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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Patagonia's Encapsil™ Down Belay Parka....

Encapsil down high on Huascaran Sur, Cordillera Blanca
Photo courtesy of Jd Merritt and Carl Dean 
Patagonia sez:
"The finest down parka ever made. The Encapsil™ Down Belay Parka is 100% independently baffled and differentially cut, and insulated with Patagonia’s Encapsil™ down - a proprietary, plasma-treated, water-repellent down with an unprecedented fill-power of 1000; numbered, limited edition."

OK, up front, ya I want one. This after playing with a loaner from Patagonia for a couple of weeks.   And not something I ever thought I'd want to admit to.  Just can't get past the $700 buy in.

@ 20K in the Cordillera Blanca

If you are going to talk be able to back it up.  "Ever made"?!  Let me cut to the chase early on.  While Patagonia's Encapsil™ Down Belay Parka an exceptional down jacket, it is not IMO "the finest down jacket ever made".  However I don't doubt it is certainly one of the best down climbing  jackets currently available. Chouinard himself sold some of the finest down jackets ever made decades ago.  None labeled Chouinard or Patagonia and none made in the USA or China.

Let me share my thoughts as to why I think both thoughts are true.

Patagonia uses 800 fill down in the Encapsil™ process to get 1000 fill down. If..and to be honest I don't know what all the "ifs" are at the moment...if the 800 down would stay 1000 fill down forever with little or no maintenance we would be good to go.

Problem is at this point early in the process it doesn't seem to be staying or acting like 1000 fill down even short term.

Like may things beauty is generally more than skin deep.  On the surface the Encapsil™ Down Belay Parka seems to be a real beauty and short term I am sure it is.  But at $699 (including FREE cleaning for life) IMO it better be a long term solution to an age old problem.  There are many other jackets in this arena for weight/warmth that will last virtually forever if kept reasonably clean for half that kind of money.

Yes, I did say free cleaning and repair for life.

More here:

And yes I am impressed.  Likely the deal changer for me to own a $700 down jacket.

Trust me. If I think the gear is worth it I don't mind spending money.  Think stupid money like the TLT P boots as an example.  But nothing else out there that performs like the TLT P.   So $1000 eventually seemed like a "real deal" to me.  $700 for a down jacket?  Steep buy in.  But in this case all in, it may well be worth it.  Which actually took me a while to comprehend and then acknowledge.
Let alone write that thought and then attempt to justify it in a blog review.

Below are links to down and synthetic belay jackets I have looked at.  At least in North America most of what is in common use I hope.  I still own 3 of what I think are the best currently available.  The Patagonia Encapsil belongs in that group as well.

I have looked at and used a good many of the most recent/best down parkas.
It helps to have done my home work because one had better if  you are going to take a critical look at the newest Patagoinia offering.

Three of what I consider the best climbing down belay jackets currently.
Left to Right, Mount Bell Mirage, Patagonia Encapsil and the Mountain Hardware Nilas
Doing those reviews I have looked at a lot of jackets. Some I tossed aside unworthy early on, and didn't add to this list. Many (5 and counting) of these jackets have been changed a lot since I did my first reviews. So make sure you know what you are looking at. The most recent update (data is from the earlier reviews though) below of the jackets I have thought met that criteria of "climbing jacket":

L or XL weight insulation @ the shoulder box wall or sewn through
**Only the Patagonia Encapsil is a Men's medium in size
On my postal scale:

Eddie Bauer Peak XV           1091g/ 38.5 oz          5" box
Narrona Trollveggan            1063g/ 37.5oz            3" box
Rab Neutrino Plus                 794g/ 28                    5" box
Arcteryx Duelly                    794g/28                    2.5" non laminated syn
Narrona Lyngen                    737g/ 26                    3" sewn + layer
Mont Bell Permafrost            694g/24.5               4.5" box
Rab Neutrino Endurance       650g/22.9                  3" sewn
Mtn H Nilas                           652g/ 23                 3.5 " box/sewn thru arms
EB BC Micro Therm             590g/ 21                 2.5" sewn + layer
Patagonia Encapsil                519g/18.3oz           4" box construction **medium in size
Mont Bell Mirage                  420g/ 14.7             3.5" box
Rab Infinity                           402g/ 14                 3" sewn

No question the Patagonia Encapsil jacket is on the money for weight and loft.  The hood and new cuff design are both very good.  But Patagonia isn't the first or the last offering a boxed baffled, differential cut on a down jacket.  They are now decades old.  The light weight of the Patagonia version is nice but still only a 1/2 +/-  pound lighter than jackets offering 25% more loft and proven durability and longevity.

