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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Helly Hansen Lifa Loft Hybrid Insulator > Test Report by Brian Hartman

HELLY HANSEN LIFALOFT HYBRID INSULATOR JACKET
TEST SERIES BY BRIAN HARTMAN


TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Brian Hartman
EMAIL: bhart1426ATyahooDOT com
AGE: 50
LOCATION: Central Indiana
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 5' 9" (1.75 m)
WEIGHT: 150 lb (68.00 kg)

I have been backpacking for over 20 years throughout Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and most recently in Western USA. In addition to backpacking I enjoy family camping with my wife and kids and being outdoors in general. I would describe myself as a mid weight backpacker. I use fairly light weight equipment and gear but still like to bring more than the bare essentials with me while on the trail.


INITIAL REPORT 

August 31, 2018


PRODUCT INFORMATION & SPECIFICATIONS


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Manufacturer: Helly Hansen
Year of Manufacture: 2018
Manufacturer's Website: https://www.hellyhansen.com/


Jacket Specifications:
Shell: 100% Polyamide
Shell 2: 50% Polyamide, 41% Polyester, 9% Elastane
Lining: 100% Polyamide
Insulation: 100% Polyester

Available Colors: Olympian Blue Matte, Black, Graphite
Available Sizes: Small, Medium, Large, X-Large, XX-Large, XXX-Large
Size Tested: Medium, Regular Fit
Listed weight: Not Listed
Measured weight: 11.4 oz (322 g)
MSRP: Not Listed


Features:
- 20% lighter due to Lifa fiber structure being lighter than polyester fibers
- Lifaloft's insulation structure creates more pockets of trapped air, providing more warmth
- Quick-drying insulation due to Lifaloft fibers being hydrophobic
- Lifa fibers have better moisture transportation properties vs traditional polyester insulation
- Ideal for intense activities in variable winter or summer conditions

  
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The Helly Hansen Lifaloft Hybrid Insulator Jacket (hereafter called Lifaloft, Insulator or jacket) is a lightweight, breathable, wind resistant jacket.  It's made with a proprietary insulation, called Lifaloft, which was the result of a combined effort between Helly Hansen and PrimaLoft to create an extremely lightweight, breathable, warm fabric.  Lifaloft has 75% Lifa fibers and 25% PrimaLoft insulation.  Combining these two fabrics makes a lot of sense since Helly Hansen's Lifa fibers are extremely lightweight and breathable and PrimaLoft fabric is known for having great heat retention.  The result of their combined efforts is an insulation that is less bulky, weighs 20% less than standard polyester, but has more warmth, due to large numbers of microscopic air pockets inside it.  Lifaloft is hydrophobic, meaning it doesn't absorb moisture, and it is able to capture and retain heat even when wet. 

The jacket I received is size Medium and has a 39 in (99 cm) waist and 39 in (99 cm) chest.  The length of the jacket from the neckline to the waist is 27 in (69 cm) and the sleeves are 22 in (56 cm) from armpit to cuff.  The jacket has two zippered pockets on the outside, measuring 11 x 7 in (28 x 18 cm).  It also has two internal pockets with the same measurements as the external ones.  The difference is that the internal pockets are open on top, with no zipper, snaps, or Velcro to keep them closed.  Speaking of zippers, all three zipper pulls have the initials HH stamped on them, but the zipper teeth, tape, pull tabs, and stops all appear to be YKK.  As seen in the photos above and to the right, the front and back panels of the jacket as well as the neck, contain Lifaloft insulation while the sides and shoulders are stretch fabric.   

The wrist cuffs are made from simple stretch banding and the waist skirt has an elastic cinch cord that runs around its perimeter to prevent cold air or snow from entering the jacket from below.  

INITIAL IMPRESSIONS

The Insulator arrived at my house in a thin, lightweight UPS envelope.  The envelope was so light and thin, in fact, that when I pulled it from my mailbox I thought it was a pair of shorts I had recently ordered.  Even after looking at the shipping label I struggled to believe an insulated jacket could be inside the small package.

My first impressions upon seeing the Insulator were positive, although I admit I'm not a big fan of the bright blue color, or of the design style with stretch fabric covering both sides of the jacket as well as the shoulders and sleeves.  The shell was soft and smooth, while the stretch fabric, especially on the interior, felt like fleece.  The jacket was in perfect condition and the fit and finish were flawless.  The stitching was straight, the seams were tight, and the jacket appeared to be of high quality.  I'm not too concerned about the shell fabric in the outdoors but I am a little apprehensive about hiking through brush with the stretch fabric, as it seems like it could easily snag or get torn on a tree branch or briar.

