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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > Coalatree Whistler Windbreaker > Test Report by Jamie DeBenedetto
Product Information Back to contents
Product Description Back to contents
Coalatree is marketing the Whistler Windbreakers as a "minimalist travel jacket with self-healing technology". The ones we're testing through this series are early production prototypes so be aware that later models will likely be a little different. The one I have is a forest green color in an XL size. Looking at the shape of the garment leads me to believe these are a unisex style as I do not see any female specific features sometimes available on ladies' jackets. For my shape, the XL fits okay in the mid-section and across my bust, with enough room for a lightweight layer. Conversely, it's a little tight through the shoulders and about 2 in / 5 cm too short in the sleeve length. Torso length hits me about mid-butt.
As far as features the Whistler has a few: Although it's primarily a windbreaker it has been treated with a (DWR) durable water repellant coating giving it some water resistance. The jacket has five pockets - two open external hand-warmer, two internal also open style, and one zippered napoleon on the left chest. The chest pocket serves as a mesh stuff sack as well. The hood (not removable) can be cinched using the drawstrings in the back and front. It does not have a beak. Each sleeve ends in a half elastic cuff and another drawstring in the bottom hem cinches up the waistline. This cord is just under the right pocket but isn't accessible from inside the pocket. The zippers are all YKK brand, no pull tabs. The Coalatree logo, which is reflective, is located in a few strategic places.
The most unique feature of the windbreaker, however, is the company's specially made combination of ripstop nylon and a "repairable" material they call Hilo Tech. Their claim is that by using friction created by rubbing your finger over the material, the "self-healing" properties of this nylon will fix small holes in a few seconds.
Arrival Condition and Informational Material Back to contents
After inspecting the Whistler inside and out, I found it to be in perfect condition. No loose strings, no blemishes in the nylon material, and all zippers and drawstrings work as expected.
Only a simple hang tag
accompanied the jacket giving the product name and the environmental initiatives
of the company. Personally, I think it's an intuitive piece of gear so not
much info is needed but if they sell these in brick and mortar stores I would
hope they include some info on the Hilo Tech technology as that is clearly
the jacket's biggest selling point.
Expectations and First Impressions Back to contents
I have mixed feelings about the Whistler at this point. On the downside the fit is not great for a jacket. Ideally, I'd like a bit more room in the shoulders so I can wear the jacket over another layer. It's tight with just a t-shirt underneath. The short sleeve length is also disappointing. I expect women's garments to be too short because in my experience companies rarely consider tall women, but usually men's sleeve lengths run slightly longer, especially if you buy a larger size overall.
On the upside the claim
about the fabric being "self-healing" is very exciting and the reason
I volunteered for this test. I live in a prickly place. Nearly every shrub,
tree and of course cactus in the Sonoran Desert is hazardous to delicate fabrics
and skin if you're careless. I can't remember the last time I hiked somewhere
where I didn't have to cautiously watch out for my external fabrics. I'm looking
forward to putting the Hilo Tech through the gauntlet, so to speak, over the
next few months.
Hike #1 - January: 5 mile (8 km) out-n-back hike in the Tonto National Forest near Cave Creek, Arizona - Elevation 3,200 to 4,000 ft (975 to 1200 m); 55 F (13 C).
The Coalatree Whistler Windbreaker was worn for my lunch break on the side of the mountain I was hiking up and for the last half of my hike back down the trail. It was a little warm on the lung busting sections but nice in the mellow shady areas and whenever I stopped moving. (The picture on the right is from this outing.)
Before my ascent started in earnest I hiked through a shaded canyon, that's when I first pulled out the Whistler. I didn't want to stop walking to take off my pack so I just put it on backwards so my arms and chest were covered. A convenient advantage of a jacket verses a pullover. I put it on fully later when I stopped for lunch and found the wind hitting my now sweaty shirt was colder than I thought it would be. The jacket did provide warmth, and therefore I assume stopped some wind. It's hard to tell how effective it is though because the spots where jacket material touched my bare skin, like on my arms, were still cold. I couldn't exactly tell whether that meant it wasn't stopping the wind or it was and the cold spots were just due to air temperature just making the material cold. Let's call this the "I need more testing" hike.
Hike #2 - January: 5.5 mile (8.9 km) loop in the Tonto National Forest, near Cave Creek, AZ - Elevation 3,200 to 2,800 ft (975 to 850 m); 65 F (18 C). The jacket was worn for about 45 minutes while we stopped for lunch and poked around a waterfall taking pictures. Not much wind in the canyon but I was a little chilled after I stopped moving and the Whistler worked well as something lightweight over my t-shirt.
Hike #3 - February: 4 mile (6 km) sunset hike in the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve, Phoenix, AZ - Elev. 1,500 up to 2,000 ft (490 to 610 m); 60 F (15 C). This time I wore the Whistler while goofing around with my youngest son on the top of a local peak and for the 2 mile (3 km) hike back down after sunset. The jacket had been stuffed in my pack for a few weeks since my last outing so it was super wrinkly. Amazingly, it unwrinkled within 10 or 15 minutes of wear.
