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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > New Balance Chameleon Jacket > Test Report by Andrea Murland
New Balance Chameleon Jacket
I began hiking frequently in 2006 and have since hiked in Western Canada, Australia, and spent 2 months backpacking in the Alps. I spend most weekends either day-hiking or on 2-3 day backpacking trips, with some longer trips when I can manage them. I also snowshoe and ski in the winter, but don’t have a lot of experience with winter in the backcountry yet. Elevation is typically 500-3,000 m (1,600-10,000 ft), in the Canadian Rockies and the Selkirk, Purcell, and Monashee ranges. I try for a light pack, but I don’t consider myself a lightweight backpacker.
Description & Initial ImpressionsThe New Balance Chameleon Jacket is a lightly insulated synthetic jacket. The website tells me that it has Polartec Alpha fabric (that’s the insulation), a wicking fabric for moving moisture, and an antimicrobial treatment for resisting odours. I can see that the jacket has two distinct sections with different fabrics on each. The front and back of the torso of the jacket has the insulated sections, with a smooth face fabric and an open-weave lining with a honeycomb pattern. The sleeves and underarm panels are a thin, stretchy fabric with a woven lining. The tag tells me that the face fabric of the insulated sections is 55% nylon and 45% polyester, while the sleeves are 90% polyester and 10% elastane. Both linings are 100% polyester.
The jacket zips up the front with a plastic zipper. Behind the zipper is a narrow wind flap and at the top is a zipper garage. The collar of the jacket stands 4.5 cm (1.8 in) high. There are two zippered handwarmer pockets in the jacket. The one on the right side has a small secondary pocket in it made from the same material as the sleeves. I presume that this pocket is for an electronic device, as there is a hole through the lining of the jacket nearby which looks like it would be useful for routing a headphone cord through the jacket interior. The jacket has a dropped hem at the back, and the jacket measures 63 cm (24.8 in) in the front and 72 cm (28.3 in) in the back for length. The sleeves on the jacket measure 55 cm (21.7 in) from the armpit to the end and have thumbholes.
The Chameleon jacket has reflective printing down the centre of the back, on each wrist, and on the logo on the left of the chest. Although the colour is listed as black, the torso fabric is definitely grey, and the sleeves are heather grey. The linings are black.
Trying It OutThe Chameleon jacket is a good fit but seems made for someone taller than me. It fits comfortably through the shoulders, bust and waist but is a bit snug in the hips. I can pull it down fully but I am pretty sure it’s going to ride up a bit. The jacket is long on me, and I can almost sit on it...not quite, but close. The sleeves are fitted but comfortable with the stretchy fabric. They are long, coming past the end of my fingers at full extension. I have to pull the sleeves up quite far to get the end to my wrist, but it’s not uncomfortable. I may have to pull them up farther when I’m wearing gloves, we’ll see during the Field Report! I did notice that the lining of the sleeves is quite “catchy”, and catches on rough spots on my hands as I slide my arms into the jacket, almost like microfiber.
After trying the jacket with a regular short sleeve t-shirt on to check the fit, I decided to try with a long-sleeve lightweight wool baselayer, which is something that I would be likely to wear underneath the jacket. The fit was still fine, but I did notice that the “catchy” lining of the fitted sleeves did not want to slide over the sleeves of my shirt. I had to keep a tight hold on the sleeves of the shirt so that they didn’t ride up, and it took a bit of adjustment and pulling to get everything sitting comfortably. Hopefully I get used to that during the test, but my first thought is that having a smooth lining on fitted sleeves would be a nice touch.
SummaryThe New Balance Chameleon jacket is a lightly insulated jacket for high-activity cool weather pursuits. I can’t wait to get it outside and see how the construction works for me and how it integrates with my system for layering on the trail.
Field ConditionsWe have had quite a mild winter so far, so I have had the opportunity to wear the Chameleon Jacket not only as a layering piece but as an outer layer. The jacket has been worn for one skate-skiing excursion, about 5 km (3.1 mi) long, at a temperature of about -5 C (23 F). I have also worn it for three Search & Rescue practice days, which mostly involved travel on motorized snow machines. I have mostly worn the Chameleon for day hiking, snowshoeing, and ski touring, with hikes ranging from about 6 km (3.7 mi) to 17 km (10.6 mi) in length and at temperatures hovering a few degrees either side of freezing. I did have one overnight snowshoeing trip, 10 km (6.2 mi) long and at a temperature of about 5 C (41 F) during the day and about freezing at night. I have worn the jacket over lightweight long-sleeve wool baselayers, and on one occasion a short-sleeve wool t-shirt. I have put another insulated jacket over it on several occasions. I have not washed the jacket.
ObservationsI have found the Chameleon Jacket to be quite a functional piece for the conditions that I’ve experienced this winter.
