Mountain Equipment Compressor Jacket Review

Post by blogger | October 14, 2013      

Stoked on the Mountain Equipment Compressor

The never ending battle: lightening the pack. I seem to continuously come up with ways — better gear, modifications, dialing in my system, yet my pack gets heavier, most notably because I now use an airbag pack and carry gadgets like a SPOT beacon. To compensate I’ve been trying to reduce weight in other areas.

One item I usually carry is a big synthetic puffy, mainly for emergencies, super cold summits, and hanging out on breaks. I rarely pull it out and recently I’ve been reconsidering its necessity. I’ll still carry a heavy warm jacket on many tours, but when trying to cut weight, it’s nice to have a thinner insulating layer. Also, a thinner puffy is perfect for summer hikes and climbs.

The Compressor is designed to be light above all else, and has very few extraneous features. The puffy weighs 13 ounces and utilizes 60 gram Primaloft One insulation, with 40 grams in the sleeves. One is Primaloft’s lightest insulation, sacrificing a bit of durability in exchange for reduced weight. The jacket comes in hooded and non-hooded versions. I’ve been using the hoodie. Through the use of thin ultralight shell fabric, and lightweight insulation, the jacket is incredibly light for it’s warmth. It does have three pockets and drawstring on the hood.

I’ve been using the Compressor since last winter. I used it off and on during the winter, sometimes bringing a heavier synthetic puffy instead (OR Chaos). During the spring, the Compressor was perfect for ski mountaineering, and this summer I’ve been carrying it as a warm layer while hiking and rock climbing.

Build quality is important with lightweight outdoor gear, especially clothing. With lightweight fabrics, low build quality can severely effect durability. Mountain Equipment clothing has impeccable attention to detail. Even after many days of use, and super-lightweight fabrics, the jacket is holding up very well. I’ve even been doing a fair a mount of rock climbing in it, using it as a belay jacket, and on some cold pitches. It has one tiny tear resulting from sharp rock, but otherwise is unscathed. Although the Helium fabric is lightweight, it still has impressive wind resistance. The jacket stays quite warm in windy chilly weather. I like pockets, and the Compressor has just the right amount, two hand pockets, and a breast “napoleon” pocket. More would add unnecessary weight. I’ve been in cold weather with the Compressor and can confirm it’s toastiness. It’s surprisingly warm for such a small package.

One major gripe I have is the hood draw string cord. The cord-locks are sewn into the collar, designed to be operated through the fabric. Although it results in a clean look (no doubt the intention), they are difficult to use. The hood can be tightened quickly and easily, but loosening it requires a few minutes of fiddling, and can’t be done with gloves. Also, the arms have elastic cuffs, which are ultra-tight. They keep the warmth in, but can’t really be pushed up on the arm, unless you’re a fan of tourniquets. I wish I could say it was the fault of my massive forearms. Alas, they’re undeniably skinny.

My main goal with the Compressor was reducing pack weight, and it’s been a success. Of course the jacket is super light, and packs down to nothing in the bottom of the pack. At the same time, it has proved warm enough to use during many ski trips. I usually bring a hard-shell, soft-shell, t-shirt, and warm puffy on ski trips. I basically don’t carry any insulation besides the puffy, so having a warm one is a necessity. The Compressor is supremely warm, and takes up minimal space in the pack.

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25 Responses to “Mountain Equipment Compressor Jacket Review”

  1. Woody Dixon October 14th, 2013 10:18 am

    Couple things to add in: (I work for the US Mountain Equipment offices.)

    For the production version (Louie has a proto) we have relaxed the elastic and slightly changed the cuffs. This still allows for the heat to stay in, but makes sliding your hands through the cuff much easier.

    Also, not sure if you noticed Louie, but the right hand pocket has a double side zipper pull and webbing loop, allowing the jacket to be stuffed into the pocket and clipped to a harness, which is a pretty nice feature.

  2. Coop October 14th, 2013 10:38 am

    Nice review Louie! I don’t know why I haven’t tried to steal this from you when you haven’t been paying attention.

