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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Merrell Raven-Falconry Tri-Therm Jacket > Test Report by Ray Estrella

Merrell Raven Tri-Therm Jacket
Test Series by Raymond Estrella
LONG-TERM REPORT

INITIAL REPORT - October 11, 2010
FIELD REPORT - December 17, 2010
LONG TERM REPORT - February 12, 2011

TESTER INFORMATION

NAME: Raymond Estrella
EMAIL: rayestrellaAThotmailDOTcom
AGE: 50
LOCATION: North Western Minnesota, USA
GENDER: M
HEIGHT: 6' 3" (1.91 m)
WEIGHT: 215 lb (97.50 kg)

I have been backpacking for over 30 years, all over California, plus many western states and Minnesota. I hike year-round in all weather, and average 500+ miles (800+ km) per year. I make a point of using lightweight gear, and smaller volume packs. Doubting I can ever be truly UL, I try to be as near to it as I can yet still be comfortable. I start early and hike hard so as to enjoy the afternoons exploring/chilling. I usually take a freestanding tent and enjoy hot meals at night. If not hiking solo I am usually with my brother-in-law Dave or my twin children.


INITIAL REPORT

Product Information

Manufacturer: Wolverine Outdoors Inc
Web site: www.merrell.com
Product: Jacket
Year manufactured: 2010
MSRP: $499.00 (US)
Weight listed: N/A
Actual Weights: Shell, 17 oz (482 g) Down inner, 15 oz (425 g) Total, 2 lb (0.91 kg)
Color tested: Black
Size tested: Extra Large (also available in Small, Medium and Large)

Product Description

Raven Shell


The Merrell Raven Tri-Therm Jacket (hereafter referred to as the Raven or jacket) is actually two separate pieces of gear that can be combined to make a third. I will break them down by item.

Shell

The Raven's outer shell (seen above, image courtesy of Wolverine Outdoors) is what I would describe as a rain shell, not a technical shell. While it does have a hood that fits climbing helmets, the lack of inside pockets (for water bottles) would keep me from taking it on a mountaineering trip.

The shell is made of what Merrell calls Opti-Shell, its own flavor of 2.5 layer waterproof breathable material. It consists of a nylon outer shell (layer 1) with a waterproof, yet air permeable, layer bonded to the inside (layer 2). The ˝ "layer" is actually a pattern of raised bumps, if you will, printed onto the waterproof layer. These bumps, which are done in a tiny diamond pattern, help keep the waterproof bonded layer from being in complete contact with the wearer's skin. This helps with the breathability of the material. Like most of the 2.5 layer fabrics I have used this one feels slightly plasticy inside and is cool on the skin when putting it on.

One thing that is very different is that Merrell has chosen to do most of the body of the shell in a nylon that is 94% polyester and 6% elastane. This gives the nylon some stretch so that it is almost like a soft-shell. The surface has been brushed for a soft cotton-like feel instead of slick nylon.

The shoulder area (back yoke), outside of the arms, and lower back and sides are made of 100% grid reinforced polyester nylon. This should help take the friction of wearing a backpack..

The shell has a pocket on each side that are positioned high with vertical zippers to make accessing with a pack on easier. The zippers are waterproof welded style. Another small pocket is found on the left forearm, the reverse-sewn conventional zipper of which hides under a storm flap. I thought it may be for an MP3 player at first but could find no port for wires to come out of it.

One of the most important features of the Raven, and one I will not buy a shell without, is the pit zips. The 18 in (46 cm) conventional zippers are hidden under storm flaps. The zippers have double pulls which is nice for use with a pack on as it allows at least one set of opening and closing from the top down position which is much easier to do under load.

The Raven's sleeves are gusseted at the elbows to allow for unimpeded movement. The cuffs of the sleeves have hook and loop closures for adjustment.

The Raven has a pretty nice hood with tons of adjustment. The brim is lightly stiffed and twin tethered cord locks near my jaw allow the hood to be tightened around my face. Another cord lock hides under a "garage" flap in the back to tighten the hood sideways and a hook and loop strip just below it allows the hood to be tightened vertically on my head or helmet.

Inside the jacket at the bottom are two more tethered cord locks that allow the hem to be tightened around my hips to stop wind and snow from entering. A small ski-pass D-ring is on the left side too.

The shell closes with a full zipper that has a great pull tab allowing for use with gloves on.

Liner

Raven Down Liner


The inner liner (seen above, image courtesy of Wolverine Outdoors) of the Raven is actually Merrell's stand alone Griffon Down Jacket, what I would call a down sweater. The liner is made of 20 denier polyester with a DWR finish. The nylon is very soft and silky feeling. The insulation is highly compressible 800 fill premium goose down.

The Raven's liner shares many common features with the shell. It too has vertical side pockets, waist drawcord, and front zipper with pull tab.

Another common feature it has is a first for me. It is the first down piece I have that has pit zips. They have just one pull on the liner, but line up with the pit zips on the shell for use together.

