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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Brooks Range Ultimate Brisa Jacket > Test Report by Shawn Chambers

BROOKS-RANGE ULTIMATE BRISA JACKET
TEST SERIES BY SHAWN CHAMBERS
LONG-TERM REPORT
May 04, 2015

CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE FIELD REPORT
CLICK HERE TO SKIP TO THE LONG-TERM REPORT

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Shawn Chambers
EMAIL: sound_foundation AT yahoo DOT com
AGE: 44
LOCATION: Lexington, Kentucky, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 10" (1.78 m)
WEIGHT: 182 lb (82.60 kg)

Backpacking Background: I love Appalachian hikes and being in the woods. My preference is for a hike that leads to a stellar view. Kentucky, Tennessee and North Carolina are my usual stomping grounds. I increasingly find myself enjoying longer, multi-day hikes and I try to find a good balance between pack weight and comfort. I generally have a base weight of 12-15 lb (5.4 - 6.8 kg).


INITIAL REPORT

Product Information and Specifications

IMAGE 1
Photo: From Brooks-Range website
Manufacturer: Brooks-Range Mountaineering
Year of Manufacture: 2014
Manufacturer's Website: http://brooks-range.com
MSRP: US $179.95
Colors: Wheat, Black, or Smoke
Sizes Available: Small, Medium, Large, Extra Large
Size Tested: Medium
Listed Weight: 13.0 oz (369 g) - did not specify for which size
Measured Weight: 13.0 oz (369 g)
Other Listed Details:
Polartec Alpha in the core
Polartec Power Dry in the arms
Power Dry line collar
Nylon shell that covers the core with DWR finish
Highly breathable lining fabric in the core
Highly breathable shell fabric covering the arms
Chest pocket
Gasket cuffs
Hem drawcord
Zipper chin guard

Initial Impressions

Straight from its protective plastic baggy, the Brooks-Range Ultimate Brisa Jacket (hereafter generally just "jacket") shook out for a first look displaying surprisingly few wrinkles despite its cross-country trip packed snugly in a box. I had requested the two-tone black and gray and I was delighted to see that my desired color choice was sent. As stated above the jacket is also available in a two-tone yellowish color dubbed Wheat and a bluish two-tone referred to as Smoke.

Stylistically my first broad impression is it is very similar to any number of other softshell jackets I already own; however, focusing a little closer reveals a certain "puffiness" to the chest, which is this jacket's raison d'Ítre - the Polartec Alpha Core. It is marketed as a "highly breathable insulated jacket" and it is the Polartec Alpha Core that allows this. I was familiar with this material and its roots in military applications and how it provides great insulation without requiring a tight shell weave to contain it, but this will be my first chance to use a garment insulated this way. Interestingly, the jacket has a second type of insulation used for the arms called Polartec Power Dry.

Fit and Fashion
The performance side of the jacket will be discussed later in my Field Report, but for now it is time for my favorite part of any clothing test and that is trying it on! With crossed fingers I had requested a Men's Medium. I am borderline Medium/Large and just too lazy to exercise enough to get back to a solid Medium, but not lazy enough to eat my way to a consistent Large. Depending upon the brand and cut, I move up or down. The Medium was perfect. The jacket was snug enough without being restrictive in movement and it will still allow me to layer underneath it. Likewise, the cut is streamlined enough that I can put a down jacket or rain jacket over it with no problem. I would say the cut is regular. I think it is athletic looking without being overly body hugging.

IMAGE 2
Smooth core lining transitions to grid in sleeves
The first time I slipped it on I did not like the fact that the sleeves are lined with the Polartec Power Dry insulation. It has a grid texture that pulled against my long sleeve base layer and caused the sleeves to bunch up. I tried again and this time held my cuffs in my fingertips, but the texture of the sleeves still made it a bit difficult to slip into. I also felt like once I had it on that my base layer long sleeves were not laying properly but were being "gripped" by the lining. This same Power Dry material is used in the collar and it is soft enough, but I guess I am used to all my other softshells and their smooth linings throughout. At any rate, I "shot my cuffs" like a film noir gangster and finally felt comfortable.

