NEW BALANCE CHAMELEON JACKET
TEST SERIES BY STEVEN M. KIDD
April 13, 2015
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Steven M. Kidd
5' 9" (1.75 m)
185 lb (83.90 kg)
Backpacking Background: I've been a backpacker on and off for over 30 years. I backpacked as a Boy Scout, and then again almost every month in my twenties, while packing an average weight of 50+ lbs (23+ kg). In the last several years I have become a hammock camping enthusiast. I generally go on one or two night outings that cover between 5 to 20 mi (8 - 32 km) distances. I try to keep the all-inclusive weight of my pack under 20 lb (9 kg) even in the winter.
PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS
|Image Courtesy of New Balance|
Manufacturer: New Balance
Year of Manufacture: 2014
Manufacturer's Website: http://www.newbalance.com
MSRP: US $149.99
Listed Weight: N/A
Measured Weight: 14.7 oz (417 g)
Sizes Available: S, M, L, XL (Testing a Size Large)
Technology: As listed on garment hang tags accompanying the jacket
NB FRESH -- Odor Management, Antimicrobial treatment resists odors
NB DRY -- Premium Wicking Fabric, Superior moisture management, Proactive thermo-regulation, Smart Technology
The company website lists the material as 90% Polyester and 10% Spandex. The interior care tags are more comprehensive listing the following materials: Shell 1: 90% polyester - 10% elastine*; Shell 2: 55% nylon - 45% polyester; Lining 1: 100% polyester; Lining 2: 100% polyester.
*For clarity, Spandex is a branded elastine.
A few of the noted highlighted features of this running jacket include a drop back hem, reflective logos and trims, thumbholes, two secure zip pockets and V-fold elastic binding.
The New Balance Chameleon Jacket is a synthetic men's running garment. The website suggests it will "help you conquer cold-weather runs". The trademarked Polartec Alpha fabric has an open-weave construction. The jacket torso is a synthetic puffy "down-inspired feel". New Balance states the material is designed to generate airflow while wicking moisture away from the body and holding in warmth. The side panels and arms are a thinner synthetic stretchy material where the Spandex material is located.
The Men's Chameleon is offered in only the one color. The New Balance website lists it as black. The jacket interior is black, but I would certainly call the exterior grey. The puffy torso is a solid color and the elastine side panels and arms are what I would refer to as a heather grey.
INITIAL IMPRESSIONS & SUMMARY
The jacket appears well made with all the seams in order and no loose or errant threads.
|Notice the Sleeves|
When it arrived I was wearing a thick cotton rugby jersey and quickly tried it on without changing into exercise or backcountry apparel. I immediately learned this jacket isn't designed to go over thick or bulky wear. I grabbed a synthetic short sleeve tee and then tried the Chameleon on a second time to find a much better fit.
I will admit for the first several minutes the fit was a bit awkward to me. My initial feeling was that was is a little snug in the back of the shoulders and in the armpit areas. However, through the torso across the chest and the waist the fit was very comfortable. It is neither too snug, nor loose in those areas. I also quickly noticed the sleeves extended all the way over my palms to about the point where my finger webbing begins.
When I zipped the jacket I soon realized all these cuts or the fit is likely designed into the jacket. When zipped, the jacket not only feels as if fits well, but also appears to be a proper fit. In the mirror it doesn't look snug or have any areas that pull tight, nor is it baggy. Even when zipped all the way up around the neck the jacket is comfortable, and that can often be a bit of contention for me when wearing a high necked garment.
|Thumbhole & Palm Covered|
The snug feeling areas on the back of the shoulder and in the pit area are the stretchy elastine material in the product. It appears to be designed to fit more securely in these areas, and I'm inclined to believe it is a dual function. It appears to create a better fit while running and is likely designed to retain body heat in these areas while doing so.
The extended length sleeves are certainly a nice design feature. The cuffs are elasticized so the sleeves may be worn on the wrists, yet they are also long enough to offer warmth and coverage when using the thumbholes. In the image to the left I model the varying ways the sleeves may be worn.
The material is quite comfortable and smooth to the touch. I interior of the sleeves have a waffled pattern that tends to catch (but not snag) my dry winter fingertips as I don the jacket. It is a minor nuisance and completely unnoticed once my hands have exited the sleeve holes.