The liner has a stand-up cadet-style collar that is backed with tricot fleece where it touches my neck. (The same fleece is inside the side pockets to help warm chilled hands.)

Pocket and stuffed


Inside the liner is a good sized storage pocket, something I was happy to find. The pocket is made of very stretchy polyester mesh. The liner will stuff into this pocket to make an 8 x 8 in (20 x 20 cm) 4 in (10 cm) thick pad that just begs to be used as a pillow.

The two pieces of the Raven can be hooked together to make a true winter parka by means of 17 snaps along the sides and top of the jackets, at the middle of the pit zips, and the end of the sleeves.

All together the Raven looks like quite a nice system for winter backpacking. And I plan to put it to the test here in Minnesota where the snow should start falling any week now. So please come back in a couple months to see how this black bird does in the white stuff.


FIELD REPORT

Quick & Dirty, Nitty Gritty

The Merrell Raven Tri-Therm Jacket may be the best backpacking combination jacket I have ever owned. (And I have had a lot over the years.) The sweater is as nice as any I have used, although I would ditch the pit zips if I could. The shell works as well as most 2.5 layer fabric shells in my experience. It really needs inside pockets though to hold its own as a true winter shell for me. Read on for the details.

Field Data

Brr, ice covered tent. Where's my gloves


I have used the Raven on the following backpacking trips.

First was on a 24-mile (39 km) section of the North Country Trail just east of Itasca State Park in north central Minnesota. This late fall trip saw temps down to 19 F (-7 C). The picture above is from this trip wearing the inner as I break down my iced-over tent in the morning.

The next month saw me using it further north in the Paul Bunyan State Forest on an 11-mile (18 km) sled-packing trip where I camped at McCarty Lakes. The trip was on and in falling snow with temperatures from 15 to 0 F (-9 to -18 C).

I took it on another trip that due to hunting pressure (and my lack at the time of anything bright orange to wear) turned into just a heavy 6-mile (10 km) day hike. Talk about having the 10 Essentials…

Besides these trips I have worn it many times just around town and home while shoveling snow in temperatures to -15 F (-26 C).

Observations

I really like the Raven Tri-Therm jacket. It completely fits the layering style that I have been using for the past six years. Let me explain.

I have made a concerted effort to lighten my pack weights and to cut volume. One way I have done this is to stop carrying a dedicated parka except in the absolute worst conditions where it is a safety issue. Instead I have developed an exterior layering system the same as I use for inside layers. My rain shell makes the protection from precip and/or wind. Warmth, usually needed only when stopped for lunch or at the end of the day, or when belaying on mountaineering trips, is provided by a down sweater. The two are combined to make the warmest combination. As I sleep with a quilt I always carry a warm hat so do not need an insulated hood also as it is just redundant weight.

The Raven provides the pieces that I would buy separately in the first place, and unlike many of the 3-way parkas of the past (five that I recall off the top of my head, three that I still have around) the Raven's individual pieces are great by themselves.

The sweater is very nice. The weight is right in line with the many nice down sweaters I have owned. It is extremely warm and very compressible. The down quality seems to be in line with the 800 fill claimed. One thing that Merrell may want to look into is the fabric used for the shell. My down inner passes a lot more down than it should. Not just tiny feathers but even clusters. There may be a problem with the calendaring process of this batch of fabric. It will be interesting to see what other reports come down the line on this.

One thing that I would get rid of if I could do so is the pit zips. There is no way that I will ever wear my down when I am sweating so I will never use them. And I can feel the cold come through the zippers. It is the only cold spot on the jacket and takes away from its otherwise stellar performance in cold.

Got a bright hat, don't shoot me.


The shell too is a very nice stand-alone piece of gear. In the picture above I am in the shell alone near Lake George Minnesota. (Got me a bright orange hat now…) The 2.5 layer fabric works as well as most I have seen for breathability. (And to be honest none work all that well under exertion in my experience.) I have not seen any rain yet but it has handled lots of snow with aplomb.

On a shell pit zips are a must for me and the Raven's are very good. I really like the double ended zippers. I always start out with both ends at the upper position under my arm pit. This lets me use a pulling down motion to open it the first time, and should I need to close it again I can use the second one in a downward pull too. This is much easier than trying to pull upward to close it. Of course if it is a day of open-and-close I will have to resort to the upward motion but that is rare this time of year. Once I stop or take off the shell I pull the ends back to closed and ready at the top of the track.

I have worn the shell under my pack a lot as it is usually quite windy in Minnesota and I need the Raven as protection from wind much more than from rain or snow. The reinforced shoulders seem to be holding up quite well.

One major shortcoming with the shell for me is the lack of interior pockets. I would like to see at least one, but better yet two, large pockets that can fit a 1 L Nalgene bottle. (And be adhered/sewn strong enough to take the weight of said bottle full.) In temperatures that I see here in Minnesota or when mountaineering in California these pockets are necessary to carry water or to place wet gear like gloves to let my body heat dry them out.

