Partly for my New Years Eve hike up Snowdon, and partly just for general winter and early spring hiking, I decided I needed a slightly more serious jacket than the Arc’Teryx Atom Lt which, though certainly very practical and warm, isn’t designed to keep you warm when standing still on a day with temperatures getting anywhere close to 0°C. Actually deciding what I needed was a bit tricky, but I decided that it was most likely to end up being a fairly rarely-used bit of kit that I could chuck in my pack for emergencies, unexpected weather changes, or when halting for a long period. On that basis it needed to be:
- Warm enough to keep me comfortable when standing still in temperatures down to 0°C and preferably lower.
- Lightweight and packable.
Being suitable for ‘active’ use (i.e. being breathable and wicking and all that) was a nice-to-have but not a requirement, as was being waterproof.
On that basis, the obvious answer was going to be some kind of down jacket which are highly warm for their weight, and extremely packable, but usually a bit less waterproof and can some performance if they get wet through from either rain or perspiration.
After that, my options actually ended up being more limited by what is easily available in the UK. A huge frustration given that our most common high-street outdoors stores stock little to none of the kind of serious technical kit that I like, and from the brands I like (Rab, Arc’Teryx and Patagonia). North Face is ubiquitous, but usually either in very lightweight ‘gentle stroll’ variants, or more lifestyle-type clothing that is overpriced and underperforming. Even shops that do stock more serious kit often lack the kind of really top-end warm kit that I was after; partly because it’s so rarely needed in the UK.
In the end, I had most luck in Snow and Rock which, while being ski-focused, does at least acknowledge the idea that people might be venturing outdoors in cold and snowy conditions. They only had a few products that really suited my needs, and in the end it came down to a decision between the Rab Zero G jacket or the Rab Electron jacket. The Zero G had the advantage of a higher fill power and lighter weight, which made it superficially very suitable for my needs. However, my biggest concerns were the high price and the extremely thin fabric it is made from. Although I’m assured that it’s stronger than it looks, I couldn’t help feeling that I would always worry about bundling it into a bag full of sharp objects. The Electron, while a little heavier, seemed slightly more robust and practical for the kind of all-round use I wanted. Also it was cheaper. So I bought it.
The Electron weighs a little under 500g and packs down very neatly into a small stuff sack that is included with it. It has about 190g of hydrophobic down, and the outer is made of Pertex® Endurance, which is allegedly 100% windproof and reasonably water resistant with a 1,000mm hydrostatic head. For reference, though, that means it is 5% as waterproof as my Xiom jacket, so this clearly isn’t going to replace a proper rain shell.
It’s got plenty of nice technical features including a glove warming pocket, a highly adjustable hood with both drawcords and a velcro panel on the back meaning you can take some of the volume out of it when not wearing it with a helmet. The hood, by the way, is wonderfully warm with it’s thick layers of down, and it’s really nice being able to put it on, zip the main zip all the way up, and hide from the wind and cold almost as effectively as being in a sleeping bag.
It also has neat stretchy panels on the cuffs that make it easy to put it on even while wearing bulky gloves, but still form a tight seal. Possibly my favourite feature is the little fleecy panel on the back of the zip right where it would touch your face when zipped all the way up…
As I mentioned, it’s unlikely to be an ‘active’ garment for most UK hikes, since I think it would have to get seriously cold before I’d want to wear this while moving, but of course if I go out in colder conditions in the US in future its use might change a bit. As a result, I haven’t really tested it while active – it claims to be very breathable and it’s certainly light enough that I can see how it could be comfortable to hike or climb in. On the other hand it’s a good deal bulkier than, say, the Atom LT so it’s never going to be quite as comfortable.
I’ll have to test it more in really sub-zero conditions but for now, on cold winter days, it’s a very reassuring thing to have in my pack and, at just 500g and packed into a small stuff sack, it’s no effort to just chuck it in even when I don’t think I’ll need it.