The interior fabric of the quilted part of the coat appears to have a honeycombed weave. There are definitely ventilating aspects to the design of this part of the Chameleon. I'm not certain the accompanying image I've provided will do justice to contrast the waffled weave versus the honeycombed weave in the varying parts of the jacket, but this likely clarifies the earlier mentioned product care tag that mentions Lining 1 and Lining 2.
|Jacket Interior Materials & Headphone Wire Slot|
While I was inspecting the differences in the varying linings of the jacket I came upon a pleasant surprise. Both the interior of the jacket and the right pocket had stitch reinforce slots designed to allow headphone wires to pass through. Therefore I can place my phone or music player in the pocket and feed the wiring up though the interior of the jacket for secure comfort while I exercise. I find this to be a nice feature and I've attempted to highlight one of the slots with the yellow arrow in the same image that attempts to contrast the weaves.
The final feature that I'll take comfort in while running outside in the cold winter months is the reflective trim and logos that are on the jacket. When a light shines on them they clearly function and they are strategically placed on the chest, back and sleeves.
|Reflective Trim & Logos|
Overall, I'm excited to begin using the New Balance Chameleon over the next several months. I'm excited to use it for both backcountry outings as well as outdoor winter runs.
I have two varying questions that I look to answer in the coming months. I wonder if the quilted torso area of the jacket will be too warm for me when I'm running. If I do, and I certainly suspect I will, perspire during the course of my runs I'm interested to report on the NB FRESH. How well will it control odor and how often will I need to launder the jacket?
However, when I wear the jacket in the backcountry my questions will be the converse. Will the thinner side panels and sleeves give me enough insulation to keep me warm while both on the trail and more importantly when I grow idle around camp in the evening hours after having spent the day on the trail?
Only time, trails and the paths ahead will answer these questions, so I invite the reader to return in approximately two months for my first field update.
FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
|Preparing for a Run|
28 - 30 November, 2014; Hoosier National Forest, Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area, near Bloomington, Indiana. Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend I was able to sneak out with my children for a three-day/two-night outing. Temperatures ranged from 25 F (-4 C) to right at freezing and it was windy. The valley and forest protected us from the majority of the gusts and we covered around 6 mi (10 km) during the outing. Elevations averaged 650-800 ft (198-244 m).
19 - 21 December, 2014; South Cumberland State Park, near Tracy City, Tennessee. On a trip to visit friends over the holidays I was able to take in a solo three-day/two-night outing in my old stomping grounds. I trekked the entire Fiery Gizzard Trail up and back covering roughly 27 mi (43 km). Elevations average a fairly constant 1750 ft (533 m) along the nearly with several drops into the gulf. Conditions were dry with lows that were around freezing and I measured a high of 55 F (13 C).
1 February, 2015; Eagle Creek City Park, Indianapolis, Indiana. I'd been cooped up with winter weather a little too long in January, so I took in a 6.75 mi (11 km) hike on the Red Trail during a snow event that turned to rain near the end of my two hour day hike. Had I not stopped to enjoy a hot snack and drink on the trail I'd have likely avoided the cold rains.
Multiple 3 - 5 mi (5 - 8 km) runs over the last several months.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
I've worn the Chameleon Jacket on two backpacking trips, a day hike and multiple runs over the last several months. I've occasionally worn it casually a few times as well.
|I typically Vent the Jacket Like This Mid-Run|
I've enjoyed wearing the jacket for multiple activities throughout the fall and early winter months. Although I've worn it on several backcountry outings I'd definitely say I've used it more often for cold weather running. I enjoy wearing it, but I don't grab it as a go-to jacket in all situations for two primary reasons. The Chameleon is designed as a closing fitting garment, so any sort of non-athletic cut shirt like a button down or even a loose cotton tee shirt tends to bunch up in the arm pit area and become uncomfortable. I will wear it with athletic cut shirts. Also if I'm going to be idle outside in colder temperatures my arms will often chill when wearing this jacket. Early on, I wore it one evening when temperatures were just below freezing to a walk up ice cream stand. As my family enjoyed the comforts of a heated vehicle, I stood outside waiting for the dessert to be scooped and quickly learned the arms weren't going to be sufficient for me during inactivity.