Moving on to some other key features of the jacket, I like the size of the zippered pockets.  They are wide and deep and look like they'll provide plenty of storage space for items I need to access quickly.  I can also see myself using them to warm up my hands on cold days.  I'm not sure, though, how often I'll use the internal pockets since there's no way to keep things that I place in them from falling out.  

The shape of the jacket is a little strange to me in that the chest and waist measurements are the same.  Although I'm jumping ahead, my thoughts in regard to the shape of the jacket were confirmed by its fit when I put it on.  It is loose in the waist and snug in the chest and arms.  Given that most people looking for Helly Hansen clothing are skiers, sailors and outdoor enthusiasts, I expected the jacket would have a slightly tapered cut.


READING THE INSTRUCTIONS

Three hang tags were attached to the left side pocket zipper of the Insulator, when it arrived.  The tag line on the 1st hang tag said "Lifaloft - Lighter, Warmer.  Keeps you warmer with less weight and bulk."  I thought that was a great tag line and really summed up everything I'd read about Lifaloft.  Following this statement were several bullet points that detailed the features / benefits of the insulation.  To summarize the bullet points: Lifaloft is 20% lighter because the Lifa fibers are much lighter than polyester fibers.  Lifaloft traps more air resulting in a warmer jacket.  Lifaloft fibers are hydrophobic and so the insulation dries very quickly.  It does a better job of repelling moisture than even polyester.  This jacket is ideal to wear during intense activities in all temperatures.

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Care instructions were printed inside the jacket and were as follows: Machine wash in cold water on gentle cycle.  Wash with like colors.  Do not bleach.  Tumble dry - low heat; iron - low heat.  Do not dry clean.  Close zippers before washing.  Do not iron on print.  Do not use fabric softener.  Remove promptly from the dryer.  Wash dark colors separately.  Made in Vietnam.

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TRYING IT OUT

Based on the manufacturer's sizing chart, I should have ordered a size Small jacket, but something in the back of my mind told me to upsize, and I'm glad I did.  As it turns out, the Insulator fits me very snug, even in size Medium.  Luckily the jacket has lots of stretch, and for the most part I don't plan on wearing more than a t-shirt underneath it.  

The Insulator was easy to slip on, thanks, once again, to stretch in the fabric.  I wore the jacket on a short walk around my neighborhood with temperatures in the upper 60s F (20 C) and felt very comfortable.  I look forward to taking it on upcoming backpacking trips this fall and winter.

SUMMARY

The Insulator jacket is lightweight and warm, and it's purported to be wind resistant and breathable.  It is an interesting product that seems to lie somewhere between base layer and insulation layer.  I look forward to testing its durability and effectiveness at keeping me warm and dry while backpacking.















FIELD REPORT

FIELD LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

During the past two months I wore the Lifaloft Hybrid on three backpacking trips.  In addition, I wore it while biking and jogging in cold weather and on day hikes at a local park.  I used it as both a mid and outer-layer jacket during testing, depending on what I was doing.  

My first overnighter was a two-day backpacking trip to the Charles Deam Wilderness in the Hoosier National Forest, Indiana (IN).  While I was there skies were mostly overcast with just a few hours of sunshine in total between both days.  Temperatures ranged from 30 to 48 F (-1 to 9 C) with light to moderate winds during the day and evening hours.  The terrain was hilly, and the trails consisted of hard packed dirt.  I hiked 14 miles (22.5 km) and stayed mostly on-trail since the vegetation was still quite thick.  Elevations ranged from 560 to 780 ft (171 – 238 m).  


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Location: Charles Deam Wilderness
Type of Trip: Backpacking
Distance: 14 mi (22.5 km)
Length of Trip: 2 nights
Backpack Weight: 32 lb (14.5 kg)
Sky and Air Conditions: Overcast with light winds
Precipitation: None
Temperature Range: 30 to 48 F (-1 to 9 C)

My second trip was back to the Hoosier National Forest, but this time I went to a different part of the forest that was closer to Lake Monroe.  Skies were sunny, and although temperatures were similar to my previous trip, they felt colder due to wind chill.  
Location: Hoosier National Forest
Type of Trip: Backpacking
Distance: 11 mi (18 km)
Length of Trip: 2 nights
Backpack Weight: 36 lb (16 kg)
Sky and Air Conditions: Sunny with medium to gusty winds
Precipitation: None
Temperature Range: 32 to 39 F (0 to 4 C)

