Black Diamond Dawn Patrol LT Shell (2015)

Features

The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol LT Shell is made for durability with Schoeller stretch woven nylon, which lacks a membrane so it is very breathable but resists wind. Nanosphere technology enhances its ability to shed water. The design has a hood with a stiffened peak, a chest pocket and two hip pockets that are a bit low for easy access while wearing a rucksack. The weight of 614g is tolerable but not ideal. 4/5

Fit

The men’s sizes are XS-XL and the women’s sizes are XS-XL with the fit being averagely close while allowing a thin fleece to be worn underneath. The fit of the sleeves is exceptionally good, with the hem and cuffs not budging when raising arms. The cuffs have Velcro tab adjustment too. The hood fits and moves with the head exceptionally well. 5/5

Comfort

The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol LT Shell is not the warmest option as it doesn’t have that pile finish of some, but it is very comfortable in a wider range of temperatures and can be worn effectively over insulating layers or under waterproofs as it is very breathable. It is a soft fabric too, so it doesn’t restrict movement or feel bulky. The fabric is stretchier than most so it’s ideal for climbing and comfort. 5/5

In use

The drawback is the hip pockets, which are too low to allow easy access when wearing any sort of hipbelt or climbing harness. The chest pocket is good and larger than most, so it just about takes an OS map. The hood peak isn’t wired and is quite large, but it is stiffened and didn’t distort as badly as some; however a wired peak would ensure better vision. 4/5

Value

The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol LT Shell’s price seems high as feature-wise it is similar to others or in some cases it has fewer features, so the price is hard to accept. 2/5

Verdict

The Black Diamond Dawn Patrol LT Shell offers good year-round performance and some excellent features, but other models offer similar benefits at lower prices. 4.0/5

Review by Graham Thompson

First published in Trail magazine September 2015

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Fjallraven Pro-Lite (2015)

Even though it’s called Lite, this is a full-on, heavy-duty soft shell that is so robust it actually crinkles. The first thing you might notice are the colossal but cleverly-placed pockets. The zips run vertically up both sides of the upper torso, making the pockets accessible even with a rucksack on and big enough to take an OS map (each!). I particularly like the hood, which is well-shaped and very adjustable, with a soft sleeve around the drawcord which stops the cord rubbing and feels lovely as it strokes your forehead. The jacket is made with a lighter version of Fjällräven’s G-1000 fabric (though it is still pretty heavy), so if you rub Greenland wax into it, it should become a full waterproof, making it a potential money-saver. It’s on the heavy side for a soft shell, but it’s meant to function as a tough outer layer, so you may conclude that the trade-off is worthwhile.

Specification

Weight: 456g

Fabric: Fjällräven G-1000 Lite

Colours: Beige, blue, olive, cork

Women’s version: Yes

Contact: 02392 528711

www.fjallraven.co.uk

Verdict

Not light, but a tough, reliable windproof jacket which adapts well to any kind of walk.

Originally reviewed by Nick Hallissey in Country Walking April 2015

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Black Diamond BDV (2015)

Black Diamond are probably better known in this country for accessories (in particular their walking poles) than clothing. But you will see more and more of their jackets hitting UK stores this spring, and the BDV (which stands for Black Diamond Vertical) is a perfect example of their innovative approach. It’s a robust, slim-cut jacket that feels fantastic as both mid-layer and outer. The secret is the Schoeller stretch-woven fabric, which is supple, flexible, highly abrasion-resistant and very breathable. It also beads nicely in the rain and dries out quickly afterwards. That’s a fairly magical mix, especially on a high-level or long-distance walk. There’s super-soft fleece lining around the neck and chin, and a decent-sized chest pocket for phone or GPS. No other pockets, though: this is a functional jacket for rucksack wearers, rather than an everyday throw-on.