For high levels of exertion, it works pretty well. When I was skate skiing, I found that I was very warm when going uphill for an extended period, but could dump heat by opening the zipper. On flatter sections, where it was more of a continuous moderate exercise, the underarm panels breathed well and I could do fine control with the zipper. However, at speed going downhill I found that my arms got cold with the breeze that I was generating. I think that the ideal temperature for uphill or flat skate skiing for me would be between -5 C and -10 C (23 F and 14 F), but I think that my arms would be cold. If it ever cools off this winter I’ll try it out.
For hiking and snowshoeing, it is a decent layering piece at around freezing, though if there was any breeze at all I found that my arms got cold. In general, I found that my arms were often cool even when I was trying to dump heat while I was sweating. That wasn’t too much of a surprise, as you’re more likely to catch me wearing arm warmers than a vest as a layer; my arms are always cold while my torso overheats. It was easy to put a heavier jacket on top if I stopped moving or started to get cold. The Chameleon is so fitted that there was no issue with layering any of my other jackets on top.
This jacket doesn’t look like it’s supposed to be water resistant, and I have found that the sleeves do get damp quite quickly in the rain. I also found that with the jacket in my pile of clothes at my feet in my tent on my overnight trip that it felt quite damp in the morning, just from general moisture in the tent.
I still find that getting the arms adjusted properly over a long-sleeve baselayer is a bit of a pain. However, I found the woven lining to be soft and comfortable when I wore a short-sleeve shirt underneath. On my overnight trip I tried to sleep with the Chameleon over my baselayer (as I had been hiking), but was having trouble with itchy arms. I tried removing the jacket so that I didn’t have the fitted sleeves pressing the wool fabric of my baselayer so tightly against my skin and that seemed to solve the problem.
I tried to use the thumbholes in the sleeves when I was cross-country skiing and found that I ended up with a bunched up sleeve under my gloves and then in my poles, which wasn’t comfortable. I did accidentally wear the jacket for a whole day with my hand stuck through one of the thumbholes instead of the end of the sleeve, and kept wondering why the sleeve felt a bit tight on that wrist. It wasn’t uncomfortable enough that I actually noticed what I’d done until I was removing the jacket.
The general fit of the jacket is acceptable. You may be able to see in some of my pictures that it does tend to ride up and sit in a bunch around my waist, sitting above my hips. It’s still long enough for me, even all bunched up.
I have not washed the Chameleon Jacket yet, but it still looks as good as new.
SummarySo far I like the Chameleon Jacket as a layering piece or outer layer at mild temperatures. My arms do seem to get a bit cold while my torso overheats, especially if there’s a breeze. I am looking forward to spending more time cross-country skiing, ski touring, and running in the jacket over the remainder of the test.
Field ConditionsUnfortunately our mild winter and low snowpack this year meant that this jacket didn’t make it out on any more cross-country skiing days, but it did do some ski touring, running, and hiking. I took the Chameleon on a week-long backcountry ski touring trip, where I wore it as an outer layer on the uptrack and covered it with a shell for the ski down. Temperatures hovered around freezing level, just below in the mornings and warming up in the afternoons. Most of the week it was clear, though we did have some snow on one of the days. With little snow, day hiking season started early, and the jacket came with me on three day hikes in mixed weather, everything from sunshine at 15 C (59 F) to blowing graupel (snow pellets) at around freezing and rain lower down. I also took the Chameleon out on four runs, up to 6.5 km (4 mi) in length, all in dry weather right around freezing temperatures.
I used the jacket over a lightweight short or long-sleeved shirt, depending on the temperature. I also washed it twice during this part of the test.
ObservationsUsing the Chameleon jacket over the past two months has confirmed my observations from the Field Report. In general, I like the jacket for high-energy activities at temperatures around freezing. However, I continued to find that if my arms were a comfortable temperature, I was overheating on my torso. Having the breathable arms and underarm panels helped dump heat, but I noticed this spring while running that as the day and sun warmed up I started to rapidly overheat.
I got much better at adjusting the sleeves over the past few months, and don’t really think twice about getting everything on and in the right place anymore. I don’t use the thumb holes at all, as I seem to prefer the sleeves just bunched around my wrists.
The Chameleon does quite well with resisting odours. I’ve never worn it without a shirt underneath, but with how snug the arm holes are I expected it to pick up more smells. It definitely needed a wash after a week of wearing it all day, every day while hiking on skis in warm temperatures, but it really wasn’t too bad.
The jacket has now been washed twice in my regular laundry and hung to dry. It doesn’t show any evidence of wear or staining, and doesn’t seem to have stretched out at all.
SummaryOverall, I quite like the Chameleon Jacket as a layering piece and as a stand-alone piece around freezing. Although I think I’d prefer insulated arms and an un-insulated torso, I do like the jacket for running especially.
Underarm panels & arms breathe well
Still looks new
My arms are usually cold
“Catchy” lining on sleeves
Thanks to New Balance and BackpackGearTest.org for the chance to test the Chameleon Jacket! It will remain handy in the closet for running and skiing adventures next winter.
Read more gear reviews by Andrea Murland
Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > New Balance Chameleon Jacket > Test Report by Andrea Murland