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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > Nunatak Gear Skaha down sweater > Owner Review by Richard Lyon
NUNATAK SKAHA DOWN SWEATER
Owner Review by Richard Lyon
May 9, 2010
Personal Details and Backpacking Background
Male, 63 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.91 m) , weight: 205 lb (93 kg) , torso 22.5 in (57 cm), sleeve length 36.5 in (93 cm), chest 46 in (117 cm), waist 38 in (97 cm)
Email address: Montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Dallas, Texas USA
I've been backpacking for 45 years on and off, and regularly in the Rockies since 1986. I do a weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 13000 ft (1500 - 4000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do my share of forced marches too. Though always looking for ways to reduce weight, I often choose a bit of extra weight over foregoing camp conveniences I've come to expect. I spend much winter backcountry time on telemark skis.
The Product and the Manufacturer
The Skaha is a pullover-style down sweater. Mine is a custom piece, but then every product from Nunatak is subject to customization. This small shop, which specializes in lightweight down jackets, quilts, and sleeping bags, invites customer input on each item it sells. My first purchase from Nunatak was a Skaha Plus down sweater, with a down hood. I still own that and still put it to good use. A few years later, however, after using off-the-rack down sweaters to replace fleece as mid-layers when skiing, I asked Tom Halpin, Nunatak’s owner, if he’d make me a special Skaha for that purpose. Tom welcomed this as a challenge. Through several telephone conversations and email messages, we settled on four changes from the listed product: 1.5 ounce (43 g) reduction in down, to take account of the sweater’s intended use as a midlayer; a close-fitting hood made of merino wool, comparable to a balaclava without the face mask, that would fit under my ski helmet; buttons instead of a zipper to accommodate my aversion to cold steel at my throat in the winter; and one extra inch (2.5 cm) of length in the sleeves to match my long arms. As on even “list” products, I specified my desired fabric and color from Nunatak’s inventory.
I mention this process up front to alert the reader why the dimensions listed on Nunatak’s website vary considerably from those on my sweater. Customization affects pricing too, of course. Nunatak often charges a small fee for cutting fabric to order, and each piece is priced in part based upon its down content.
Manufacturer: Nunatak Gear LLC, www.nunatakusa.com
Year of manufacture: 2009
Year of purchase: 2009
MSRP: Sweater: $329 US for unisex sizes XS through XL, $359 US for XXL. There is a small surcharge for Nunatak’s lightest weight fabric, 0.8 ounce Pertex Quantum.
Materials: 800+-fill goose down insulation. 1.0 ounce Pertex Quantum rip-stop nylon outer shell fabric. Nylon taffeta liner fabric.
Color: Gunmetal Blue.
Listed weight, size XL, 11.5 oz (326 g) Measured weight of product delivered: 13.9 oz (394 g)
Listed dimensions, size XL: Sleeve 36 in (91 cm), chest 46-49 in (117 - 124 cm)
Measured dimensions: Sleeve 37 in (94 cm), as ordered; chest 47 in (119 cm)
Packed size, measured: 6 x 9 in (15 x 23 cm). I'm sure that I could make it smaller if I owned a smaller compression sack.
Construction: As with all Nunatak products, baffles are box constructed.
Features: Fourteen-inch (36 cm) front zipper at the neck. Elastic drawcord with barrel-type toggle at the waist. That's it – according to Nunatak, " It has no extras, zero bells and whistles, nothing to snag or break or get in the way of traveling light and fast. What you do have is maximum warmth for the given weight, and a clean looking, functional garment."
Availability. Nunatak's individual approach to manufacture has several consequences for the buyer. I purchased a garment that fits my preferences and my figure. I received it eight weeks after I ordered it; bespoke goods take longer to make than simply adding stock. Nunatak requires full payment in advance to cover the not inconsiderable expenses of top-quality down and U.S. labor. (The website does indicate that Nunatak will allow cancellations for a 25% restocking fee.)
Where I Wore the Skaha
Skiing. The Skaha was my mid-layer on ten ski days this past winter, six inbounds at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, Wyoming; one in the Rock Springs backcountry adjacent to Jackson Hole; and three in the Fox Creek area backcountry on the east side of the Teton Range near Victor, Idaho. Temperatures ranged from 15-40 F (-10 to 4 C), occasionally with snow flurries or a north wind that made it seem a good bit colder. Underneath the Skaha was a merino midweight zip-up base layer top (the MontBell Super Merino Wool High Neck Shirt that I am testing, reviewed elsewhere on this site); on top was my Ground Radius eVENT jacket (the subject of another Owner Review on this site). I removed the Skaha on uphill climbs, stuffing it into a small plastic garbage bag and cramming that into my pack. On sunny days, after the temperature rose above freezing I took off the hood, but usually that was worn under my ski helmet.