The jacket has one left chest pocket and two lower hand warmer pockets. All of the zipper closures are 6" (15 cm) in length and each has a roughly 2" (5 cm) cord attached to the metal zipper pull for ease of use. I unzipped the chest pocket and inspected it and found it to be plenty big enough for a camera, phone or mp3 player. Next were the two side-zip pockets and they are cavernous. Once my hand was inside I could splay my fingers fully extended and still not touch the sides of the pocket. For fun, I stuck an empty standard 1 L (34 fl oz) water bottle inside and zipped it closed. That is a big pocket! A neat feature that I liked was the drawstring for the waist hem is situated inside each pocket. It is easy to draw either one tight and release it with one hand. I can understand this may be a bit of a hassle if the pockets are crammed with items, but I rarely carry much in my jacket side pockets so I don't think it will bother me in the least.

I also like the fact that the company branding in minimal and subtle. It has "Brooks-Range" printed on left chest and the company's rabbit logo on the back of the collar (which will only be seen when collar is standing up). I do not like to be a walking billboard and appreciate a more conservative corporate branding approach.

IMAGE 3
Minimal branding


Trying It Out

IMAGE 4
Sz Med - comfortable fit
I used this jacket for five straight mid-day walks. I do 2 miles (3.2 K) at a pace of 4 m/h (6.4 K/h) during my lunch break. Admittedly, this week's worth of walks was more than a quick try out, but I have some fairly long distance hikes coming up in 2015 and I am trying to get a good grip on the jacket's lower limits with different layering techniques.

During the week, the temperatures ranged from 32 - 45 F (0 - 7 C) with variable winds. I tried the jacket with a combination of a light wool base layer or a mid-weight wool base layer and also experimented with adding a wind shirt to the mix. I will say that my core was never cold, but my arms felt a bit chilled as the temperature dropped towards freezing. The Brooks-Range website discusses some wind resistance involving the core, but I'm not positive if this applies to the arms. I already feel like the arms are less wind resistant.

Summary

So far I have only minor issues with the jacket. I don't particularly like the texture lining of the sleeves due to the Polartec Power Dry and I wonder if the arms will stay warm enough on days when I might have on short sleeves. I do like several things about it, too. I think it is stylish and the fit is great for me. I like the roomy pockets and the core area feels warm to me so far. I may be already pushing this jacket to the lower temperature limits, but I need to have a rough idea of what it is capable of since the season probably isn't going to get warmer before my planned outings. I have some overnight backpacking trips coming up and I am curious to see how it performs once the activity level is really ramped up. In particular, I am very curious to feel the warmth vs breathability in a variety of trail conditions.


FIELD REPORT

Performance In the Field

Date: December 26, 2014
Trip Location: Red River Gorge
Distance Covered: Approximately 9 miles (14.5 km)
Weather: overcast and breezy 32 F (0 C)


The day after Christmas proved to be a nice time to escape the city and get back into the woods. The Copperas Creek area boasts three nice arches that are located up drainages on unofficial trails. I knew I had plenty of hiking mileage coming up soon so I wanted to find a day to test the durability of the Ultimate Brisa Jacket by doing a bit of bushwhacking and this was a great trail to test this on.

The temperature was slated to stay consistently around freezing so I layered appropriately allowing for a slow pace, but again, this was to be a casual hike with more emphasis on the jacket's shell durability. Over the course of the day we made our way through thick rhododendrons, a few stands of wild holly trees, many briar patches and tossed in a few 4th class movements on sandstone for good measure.

IMAGE 2
Feeling heroic


Fortunately, the smooth texture of the shell did not offer much purchase for the vegetation and even when I did feel some plant grab onto the jacket it pulled away easily with no damage. The only time I really had an issue was related to the sleeve lining. As I mentioned in my initial impression the sleeve lining is hard to keep in place. I guess when I put the jacket on some of the Power Dry sleeve lining had worked its way out of the bottom of the gasket cuff. I snagged it pretty good on a thorn bush. Once I freed it and poked it back into the sleeve everything was fine.