My third trip was an overnight outing to Oldenburg, Indiana (IN).  I went there with my brother although I was the only one who stayed overnight.  While there we explored a nearby creek as well as in the neighboring woods.  Daytime temperatures were in the mid 30's F (1.7 C) with a low around 31 F (-0.6 C) and elevations ranged from 570 to 780 ft (174 to 238 m).
Location: Oldenburg, IN
Type of Trip: Camping
Distance: 4 mi (6 km)
Length of Trip: 1 night
Backpack Weight: 28 lb (13 kg)
Sky and Air Conditions: Partly sunny
Precipitation: None
Temperature Range: 35 to 31 F (1.7 to -0.6 C)

PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

During field testing I used the Lifaloft Hybrid as both a mid and outer layer jacket.  In addition to the weather conditions above, it saw light rain, brief periods of snow and temperatures down to 20 F (-7 C), on the days I went hiking in a local park.  My overall impressions of the jacket during testing were positive as it’s lightweight, warm, breathable, and fairly durable.  On the downside, it’s tight across my chest and arms when layered over anything more than a thin t-shirt. 

Warmth - The Lifaloft was sufficient as an outer layer when temperatures were above 55 F (13 C).  Between 40 and 55 F (4.4 to 13 C) I could still wear it as an outer layer but needed to hike aggressively in order to stay warm.  Below 40 F (4.4 C) I had to add a shell or outer layer over top of the Lifaloft or I got cold.  I may have been able to withstand colder temperatures if the jacket had a hood, but that’s just a guess and certainly doesn’t take anything away from the Lifaloft Hybrid.  In fact, Helly Hansen makes a hooded version of this jacket called the Lifaloft Hooded Insulator.  At no time during testing did I notice cold spots where the insulation was too thin or had shifted.  As for a high temperature rating, I think anything over 65 F (18 C) would be uncomfortably warm.  Between 50 and 65 F (10 to 18 C) I found it provided good wind protection and insulation when jogging or riding my bike.


IMAGE 2Weather Resistance - The Lifaloft Hybrid did a good job of blocking wind.  I think its snug fit helped in that regard, as there was no room for air to come in at the cuffs, collar, or waist line.  As for how it faired in light rain and snow, the shell fabric on the front and back of the jacket did a good job of shedding water but the stretch fabric, located on the shoulders, arms and sides of the jacket, quickly absorbed any water that landed on it, and took some time to dry.  Interestingly enough, although the stretch fabric was soaking wet on the outside, it didn’t feel wet at all on the inside.  Strange, considering it appeared to be single layer.  I don’t view my findings as a problem at all, because I always carry a lightweight rain jacket with me when backpacking.  And the Hybrid jacket was certainly not meant to endure rain and snow. 

Ventilation / breathability - During Field Testing I didn’t encounter any temperatures that were too warm for this jacket.  It breathed well, and moisture never built up inside the jacket.  I also never felt sweaty or clammy, even when pushing it hard on the trail.  Overall, I would rate this jacket very high in terms of breathability.  I also wore the jacket while jogging and riding my bike, two activities where I often sweat.  The Lifaloft Hybrid performed wonderfully in these cases, as it quickly absorbed moisture from my undershirt and transported it out of the jacket. 

Comfort and fit – I like the feel of the shell fabric.  It’s soft and smooth, and although thin, it didn’t get hung up on branches or twigs.  The stretch fabric, though, was more prone to snagging and so I was cautious where I hiked when I was wearing the jacket as an outer layer.  As for fit, the Hybrid is tight in the chest, waist, arms and arm pits.  Although the sizing chart indicated a Medium would be plenty large for me, after wearing it for extended periods I think a size Large would have fit me much better.  My observations regarding its fit are similar to what others said on the net.  Lately it seems I can’t catch a break with proper fit when ordering clothes online.  I recently saw two jackets, from different companies, one with a 46 in (117 mm) chest and the other with a 34 in (86 mm) chest measurement, both labeled as size Medium.  It certainly seems like there’s no standard at all in the industry.  I love shopping online, as my wife would attest, but it makes it difficult when sizing is all over the place. 

Durability - So far, the Hybrid has held up well to the rigors of trail life.  It doesn’t have any holes or tears, and I haven’t noticed any ripped seams or loose threads either.  As noted above, the stretch fabric is more susceptible to snags than the shell.  Because of that, I’ll be sure to add an additional layer over it before wearing it off-trail.  Looking closely at the shoulders, the stretch fabric shows very minimal wear from my shoulder straps.  I’ll continue to monitor it during the next few months and see if anything more develops.  As for the insulation itself, despite being slept on as a pillow, shoved in the bottom of my pack, and stretched and pulled in multiple directions, the Lifaloft insulation has shown no signs of shifting or breaking down and remains in overall great shape.