Specification

Weight: 392g

Fabric: Schoeller soft shell C

olours: Black, red, green

Women’s version: Yes (Dawn Patrol)

Contact: 01572 772436

www.ellis-brigham.com

Verdict

A tough, flexible, breathable jacket that is great for hill-walks and long-distance hiking. 

Originally reviewed by Nick Hallissey in Country Walking April 2015

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First test: Fjällräven Keb Loft Jacket (2014)

When the thermometer goes negative, down insulation is what most of us turn to. But down loses some of its insulating performance when wet, making it less than ideal for the UK; and it’s pricy.

Recently, outdoor brands have tried to make synthetic insulation as efficient as down, and the latest attempt comes from Fjällräven. G-Loft Supreme is a synthetic fibre that promises to feel like down while offering exceptionally high insulating ability even when wet. It was developed in Austria, and Fjällräven has exclusive use of it until 2024. The unique blend of hollow and super-thin polyester fibres has a natural ‘cluster’-forming ability, similar to that achieved by high-quality down. It is this that allows G-Loft Supreme to create lots of small pockets of air to provide higher levels of insulation than other synthetics. Thanks to the use of 10 per cent recycled material, the fibres also have a good ‘memory’ capacity that allows them to be compressed and then spring back to their fluffy form, say when a jacket is unpacked from a rucksack. Like all synthetic insulation, G-Loft Supreme is also quick-drying and easy to wash, two areas where down is far more challenging to care for.

In the UK G-Loft Supreme is used in the Keb Loft Jacket, inside a polyester inner and outer with Fjällräven’s G-1000 reinforcement around the hem, pocket openings and under the main stormflap for greater durability in these areas. There is a front zip, and that stormflap has press studs to keep it in place. There are two zipped pockets that are large enough for OS maps, although these aren’t high enough to access easily if wearing a rucksack. The cuffs are elasticated and have no adjustment. On the inside are two mesh stretch stash pockets. Our sample weighed 405g (size men’s L), but Fjällräven says the production version will weigh 436g due to having slightly more insulation inside.

The Fjällräven Keb Loft is not the most well-insulated jacket I have worn, making it less useful for really cold conditions than some down jackets. But it does offer a good medium level of insulation for general outdoor use, such as when camping at valley level. I’d want something warmer for sitting around in the snow, but the insulation is ideal for something you’d carry in your pack most days throughout winter in the Lakes and throw it on to take the chill off a summit brew.

I prefer all insulated jackets to have a hood, because if it’s cold enough for extra insulation in winter then it’s cold enough for a proper hood – so it’s disappointing that this model does not have one.

At £195 the Fjällräven Keb Loft Jacket is right at the top of the price range for this type of garment, but it’s a good weight due to the highly efficient G-Loft Supreme insulation.

Specifications:
Outer polyester, G1000 reinforcement
Insulation G-Loft Supreme synthetic
Weight (size men’s L) 436g
Sizes XS-XXL (men’s): XXS-XL (women’s)

Verdict
G-Loft Supreme is a great new insulation, but I’d like to see it featured in a jacket with a hood to make it really useful for colder, breezier UK conditions. If you don’t want a hood the Fjällräven Keb Loft Jacket is a great lightweight product and it compares well with numerous other synthetic insulation jackets.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine December 2014

 



First test: Sherpa Nangpala Down Jacket (2014)

The traditional and well-proven choice for top-quality insulation has been down, gathered from geese. However, as down loses some of its insulating performance when wet, synthetic fibres are often used instead, which perform better than down when wet, but are heavier and less compact. This is not ideal, say when carrying an insulated jacket in your rucksack. So over recent years manufacturers have been exploring ways to squeeze a little more performance out of down – even when it is wet.

The most recent development is Primaloft Gold Insulation Down Blend. This sounds like the naming process took place over a cup of Nescafé, but it is actually the world’s first hybrid insulation. The material combines water-resistant down fibres with synthetic fibres, so you get the best of both options. The Sherpa Nangpala Hooded Down Jacket is the first jacket in the UK to use this new fibre, and it could set new standards for staying warm in the winter months.