After the day was finished I was able to peel off the jacket and carefully inspect for any serious snags, thread pulls, etc. I have to say that it held up remarkably well with just a few spots of dried mud that I was able to easily brush off. So as long as I am cautious with the sleeve lining, I believe this jacket will be more than rugged enough for my usage.


Date: January 17-18, 2015
Trip Location: Sheltowee Trace
Distance Covered: 32 miles (51.5 km)
Weather: Day 1: 28 - 58 F (-2.2 C to 14.4 C) windy & overcast ; Day 2: 31 - 51 F (-0.5 C to 10.5 C) rain, freezing rain & overcast
Base Pack Weight: 14.4 lb (6.5 kg)


Based on the weather forecast and my experience using the Ultimate Brisa in subfreezing temperatures around my neighborhood, I opted to forego a puffy layer and just use this jacket as my primary insulation layer. The 8 a.m. start at the northern terminus of the Sheltowee was as cold as expected and I opted for a wicking short sleeve tee, lightweight fleece shirt, windshirt, and the Brisa. This would keep me warm until I generated "hiking heat" and the temperature increased. A day like this with such a large swing in temperature is a real pain for me. I find myself dressing and undressing over and over to maintain the right level of comfort. Within two hours I was down to just the lightweight fleece shirt and my insulated Brooks-Range jacket.

If this had been later spring, temperatures this high would have me easily hiking jacketless, but even at the day's peak temperature I kept my jacket on. The sun kept disappearing and there was an almost constant wind blowing which always made it feel colder. Fortunately, the jacket did breathe well and it was easy for me to shed extra heat when needed by just unzipping the front part way.

I rarely keep things in my front pockets, but this trip proved to be an exception. I found myself stuffing all kinds of things in the side pockets: fleece cap, rain cap, snacks, small camera tripod, camera, wool gloves, latex gloves, folded map copy, etc. There was plenty of room, but I had to laugh when I saw my picture because the pocket contents cinched high over my hip belt sure made me look like one fat hiker!

IMAGE 1
Feeling "fat" on the Sheltowee


At camp that night the Ultimate Brisa was comfortable around the fire and I was glad I had opted to bring it. By using it instead of another soft shell and down jacket as insulation I was able to save both weight and volume.

The second day started with rain and a light drizzle continued sporadically as well as a short burst of freezing rain. I avoided my rain jacket as long as possible but finally succumbed because my pack straps were collecting water and soaking the front of my jacket. The heat from my rain layer was too much coupled with the Brisa's insulation and I was glad to shed the rain jacket as soon as possible.

The final 16 miles (25.7 km) had plenty of ups and downs and I was sweating heavily. I noticed during one stop that my jacket actually had salt stains coming through the fabric. This reaffirmed my faith that the jacket was wicking and breathing well.

Overall, I found the Ultimate Brisa to be a great choice for this trip. I was almost never too hot and it was easy to keep warm even below freezing. The jacket shed minor moisture and freezing rain well enough, too. It was nice to find warmth and breathability in a jacket that is still a reasonable weight.

Other:
Besides these more detailed outings I also used the jacket on at least three other short day hikes in January 2015. These ranged in distance from 2 to 5 miles (3.2 - 8 km) with temperatures generally around 35 F (1.7 C). I also used the jacket as my primary insulation on one overnight trip camping out in private woods on January 3, 2015 with temperatures dipping down to around freezing. The Ultimate Brisa with a midweight wool layer underneath kept me very comfortable.

Record snowfalls in my state have caused me to have to cancel a couple planned overnighters, but I have probably worn the jacket 25 to 30 more times on trips around town and more recently for endless amounts of shoveling snow. This jacket was especially appreciated during shoveling since my movements were free and easy and the insulation kept me plenty warm during such a vigorous activity.

Thoughts to Date

My initial impressions are all still true. The sleeve fabric can be annoying when putting the jacket on. I love the big pockets and the great fit. The jacket has held up well and I have yet to launder it, but I have used a damp cloth to wipe off some minor dirt and salt stains. Additionally, I have noticed the zipper is becoming harder to zip. Sometimes I find myself double checking to make sure that fabric isn't caught in it, but this hasn't been the case. Granted, I have worn this jacket a lot in the past few months, but I was surprised that the zipper takes a more noticeable effort to zip it up and down. I will be watching this over the long term.

