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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Ibex Arlberg Vest > Owner Review by Richard Lyon
IBEX ARLBERG VEST
Owner Review by Richard Lyon
November 25, 2012
Personal Details and Backpacking Background
Male, 66 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.91 m)
Weight: 200 lb (91 kg)
Chest: 46 in (117 cm), waist 37 in (94 cm), torso 22.5 in (57 cm)
Email address: montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Bozeman, Montana USA
I've been backpacking for almost half a century, 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. Though always looking for ways to reduce weight, I'm not yet a lightweight hiker and I usually choose a bit of extra weight over foregoing camp conveniences I've come to expect. Winter adventures are often on touring or telemark skis.
The Ibex Arlberg is a heavyweight vest made of loden, an old-fashioned felted wool. Loden takes its name from the village of Loderers in the Austrian Tyrol, where, legend has it, its manufacture began centuries ago. Whatever the real story, loden jackets have a long history in Austria and are ranked with lederhosen, yodeling, and The Sound of Music among traditions emblematic of that country and its mountains. The Arlberg vest takes it name from a mountain massif in the Tyrolian Alps. Loden once was made with boiled wool, but not for Ibex, which uses a “modernized . . . exclusive cold water process.” The Arlberg loden fabric is listed at 475 g/mē – a very dense wool and Ibex’s “heaviest and warmest outdoor weight.”
The yoke on the Arlberg has a raglan-style cut, with a separate piece of fabric on each side of the collar, each of which in turn is sewn to a crescent-shaped piece that crosses my upper back. A small Ibex logo, discreetly embroidered in red thread, sits centered at the top of this back piece.
The vest opens and closes by means of a heavy center zipper that’s protected by a storm flap. There are two zippered handwarmer pockets on the outside, two large stash pockets that are open at the top on the inside, and a stand-up cadet-style collar with a soft liner in a contrasting color (mine is black). That’s it for features – this is a no-nonsense performance piece.
Manufacturer: Ibex Outdoor Clothing, LLC
Listed weight (size Medium): 20.8 oz (590 g)
Measured weight (size XL): 22.0 oz (624 g)
Torso, measured: 27.5 in (70 cm) from collar to hem
Size: XL; also available in Small, Medium, Large
Color: Red Heather; when I bought it in 2010 the vest was also available in Black and Green Loden Heather. (Green is the color of traditional Austrian loden coats.) Now available in Red Rocks Heather (looks like orange), Blue Yonder Heather, Field Heather (loden green), and Black. Ibex frequently changes its color selections for current products when introducing a new season’s line.
MSRP: $170 US now; it was somewhat less when I purchased mine.
Year purchased: 2010
Countries of origin: Made in the USA; fabric source: Australia; fiber source: Austria.
Warranty: Ibex provides a lifetime warranty against defects in workmanship or material on all its products.
I bought the Arlberg principally for casual front country use. It’s seen plenty of that, but I’ve also found it to be quite useful for winter outings in the Rockies. On day hikes, especially day jaunts on skis or snowshoes, the vest has been a terrific midlayer on really cold days and an even better outer layer wind block when I don't need a shell. Twice last fall I wore it on overnight backpacks. I estimate about forty outdoor activity days and at least twice as many more days of casual use in the two years since I purchased the vest.
Backcountry use has seen temperatures as low as -20 F (-29 C), although when the forecasted temperature is below +20 F (-7 C) I always pack an insulated jacket too. As described further below, backcountry conditions have included high wind, rain, sleet, snow, and various combinations of all of the above, sometimes all on the same day.
Warmth. Two characteristics of the Arlberg keep me very warm indeed. The heavy fabric makes a great insulating layer, and the loden’s dense knit is extraordinarily effective at blocking the wind. It’s as good for this latter purpose as any wind-blocking fabric I’ve ever tried, and that includes synthetics such as EPIC by Nextec known better for wind than water protection. (Hooray for natural fibers!) Over a couple of wool layers (merino base layer, heavier button-front shirt) I’ve been plenty warm down to 20 F (-7 C), even with the wind howling along a ridgeline, without an additional outer layer.
