Friended By Feathers — Volant Jacket by Feathered Friends

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Puff jackets

Puff jackets

A while back I posted about how finding the ultimate puff jacket for backcountry skiing was like questing the holy grail. Or at least something to that effect. Most of the lighter weight down jackets you’ll find don’t have enough fill, and they use stitched-through construction. This keeps cost and weight down, but gives you a lot less warmth per ounce than garments built with baffled fill tubes.

Parka jacket for backcountry skiing.

A couple of Volant jackets by Feathered Friends to keep us toasty during the chill blizzards of July.

Someone suggested Feathered Friends as the puffy grail. I’d ignored these Seattle clothiers because I’d always had the impression they just made big expedition parkas for guys using oxygen masks. But this being the age of web it was a simple click over to the Feathered Friends website, where I discovered the goose feather artists from Seattle do indeed make a variety of jackets, with a couple being perfect for your average North American backcountry skier. So, this being WildSnow and we indeed being backcountry skiers, we got a couple of Volant jackets (with removable hood) for a long term test. Here is a first-look.

While Feathered Friends does several models of super light sewn-through jackets (Hyperion), my whole point with this exercise was to get more warmth per ounce, even if doing so added a few ounces to my pack weight. (To compensate, I’ll be even more careful about what I carry for upper body layering.) To that end, Volant fit the bill as Feathered’s lightest weight but baffled garment. We got a pair just the other day, here is a first-look. Long term review in a few months.

Volant is slightly over-stuffed with the best 850-fill goose down. It balloons out like a blimp, and that’s the point. If a down jacket is under-filled as most are, as soon as it’s been stored in a stuff sack for a while, or damp, the down collapses and you end up with thin spots as the fill shifts around. Aggressive stuffing mitigates that problem. At 25 ounces without hood, Volant is definitely more of a winter piece; a bit hefty for the super-light springtime backpack I like to carry in the western U.S. or in Europe. On the other hand, no matter what time of year, when you’re tired and cold there is nothing like draping a super warm puffy over your torso and bathing in the glow while you recover from a long backcountry skiing climb — or sip tea on a hut deck as you watch the sunset. Indeed, zipping up a jacket like the Volant can be like climbing into a warm bath.

Backcountry clothing.

Volant design avoids failure prone and fiddly items such as pocket zippers and waist drawstrings, instead using a stretchy trim material on the pocket edges and bottom edge of the jacket. I like the concept, but the elastic at the jacket's bottom edge is a bit snug. Probably easy to remedy.

Feathered Friends Volant

Pockets are zipper free and close with an overlap. Less weight and failure, but probably not a good place to store your money clip.

Stuffed Volant parka

Stuffed Volant parka weighs in at 25 ounces, about 5x11 inches so not exactly tiny -- but tons of heat for its size and weight.

Fit is a snug “athletic” cut. I usually wear a men’s medium in a puffy, and a large in the Volant still fits me snugly. If I was outfitting for an expedition I’d probably need an XL, but the tighter fitting large is perfect for my normal backcountry skiing. As one would assume from a decades old company known for its quality, construction of these parkas is top drawer. Two slash pockets, internal vest pocket (with zipper, so that’s where the money clip goes), fairly rigid zipper flap that seems to not easily jam in the zipper, collar about right in diameter and height, hood fits and works (attaches with snaps), fabric is high tech (choice of either Epic or Event). In all, impressive.

Comments

18 Responses to “Friended By Feathers — Volant Jacket by Feathered Friends”

  1. Lisa July 17th, 2009 11:28 am

    My new jacket is super deluxe. Thanks Sweetie!

  2. Clyde July 17th, 2009 1:34 pm

    Lou, the Helios is sewn-through, not baffled. I had a Volant with hood for several years. It was great..until my wife claimed it. Now I’ve replaced it with an Arc’teryx Dualie, which is the first synthetic parka that really competes with down. If you’re doing overnights, use a FF Vireo with your Volant instead of a sleeping bag and you’ll save lots of weight and bulk.