#4 - February: 8.5 mile (13.7 km) out-and-back day hike in the McDowell Sonoran
Preserve, Scottsdale, AZ - Elev. 2,800 to 3,000 ft (850 to 900 m); 55 F (13
C). We had breezes up to maybe 10 mph (16 kph) through the morning so I started
off wearing the Whislter unzipped and worn backwards over my arms for the
first couple miles until I warmed up. I put it back on at the halfway point
when we stopped for lunch and kept it on for the return trip.
The next day, which I'll call "crazy voodoo magic" day, I relocated the punctures so I could take pics for this report, then set about attempting to rub the holes out. I started with the larger one without the snag figuring if either had a chance of "self-healing" it was probably this one. I rubbed for about 10 seconds and POOF! The pin hole was gone!! How neat is that? So much I had to show my husband who was wondering what I was geeking out over. I showed him the second puncture, then started rubbing it with my finger. We looked after about 10 seconds again and it was still there. I rubbed for another 10 and on the second attempt it mostly repaired. Strangely, the snag kind of changed shape. (See pictures).
Hike #5 - February - Hike and mountain bike ride in the Tonto NF, near Cave Creek, AZ - Elevation 3,000 ft to 2,800 (900 to 850 m); 52 F (11 C) with gusts up to 17 mph (27 kph). I was freezing my buns off when I stepped out of my car at the trailhead and started unloading my bike. I knew most of my ride was going to be downhill and I wouldn't be working too hard so I donned the Whistler before heading out. Its wind breaking qualities seemed more apparent on the bike. It definitely helped and I was glad I brought it. I wear gloves on my bike and that helped make up for the shorter sleeves but I was really wishing for thumb holes. Abundant air flowing up my sleeves certainly detracted from the jacket's overall efficacy.
On the hike portion of this trek I wore the Whistler the full 2 miles (3 km). I was very thankful for the hood as my ears and neck were super chilled from the relentless wind. I didn't try fitting the hood over my bike helmet but it fit just fine over my ball cap. The hood stayed put and allowed for decent visibility when cinched up.
Use #6 - March - Full day of fishing at Dead Horse Ranch State Park in Cottonwood, AZ - Elevation 3,300 ft (1,000 m); 60 F (15 C). The Whistler was worn from the time I stepped out of the truck until I got back in (totally fishless) 7 hours later. Conditions were windy and cool all day. In addition to this outing I also wore the Whistler while golfing the day before fishing, in light rain a few times in the week leading up to our Cottonwood trip, and on several other short excursions in the city since it arrived.
It does appear to block the wind effectively.
Fit, specifically shoulder
width and sleeve length.
Collective Use and Field Conditions Back to contents
Although things are heating up fast here in Arizona, I did have one more good opportunity to use the Coalatree Whistler Windbreaker on a two-day backpack trip bringing my total use to eight days. This last trip was in the Tonto National Forest near Cave Creek, AZ. Elevation 3,000 ft (900 m). The weather was mostly clear with daytime temps in the low 70's (22 C) and an overnight low in the upper 40's F (9 C). I wore the Whistler from sundown on day one, almost the entire night and then for a few hours the next morning until we started hiking out.
Final Thoughts Back to contents
I was trying to think of one word to sum up the Whistler, the best I could do is three words: minimalist and game changer. I'm going with "minimalist" because the Whistler is very basic in its features and does the job of a wind stopping jacket in the most ordinary way possible. An aspect I'm on the fence about. As long as something performs, I'm all for unfussy gear but I can't help but think there are a few features Coalatree could add to the Whistler to elevate it to the total package. I've already mentioned my wish for thumb holes and to that I'll add and/or stronger elastic at the cuffs. A little more generosity in the shoulders would be nice as well. Given that jackets are meant to be worn over other clothing, it makes sense to make them with slightly bigger dimensions.
"Game changer" came to mind because the Hilo Tech is certainly something innovative and special about this garment. After my backpack trip I found another puncture in the jacket. I wanted to show my son, who backpacked with me, how cool the fabric was. I showed him the hole, told him to rub his finger across it a few times and then look at the hole. He did and was totally shocked to find the breach had completely disappeared. This of course sparked a conversation about the tech and we both agreed it's an exciting concept. To boil it down, I live in a place with a lot of pointy plants and I mean literally every plant, so for me, this technology means this garment might remain viable for many years longer than another similar jacket. That alone sets it apart and makes it worth buying.
After four months of use, and I want to clarify that in addition to eight field days, I also wore the Whistler biking in my neighborhood, while golfing, and around town on cool days. It's been stuffed and unstuffed in my pack a ton and washed twice. All components (hood, drawstrings, zippers, etc.) continue to work as intended with one exception; the napoleon pocket developed a finger width hole in the corner of the mesh. I lost two fishing weights before I realized this! Other than that, it's holding up well to my type of use.
My favorite thing about the Whistler is that it's a full-zip jacket. I own a few pull-over windbreakers and while they are slightly lighter or more compact, I like the venting option the full-zip provides as well as the ease of donning and doffing. I'll most likely be replacing my other windbreakers with the Whistler, at least in my daypack where weight and size isn't as much of a concern.
I very much appreciate Coalatree and BackpackGearTest.org for giving me the opportunity to be a part of this test series. I hope my review was helpful.
-Jamie J. DeBenedetto - 2020
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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > Coalatree Whistler Windbreaker > Test Report by Jamie DeBenedetto