Martin in Gatineau Park

Martin in Gatineau Park

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Western Mountaineering Flight Jacket – A Review

Western Mountaineering's Flight Jacket

I felt I needed a lightweight insulated or down jacket for an Alpine trip involving long afternoons and evenings in high mountain refuges that I know from experience can be quite cool when the weather isn’t sunny.

[Note that on 5 September 2012, Webtogs Limited went into liquidation, but its business has legitimately been continued in the name of Dorset Mountain Sports Limited, t/a Webtogs, with whom I have had no contact whatsoever, nor did the liquidator of Webtogs Ltd respond to my enquiry as to whether any members of the public had lost money as a result of the liquidation.]

Gareth at Webtogs suggested that I could review one of their wide range of down jackets, a North Face Nuptse jacket . This is undoubtedly a fine jacket, but at nearly 800gm weighs almost as much as my tried and tested RAB Summit winter jacket that still has many years of life but is too hot and heavy for a summer trip to the Alps.

I’d hankered after a RAB Xenon Primaloft (synthetic) jacket, which comes in at just 340gm, but Webtogs don’t stock it, nor do any of the outdoors retailers in Manchester or in Hathersage, so far as I could ascertain, so I couldn’t even look at one.

Another product that I was attracted to was Western Mountaineering’s ‘Flight Jacket’, a high quality goose down jacket weighing in at just 330gm, and available from Webtogs, albeit for nearly £220.
“We are discontinuing that line” remarked Gareth, after waxing lyrical about the quality of the product, “but I can do you a good deal on one”. I noticed that the jacket had just one review on the Webtogs website, compared with many reviews of the Nuptse jacket, and as Webtogs are actively marketing Western Mountaineering’s (no doubt excellent) sleeping bags, perhaps the demand for the Flight Jacket, given its price, just wasn’t there.

Anyway, I got Webtogs’ last medium men’s Flight Jacket and took it off to the Alps. Where the sun shone, so it wasn’t really needed. But I did use the jacket, and here’s what I thought of it.
First impressions were of a light, well made jacket, with no ‘bells or whistles’. A label indicated that it was made in Canada, from ‘the finest large cluster 850 fill power goose down from Eastern Europe’. [‘Don’t they have geese in Canada?’ I wondered!] Apparently it has a minimum of 90% goose down, a shell fabric of 100% polyester or nylon, and a 100% nylon lining fabric.

The jacket has two hand warmer (no zips) pockets, but that’s it. No hood. No stuffsack. Not even any external labeling- you have to look inside to discover who made it (I like that).  My pockets now have contents to remedy the omissions – a small stuffsack in one pocket, and a buff in the other, as I can envisage wearing the jacket in conditions where a hat of some sort, eg a buff, will be desirable.
There’s more technical stuff below, but what about my experience of wearing the garment? I used it to wander around some high (3000 metre ish) Alpine huts after dark, and the buff was handy as it was cool. I was glad not to be wearing the jacket for more than a casual wander though – I would have overheated in no time at all.

The cut is fairly short, as can be seen in the picture below, and Western Mountaineering do observe that “a certain amount of durability is given up in order to manufacture a garment this light. The fabric we use in our Flight Series jackets and vests is extremely light and does not have the tear strength or abrasion resistance as other fabrics.”

Western Mountaineering's Flight Jacket - rear view

So that’s clear – a quality piece of kit that won’t stand too much abuse – we know where we stand, then!

This is a jacket that I’ll use a lot. It’s light enough, at well under 400gm including stuffsack and hat, to carry in any winter day sack, and can be compressed into a very small space if necessary. It feels light, but not too flimsy, so I hope it has a modicum of durability.

I’ll report again in due course on its longer term performance, and perhaps Gareth, from Webtogs, will either comment on this posting or let me know what his best alternative to this jacket, other than the rather heavier Nuptse, may be.
Here is some more technical stuff, together with my comments:

Fit and Finish:
  • the men’s medium fits me quite snugly, but you wouldn’t want to be wearing an awful lot under this jacket stuffed with goose down
  • the jacket is fairly short
  • whilst I’m not an expert, the stitching looks tight, the seams are indisputably straight, and the manufacturer asserts that ‘all ends are backtacked’
Features:
  • 850 Plus Fill Power Goose Down
  • down Filled Front Pockets
  • lightweight Reversed Coil Zipper
  • lightweight 0.9 oz. Dot-Ripstop Nylon Shell Fabric
  • down Filled Draft Tube Behind Zipper
  • generously filled down collar
  • made In Canada

Technical details:

Weight: 326g / 11oz
clip_image001 ‘850 Fill Power  The top end of the market, offering exceptional warmth to weight ratios. 850 fill power is rare and expensive but gives expedition level performance or options for ultralight construction. The high loft down compresses well, keeping pack size down whilst standing up to the most extreme conditions’

Practical Use:
  • I’ll be using this jacket indoors and outdoors in cold weather, or in the cool of a summer evening at camp, but not in the rain without a waterproof shell, and certainly not whilst engaging in serious exercise – it would be far too warm
  • I’d take the jacket on a hutting trip again, and on a winter backpacking trip, but it would be overkill for me for summer backpacking 
Price:
  • it was £219.99 from Webtogs, whose service is excellent, with free delivery in the UK, and you won’t be charged until the goods are dispatched, but at the time of writing (25 August 2011) they only have small and XL sizes in stock, so you’ll have to be quick if you want to join the elite band of owners of this brilliant piece of kit
Alternatives:
  • as stated above, the North Face Nuptse jacket is an excellent, and cheaper, alternative if you don’t mind doubling the weight
  • RAB’s Xenon Primaloft jacket could be a good weight for weight alternative but is not currently stocked by Webtogs; it may not be as durable or nearly as warm, but could suit some users
  • RAB’s Infinity down jacket weighs only about 440gm, has a hood and a stuffsack, uses the same 850 fill-power down, and costs slightly less than the Flight Jacket
  • RAB’s Microlight Alpine eVent Down Jacket, available from Webtogs, may provide the best of all worlds – 750 fill-power down, with a breathable waterproof outer that enables the jacket to be used in wet weather without an outer shell, weighing in at just 600gm
  • there are of course many other alternatives – Webtogs alone stock over 150 different outdoor jackets including some 50 down jackets
Conclusion:
  • I’ve hardly used it so far, but I think I’m going to get to love this minimalist but hugely warm piece of kit – I’ll report back in a few months when it has received more use
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Note: Whilst the jacket was provided by Webtogs at a discount, this review, over which I have total editorial control, is totally independent of that on-line retailer.
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3 comments:

Gareth said...

Great review Martin, it's a shame they didn't sell as I think the down is possibly the best out of all the brands we stock, and considering we have Marmot & Rab in the stable, that's no mean feat.

Best alternative for me would be the Microlite (non-eVent)that you can see here it's due to come in towards the end of September.

Alan R said...

I think the PHD Minimus at £180 would also be a good alternative especially with Drishell. And if you wanted 900 down they would do it.
Great review Martin and the Microlite is interesting too Gareth.

BTW
Don't forget that all the Canada Geese are over here in UK. Especially on the Rochdale canal. I will have to get the garden hoover out.

Phreerunner said...

Thanks Gareth, and Alan. The non-eVent Microlite (see Gareth's link) looks brilliant at 340gm including the hood, and at £150 may be the best alternative. Having said that, I doubt that it will have as much down in it as the Flight Jacket.

I suspect the price of the Flight Jacket inhibited buyers - they may just be able to afford the Microlite...