  3. Christian July 17th, 2009 1:51 pm

    Check out the Western Mountaineering Meltdown Jacket. 17 oz, equally overstuffed 850+, great hood, and it has zippered pockets. I’ve put a couple of hard seasons on mine and my mood always changes when I don it.

  4. Lou July 17th, 2009 2:39 pm

    Thanks Clyde, corrected that typo. They are indeed Volants.

    Christian, yeah, the puffy induced mood swing is well documented (grin).

  5. Chris July 17th, 2009 7:14 pm

    I have a hyperion from feathered friends, and I like having a simple looking down jacket without the goofy logos, trendy stitching or weirdo colors all the high end name brand stuff often has.

  6. Mark July 17th, 2009 9:33 pm

    My impression of Feathered Friends is that they do things very well while keeping a low profile.

  7. Chris July 17th, 2009 11:59 pm

    I’ve had my volant with hood for 8 years now and it’s held up well. It could use a good washing from repeated splashing of hot chocolate, soup, and whatever pasta I had for dinner. I’ve found the only thing that bugs me about my sleeping bag with arms, is that the down has slowly shifted out of the inside of my elbows and has migrated into the outside of the elbows creating a cold spot. A little sewn through baffle in that area could really help with the repetitive motion of your arms. Besides that, go with the Epic shell for better lofting of the down, and always go “overstuffed.” The hood is amazing, fits easily over a helmet or noggin, and creates a great shelter from the weather. I too recently bought an Arcteryx synthetic puffy, and it’s no match in warmth to weight of my Volant.

  8. FrameNZ July 18th, 2009 4:51 am

    Lou, could you expand on ‘Aggressive stuffing mitigates the problem…’
    Does that mean being aggressive when putting into the stuff sack keeps the down fluffy and in it’s intended place?

  9. Lou July 18th, 2009 7:14 am

    Frame, I’m talking about then they make the jacket and stuff the down into the tubes.

  10. Lou July 18th, 2009 7:15 am

    Ha! “Sleeping bag with arms,” that’s about it.

  11. Dave August 26th, 2009 11:19 am

    Lou,

    I am thinking about pulling the trigger on a Volant Jacket. I need a puffy for an upcoming expedition seminar. The use of the puffy will be for alpine ascents under 6,000m. I have several questions for you… What material did you order Epic or Event and what were the deciding factors? Are you happy with the quality of the jacket? Do you believe I can get a better jacket out there for about the same price?

    Anyone’s thoughts or comments will be much appreciated – thanks.

  12. Lou August 26th, 2009 12:31 pm

    Hi Dave,
    What we have here are the Epic version. For down garments I’ve got mixed feelings about using Event. It works well for day trips by making the garment more versatile, but during multi day use when the down is constantly absorbing moisture, I believe it makes it more difficult to dry the jacket by hanging it in the wind/sun. My opinions, anyway.

    As far as shopping and pricing, I can’t address those issues with authority as I’d have to web surf and make phone calls for an hour or two. That’s your job :angel:

    I can say that in terms of shopping one variant is fit. The large size in FF is very tight on me, too tight for expeditionary use with multiple layers underneath though I think it’ll be fine for a trim fit during Colorado and European day trips. My concern is that if the FF large is my fit, an XL might be too large. Another company might tailor their jackets differently, and depending on your bulk and arm length could be better or worse, depending.

    Main thing to remember is that some (if not many) jackets are under-filled and don’t use top quality down. If you’re in the market for this sort of thing, watch those factors.

  13. Mikey K October 10th, 2009 12:24 pm

    I bought a FF Helios last year. I’ve worn a Volant on a Rainier climb. A bit on sizing – I’m long & thin – ~6’2, ~185 lbs. I wear an XL Helios and Volant. For contrast, I wear a Large arc teryx beta shell, a large mountain hardware softshell, and a medium marmot dri-clime jacket (this fits snug). I went with the xl Helios so I can layer it over other items on a rest stop.