    Woody, the stuff pocket and webbing loop sound awesome!

  3. Joe John October 14th, 2013 10:56 am

    Ditto here on the excellent review Louie! Another item to add to my Christmas list.

  4. Lisa Dawson October 14th, 2013 1:25 pm

    Like the color — red is the best for ski shots.

  5. Kelly October 14th, 2013 1:56 pm

    I’ve found that I am choosing non-down jackets more and more. P-loft seems to keep me as warm and little tears from tree skiing don’t leave a trail of feathers. Easier to sew up too, it wrecks my look to use duct tape.

  6. Woody Dixon October 14th, 2013 2:29 pm

    I’ve found the Hydrophilic properties of Primaloft One ( One is short strand silicone encapsulated fibers, looks almost like down.) to be quite useful for spring/fall wetness. Jacket gets wets? Ring it out and keep going.

    Anyone choose down “sweaters” over primaloft jackets? I personally view down sweaters as a fancy around town piece. Seems to me that in temps that warrant such a thin insulation piece primaloft makes much more sense.

  7. Joe K October 14th, 2013 3:15 pm

    I find the 60g pieces a bit too chilly for me much of the time in the backcountry. I just picked up the First Ascent Igniter with 100g Primaloft One and am excited to see if it’s a good compromise for warmth and weight. My Patagonia DAS (170g) is too heavy to justify much of the time.

    But if I’m going out for a day tour and I know the weather is good, I’ll always grab down, synthetics just can’t compare for warmth/weight.

  8. Joe K October 14th, 2013 3:19 pm

    But I love a 60g Primaloft jacket as a “fancy around town piece” 🙂

  9. Woody Dixon October 14th, 2013 3:39 pm

    We’ve (Mountain Equipment) got a jacket that is the next bump up in warmth from the compressor- the Bastion Jacket. I find it to be about perfect for winter. For Spring/Summer/Fall I find 60g primaloft jackets (such as the compressor) to be about spot on. And yes, quite attractive for wandering around town.

    Down sweaters still puzzle me. I don’t find them to particularly warm or more compressible than synthetic jackets. Down to me starts winning when you start getting into the heavier stuff.(200+ g of down or 170g of primaloft). Maybe I’ve just used/seen the wrong down sweaters. Also, most seem to leak feathers like crazy on the seam lines.

  10. Lisa Dawson October 14th, 2013 4:01 pm

    Woody or Louie: since the Primaloft One is short fibers, “looks almost like down,” does it leak at the seams like down? I have that problem a lot with my lighter weight down jackets.

  11. Woody Dixon October 14th, 2013 4:18 pm

    No it won’t. It has batting between the shell and lining fabric trapping the fibers in place. While the raw material looks similar to down, the construction is different.

    The reason down sweaters/ light down jackets leak feathers is because of how they are made. Basically, the outside edges of the jacket are sewn, and then filled with down. Then a worker spreads the down out evenly inside the shell and sews in the baffles. (It would be near impossible to fill those tiny baffles with down.) This is referred to as “stitched through” or “sewn through” construction. While a very lightweight and cost effective way of building a jacket, it does have a problem with feather leakage because of all the holes it makes.

    Also, Primaloft doesn’t have feathers or pointy quills that work through seams. 🙂 My observation is that down jackets start leaking feathers rather quickly, but it takes a while before any actual down plumes make their way out. Probably exacerbated by my urge to pull out any exposed feathers.

  12. Lisa Dawson October 14th, 2013 4:25 pm

    Good to know. Thanks Woody!

  13. Louie October 14th, 2013 5:57 pm

    One of the advantages of synthetic jackets is the fact that they don’t leak insulation when there is a rip. Primaloft one is no different. I have a tiny rip in the arm, and no insulation leaks out.

  14. Dan October 14th, 2013 6:23 pm

    Woody, the Bastion has “Polarloft” insulation, whatever that is. Could you please compare the “Polarloft” to the Primaloft One insulation.

