The North Face's online sizing guide is clear and a size medium was what we expected. The fit works as either a midlayer over just a baselayer, or as a duvet jacket over two or three layers. Two hidden button cinchers at the front hem control fit, with the elastic tails drawn into the pockets to keep them out of the way.
Interestingly, the sleeves are very long for the size, much more suitable length for the six-foot tester than the 5'7" one, so perhaps a good option for those with a positive ape index. The cut also enables you to have full overhead arm movement without restricting your shoulders or creating cold gaps around the hips. Indeed, the back length of this jacket is very good, enabling decent bum coverage both standing and sitting.
Like the Jottnar Fenrir and Crux Halo, the TNF L3 at 324g (M) is technically a lightweight jacket, which is a bit under-filled to perfectly meet our 'midweight' criterion. Weight savings come from high quality down, lightweight fabric and minimal features, which we will cover below. But however good the fill, there's less of it and thus these lighter jackets simply aren't as warm as the fatties.
This is purely a down fill, with no extra synthetic component. Thanks to the quality, it is cosy, warm and very light. As befits a lightweight technical alpine jacket, the L3 is filled with high spec 800fp goose down, a match in terms of quality for some of the heavyweights in this review and only exceeded in fill power by the Crux Halo and Jottnar Fenrir. This combines with a thin outer face fabric which encourages air flow to result in very fluffy lofty down that packs very high warmth for its weight. We also found that it compresses very small yet is quick to regain loft and volume after compression. However you only get 130g of fill in a size M jacket, and while that's a bit more than the real lightweights in this review, it's still a lot less than some heavier - and thus warmer - rivals.
With such a thin outer fabric we expected some escaping feathers during the testing period, but haven't found any yet – perhaps a result of the high down-to-feather ratio? Medium-sized baffles distribute the down well and there are no noticeable cold spots. It is not clear whether TNF treat their down with any kind of hydrophobic coating, but for reasons explained below, the down is not well protected in wet conditions.
Barely-there 10-denier nylon fabric is part of the L3's lightweight proposition, and as a result is very hard to compare with the generally tougher fabrics found in the true midweight jackets as it is significantly less tough and prone to snagging. The main difference apart from weight is that this is a very shiny jacket! The functionality here is that the surface is exceptionally good at shedding dry snow – it just slides off. The shiny fabric is also surprisingly "quiet" but does have the downside that the inside can get clingy if you build up sweat inside, which isn't really in keeping with its purpose as an alpine midlayer. DWR coating gives a measure of water repellence, but all in all this won't keep the wet stuff out for very long.
Despite its simple functionality, this is one of the better mountain hoods on test. The collar is high giving excellent lower face coverage, and the elasticated taping can expand to over the significant bulk of a ski helmet, yet fit equally snugly round your face. This kept a good seal against wind and snow on test in the Alps. It is down filled so warm, and can also be worn neatly under a helmet. Because of the way it is shaped, when not in use it sits tidily out of the way. A single cincher toggle at the back reduces volume for a snugger fit.
Pocket-wise, the L3 is a very simple proposition, since it lacks the usual inside chest pocket (if you see any product info to the contrary, TNF have acknowledged that this is a mistake). Conversely, the two hand pockets are definitely real, with zips and position meaning that they are accessible under a harness or pack. These zips and the main zip are robust and free-running, though perhaps the lightweight cord pulls are a bit small for winter gloves. Another lightweight feature that is a minor inconvenience is the absence of a hanging loop inside the jacket, so we took to hanging it from its hood toggle to avoid wear on the hood/collar.
The elasticated cuffs are simple but effective, and can easily be shoved down into gloves. It is much harder to pull the jacket on over bulky gloves though, so be prepared to take them off at transitions.
The jacket stows in its own pocket (a bit of a struggle for the first few times, but gets better as the seams relax) in a long thin pocket rather than the more conventional oblong of the BD Forge. This is weighted well, so that it hangs unobtrusively on a harness from its clip loop, and can easily be deployed on a belay. Equally, you can squish it into the gaps in your pack as it is very compressible.
The ultimate alpine mid layer, this lightweight, 800 fill down jacket delivers exceptional warmth with unrestricted freedom of movement.