I look forward to using this jacket as much as possible while the cold weather lingers. So far it has served me well for 45+ trail miles (72+ km) and many more miles around the neighborhood.


LONG-TERM REPORT

Continued Use

Date: March 14, 2015
Trip Location: Sheltowee Trace
Distance Covered: 23 miles (37 km)
Weather: 45 - 57 F (7.2 - 13.9 C); overcast with drizzling rain
Base Pack Weight: 12 lb (5.4 kg)

Date: March 21-22, 2015
Trip Location: Sheltowee Trace
Distance Covered: 32 miles (51.5 km)
Weather: 43 - 63 F (6.1 - 17.2 C); sunny
Base Pack Weight: 13 lb (5.9 kg)

Date: March 29, 2015
Trip Location: Red River Gorge
Distance Covered: 11 miles (17.7 km)
Weather: 60 F (15.5 C); sunny and windy
Base Pack Weight: 4 lb (1.8 kg)


The endless snow finally gave way to serious flooding, but I was able to squeeze in some more usage of my Brooks-Range Ultimate Brisa Jacket for two more sections of the Sheltowee Trace and one more day hike. For the March 14 trip I took the jacket to use in light rain since I hate wearing a rain jacket unless absolutely necessary. I was also hoping to use the jacket around camp during the cooler evening temperatures, but my co-hikers and I decided to do the entire distance in one day. I was able to use it for only about 4 miles (6.4 km) at the start before both the rising temperature and increasing rainfall made it necessary to switch to a rain jacket.

I carried the Ultimate Brisa again the following weekend for an overnighter along the Trace, but again, it saw limited usage. I wore it for about 3 miles (4.8 km) in the morning of the first day, at camp at night, and for 1 mile (1.6 km) the second day before it became just too warm to wear. Also, I did employ it as a pillow the first night by turning it inside out and rolling it up so the fleece interior was against my face. It worked very well in that capacity for me.

Lastly, I was able to use the jacket during a casual day hike with my wife near the end of the month. I only took it out during breaks and to wear later that night after our hike when we ate outside at our favorite local pizza joint.

I had hoped that I could have put a few more trail miles in during this final report, but the temperatures became just too warm to justify wearing the jacket. Fortunately, I feel like I already had a good understanding of its performance in various temperatures, moisture, and trail conditions from the previous months. I will say that this jacket now has more actual trail miles on it than any other that I own.

IMAGE 1
Ultimate Brisa - great even off-trail

Summary

My final thoughts have not changed much from the opinions I had already formed about the jacket. The Ultimate Brisa has many positive features like the huge pockets, good warmth-to-weight ratio, some water resistance and a modern look and fit. A bit more intangible is the sense of security the jacket provides. I really believe that this jacket can handle some seriously unexpected weather. The Polar Tec Alpha core will insulate even when wet and that can mean the difference between hitting the next campsite or bailing out. When I can fully trust my gear, I feel far more confident and relaxed on the trail.

The negatives are still the same as before. While I learned to live with the sleeves and their "stickiness", I would love it if the inner sleeve lining were smoother. Because of the sleeves I think about how nice it would be to have the same materials in a vest. I do love the warmth, but do not love the sleeves. The zipper never did get any worse, but as I stated in my Field Report it still takes a decent effort to zip.

With all of these factors, I think the Brooks-Range Ultimate Brisa Jacket is a solid performer. For me, the warmth and breathability of this one jacket can replace a more complicated layering scheme and it is capable of keeping me warm in very low temperatures. My jacket still looks almost new and has stood up well against the rigors of the trail. I feel the positive features well outweigh the negatives. I am happy to have it in my collection and look forward to using it this coming fall and winter both in the woods and around town.

I would like to give a hearty thanks to Brooks-Range Mountaineering and BackpackGearTest.org for this test opportunity.

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1. Copyright 2015. All rights reserved.

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