  15. Woody Dixon October 14th, 2013 6:47 pm

    It’s our house brand short strand silicone encapsulated fiber. Very similar to primaloft one, slightly less compressible. I can’t tell much of a difference out in the mountains other than the fact it is less expensive. I’ve put 100+ days on my bastion jacket across 4 seasons and I’ve been quite happy with it. Lots of stuffing and unstuffing, it lives in pack all year. It’s holding up great, still has the same amount of warmth as when I got it. Couple little things that I’d like to have tweaked, but thankfully I get to have at least a little input on the design process. 🙂

    TL:DR answer: Name Brand vs. Private Label. (eg. Polartec Neoshell vs Torray fabric)

  16. dmr October 15th, 2013 5:48 am

    Thanks for the great review!

    I use a Patagonia down sweater (without at hood) that I really like, but primarily in cold winter weather (dry sunny or even snowing). For skinning I find it provides the perfect warmth/breathability ratio on -10°C days with just a long-sleeve baselayer underneath. I also really like how well it stuffs down.

    However, for summer alpine climbing / mountaineering, I’m leaning towards a polarloft/primaloft puffy with a hood, like the ME one in the review, for durability (no down feathers flying everywhere if torn) and warmth when wet.

  17. Ralph October 15th, 2013 7:30 am

    I use Seam Grip to fix tears in fabric, including down-filled jackets.

  18. Joe K October 15th, 2013 10:52 pm

    Sure, down has drawbacks, but you really have to accept that it’s a better insulator under ideal conditions when PrimaLoft state on their own website that down is “ultimate in warmth per weight available in dry conditions” and “PrimaLoft ONE is comparable to 550 fill-power goose down”.

    Nothing in my experience has ever contradicted this. Synthetic insulation clearly has its place, and I have a good bit of it in my closet. But categorically slagging down sweaters obviously upsets me.


  19. Jon A October 16th, 2013 7:59 am

    Joe K – saying that people were slagging down is a bit of an exaggeration :).

    I think for winter in the UK and summer in the Alps (or anywhere you could encounter any moisture) synthetic insulation is the better choice, I really like not having to worry about getting the jacket wet.

    But I can see uses for the lightweight down jackets… When climbing in very cold temps (around -20C) I’ve found wearing my light weight prima loft jacket under my hard shell keeps me comfortably warm. The primaloft jacket works well but a light weight down jacket could help save a few grams.

    I can see why the light weight down jackets are useful for physical activity in very cold environments when the normal layering system just isn’t warm enough, but I think that the synthetic insulation is the better choice for 95% of the time…

  20. Ben W October 16th, 2013 8:53 am

    I’m a down fan. Synthetic fill jackets become significantly less warm after a year or two of heavy use. Down jackets last until I decide I want a new jacket because, well… I want a new jacket.

    Synthetic insulation also is diminished by moisture, just not as much as down. But with a heavier piece of clothing, say a 20 ounce parka, the down version will be much warmer than the synthetic version to begin with. If they both absorb a little moisture, the down may lose more warmth, but it may well continue to insulate better than it’s synthetic counterpart anyway.

    This leads to another question- If it’s cold enough to be wearing a 20 ounce puffy jacket (I use mine for 10F and below and winter camping), how the hell are you getting it wet? If it is warm enough to rain, I’m using a lighter jacket.

    So, for a heavier, cold weather jacket down is warmer when dry, similar in warmth to synthetic when slightly wet, and more durable. Easy choice.

    For an ultra light piece, I see the advantages of synthetic fill. But on a day trip, when wetting out isn’t likely or life threatening (and how often does this actually happen?) I bring down to extend the life of my synthetic, so it doesn’t go in the work clothes pile like my old Nanopuff pullover that started out great but ended up being about as warm as a cotton turtleneck.

  21. Louie October 16th, 2013 10:14 am

    Down definitely has it’s place, I do use it in colder environments, however not much in the cascades.