Breathability. Loden, at least Ibex’s version, breathes hardly at all; its dense weave inhibits air permeability. I don’t wear the Arlberg (or a full cardigan-style sweater in a similar fabric) for wicking. This means that the vest goes into my pack during heavy exercise, including skinning or boot-packing on skis. With its exceptional water-resisting capabilities, discussed in the next paragraph, the vest traps heat and sweat, impeding the wicking begun with my inner layers. That’s one reason I use it for athletic activity much more often than my loden sweater, because I can get a bit of ventilation at the vest’s armholes. Also the vest takes up much less pack space than its sweater cousin, and my torso is just as well (OK, almost as well) protected. This limited breathability prevents my wearing the Arlberg in warmer temperatures, a limitation I can live with.
Water Resistance. My Ibex loden garments, definitely including the Arlberg, are as close to waterproof as any wool I’ve ever worn. Light snow, even heavy snow, can’t dent the heavy, densely knit fabric. It’s to the point where I don’t worry about the fabric wetting out in any winter weather. Only once has my Arlberg become soggy – after one hour of above-timberline exposure in an unexpected thunderstorm on a day hike on the Table Mountain trail near Alta, Wyoming, in late October. I lent my rain shell to a companion who hadn’t packed her own, and so during our scamper down the mountain (this ridgeline is the highest around and completely exposed – prime lightning country) I got to learn on the job that soaking wet wool really does continue to insulate to some degree, as many manufacturers claim. Once back at the trailhead the Arlberg was downright soggy. Even after hand-wringing out as much water as I could and a night on a hanger in a warm dry cabin the vest wasn’t completely dry the next morning. But that was the exception – my Arlberg has repelled fog, dew, light rain, and even brief heavy rain quite well on all other occasions. The one drenching did not harm the vest’s insulating abilities after it finally dried out.
Features. One reason I like the Arlberg for ski touring is the inside pockets. These are large and wide and thus perfect storage for climbing skins, relatively bulky pieces that need to be stored where body heat will keep them from freezing. Not a problem when I'm wearing the Arlberg; in fact I have used one pocket for both skins and the other for mittens when kicking and gliding in bright sunlight, though it is a tight fit if I want to keep the vest partly zipped to avoid flapping. The burly zipper has worked without fail, and thanks to its zipper pull can be operated easily with one mittened hand. The heavy loden fabric keeps the collar in stand-up mode at all times, giving some wind protection to the back of my neck.
Fit and Comfort. Ibex garments tend to run true to size and to be cut a bit longer than many other manufacturers’. Both these attributes apply to the Arlberg, whose hem sits two or three inches (5-8 cm) below my waist, even over a heavy sweater – much appreciated on a windy day. The vest fits nicely with a bit of room left over, enough (as noted) that I can pack my skins and still zip the vest to the top without feeling constrained.
Comfort comes from the warmth and dryness the Arlberg gives. Loden is not a fabric I have worn, or ever care to wear, next to my skin. Its dense weave yields a slightly rough hand, not unlike heavy canvas, but in no way abrasive or otherwise discomforting.
Durability and Care. This vest looks as good as new, thanks to the burly fabric and impeccable workmanship. Hardly any care is needed, as the heavy wool repels most things (I can attest to tea, cocoa, and pine pitch) as well as it does water. A tag inside my Arlberg states that the vest may be dry-cleaned or hand washed “gentle.” For me it’s hand washing; I never dry-clean wool sweaters. I have hand-washed the Arlberg once, in cold water using wool-specific soap, then allowed it to air dry on a hanger. I detected no loss of water resistance after this gentle bath. Mostly maintenance has been brushing off hair accumulated from contact with my pal in the picture.
When I purchased my Arlberg Ibex claimed the fabric was tough enough to allow garments made from it to outlive their owners. I believe that – my Arlberg looks like new. I look forward to many more years of frequent use. While I haven't noticed any jealous glances, perhaps my heirs presumptive are as well.
Appearance. I could live in Ibex clothing anywhere. All of its outerwear looks smart on the street, and that’s surely true of my Arlberg vest. The discontinued red heather is particularly festive during the Christmas season.
WHAT I LIKE
Very nearly perfect fit for me, with or without an insulating layer underneath
Spectacular wind and water resistance
Warm and comfortable
WHAT I DON’T
It’s bulky and takes up considerably more pack room than a down vest. (But thanks to its almost waterproof fabric I can stash it on the front of my pack in the winter, even in the snow.)
I’d like a small zippered pocket on the chest or inside, for car keys or a mobile phone.
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