More information on: thenorthface.co.uk
A true midweight, the Anti Freeze feels reasonably warm for its weight, and offers lots of body coverage - particularly over the bum and in the hood - and has plenty of features. It's good for active pursuits, chilly bouldering, as an outer layer for belaying and, due to its attractive appearance, for wearing around town. While the insulation is not up there with the higher fill powers of some others on test, you do get plenty of it. We like the price too! In this midweight category, we felt the combination of cut, fill, features and price make the Anti Freeze hard to beat.
This jacket fits better than most our reviewer has tried in the past; it is fairly snug without being restrictive, and there are no areas which are too baggy or too tight. The long, cinchable hem at the front fits nicely over a harness and the pronounced drop hem gives way more length at the rear than most jackets in the review. A warm bum is a warmer wearer! It also means that there is no danger of the jacket lifting over your waist when you lift your arms. Articulated arms also help with this, and the overall cut means it is a great jacket to wear for active use in colder conditions. Additionally, it has good long sleeves with elasticated cuffs, although, like many jackets on test, the sleeves don't have adjustment tabs so they're a bit tight to fit over bulky gloves. All in all these factors help to keep the wind out and the warmth in.
The Montane Anti Freeze is listed as 463g in Size 10 on their website; in size 14 it came out as 485g on the scales, so that sounds about right. In terms of this review it is bang on for our midweight criteria, and feels pretty warm for the weight too.
The Anti Freeze has a very generous 190g (size 12) of 90/10 water resistant fluorocarbon-free HyperDRY down with a 750+ fill power. That's a fair bit of fill (nearly as much as the Rab and ME jackets) for your money, though the fill power is not up there with the highest in this review. However, as one of the true midgweights in the test, the Anti Freeze does still feel warm for its weight and doesn't feel bulky. It's also useful that the down is water resistant as the outer of the jacket isn't particularly waterproof; although we have found the jacket tends to take on water when caught out in the rain, the down hasn't been affected, presumably due to its HyperDRY coating. If you are using it in the UK, or up big snowy mountains, that's an advantage over jackets with an untreated fill.
The jacket does shed the occasional feather and this was most noticeable when the jacket was new. The down seems to loft pretty well after packing the jacket, and it stows down nice and small.
The Anti Freeze has a Pertex Quantum 20 denier nylon rip-stop outer with a DWR, and a rip-stop nylon lining. The outer of the Anti Freeze keeps weight down but, as mentioned above, is not particularly water resistant or tough. Water doesn't bead on the jacket, rather it soaks in. This isn't great for a jacket with a DWR finish. As a down jacket it isn't meant to be waterproof but others are a lot more weather resistant so in this case it's best to put something else on top if you get caught out in the rain whilst wearing the Anti Freeze - you don't want all that lovely down getting soaked!
The fabric has a nice metallic tinge to the colouring. There have been no issues with the fabric ripping or tearing despite extended use which is nice as there's nothing worse than losing your feathers through an unwanted hole.
The hood is helmet compatible, and a three point adjustment system means it can be tightened to be very snug on a helmet-free head. In fact it provides a lot of face coverage. It feels like there is plenty of down in the hood which makes it nice and warm. It has a soft fleecy lining around the chin too, which is always a welcome feature. You can also roll the hood away if it's not needed, and there's a stiff peak to keep out the elements and help the hood hold its shape when it's blowing a gale. Overall we think this is a great hood for mountain/belaying use.
For belaying, a nice feature of the Anti Freeze is its two-way zip, which makes it easier to access the front of your harness. That said you could also easily fit a harness over the top, as the jacket is slim enough.
There are also lots of handy pockets on the Anti Freeze - the two main pockets and the chest pocket are spacious and zipped (and the hand pockets are fleece lined) and there is an internal mesh pocket to store your gloves (or sandwiches).
It comes with a waterproof dry bag too, in which the jacket can be squashed small and easily clipped to a harness.
Versatile cold conditions mid-layer and stand-alone belay jacket engineered for an exceptional to weight ratio and increased packability utilising 750+ fill water resistant fluorocarbon-free HyperDRY™ down.