    To save weight, i usually only bring one insulation layer, so if it gets wet, it needs to stay warm. It’s fairly common for me to start in the rain, or wet snow, and then move higher into the cold. Using the puffy for breaks down in the rainy lowlands often results in a damp jacket. Sometimes it gets wet through the pack as well.

  22. Woody Dixon October 16th, 2013 10:19 am

    I ski and climb in the Cascades. It’s wet. I love down. I exclusively use down sleeping bags and own several down jackets that get used frequently. I’ve owned/used OR, Patagonia, Feathered Friends, Sierra Designs and Mountain Equipment down bags and jackets. I also love synthetic. I’ve owned several Patagonia micro/nanopuffs, OR Chaos, Stoic bombshell, some Mammut thing, plus various Mountain Equipment pieces.

    Mountain Equipment builds primaloft jackets from 40g/60g like the Compressor, all the way to 200g in the Citadel. They also build everything from down sweaters all the way to the Greenland Jakcet, which has 510g of 850 fp down. So I’m not coming at this from a perspective of trashing down or trying to push a product.

    Pound for pound, down is warmer than primaloft. I understand that. However, in the temperature range that ultralight down pieces work well for MY layering philosophy, I have found that synthetic works better. Chances are it’s somewhere in the mid-30s to high-20s and really wet.

    I run really really hot and live in a place that isn’t particularly cold so that probably clouds my judgement. Also I subscribe to the Mark Twight “action suit” way of thinking. I wear very little when moving and try to stay relatively cool. Because of this, my insulation layers are generally more belay style fit rather than a mid layer fit, and generally pretty warm.

    If I lived in Colorado and dealt with colder temps, dry conditions and much more wind I would probably have a different opinion.

    All I’m trying to say is that I don’t feel that down has THAT much more of an advantage until you start getting into heavier fills weights. Sort of like cars. You won’t notice much of a difference between 40mpg and 50mpg when you fill up.(60g primaloft vs. down sweaters) But you will notice the difference 10mpg and 20mpg. (120g primloft vs. 250g 850fp down). Hope that makes sense.

  23. Joe K October 16th, 2013 2:16 pm

    Ok, if mid-30s to high-20s equals really wet in your mind, Woody, then we’re really not disagreeing. But in the Sierra, where I primarily recreate, we routinely have temps in that range with zero chance of precip (way more than we’d like the last couple seasons). I prefer to drop 100g or bring a little extra warmth by choosing down on those days. If it’s 35F and puking then I’m going synthetic. I guess it just comes down to your frame of reference.

    But when you work for the manufacturer, it’s pretty easy to appear disingenuous. Seeing as my Nano Puff is, in fact, my fancy around town piece and that my down sweater gets tons of backcountry use, I took particular note of your original comment about down sweaters.

    But it’s all good.

  24. Woody Dixon October 16th, 2013 3:25 pm

    Yeah, honestly, just trying to have an open discussion. I have tried down sweaters and wasn’t super jazzed. Just trying to figure out what people use them for/why they like them so much. I don’t see them in the backcountry often around here, so it was easy for me to conclude that they were for grade III trips to starbucks. 🙂

    I’m a backcountry skier first and an paid industry shill second. I love gear and finding out what works for other people in the mountains. Sometimes i enjoy stirring the pot too… thanks for the dialogue.

  25. Charky October 16th, 2013 9:01 pm

    Down sweaters are great for fashion, apres ski (“after-ski” evidently ain’t cool nuff for the wannabe euro-set) and providing a place for my wanderlusting dollars to go…in my humble opinion. They also function decently enough when you get to choose your weather (cool and dry), have an easy escape (dangit! That tram is soooo slow!) and/or have little or no risk of something unplanned happening….but verrrrry fashionable nonethless and go well with most any pair of manpris, especially at the local coffee shop. Starbucks!? My god man, have you no class? They epitomize commercialism, greed and the one percent…..besides, the green two-tailed mermaid clashes with my down sweater.

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