To produce Gold Insulation Down Blend, Primaloft takes 750 fill power goose down and gives it a fluorocarbon-free treatment to improve its water resistance, which results in the down drying four times faster than untreated down. This down is then bonded to synthetic fibres, which can withstand up to 10 machine wash cycles. The result is a hybrid insulation that comprises 70 per cent water-resistant down and 30 per cent Primaloft synthetic fibres. This is said to be as warm as 750 fill power goose down, yet it absorbs water ten times slower than 100 per cent down. It also dries four times faster than a pure down fill, while also being able to retain 95 per cent of its warmth even when wet – making it very hot property.

As stated, this new Primaloft insulation is used in the Sherpa Nangpala Hooded Down Jacket – but as always it is the attention to detail that is important when choosing outdoor gear. On the jacket you are getting a water-resistant ripstop outer, with a tight weave to ensure the insulation is protected from moisture and cannot escape through the material. The insulation is captured within a stitched-through box wall construction, and there is a good amount of insulation packed into each section to ensure there are no cold spots. So far so good.

The front zip has a wide baffle behind to block out draughts, but the cuffs only have elastication rather than the Velcro tab adjusters often featured on jackets around this price. The hood is well-insulated and benefits from face drawcords but there is no volume adjustment and no peak – again features that jackets of this price do sometimes include.

The overall fit of the Sherpa Nangpala Down Jacket’s body and sleeves was fine on me but the hood fit was disappointing, as it tended to be either too loose or – when the face drawcords were adjusted – it cut in too close to my eyes and did not move easily with my head either. So the design of the jacket is not quite as good as the design of the insulation inside.

Specifications:
Outer ripstop polyester with durable water repellency (DWR)
Insulation Primaloft Gold Insulation Down Blend (70% water-resistant down, 30% synthetic)
Sizes S-XXL (men’s); XS-XL (women’s)
www.sherpaadventuregear.co.uk
www.primaloft.com

Verdict
Primaloft Gold Insulation Down Blend raises the bar for cold-weather comfort, but the Sherpa Nangpala Hooded Down Jacket could do with a tweak to its hood to make it the ideal combination for such great insulation. That is, unless you find the hood fits perfectly – in which case this is a great combination and a good buy.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine November 2014

 




Fjällräven Abisko jacket (2013)

Like many Fjällräven jackets and trousers, the Abisko is made from G-1000 polyester cotton, which the manufacturer recommends users treat with Greenland Wax to make it water-resistant. One important benefit is that the Greenland Wax can be applied where necessary, so you can make the shoulders more water-resistant than the front of the jacket for example, to maximise breathability. To improve comfort the back and sleeves are made from a stretch fabric. There is also a hood that is made of the stretch fabric, and this has a volume adjuster at the rear with elastication around the face. Put the Abisko on and it’s instantly noticeable that it is a little longer than many other jackets, which is a real benefit to the walker. The location of the hip pockets is not ideal, although as this jacket is so long I was able to get into them below the belt of some rucksacks I tried it with. There is a chest pocket too and this just about took an OS map. The hood is a close fit and easily moves with the head. The style of the Fjällräven Abisko jacket may not be for everyone, but it certainly has some advantages and I suspect for some people it could become a trusted friend.

Material G-1000 Lite (65% polyester, 35% cotton), Stretch fabric (88% polyamide, 12% elastane)
Weight 507g (size L)
External pockets 3
Internal pockets 0
Pit zips no
Men’s sizes XS-XXL
Women’s sizes none
Website
www.fjällräven.com

Verdict
The Fjällräven Abisko jacket is a unique jacket for hillwalkers and backpackers that can be made as water-resistant as required.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2013

 


Result La Femme Jacket (2013)

A soft shell jacket for a mere £30; it’s almost worth buying one if only for walking the dog! Okay, so the fabric doesn’t look as nice or last as long as the more expensive ones, but its got some good features. Breathability is good and there’s a lining across the front for warmth. Its windproof and water resistant and there’s a high collar too. The wide, Velcro-adjustable cuffs are extremely versatile, and it’s also got a great map pocket. There are two large, fleece-lined hip pockets and there’s a fleece-lined chest pocket which is perfect for carrying your mobile.

