I live in Alaska, where moisture is abundant. While synthetic fibers offer the ability to keep you warm when wet, there is no denying the far superior comfort, temperature regulation, packability and light weight of down. So after getting disenchanted by the bulk of my pack, I decided to see what happened when I replaced my trusty synthetic jacket with a down one.
After a spring and summer of using the Brooks-Range Alpini Mountain Anorak Hoody, it has become my insulating layer of choice–better, in almost all circumstances, than any syntheic puffy I’ve used. I lived in this layer climbing the Japanese Coulior on Barille, barbequing burgers on the Ruth, climbing multiple ascents of the Grand Teton and sipping coffee for alpine starts at the Jackson Hole Mountain Guides high camp. I also frequently used it for added warmth in my sleeping bag. The only time I would want a heavier expedition parka would be on multi-day expeditions to major high-elevation peaks.
The quality of the materials and engineering is exceptional. The stuffed puff of this layer is impressive–the 800-fill down provides warmth like a larger expedition parka without the bulk of heavy fabrics or water bottle-sized pockets. The down and the extremely thin, water-resistant, 15-denier ballistic mini-ripstop nylon exterior provides enough breathability that it’s pleasant to hike and climb at elevation with the layer on all day.
The Alpini’s unusual ventilation system helps make this possible. Zippers run from below the arm pits down the sides, held closed by a Velcro fastener. Some people may find this design a bit odd, but in the field these zippers proved incredible. Rather than constantly exchange layers, I simply unzipped the sides for ventilation when necessary and continued hiking or climbing. I could open the entire lower front torso of this garment like a flag to the wind, cooling in a flash. It took a rare breed of sweat to coerce me to retire the layer to my pack. Opening the zips also allowed me to pull on this layer easily, making its trim cut a non-issue–mandatory for anyone with broad shoulders or for pot-bellied heli-skiers.
Because the Alpini is a pullover, it sports a dual-access kangaroo pocket in front. At first, the design turned me off, especially because there was no zipper enclosure. However, day in and day out, I stuffed my gloves, cell phone, iPod, headlamp, snacks and hats in the pouch, which kept them available and allowed me to pull them out like rabbit magic. Perhaps zipper closures would be nice, but that would add weight, and why mess with a design that works?
Of critical importance is the size of the hood. I have been frustrated before by restrictively tight helmet designs, but this hood is a perfect size to go over a helmet. It has a standard bungee cinch around the face and head, but it lacks a rear hood adjuster. Again, extra features would add weight, but this is one I could live with.
Also of interesting note is the Brooks-Range Elephant Foot, which is a half sleeping bag that can attach to the Alpini Hoody. While I did not test this feature, it is an alluring bivy option for alpine-style objectives or any expedition that requires extremely lightweight travel.
I discovered only three real downsides: the fabric is so lightweight that it’s prone to damage; the side zippers are held shut only by Velcro closures, which could lead to long-term zipper failure; and the space-age form fitting makes you look and feel like George Jetson.
While a bit more durability would be nice, this jacket is premium because it’s so lightweight. I have to be careful, or it might blow away. The Alpini also packs so well that I’ve been able to switch my loads into a smaller summit bag.
The design of the Alpini Mountain Anorak Hoody certainly has the serious alpine climber in mind. It’s been versatile as a belay jacket on Ruth Gorge climbs, a day layer on Denali, a warmth layer for Teton adventures and a savior whenever the temperature really drops.
Pros: Ultra light; super warm; excellent materials and craftsmanship; breathable and easy to regulate temperature; hood easily accepts a helmet.
Cons: Velcro closures will eventually fail, then side zippers will fail; tough but super-light outer fabric is prone to damage.