Fit: Active Mountain
Find out more at: montane.co.uk
A good all-rounder, with a decent quantity of mid-quality down fill, the Phantac seems sufficient for most UK winter situations, while remaining light enough for use in spring and autumn. With a slightly basic feel, it lacks the finesse of some higher priced alternatives, and it's a definite step down in terms of insulating performance too. However it is clearly a genuine midweight while the warmer alternatives mostly aren't. The price is good, and likewise the fit, which we think is both flattering and practical.
The Phantac feels like it has been cut for movement, with some articulation in the sleeves, and not a lot of hem lift when raising your arms. On our reviewer the shape is reasonably flattering - inasmuch as any puffy duvet can be - but at the same time there's sufficient room underneath for a few thinner layers. There is plenty of length in the sleeves, but a bit less so in the hem, where the Phantac is cut shorter than some other jackets in this review. We noticed this in particular at the rear, where there's less of a dropped hem and thus less bum coverage. Its shorter length equates to less warmth and weather protection around the midriff; Alpkit could have boosted the performance a little by simply adding an inch or two to the body.
Its elastic cuffs have the virtue of simplicity, but they can feel a little uncomfy against a bare wrist, and they are cut on the tight side too, making them comparatively harder to slip over a bulky winter glove.
Weighing 472g in a size 12 (Alpkit say 480g), the Phantac is pretty much spot on in terms of our definition of a midweight down jacket.
Its 750 fill power goose down is a decent enough quality to pack some proper winter performance, but doesn't quite match the 800-900 fp alternatives in terms of loft and warmth-for-weight. Nevertheless it lofts well, and we think it's more than fair for the comparatively modest price of the Phantac. You get a good amount of it too, with 200g in a size 12 jacket. Alpkit have gone for a water-resistant-treated down, which means the jacket should stay warmer for longer in damp conditions - and for year-round use in the UK that is a definite advantage over rival models using non-treated down.
Use of generic non-branded fabrics may help account for the Phantac's comparatively affordable price. On the outside it's a 15 denier ripstop nylon, which is a lower count than a lot of the opposition. This isn't as soft and luxurious as some jackets, and it has a bit of a crinkly 'crisp packet' feel and sound. However, despite being thin it's clearly tough enough for long-term use, and the Phantac doesn't need handling with kid gloves. A water repellent treatment boosts the jacket's weather performance, and combined with the hydrophobic fill we think this gives the Phantac an edge in damp conditions. The inside lining has a softer, less crinkly feel - as you'd hope.
While it is sized to fit over a helmet, the cut of the hood is not quite as roomy as some, and the helmet compatibility is a little less convincing as a result. When worn over a helmet, with the zip done up full, freedom of movement does lack somewhat. Nevertheless it does work well enough for belay duty. With three points of adjustment, the hood also fits well onto a helmet-less head - which, let's face it, is going to be most of the time in a jacket like this. The elastic tails are channelled inside the jacket to emerge right down in the hand pockets, so there's no danger of getting whipped in the face by them in a high wind. However, we did discover that it's possible to ping yourself in the chest if you accidentally let go while tightening (on balance the face might actually be preferable!) On the subject of breeze, the brim of the Phantac's hood is completely unstructured, and even if you cinch it right down it's liable to catch the wind and flap.
The two zipped hand pockets are big enough for gloves, and positioned high enough to be out of the way of a harness or rucksack hipbelt, if you should ever find yourself climbing or hiking while wearing the jacket (not often - it's a duvet!). You also get a single inside zipped phone-sized pocket; this is a piece of the external fabric stitched onto the inner, which we do think is a bit of a cheap look. Also a little 'basic' are the two large mesh inside glove pockets, which don't scream sophisticated quality. They work though - this is an ideal place for keeping gloves or rock shoes warm.
The Phantac has a chunky, durable YKK Vislon two-way zip giving easier harness access when belaying in the cold. This is backed with a decent-sized draught excluding baffle, which boasts a nice anti-snag strip (a zip that always catches in the fabric is a real pain). For comfort, you get a soft brushed chin guard. The hem adjustment cords and all external zips include glove-friendly tags.
Uber warm and packable hydrophobic hooded down jacket for climbing and mountaineering with 750 fill power hydrophobic goose down. If you're going the distance with that Alpine start, you may as well be wearing a jacket designed to go the distance too…Phantac is a warm and lightweight fortress against the cold, made for mountaineering and alpinism. It works well layered under the Definition waterproof shell.