Sizes: 8-18
Fabric: Polyester/spandex
Weight: 430g
Men’s version: Yes
Contact: 01206 798131; www.resultclothing.com

Published in Country Walking magazine, April 2013


Kathmandu Arbury Jacket (2013)

A smart looking jacket made from heavy-duty soft shell. It’s fleece-lined throughout so feels quite bulky, and as there’s not much stretch, it isn’t well-suited to high-energy walking. It’s certainly warm, though, working well as either a mid or outer layer in cold weather. It could do with some adjustment at the hem, and the cuffs would benefit from some adjustment too. There’s a mid-height, close-fitting collar, and two large fleece-lined handwarmer pockets which feel great. It repels water well, though, and is windproof and breathable.

Sizes: 8-16
Fabric: Polyester
Weight: 470g
Men’s version: Yes
Contact: www.kathmandu.co.uk

Published in Country Walking magazine, April 2013


Karrimor Sub Zero (2013)

The Karrimor Sub Zero is a great all-rounder thanks to its features, which are well-designed. It is a midweight jacket with a good amount of down to ensure it is warm enough for general winter camping and resting on summits. The shell is nylon with very good water resistance, so you don’t have to panic as much about keeping dampness away from this jacket as others demand, which just makes life easier in a condensation-riddled tent. Put it on and the two hip pockets are a good size; but others are slightly bigger and higher on the body, so they are not perfect. The Karrimor Sub Zero’s cuffs have Velcro adjustment so you can trap warm air inside and lock out cold. The hood cannot be removed, which some may feel is a drawback; but put it up and it fits well and moves well with the head, thanks to a volume adjuster at the rear and a pair of drawcords. It has a wired peak too. The drawcords hang down, though, which is not ideal as they may blow about in wind and strike your face. Also there is no soft brushed lining around the chin. The body of the Karrimor Sub Zero is a bit shorter than others too.

Outer nylon
Insulation 750+ fill power 90/10 down
Weight 684g (size L)
Men’s sizes S-XXL
Women’s sizes 8-14
Website www.karrimor.com

 

Verdict

It is not perfect in every way but the Karrimor Sub Zero does provide a good general performance for hillwalkers and campers looking for winter warmth.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine February 2013


Trekmates Merino Contrast Zip-top (2012)

A lightweight merino top suited to warmer weather. When holding the top up to the light it’s a little alarming to be able to see through the material, but there is no such worry once the top is on. It creates more warmth than you might expect from something that appears so thin. The thin nature of the fabric, especially around the cuffs, may become an issue in continued use, although over the testing period, any wear in critical areas was minimal. There is quite a lot of stitching on this top, and although it is the flat, unobtrusive style, the stitching extends across the top of the shoulders, which can pose a rubbing/fraying problem after prolonged use in conjunction with a rucksack. Thumb loops are a nice touch and keep the stretchy fabric pulled down over the arms for improved warmth.

Sizes: S-XL

Fabric: 100% merino

Weight: 240g

Contact: 0115 940 9176 www.trekmates.co.uk

Review from Country Walking magazine, January 2012.


EDZ Merino Wool (2012)

A warm, thick, 100% merino wool base-layer, which for the first few wears will probably feel a little itchy. It won’t win any prizes for style, but definitely scores high for practicality. The fit is super-tight to trap warm air, and allows the fabric to wick away sweat easily too. Also, the body and arm lengths are long enough so that you won’t suffer draughts when reaching. Unfortunately, it did suffer a bit of shrinkage after the first wash, but the fabric is strong and thick and will endure a lot of sweating before the first hint of a pong. Overall, not a bad price for a 100% merino base-layer.

