I have to admit that when Jordan White asked me if I’d like to come on the Wildsnow Denali trip, my first thought was of the agonizing, bitter cold. I’m a Colorado boy who likes the mild winters and abundant warmth of our state’s hundreds of sunny days a year. Even my east-coast girlfriend told me to quit being a baby when I whined about being soaked and cold when we were in Ushuaia last summer.
Then I put the Himalayan Parka on and I instantly was unafraid of multiple days of negative forty. I was sweating, not from anxiety, but from the most absolute jacket I’ve ever put on. One could almost substitute this parka for a sleeping bag, though you wouldn’t save much space; the included stuff sack actually fits my zero degree bag.
Tyler’s first impression sums it up well:
“The first thing you notice when slipping this jacket on is that it’s substantial; extremely puffy and warm. While 800 fill down alone inspires confidence, the jacket seems to be filled with a good quantity (weight) of this high loft stuff, as well as using Climashield synthetic in key spots to optimize performance. The parka fits true to size. I’m 5’9” and 165lbs and a medium fit the bill. The cut of the jacket is definitely made for warmth. Plenty of room for layers without being huge (for an expedition parka), long sleeves and cuffs, and a past waist length cut to eliminate cold spots. Overall this jacket is well made for its price point, the exterior seems to be a thicker and more durable (Gore Windstopper fabric), as opposed to some tissue paper thin down parkas that are perhaps slightly lighter in weight, but don’t cut wind as well and can tear easily.”
I’m in a size large at 6’0″ and the same weight and am very happy with the fit of a size large; I can fit many layers on underneath, and can also go with very few. The fit is generous and allows for unrestricted movement. Of note, the insulation in the arms varies in density, more in the back less above, so arm movement is easy. The hood fits a helmet and can be put on and off even with the main zip fully closed. Drawstrings for the opening at the face and one at the back to tighten the crown all work well. There is a thick neck baffle to keep your body totally isolated from the cold.
All the zippers are of the coated water resistant variety, which sounds great in theory, but in practice, the main zip is somewhat small and difficult to operate. I’m not sure this type of zip is necessary for a down jacket, especially since there is also a full length Velcro flap. At the least, a larger toothed zipper would be helpful when trying to zip up with mitts, and might also be more resistant to damage from miss-zips.
There is a drawstring at the waist to cinch it up, but nowhere to put the excess cord. Most of my jackets have something for this, I’m thinking I might have to add it; I don’t want a big loop hanging at my waist to get caught in the harness/pack/camera cluster. To keep things warm at the wrist, the parka has integrated hobo gloves. These seem really cool at first, preventing exposed wrist syndrome; but under a pair of gloves, they feel a little tight and restrictive. No matter, if you don’t like them, they can easily be slipped up under the sleeves.
An excellent feature is the interior water bottle pockets, one on each side. These will be great to keep beverages from freezing and to store other items that need to stay warm or that need to be dried. That being said, Lou pointed out that he’s going to have a large mesh pouch sewn into his parka on at least one side in the front, as a place to dump gloves, hats and so forth. He said he’s had that on most of his extreme jackets over the years, and that it’s an awesome feature that makes life much easier when living in extreme conditions. I’ll be curious how he does that, and perhaps we’ll all duplicate the mod.
There are four exterior pockets on the North Face Himalayan: two hand warmers and two napoleons, all of which have a soft lining. None of the pockets are accessible with a pack on, but the napoleons can be reached by undoing your pack’s sternum strap. There is down insulation on the outside of the pockets and a thin layer of synthetic Climashield Neo between them and the inside. Climashield is also present in key areas such as the shoulders (the combo of synthetic and down is one of the features that makes this jacket exceptional).
All in all, I am totally psyched on this jacket and look forward to matching the Michelin Man bulge for bulge. Denali may be a frigid experience unless we get perfect conditions, but I feel emboldened to take it on.