Got a warmer orange hat, hold yer fire


When put together the Raven is greater than the sum of its parts when I look at every one of my past combo jackets. I love the speed of the snap system. It goes together fast and easy. Once combined it is a very warm jacket for the weight. In fact it is the warmest of them all and it weighs half what a few of them are/were. Its only weak spot is the fore mentioned pit zips. When hiking I never bother snapping the two pieces together. I just treat it like any other shell/down sweater combo I use in the field. The picture above is the only time I have hiked with both pieces at the same time. This is just past McCarty Lakes and just past 0 F (-9 C) with light falling snow. Within a mile (1.6 km) I had to stop and take off the down inner as I started getting too warm. Hey look, an even warmer orange hat…

But when using around town or out shoveling the drive I keep it hooked up to make it easier to put on and take off. And now one complaint about this configuration. (Really Merrell, I DO love this jacket.) The snap on the wrists do not hold well enough. They pop off much of the time when I take the jacket off, and every time should I happen to leave my light glove liners on. (All I wear for hand protection much of the time. And I wonder why my hands are so beat up…) A loop-and-snap system would work much better as it would allow the force to be directed away from the snap itself.

OK, that is enough for now. I am packing for another two-day trip as soon as I post this report. Want to know how it did? Well come back here in two months to see how the Raven works once we really get cold!


LONG-TERM REPORT

Field Data

That green thing keeps following me


I have used the Raven on three overnight backpacking trips and three snowshoe day-hikes over the past two months.

The first overnighter was back to the Paul Bunyan State Forest. The temps were very cold with a high of 18 F and a low around -4 F (-8 to -20 C). There was moderate snowfall at times while I hiked.

Next was to Chippewa National Forest where I hiked the North Country Trail west from Shingobee Recreation Area. The picture above was taken while slogging through unbroken snow on the first day.

Then back to Chippewa National Forest where I hiked the North Country Trail and stayed near Anaway Lake. Temps ran from 24 to 10 F (-4 to -12 C) and there was light snow off and on both days. The picture below is from this trip.

Day-hikes were at Buffalo River State Park, Johnson Park, and Shingobee Recreation Area in the Chippewa National Forest. Lowest temps while hiking was -8 F (-22 C) with a -28 F (-33 C) wind-chill.

I have also continued to wear the Raven for daily activities where it has been worn to -18 F (-28 C) and in wind-chills to -50 F (-46 C). Brrrr…

Nothing like blending in

Observations

The Raven Tri-Therm has continued to do well for all my outdoor activities this winter. Because of the nearly constant winds here the shell has been on almost every minute of my trips. A few times I have been cold enough to start out with the down liner on too, but it usually comes back off within an hour of starting in the morning.

In camp I immediately put the down liner on as I get cold once the activity level drops. It works quite well as long as I am doing a little bit of work around camp but I found that once I stop and try to sit still (to read, cook or such) I feel the cold overpowering the Raven and I finally need to break out my true winter parka. But I have been pleasantly surprised by how far I have been able to take the Raven into harsh conditions.

The shell has been wonderful at shedding snow. But I still can't say that the 2.5 material breathes that well. Even at a temperature of 22 F (-6 C) last week, and having the pit zips open, my forearms were making the shell moist which transferred back to my shirt sleeves.

The down liner is the piece with a couple issues. It is very warm. I love the comfort of it. But it continues to shed down like a Snow Goose in Death Valley. And my last overnight trip saw me wearing it in camp while a very light snow fell. When the temp dropped too far I swapped it for a big parka and tossed it inside my tent where I planned to use it to bolster my sleeping quilt if I needed more warmth. But when I retired to the tent I found that the little bit of snow that had stuck to the Raven's down liner had actually soaked in. There were spots that had wetted-out and the down was clumpy there. So the DWR treatment on the inner down sweater's shell may need to be looked at. I really think they need a better nylon for it.

I have still never used the pit zips of the down sweater, although the outer shells pit zips get a constant workout.

Once a month my kids are with me for a week. It is during their stay that I attach the two pieces together and use it as a single jacket, wearing every day. I really like how fast and easy combining the two is, but the snap at the wrist is still a weak point as it pops apart often.

Durability has been great. I find nothing wrong with either piece with the exception of the leaking down. The liner has spent a lot of time being stuffed into and pulled out of my pack and sled bag with no harm.

The Raven really is a great combination and can do almost everything I need for all but the worst conditions. In a couple more months it will warm up enough to let the Raven be my sole jacket.

I thank Merrell and BackpackGearTest.org for letting me put the Raven to the test this winter. I leave with a picture from a chilly day at Buffalo River State Park.

Cold, cold, cold

This report was created with the BackpackGearTest.org Report Writer Version 1.5 Copyright 2011. All rights reserved.

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