    I bought the Helios for a warm, light layer for back-country ski trips. The Helios is sewn-through and lighter than the volant (mine weighs about a pound) The good thing about this is it is very warm and very light. The bad thing is it usually stays in the bottom of my pack. I’ll break it out on overnights. On day trips, it is in my pack for an emergency (eg, if an injury traps me overnight in the bc). The Helios is so warm, it would have to be extremely cold for me to wear it while moving, and very cold to wear during a rest break. The Volant is even warmer than the helios!

    Point is that if you’re looking for mid-layer to wear while active, you may want to find something lighter. If you’re looking for a very warm, light, “inactive” layer, then these are great.

  14. Marcus October 14th, 2009 3:39 pm

    A bit late to this one, but I’m wondering A) what size jacket you got for Lisa and B) what size Lisa typically is, recognizing that that’s dangerous territory to get into :)

    I’ve got a deal on a size small Volant that might work for my wife, but it sounds like it might be a bit snug.

  15. Tom October 28th, 2009 10:32 am

    I love Feathered Friends. Making superior items seems their priority more so than advertising or trying to be trendy.

    I have used the Hummingbird sleeping bag, a Helios jacket, and even a down comforter at home.

    Somewhere on their website they mention that their biggest complaint is that their clothing is “too warm”. This is something to take seriously. Most people go on trips that wouldn’t be called expeditions and they probably aren’t going to need midweight items like the Volant, especially if they intend to wear them while active.

    Event vs. Epic? I’d go with Event if you are planning to be wearing the jacket for days at a time on a serious expedition. Event is waterproof and will keep perspiration moisture out of the down. Pretty much all of feathered friends clothing is intended for temperatures below which there will be rainfall, so don’t pick Event looking for rainproof. Epic is fairly water resistant so long as you don’t try to put your sleeping bag in a puddle. For a few days at a time with the jacket only being worn when cold, epic is the way to go.

    The FF staff has always been very cordial and knowledgeable on the phone. They will take time to help you figure out what you will really need in terms of product line and materials.

    I really admire the company for having an old-school ethos. You will pay a little more, but their stuff is built for the long haul. Their items will last decades and may potentially be heirlooms (cared for down has much more longevity than synthetic fill). Another small company oriented to (expensive) but longevity/quality are Dan McHale’s custom built backpacks.

  16. Jill Blavich February 23rd, 2010 2:29 pm

    With my allergies I have to be choosy on what type of products I buy. I wonder if I could ues one of these. They sound incredible with how much warming material is in them.

  17. Eddie Espinosa February 25th, 2010 2:08 pm

    RE: Event fabric

    “..but during multi day use when the down is constantly absorbing moisture, I believe it makes it more difficult to dry the jacket by hanging it in the wind/sun.”

    One thing I’ve done in the past when drying out an Event jacket or bag on a sunny day is turn it inside out, exposing the very breathable (and black) nylon taffeta. That also puts the accumulated moisture closer to the suns rays :)

  18. Jonathan Shefftz November 9th, 2011 8:25 pm

    Thread bump!
    Bought a Brooks-Range Alpini Mountain Anorak Hoody. Just what I’ve been missing all these years: minimal feature set with lightweight fabric, yet doesn’t skimp on the down (which is of course super high fill power). So many other lightweight hoody models like this just don’t have much insulation. Nice for layering, but not a great emergency layer or camping setup. (On many such jackets, just adding a mere three oz to the garment weight would *double* the insulation.)
    The Alpini was recently modified for a more generous cut (prior version was cut shorter), and the innovative side zippers are now two-way, with two-position snaps at the bottom (instead of the previous velcro). Although the front zipper is not full-length, combined with the side zippers, the hoody actually offers more versatility (especially access to any layers underneath) than just a full-length zipper in front.
    Hood is massive, with lots of insulation.
    Actual weight in size medium is 15.5 oz which is forgivable given that when I’ve tried it on indoors and zipped everything up completely, I immediately became uncomfortably warm. This thing is a furnace!

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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