Patagonia Encapsil in a medium uses 245g (8.6oz) of 1000 fill hydrophobic down fill (based on 800 fill natural down)

Rab Neutrino Plus in a large uses 275g (10oz) of 800 fill hydrophobic fill down

I used the Large Rab and Medium Patagonia sizes here because I think they are the best for actual size comparisons.

On design, I could find only one fault.  No two way main zipper on the new Patagonia version.  I had thought in their attention to detail that would not have been missed.  While doing keyboard design I like a two way zipper on a belay parka.  In actual use I find them just annoying to get zipped up right and not very durable.  It may have atually been that was an attention to detail they did not miss.

So if the jacket's design is almost perfect...or close enough anyway to call it "very, very good".  Teh new Encapsil version is exceptional in a small group of very good jackets.  Why isn't it the best ever?  It is the Encapsil down......that is holding back my 5 star rating.

My sample was just a serial number or two off of the jackets I have seen floating around for review. (600# and change)  No clue how much or how ofter this one had been used (but it seemed clean enough when I got it) but there was some down clumping was obvious in high use areas.  Shoulders, under arms, waist hem all showed what I would have considered down clumping when compared to other high end down belay jackets I own and know the  use they have had.

The same issue (different serial #ed jacket) is best seen in the video linked below.

I am admittedly leery of new technology.  And even more leery when anyone starts claiming the "best" without a track record to back it up.

Cold and nasty weatherr.  Perfect place for a Encapsil Down Jacket.
Photo courtesy of Jd Merritt and Carl Dean

Patagonia has made some huge leaps in clothing technology and patterns lately imo.  The Knifeblade and Northwall Series and their entire men's pants line for examples I've noticed.    Bravo for that!
I have said this before but as much as I bitched about Patagonia it is also the most used ski and climbing clothing in my gear room by a fair margin.  That fact actually surprised me when I made the effort to actually count.   I had thought it would be a combo of Westcomb, Eddie Bauer and Arcteryx.  But even that combo doesn't add up to the Patagonia clothing I am most likely to be using at any given time.

No question the Encapsil version is the best down parka Patagonia has ever made.  You only know what you have seen.  And the best is generally the last.  But no question it is a very, very fine belay jacket.  Only some time and a few more pieces in the field getting hammered will tell us just how "fine" this jacket really it.  I have high hopes.  and with Patagonia willing to stand behind them for cleaning and might yet be quite a bargain even at $700.

More here:

"Patagonia's Encapsil Down Parka is the world’s first down product to use a hydrophobic treated down that increases fill power. (This fall Montbell will introduce the 1000-fill power Plasma 1000 jacket-- Patagonia narrowly beat them to the 1000-fill finish line.) Increasing fill power from 800 to 1000 boosts warmth while reducing weight-- because less down is used to fill the same volume."

Bottom line here?  I really like this jacket.  Do I want one?  Sure.  Will I  drop $700 on one?  Not very likely.  But if you are headed to places high and cold enough to actually climb in a big belay jacket the buy in price and extra security of a hydrophobic down jacket is cheap by comparison when you are feeling my friends i nthe picture below.  If I were/going to...I'd already own one.  Much as it pains me to acknowldge that fact.   The hype is high around this jacket.  So far it looks like Patagonia is living up to and more imprtantly standing behind their hype.

Congrads guys on some fine climbing!
Muchos gracias on the use of the photos!

I'll add this note of trivia.  Had a buddy of mine with a new Encapsil jacket.  Through a major mix up not in his control the new jacket went through washing machine.  Not thrilled with the end results he wondered who could save his new parka.  I suggested sending it back to Patagonia.  It was a "repair" after all.  Patagonia took care of him, no questions asked.  In his case that was 2 jackets for $700.   A deal in retrospect ;-)

His comments on the Patagonia jacket after a season using it fro climbing up high as intended.
"About the jacket: not durableSuper warm.  Compactable.  Good pockets.  Also no belay zip."


marcello said...

I just have to put a line somewhere. I usually fork out the money, but I really like my down jackets and that one is more of a luxury item than anything.

Dersu said...