For more info visit: alpkit.com
With 700fp down, and coming in at the lighter end of the midweight group, the Forge was never going to be the warmest option on offer. But assuming you're not out somewhere properly cold then practicality and packability may trump extreme warmth here; you can climb in it, pack it up small, throw it around and it performs very well (for down) in the wet. If you're looking for a good active piece for when you're on the move or an extra layer for bridge seasons, this is a great (and well-priced) option.
The Forge is one of the more active cut jackets in the test group, and like the Ortles 2 Medium and the Anti Freeze it is a jacket that you can genuinely climb in.
A size medium fits a long-bodied size 12 reviewer comfortably over two layers. With room for hips and shoulders, there is also a discernable waist to the jacket and anatomical shaping courtesy of darts and panels. There isn't as much back length and bum coverage as other jackets so it is not the best option for standing around or belaying. One or two extra baffles at the back would have been lovely. The flipside of this is that it fits nicely under a harness. Decent length sleeves and underarm gussets give a good range of overhead reach and ensure that the back doesn't get shortened even further by being pulled up! A single pull-cord adjustment on the hem provides cinching options, but we've found that this isn't needed as the jacket is already fitted enough to seal in warmth.
At 401g (size 12) this is just within our midweight category.
With 700fp goose down, the Forge has the lowest fill power in the group, which accounts for its relatively modest price. As a result it definitely lacks the warmth to weight of the other jackets. Small baffles prevent cold spots but mechanically minimise lofting opportunities - this is one of the denser feeling jackets in the test. We were not able to confirm the fill weight, but it might be a little less than advertised as a few feathers leaked in the first trip, though this has since settled down (no pun intended).
However, the down's DWR treatment is seriously good, holding up a long time in actual rain before feeling soaked in, and then still maintaining a good level of warmth when wet through, which is seriously useful in British conditions.
As its name suggests, the Forge is ready to deal with heavy duty situations. The standard 20 denier ripstop nylon shell is treated with DWR finish and isn't particularly soft or comfortable, but neither is it sweaty or crinkly. The DWR finish seems better than most, and combined with treated down, the Forge deals pretty well with being wet (as down jackets go!) which we have been grateful for on many a damp belay. The shell fabric has proved tough in testing and notably the jacket is lined with the same fabric, meaning this toughness is transferred to carrying mode - when the jacket is flipped into its own pocket it doesn't get too grated on the back of your harness. It is also pretty breathable, as suits its active credentials.
The Forge has a helmet-compatible hood and volume is adjusted easily by a single cinch cord.
On a helmetless head, cinching achieves decent coverage across the forehead. With a helmet on, a wide opening makes for great sideways visibility and mobility around neck and shoulders, but does leave rather a lot of your face exposed if the weather really comes in, a slight oversight in what is otherwise a great all-weather option. Perhaps a deeper collar/chin guard would help!
Pocket-wise, the Forge scores pretty highly with two handwarmer pockets, a chest pocket and internal drop mesh pockets. The latter are great for gloves and would potentially take skins/climbing shoes. (Due to the cut, if you are wanting to put climbing shoes in your pocket we recommend you size up, although in conditions where you would want to warm shoes, this definitely isn't the jacket for waiting around in, so probably irrelevant!)
The handwarmer pockets are accessible with a pack or harness, and have a fabric flap concealing the zip that keeps in warmth. All zips are pleasingly robust, though the zip pulls are a little fiddly in big gloves.
The Forge stows into its own pocket (easily the best packing experience in the test) and comes with a clip loop to attach to your harness. This ease of packing also makes it a great 'just in case' layer.
Quickly deployed on north-facing rock routes, blustery alpine ridgelines and cold mornings in camp, the Black Diamond Forge Hoody is a highly packable insulation piece featuring 700-fill, RDS® certified down that is DWR-treated for added weather resistance. Featuring a climbing helmet-compatible hood for added coverage and gusseted underarms for added range of motion when climbing in cold conditions, the Forge also has single-pull cord adjusters on the hood and the hem to seal out chilly air. When the sun hits or it's time to climb, the Forge stows inside its chest pocket and clips to your harness with an integrated carabiner clip loop.
Find out more at: blackdiamondequipment.com
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