Sizes: 8-18

Fabric: 100% 200g weight merino wool

Weight: 150g

Contact: 01900 810260 www.edzlayering.com

Review from Country Walking magazine, January 2012.

 


Adidas Terrex Windstopper 2011

The Adidas Terrex Windstopper made it into our top eight by offering a little more than some of the other soft shell jackets we considered. First, it’s made from an unbranded windstopper fabric with a microporous membrane, so it’s great for keeping out wind and water, but not as breathable as non-membrane materials.
It does feel quite soft, though: the brushed lining gives it some insulating ability that all adds up to a good level of comfort. There are pit zips for extra ventilation, and mesh pocket linings that also improve airflow if you leave the zips open.
The feature set is pretty good as you get a hood and two Napoleon chest pockets. The chest pockets are unfortunately quite small so they can only be used for storage of smaller items such as a guidebook or GPS. I’m personally not a fan as they’re too small to take an OS map and not big enough for warming hands. That’s a real pity: if those pockets were better this would be a great jacket as the hood has a wired peak, and fits and moves well.
At this price there are better jackets out there than the Adidas Terrex Windstopper, so it’s not the best way to spend your cash.

Material Windstopper
Weight 584g (size men’s L)
External pockets 2
Internal pockets 2
Hood yes
Pit zips yes
Men’s sizes 32-54
Women’s sizes none
Website www.adidas.com/outdoor

The hood, pit zips and fabric are good, but the Adidas Terrex Windstopper’s Napoleon pockets are small and can’t be used for maps or hand warming.

Review by Graham Thompson
First published in Trail magazine October 2011


PHD Minimus Down Vest 2011

If you feel the chill or have some serious cold-weather mountaineering planned then the PHD Minimus Down Vest is the right gilet for you. It uses high-quality 800 fill power down to deliver extreme warmth despite weighing a tiny 240g (size M). It also packs down seriously small, so it’s perfect for stashing in your pack for chilly lunch stops and emergencies – although bear in mind that the down will quickly lose its insulating properties if it gets soaked in wet weather.
A unique thing about this vest is that it’s custom-made to order, allowing you a choice of outer fabric. If you need to stave off poor conditions you can opt for the wind- and water-resistant Drishell fabric; or if you’re into weight saving, you can go for featherlight MX Outer instead.
On either finish, standard features on the PHD Minimus Down Vest include a brushed fleece collar to improve comfort around the neck, two handwarmer pockets and a handy inner security pocket for your phone, keys or wallet.

Size XS-XL (men’s)
Weight 240g (size M)
Outer fabric nylon
Insulation very high
Water resistance low-medium
Wind resistance medium-high
Pockets 3 (1 inner)
www.phdesigns.co.uk

The PHD Minimus Down Vest is best for warmth.

First published in Trail magazine September 2011

Tog 24 Shield

The thickest and bulkiest jacket on test, means the Shield is not exactly lightweight and packable. What you do get, though, is the thickest fleecy lining that really helps to trap warm air and feels pleasant against the skin. This is definitely a good bet for casual walks with the dog, but as soon as anything more strenuous gets in the way, things get more than a trifle stuffy inside. The low hip pockets won’t look out of place about town but are totally inaccessible when wearing a rucksack with waist band, and any venting from their mesh lining is minimal. The Shield is not going to win any awards for technicality, but serves perfectly well as a warm, windproof top. Water resistance is fine for a gentle shower too, although I suspect the waterproof coating will need refreshing regularly.

VITAL STATS
Sizes:
S-XXL
Fabric: TCZ Softshell 94% polyester/6% elastane
Weight (tested size): 600g
Women’s version: No
Contact: 01924 409311; www.tog24.com


Snugpak Elite Proximity

 Relatively new to the world of outdoor clothing, this is a brand new model for Snugpak. It’s a fairly standard looking jacket and the cut isn’t quite so athletic as some tested, so you could wear it to the pub – if you’re the sort of person happy to sup a pint in an orange jacket. The brushed, slightly fleecy lining doesn’t trap the heat nearly as much as I anticipated before trying it and it takes some energetic walking early on in the day to get some heat into it. The fabric doesn’t have huge amounts of stretch in it, and the sleeves do feel very short – especially when reaching up. This is countered by the use of an inner cuff that sits snugly against the wrist and traps heat too.