I confirmed this during my two backpacking outings. I was plenty comfortable, if not even a little warm, wearing the jacket on the trail while hiking in and out, but when I relaxed around the fire it wasn't enough protection as a single outer layer. I had to add a down pullover in both instances, and in all honesty that down layer has kept me plenty comfortable without any other mid-layers at similar temperatures in the past. I find the Chameleon best works for me during periods of activity.
As I've primarily used it for cold weather running I will also add some highlights concerning usage for this activity. For background, I tend to run just under an eight minute per 1 mi (1.6 km) pace and I perspire noticeably even in subfreezing temperatures. My very first run was a 3.1 mi (5 km) run at 42 F (5.5 C), but with the wind chill it felt like 29 F (-1.7 C). I started off comfortable with the jacket zipped up just shy of the neck with ear warmers and running gloves, plus sleeves extended over the wrists using the thumbholes. Exactly halfway into the run I removed my gloves, ear protection and unzipped the jacket by 3/4 down, to roughly my belly button. I also pushed the sleeves over my wrist. I was uncomfortably warm for the second half of the run and I noticed that my phone (music player) tended to jiggle around in my pocket with the jacket unzipped as it now wasn't as form fitting to my body. Since that day I've not worn the Chameleon on runs with a 'feels-like' temperature any higher than freezing.
|Perspiration in the Armpit Area|
In December the influenza curbed my exercise for about a week and in January icy and snow covered streets and sidewalks forced me to the treadmill for close to two weeks. Between those delays and only wearing the coat for subfreezing running I'd estimate I've ran in the jacket eight to ten times. My average run has been right around 4 mi (6.5 km) and lasts around 30-32 minutes. I will highlight two particular instances that come to mind. I completed my coldest feeling run in 32 F (0 C) with wind chills making it feel like 18 F (-7.8 C). That by far was the best event I can recall. I kept the jacket zipped up for the entire time to at least the chest area and never felt overheated.
A second recent run was 37 F (2.8 C) feeling like 26 F (-3.3 C) and I bring attention to this one as it is they typical weather I have seen here in Indiana this winter. I certainly perspire when I exercise while wearing the garment, but it generally keeps warm comfortable without being too warm in conditions similar to this.
|Notice the Perspiration Around the Neck Exterior|
I do continue to notice the inner material of the sleeves catches on whatever base layer I'm wearing as I don the jacket. I wouldn't say it snags, but it certainly doesn't slide on effortlessly. On runs I usually wear a short sleeve wicking tee, so it's actually my arms that drag as I push them through the sleeves. When I've worn it on the trail with a long sleeve shirt I it becomes a more noticeable chore to push my arms through the sleeves of the jacket. Once it is on I have no issues, it's just getting the item on with that waffled texture.
The NB FRESH works adequately to my liking. I always perspire in the jacket when I run in it, but I don't typically wash it after every run. I can affirm, I've never put it on after a run or two and noticed an unpleasant odor. That stated I do generally toss it in the wash on the weekends if I've had more than two or three runs in it. I'd say I've washed it a total of five times. I wanted to get the wood smoke odor out after both backpacking trips and then a few more times after weekly runs. Everything appears to be holding up quite well concerning durability.
I enjoy the Chameleon Jacket and enjoy wearing it in specific cold weather running situations. Anything much above freezing and I don't tend to wear it as I just get too hot in the middle of a run. It is perfect for Indiana subfreezing winter exercise. If I feel just a little bit chilly when I start, I know I'm going to feel great throughout my exercise event.
I generally start my exercise with the jacket zipped mostly up and I tend to vent it after a few miles. I have found myself zipping it back up in the middle of a jog if winds are high of I find myself in an area that isn't protected against the winds. I find it great for those situations.
I like it on the trail as it keeps me comfortable and not too hot, but at a weight penalty of 14.7 oz (417 g) this gram counter would certainly have to reconsider its long term use for future instances since I don't tend to find it multifunctional for keeping me warm when I'm not active in camp. Perhaps the spring will give me some milder camping temperatures to report on in the coming months of this series!
LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS
|Setting out for a day in the woods|
27 February - 1 March, 2015; Hoosier National Forest, Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area, near Bloomington, Indiana. I had a last minute hall pass this weekend with little time to plan. I still have minimal backcountry knowledge concerning Indiana, but I am familiar with these trails, so I snuck in a three-day/two-night outing in this forest. Temperatures ranged from 29 F (-2 C) to just above freezing. I experienced snow that covered the canopy and the ground. I hiked around 11 mi (18 km) during the outing. Elevations averaged 650-800 ft (198-244 m).
