A lightweight down jacket has become a must-have in the arsenal of all outdoor enthusiasts. Their practicality and convenience, whether beneath your shell jacket to go skiing, stuffed in your pack as an extra layer for cold nights at the hut or for simply nipping down to the supermarket, has made them invaluable to most of us.
The traditional filling for these jackets has been down (goose or duck), as its warmth and pack-ability has been unsurpassed. That was till now, step in Icebreaker, NZ’s iconic merino brand and a new technology called MerinoLOFT. Icebreaker has replaced the standard down filling with a woolen insulation layer. Using a combination of wool and a touch of synthetic fibre they have developed what is being lauded as the warmest insulation out there. The MerinoLoft is wrapped in a 100% recycled polyester shell giving the jacket a water-repellant property and is lined with woven merino.
This all sounds great in theory but we thought that we needed to put these new jackets to the test to see if they were as good as they claimed to be. With the ski fields not open yet we decided to take off on an early winter tramp up the Caples track and back out on the Routeburn. With snow on the ground and wet firewood at most huts it seemed an ideal proving ground for the MerinoLOFT jackets.
First impressions of the jackets at home before the tramp were that they were well fitted and felt more like a street style jacket than the classic scroggin-munchers down jacket. The other instant impression was the warmth; it definitely had me sweating in the lounge at home.
Scrunching the brand new jacket into my backpack felt wrong; it seemed far too nice a jacket for that. However my main concern was that it didn’t seem to pack as small as my old down jacket and it was definitely on the heavier side of lightweight. Not majors for most people but when you’re gram-shaving and low on space for five days in the hills it was a minor concern.
Tramping through the Humbolts in early June was always going to be cold but a large dump of snow a few days before we left and a consistent, clear southerly flow the whole tramp led to extremely frosty temperatures. Undeterred, we headed off for four nights in DOC huts. I wore the Helix jacket everyday on the walk. The few times I used it while tramping, usually first thing in the morning, it felt comfortable and handled the abuse that my heavy backpack gave it. Its main purpose though was for warmth in the evenings and on arrival at the hut it was the first thing I grabbed. I was happy for the bit of extra bulk and the convenient hood at this point because as the sun set the mercury dropped and a lack of dry firewood left us very reliant on our clothing layers.
Our third and fourth nights were spent in huts at around 1000m where the temperatures were consistently below freezing after sun down. Although I needed most of my layers underneath the Helix jacket the MerinoLOFT insulation worked well and I was pleasantly comfortable even at the extremes of what it was designed for.
Icebreaker has succeeded in making one of the warmest lightweight jackets I have ever used. Its styled look and finish make it as much at home in town as in the hills and by using recycled polyester and left-over merino from their factory they have added an eco-friendly factor that will please many. While the beautifully plush woven merino lining of the jacket adds a lot of warmth it also adds a bit of bulk and weight that make deter the hardcore gram-shaving purists, but for the most of us this is a perfect versatile jacket capable of keeping us warm while skiing, tramping or walking home from the pub. With a $399 price tag the Helix and Halo jackets sit in the mid to upper price bracket for this type of garment and the added technology that Icebreaker have here seems well worth it.
Since our trip into the hills our female tester has managed to get up to the ski fields and test the Halo jacket under ski conditions, here’s what she thought:
“As a ski patroller, I frequently wear a down jacket because I am out on the mountain for long hours each day, often in frigid temperatures. After the past fortnight spent up on the field, getting it ready for the season, I have now relegated my old down and replaced it with the Halo jacket, as it’s proved to be the perfect extra warm layer for those days when being up the mountain is a chilling experience. Worn under a Gore-tex shell it’s warm enough to keep lapping the chair all day, even in a strong southerly wind and then later on the shell can be taken off and you are left wearing a stylish jacket for après ski”
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