VITAL STATS
Sizes:
S-XXL
Fabric: Aquabar
Weight (tested size): 591g
Women’s version: No
Contact: 01535 654479; www.snugpak.com


Smartwool PhD Crew

Another of the tighter-fitting tops, this time with a majority construction of merino coupled with a bit of man-made fabric to add stretch. The result is a body-hugging top that wicks incredibly well and holds the warmth in. The merino holds the stink at bay over prolonged use, while the three per cent elastic in the fabric helps the top to rebound into shape after a wash. Thumb loops mean that the sleeves fit well and help to keep the hands warm too by insulating your blood as it flows through the exposed veins of your wrist, although the quite heavy stitching around the thumb loop does mean that it can rub a bit especially if you’re using poles. When walking the fit is snug but sits well, and the longer length allows you to tuck it in to keep it in place.

VITAL STATS
Sizes
: M-XL
Weight: 218g
Fabric: 76% merino, 21% nylon, 3% elastic
Features: Rib collar, thumb loops, front panel knit with heavier weight
Contact: 01733 497190; www.smartwool.com


Trekmates Bamboo Long Sleeve Top

This top uses bamboo as the main constituent in its fabric, although you wouldn’t really know that, as it has a pleasant softness against the skin, not unlike cotton (which makes up nearly a third). It is this cotton element that becomes apparent once you start to sweat. More moisture is held close to the skin than with rival base-layers, although it does evaporate. Odour isn’t a big problem for a use or two, although a couple of strenuous days does have it starting to pong. The tight fit is good, and there is a fair amount of stretch in the fabric too, without looking overly sporty or riding up too much. The stretch also enables you to pull the sleeves up when it’s warmer and keeps them up. At this price it’s something of a bargain.

VITAL STATS
Sizes
: S-XL
Weight: 202g
Fabric: 66% bamboo, 29% cotton, 5% spandex
Features: Sustainable, antibacterial, UV protection
Contact: 0115 9409 170; www.trekmates.co.uk


Dare 2 B Body Base Layer T

This base-layer fits like a kind of compression top, and as such sits remarkably tightly against the body, with the fabric sitting like a second skin, stretching as you move. It does mean that unless you’re as lean as a middleweight boxer you’re unlikely to want to be seen wearing it on its own in the pub, as it does have a tendency to look a little like something a French mime artist might wear. The tight fit can be a little claustrophobic and too constrictive at times, especially when exerting yourself. The tight fabric also seems to trap the moisture close to the skin and doesn’t wick it away as well as you might expect for something so airy. It does dry quickly, however, when you stop.

VITAL STATS
Sizes
: S/M-XXL
Weight: 132g
Fabric: Nylon/elastane
Features: Ergonomic body map fit
Contact: 0161 749 1313; www.dare2b.com


Technicals Long Sleeve Half Zip

Although slightly itchy at first, the 100% merino fabric soon softened to feel wonderful against the skin. It has a high collar to trap warmth and/or protect your neck from the sun, yet the zip pulls down easily enough to provide a welcome flow of air when you need it. Black isn’t a great colour to wear on its own as it’s hard to spot in the mountains, and it will also attract a lot of heat, but obviously this won’t create any problems if worn as a base-layer beneath a fleece or shell. The fabric, which has a good deal of stretch in it for easy movement, wicks well and is incredibly warm for its weight.

VITAL STATS
Sizes
: XS-XL
Weight: 150g
Fabric: 100% merino wool
Features: Biodegradable, zip neck
Contact: 0800 056 0127; www.blacks.co.uk