Features – First and foremost, the Lifaloft Hybrid is meant to be a lightweight jacket.  As such, it doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but what it does have is some very nice outer pockets.  They are well placed and were easy to access even while wearing my backpack.  In addition, they were plenty large for anything I wanted to put in them, including my hands, which they did a good job of warming up multiple times.  The main and pocket zippers are easy to open and close and I’ve had no problems with them getting caught on the jacket fabric.  I really haven’t used the inside pockets much at all, mainly because they’re open and so I’m concerned that anything I put in them could fall out when I bend over or remove the jacket.


SUMMARY

Overall, I’m happy with the Lifaloft Hybrid.  It’s lightweight, warm, breathable, and does a good job of blocking wind.  So far, I haven’t had durability issues with the jacket and am not too concerned about its water resistance.



LONG-TERM REPORT

LONG-TERM TEST LOCATIONS AND CONDITIONS

During the past two months I wore the Helly Hansen LifaLoft jacket on two backpacking trips.  My trips were to the Cuyahoga National Forest near Cleveland, Ohio (OH), and Devil’s River State Trail in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin (WI).

Cleveland, OH – The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is located just 20 mi (32 km) south of downtown Cleveland and is a wonderful location in the Midwest to enjoy the great outdoors and everything nature has to offer.  Temperatures during my visit ranged from the low 30’s F (0.5 C) to almost 40 F (4.4 C) and skies were cloudy to partly sunny with no precipitation.  I hiked approximately 16 mi (25.7 km) on this three-day visit.

Manitowoc, WI – Devil’s River State Trail is a scenic, unpaved rail trail in Northeastern WI.  One day during this trip, I thought I was all alone on the trail, until partway through my hike, in a densely wooded section of the trail, I thought I heard voices behind me.  I turned around expecting to see runners, but no one was there.  A minute or two later, a hundred yards further up the trail I swore I heard a muffled voice tell me to turn around, and it sounded like it was right behind me.  I spun around not knowing what to expect while simultaneously reaching for my cell phone in my jacket pocket.  As I pulled my phone out, I heard the voice again, this time clearer.  My cell phone was still running a GPS app I started earlier in the day and thought I’d turned off, and it was telling me to turn around because I was headed in the opposite direction of my campsite.  Wheh!  Note to self, next time you hear voices on a deserted trail, first check to make sure the speaker on your cell phone isn't turned on.

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PERFORMANCE IN THE FIELD

Temperatures during the last two months were above normal with daytime highs ranging from the low 30's (0.5 C) to the mid 40 F's (7 F).  During this time, I wore the Hybrid as both a mid and outer layer.  

The Helly Hansen LifaLoft Hybrid jacket performed well during the past eight weeks, and it ultimately survived four months of testing with only minor abrasion marks from my pack straps, and no loss of insulation loft as a result of compression.  The jacket proved to be durable and the zippers worked flawlessly, never getting stuck or catching on the fabric.  When hiking off-trail, I tried to stay away from briars and low hanging tree branches and am happy to report no snags or rips in the jacket fabric.  
Overall, I was very impressed with LifaLoft fabric.  It was warm for its weight, did a good job blocking wind, and was very compressible. The Hybrid was warm as a mid layer jacket with a shell over top.  It also did well on two occasions when I wore it as an outer layer, keeping me warm in 40 F (4.4 C) temperatures, with albeit lots of physical activity.  Most of the time I wore a midweight long sleeve base layer underneath the jacket and it worked wonderfully, except for the tight fit which kept reminding me it wasn’t perfect.  

While in Wisconsin, I went on a 5K run and wore the Hybrid as an outer layer with a thermal shirt underneath.  The jacket breathed incredibly well, so much so that sweat I accumulated while running was completely gone within 10 or 15 minutes of me stopping.  At that point the jacket was dry, and I didn’t feel cold or clammy.

SUMMARY

The Helly Hansen Hybrid performed well this winter.  It handled 40 F (4 C) temperatures as an outer layer jacket, and it did well in windy conditions, keeping me warm and dry even after sweating.  It was fun to wear during this test period and I look forward to seeing what Helly Hansen comes up with next.  

This concludes this test series. Thanks to Helly Hansen and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this jacket.

Pros
Lightweight
Compressible
Sufficiently warm for three season use without an outer shell
Good wind resistance
Continues to insulate when wet

Cons
Snug fitting, especially in the forearms, arms, armpits, and chest





Read more gear reviews by Brian Hartman

Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Helly Hansen Lifa Loft Hybrid Insulator > Test Report by Brian Hartman



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