Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019

Sue and Martin in Mallorca 2019
On the Archduke's Path in Mallorca

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’
  • 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 
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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
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.

Tuesday 23 August 2011

The TGO Challenge - 2012

A relieved Challenger locates Medical Supplies at a remote spot

It was a pleasure, a few days ago, to receive the October (!!) issue of the splendidly revamped TGO Magazine.  It includes an entry form for next year’s Challenge, which will be held from 11 to 25 May 2012, and short reports from ten of this year’s challengers that provide a flavour of the event.

I didn’t expect my small contribution to be published for the second year running, but it was.  And if it’s good enough for TGO Magazine, it’s good enough for these pages:


“Hello Martin” exclaimed Markus as he set out purposefully from Culra Bothy on a wet and windy day in search of a sheltered spot for his tent, “that must be ‘Poor Michael’” – he pointed towards my bedraggled companion who was approaching the bothy.

I hadn’t seen Markus since cycling across the Alps with him last summer. He’s normally the only Challenger from Austria, but this year was joined by his sister Silke.

My companion, ‘Poor Michael’, was a first-timer like Silke. We were all searching for a sheltered spot for our tents.

“We don’t do bothies”, we all agreed. All four of us prefer the warmth and comfort of our tents.

“I’ve found a good sheltered spot for tonight” I confessed.

I’d discovered the back room of this well maintained bothy.

“Seems ok” everyone agreed.

So we installed ourselves, shortly to be joined by a rare species – Stefan, a German first-timer who had set off from Oban with a 24 kilo load. Today he arrived via the Munro, Beinn Bheoil, where he reported “the wind was worse than the wind that I experienced at the North Cape!”

My marginal decision to bale out of a five mile ridge walk had been justified.

We maintain regular contact with people like Markus, Silke and Stefan. We visit them. They visit us. There is great camaraderie amongst TGO Challengers. I know that anyone can walk across Scotland at any time, a point often made by non-Challengers, but even on an obscure route where few or no Challengers are encountered, the camaraderie remains. Life-long friendships are forged. Like-minded neighbours in towns across the UK discover each other and enhance each others lives.

It’s a simply wonderful event, sensitively organised by a team led by Roger Smith over the years, and now passed into the capable hands of John Manning.

Long live the TGO Challenge!

Martin Banfield (Challenger Number 15)

Roger, Silke and Markus, with Medical Supplies

The header picture was taken by Roger Boston on 24 May.  He had noticed me rummaging in the undergrowth, GPS in hand, after our 30km stroll from Ballater to Water of Aven, and recorded my delight in locating some ‘Medical Supplies’.

‘Poor Michael’, Roger and I were later joined by Silke and Markus for a cheese and wine party in the bright evening sunshine at Water of Aven.

Such are the happiest of days.  Here’s what I wrote at the time.

Next year I hope to get Sue, the ‘Shortbread Lady’, on the Challenge again, but as she can carry only a light bum bag these days, the planning may be quite demanding in itself.

Alan R – coming?
Ethan – you would enjoy the Challenge!

The TGO Challenge website is here.

Monday 22 August 2011

Saturday 20 August 2011 – A Family Picnic at Charlecote Park

Charlecote Park
After last year’s successful visit to Charlecote Park, attended by 52 members of Sue’s family, by popular demand the usual biennial arrangement was scrapped and another visit was arranged for this year.  Whilst a few couldn’t make it, for understandable reasons such as essential harvesting on Bec and Charlie’s farm, 32 assorted family members and hangers on did enjoy an increasingly sunny afternoon in the park.

Charlecote Park - garden

Sue and I wandered around the house before others arrived.  It’s an interesting place.  Here’s a window from inside the Great Hall.

A window in the C16 house

We enjoyed a sumptuous picnic and an assortment of ball games, before the arrival of a large herd of Fallow Deer, following which we were asked to desist our noisy game of rounders as “it may frighten the deer and stop them coming to this part of the grounds”.

They looked happy enough to me…

Fallow deer in the grounds of Charlecote Park

Anyway, the deer couldn’t put a stop to a family photo.

A family snap

There’s a slide show that has been sent to family members – let us know if you want that particular link.

We first went to Charlecote in 2008, after various other biennial venues in earlier years.  Charlecote seems to be in a satisfactorily central position and is ideal for picnicking and (subject to the deer) ball and other games.

Thanks everyone for coming, and we hope to see you all again next year.

Sunday 21 August 2011

Friday 19 August 2011 – Southport Flower Show

Southport Flower Show - A Winner

Sue and I spent Friday at Southport Flower Show.  A very pleasant day out.  It’s still on today.  Whilst many were complaining about prices – nearly £50 for two people to park and enter – I wasn’t.  I had just returned from Switzerland….

This garden quite took my fancy…

Southport Flower Show - Another Winner

The theme of the gardens seemed to be flowing water, whether from a bottle, fountain, or in this case a simulated stream.

Southport Flower Show - Theme of the year: Water

There were a number of gardens and displays that had won accolades, but were deserted.  HMP Kirkham isn’t far away and seems to keep its inmates occupied in the gardens, which must have high walls, as no stripy shirts were in evidence.

Southport Flower Show - Unattended display (HM Prison, Kirkham)

Sue took quite a few ‘flowery’ pictures, of which three are included below, and one prize winning display is in the header.  A few more images – mostly Sue’s – can be found in the slide show – click here.

Southport Flower Show - A Flower

Southport Flower Show - Another Flower

Southport Flower Show - Yet Another Flower - it's a Flower Show! 
If you get fed up with looking at gardens and flowers, there’s always a good jazz band in front of which to chill out.