14 - 15 March, 2015; Mounds State Park, Anderson, Indiana. It was a long cold winter in Indiana, and this was the first opportunity since November I had to get my children out for a little backwoods rest and recreation. This overnight outing had lows just above freezing and highs just over 60 F (15.5 C). We hiked about 2 mi (3.2 km) of trails and stayed in the family camping area. It was sunny during the day and clear and dry in the evening. Save the mound, the average elevation in the area is a constant 879 ft (268 m).
8 - 12 April, 2015; South Cumberland State Park, Savage Gulf and Stone Door Region of the Lower Cumberland Plateau in Middle Tennessee. Some backpacking buddies and I had a trip planned over these dates for the Big South Fork area of Tennessee and Kentucky. Late winter ice storms had the trails in that area in really rough shape, so we had to make an ad hoc decision and this was the next most central location for the six of us. It was five-day/four-night trip that covered both sides of the natural area covering close to 41 mi (66 km). Elevations ranged from around 1800 ft (549 m) on the plateau to just under 1300 ft (396 m) in the gulf. The high temperature for the outing was on the second day of hiking reaching 86 F (30 C). It was around 66 F (19 C) the first two evenings until a front with a storm came through cooling the temperatures over the next several days. Daytime temperatures continued to rise into mid- 70's F (24 C), but the low on both Friday and Saturday night dropped to 40 F (4.5 C). Both those nights were so clear and starlit that I didn't even deploy my tarp on the final evening. Terrain varied from level and easy to traverse on the plateau to extremely rocky, slick and slow going on the ascents and descents. The drops into and climbs out of the gulf generally only last 0.25 - 0.5 mi (0.4 - 0.8 km), however, they were steep and intense and we generally found them fairly strenuous.
Several more 3 - 5 mi (5 - 8 km) runs throughout the long term testing phase.
PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD
As the temperatures began to rise over the final phase of the test series I didn't use the jacket nearly as often for running. The temperatures were generally too warm for my comfort level. I was able to make it on three outings and had intermittent use with the Chameleon in those cases.
The near freezing temperatures during the Hoosier National outing were ideal for wearing the jacket while hiking, but when I was idle at camp I became a little chilly; especially so if I moved away from the fire. Because of the athletic fit I found it uncomfortable to layer with more than a single article beneath the jacket, so I ended up supplementing with the same hooded down jacket used during the Field Reporting portion of the test series.
On the outing with my children it was a little warm during the height of the day to hike around comfortably in the jacket and without the convenience of a fire that evening I again needed a little more protection for my arms.
|A view of the Stone Door|
On my final outing in early April I used the Chameleon as my primary form of insulation. Hiking high miles over the course of the trip I decided I wouldn't use the down hoodie that I had supplemented with in the winter months. The day hiking was entirely too warm to need any jacket as shorts and t-shirts were completely adequate, however, I did find use for it on the final two evenings and following mornings around camp. As temperatures dropped to around 40 F (4.5 C) each evening it was perfectly enjoyable around the fire and as I hopped from my hammock each morning. One nice feature concerning this jacket is that if becomes wet there is still an insulating element to this jacket that does not exist with down. I can attest to this as I thoroughly soaked it during several runs.
Overall I find the New Balance Chameleon an excellent garment to wear on cold weather runs. I also enjoy it on cool mornings as a spectator of my son's soccer games. I didn't find the jacket ideal for my backpacking style. Although it performed well enough for trail use if it is cool out, the fact that it didn't keep me comfortably warm enough on the arms when idle required me to carry additional layering for camp. This wasn't ideal in my opinion as it required additional weight that I had to carry on the trail. I could have achieved similar results in other ways on the trail and in camp with much less of a weight penalty.
This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.
Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.
This takes little away from the quality and comfort of the jacket. I tend to be very weight conscious when backpacking. So, although I likely won't use this product on the trail in the future I certainly plan to wear it for exercise and casual wear off the trail. It has held up very well after multiple washings and looks like new in my opinion. I find it perfect for running, and as I recall from my initial report it appeared to be designed for exactly that use.
I'd like to thank both BackpackGearTest.org and New Balance for the opportunity to test the Chameleon.
Read more gear reviews by Steven M Kidd