Backpacking. I’ve worn the Skaha around camp in the Absaroka Range, Montana, in autumn 2009, when temperatures dipped to 20 F (-7 C) at night. On this trip I also used the sweater, over a merino base layer, to augment my Nunatak Back Country Blanket (BCB), a wraparound sleeping quilt accurately rated to that temperature. This spring I’ve carried the Skaha in my pack on a weekend trip in the Texas Hill Country, pulling it out at rest stops and after setting up camp. Daytime temperatures were as high as 60 F (16 C) but down to the 40 F (4 C) range in the evening. A damp 40 F (4 C); we met with rain showers throughout the weekend.
At the risk of self-praise (given my role in its design), I’ll start by saying that my custom Skaha is great as a midlayer for skiing and ski touring. When riding the lifts and schussing downhill it keeps me pleasantly warm at about one-third the weight of a comparably insulating fleece layer. Using Nunatak allowed a lightweight shell fabric. Since when skiing the Skaha is protected by a parka or shell I wasn’t too concerned with water resistance or fabric strength, and so selected 1.0 ounce Pertex, saving several ounces/grams in total weight. The fabric isn’t completely downproof but feather loss has been minimal. This fabric breathes surprisingly well, given the box baffles and high-grade goose down, and resists water well enough so that the down doesn't get soggy from falling or blowing snow or from perspiration that wicks through the base layer.
My particular contribution to the Shaka’s design was the merino hood. I wanted a hood for wind protection, but not a down hood, which would make me overheat if worn over my helmet. I copied the hood design from another manufacturer’s merino hoody (soon to be the subject of another Owner Review), specifying the close-fitting cut to block the wind and fit under my helmet. The hood is sewn in to the back of the Skaha’s down collar. In warmer ski weather the merino is slim enough to stuff down the back of my jacket where I don’t even notice it.
When hiking or boot packing I usually stuff the Skaha in a something waterproof (a stuff sack or plastic bag) and stow it in my pack, retrieving it at the top. This is what I did atop the Headwall at Jackson Hole; I’m on the left in the photo. The hood is visible on my right shoulder. Because the goose down stuffs down so well this takes up a fraction of the pack space a wool or synthetic sweater would need – maybe the Skaha’s best attribute.
The Shaha also excels in a sleep system. I am somewhat claustrophobic, and consequently have disliked shrouding my head inside a mummy bag. In colder weather (below freezing) the Skaha nicely complements my BCB or one of Nunatak’s Arc-style bags for upper body insulation and keeps the breeze off my head. A down hood or balaclava is too warm for me, but the merino hood, with a wool beanie if needed, is just right. And the tighter fit of this particular hood means it stays on no matter how much I toss or turn. When wearing the Skaha I can vary the insulation of the quilt, ventilation, and wiggle room by opening more or less of the bag, without risking a chill.
I wore the Skaha around camp in the mornings and occasionally in the evenings. The drawcord can cinch the hem, and with the zipper all the way up the two-inch (5 cm) down collar fits snugly. I haven't noticed any drafts from lack of elastic or other means of closure at the wrists. When performing morning chores such as cooking or bringing water back to camp I simply push the sleeves above my elbow to avoid their getting in the way.
I haven't been caught in the rain with this sweater as my outer layer, but the Pertex Quantum has repelled snow, mist, dew, and tea and water splashes effectively. This fabric has the texture of taffeta and a pleasantly soft hand, without any of the disagreeable slipperiness that I have found in some silnylon products.
I've cleaned the sweater twice, by hand in the bathtub in the same manner as a down sleeping bag, using Nikwax Down Wash. Like a bag, it took a couple of days to dry completely, but when dry the loft looked as good as new.
What I Like
The Skaha Plus is exactly what I wanted and has done what I bought it for extremely well. The following are especially praiseworthy.
Pack size is the feature I have come to value the most. I can compress to the point that I can easily fit it into a genuine daypack when skiing and still have room for other essentials. In the past the alternative has been a larger pack, as I don't want to be without some serious insulation when in the backcountry in winter.
Because the Skaha Plus is so compact and lightweight I don't feel it's a luxury on a summer backpack (or even day hike) in the high country, when it might be needed only occasionally. It has allowed me to reduce other pack weight by using it as part of my sleeping system in warmer weather.
Over-engineering and unnecessary frills are pet peeves of mine, so I especially value Nunatak's no-nonsense design. Not only does this reduce weight and enhance compressibility, there's so much less that can go wrong. When wearing the Skaha as a midlayer I don't miss pockets, and the pullover style means less chance for warm air to escape and less weight.
Of course these attributes would mean very little if the Skaha Plus didn't always keep me snug and warm.
Working with Tom to design this sweater was fun. If your budget allows, I recommend it highly.
What I'd Change
For use as a winter midlayer and year-round companion to my sleeping quilt, I wouldn't change anything. The kangaroo pocket, which I have on my original Skaha Plus, makes for a more versatile sweater.
Read more gear reviews by Richard Lyon
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