You should also check this down jacket from Jottnar (a new manufacturer from UK):

Jimmy M said...

Hi Dane,

Great review. Have you ever come across PHD clothing? It'd be interesting to see how some of their range compare to your top-rated jackets - they use 900(EU)power down in some lines, which, if I understand the difference in measuring to the US grading, would be approximately equivalent to the 1000 power Patagonia down.
Not always quite as refined, finish-wise, though:

Eric K said...

Even if I could afford it I cannot get my hands on the Encapsil jacket since it is produced in such small numbers. I think Encapsil like tech is the future but if Encapsil is as good as they say then patagonia should have a "encapsil down sweater" that way encapsil can be made more mainstream and it could receive a more broad spectrum test.

Anonymous said...

Why did you think of the nilas vs the permafrost? I am can't decide between the two for real cold (denali climbing jacket) and for general mountaineering? What do you think is warmer and why did you end up keeping the nilas? Not in topic about the Patagonia jacket but the encapsil is near impossible to get.



Dane said...

I like the Nilas outer shell better than the Premafrost. I liked the fact that it was lighter. They are both good jackets. I could easily just let the price point give me directions.
Color, as dumb as it sounds was a factor as well.

I got he Nilas on sale for less than 1/2 the retail price via the Internet. Hard to refuse for that.
Permafront is likely a better jacket technical and a bit warmer. Both are more than enough for Denali.

rOg said...


Have you checked out the Western Mountaineering Snøjack Parka GWS? I have never seen it in person but if it is built like their sleeping bags it should be a contender.

Matt said...

Hi Dane,

sorry this is a little off topic, i didnt know where to post it.

Have you had a look at any of the polartec alpha jackets yet?

Have you tested the new Arcteryx hardface fleeces?

would you be able to do some updates to your 'systems' articles? I would like to hear about your current action suit for each activity,if anything has changed with the 2013/14 products, and perhaps include some overall gear lists for each sport too.


Dane said...

Hi Matt, I have tried the Arcteryx Acto. Nothing else recently. Have not tried Alpha but understand the concept. More new garments coming in Alpha soon. I'll get a few eventually. But to date nothing really changed in my gear system really. Flavors and fits have gotten better. Still a soft shell pant, Hard or soft shell top. Polartech Powershield Pro or Neoshell my favorites but Gore Active is good as well. Atom LT kind of hybrid insulation and a decent down LWT jacket (use to always be synthetic). I find it really hard to make a list of what I am using at any given time. Not because it is hard to make a list but because my own use is so biased by personal opinion. I would rather have people read the reviews and see if the review can give them enough info to make good choices for their own use. Make sense?

Tim Brose said...

I enjoyed your review. I have been waiting for quite sometime for someone(besides the Patagonia sponsored climbers) to opine on this new? approach to down.
However, I can't help but notice that that review from the Greenland? expedition really made me question whether Patagonia is on to something or if they have a gigantic 'lemon', so to speak? Seeing that down clumped up in their sample sure didn't impress me.

Dane said...

Hi Tim, yes and why I mentioned the clumping issue in my review. I could see the same problem in the sample I was loaned. Seems like a problem to me. Nice jacket for sure but if the insulation is flawed at a basic level there is going to be a problem short and long term.

"Problem is at this point early in the process it doesn't seem to be staying or acting like 1000 fill down even short term.

Like may things beauty is generally more than skin deep. On the surface the Encapsil™ Down Belay Parka seems to be a real beauty and short term I am sure it is."

Anonymous said...

I had one of these when they first came out. Only used it briefly at the end of the climbing season but experienced a ton of the "clumping" issues, to the point where there was no loft in certain areas of the jacket. I sent it back to Patagonia and they were great about handling it and refunding me for the price of the jacket. Love the concept but, this is clearly still a work in progress...

Anonymous said...

I had this jacket briefly last year at the end of the ice clbintg season. It was really light and packed up small, but I had problems with the clumping issue as well, especially when using after it was in the stuff sack. The jacket would not loft back up and in some areas there were no down clusters at all. I sent the jacket back to Patagonia and they noted the same issue. To their credit they were really good about this and refunded me my money. The jacket is a great idea in concept, but clearly still a work in progress.

One other thing I didn't love was the side placement of the water bottle / glove pockets on the inside. When they were full it made the jacket feel right across the front and made the jacket feel really wide.