It’s said there are just two certainties in life, death and taxes, but I’ve long thought there’s another certainty that should be included in this elite list – if you’re out in the British hills it’s going to rain. In summer it’s not a problem, with hardshells, softshells, packlite and a million and one choices to pick from, but in winter it’s not so easy.
Outside it’s that most perfect of walking days; that combination of cool blue, cloudless skies, a chill in the air and an inviting crispness to the ground. It’s a day just made for your favourite down jacket and a camera, but you just can’t avoid the fact that this is Britain and no matter what it looks like now, chances are the rain will find you and down and rain don’t get on well.
The alternative to down is Primaloft, a synthetic fibre that keeps working even when wet. Being synthetic it doesn’t quite match up to down for pack size and weight, and isn’t quite as warm ounce for ounce as a filling, but it’s got definite advantages when it comes to the British climate. Primaloft is water resistant, and even when it does get wet it retains the majority of its insulating properties and dries quickly. It’s often overlooked, but Primaloft garments are usually machine washable, whilst down means a trip to a specialist cleaner.
With autumn already upon us and winter creeping up we thought we’d give you the low down on four of our top name Primaloft jackets, all under £150.
Mountain Equipment Fitzroy Jacket
Features: Turn-with-you adjustable hood, 3 external pockets, Primaloft 100/60g combination for weight saving.
The Fitzroy’s been with us for a couple of years now, and picked up the “Best in Test” from Trail recently with its combination of Primaloft and Drilite Loft. The main body is filled with 100g Primaloft One – the highest grade Primaloft, with 60g filling in the arms to give your core warmth but keep that extra flexibility in the arms, and keep weight to a minimum. A double layer of Primaloft in the hood completes the insulation, with windproof, water resistant Drilite Loft covering the critical areas and a more breathable UltraSoft face fabric everywhere else.
The Mountain Equipment hood is legendary, and justifiably so with a good volume adjuster that’s truly helmet friendly and a stiffened peak that stays stiffened in the wind. The same attention to detail has gone into the draw cords for the hem which now have “capture points” to prevent snagging, and Velcro cuff fasteners you can manipulate with gloves on. You get four pockets, 3 on the outside and an internal zipped map pocket. The lower pockets are set a bit higher and a bit further in from the sides than on the other jackets making them easily accessible with a rucksack on.
Value for money water resistant synthetic insulation that keeps working even when wet. Well positioned pockets and excellent hood from a name you can trust.
The Combust jacket is from Berghaus’ Extreme range and features Primaloft PL1 filling and a coated nylon outer. Instantly recognisable the Combust’s outer shell uses a DWR and PU coating to keep the water out, with a unique combination of 15 denier nylon and 50 denier yarn making it highly tear resistant. The innovations don’t stop there, though, with a DWR coating applied to the lining and unlike the other jackets on test a storm flap over the main zip.
The Combust features an enormous, but fully adjustable hood that will happily take a helmet and still close up tight against the elements, and an elasticated internal pocket ideal for keeping your drink above freezing perched on a Scottish winter ledge. The two hand warmer pockets benefit from a soft-touch lining and the cord zips are just long enough to use gloved, though lack any form of toggle on the end. Once on you can’t fail to notice the sleeping bag style baffles in the main body which pull the jacket into you for a closer fit. The close fit also applies overall, and if you’re planning on using it as a traditional belay jacket to be thrown on over everything else when you stop then removed for setting off again, then you’ll probably need to step up a size.
Innovative tear resistant construction combined with top quality insulation and a close fit give a very warm product. Not the lightest jacket on test, but it is cut a little longer and the generous hood will take a helmet with ease.
The Rab Generator jacket is a legend in its own lifetime, renowned for its versatility in typical British conditions. The Alpine takes the best of the Generator’s features and adds to them. Like the Mountain Equipment Fitzroy the Generator Alpine uses 100g Primaloft One in the main body and 60g in the arms, but the outer shell is made from hard wearing Pertex Endurance.
Unlike the other jackets on test the Generator Alpine features a helmet compatible hood that you can roll down and secure when not needed. You only get two external pockets and one zipped pocket on the inside, but the back is slightly longer than the standard jacket and zips are water resistant. The Pertex Endurance fabric gives a more heavyweight feel to the Generator Alpine on the outside, but on the inside Rab have chosen to stick with Quantum for a softer feel.
The roll down hood makes this an ideal jacket for winter belays or sitting around the camp fire in the colder months. A stronger, more hard wearing, version of a classic jacket with excellent warmth per gram.
The Redpoint Optimus was developed for the North Face athletes team and became their favourite product with its Primaloft One filling and ripstop nylon shell. The 100g PL1 filling gives plenty of insulation and the shell is DWR coated giving all round security. A new design for winter 2009 is a snag-free, seamless, shoulder yoke that gives better flexibility for arms and shoulders.
The hood on the Redpoint Optimus is fully adjustable, and you get the traditional complement of two hand warmer and one breast pocket on the outside. The inside, zippered pocket doubles up as storage for your jacket when not in use, saving carrying an extra stuff sack. Unlike the other jackets on test the Redpoint uses softshell fabric for the cuffs, using elastic rather than adjustable Velcro fastenings. The Alpine fit is a little shorter than the Berghaus Combust and Rab Generator Alpine but the overall fit is a little less tight.
The Redpoint Optimus offers great value for money, coming in cheaper than the other jackets on test. Rolling into its own pocket for storage it’s ideal for cold winter days when you can’t afford to worry about rain.