BackpackGearTest
  Home Guest - Not logged in 

Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Merrell Raven-Falconry Tri-Therm Jacket > Test Report by Richard Lyon

MERRELL RAVEN TRI-THERM™ JACKET
Test Series by Richard Lyon

Initial Report January 3, 2011
Field Report February 20, 2011
Long Term Report May 1, 2011


Personal Details and Backpacking Background

Male, 64 years old
6' 4" (1.9 m) tall, 205 lb (93 kg); 46 inch (117 cm) chest, 37 inch (95 cm) waist, 22.5 inch (57 cm) torso, 36.5 inch (93 cm) sleeve  
Email address: montana DOT angler AT gmail DOT com
Home: Dallas, Texas USA

I've been backpacking for 45 years and regularly in the Northern Rockies since 1986.  I do at least one weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips.  I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 10000 ft (1500 - 3000 m).  I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do forced marches too. I've been actively reducing my pack weight, though I still usually include my favorite camp conveniences and always sleep in a floored tent. Winter backcountry activities are often on telemark or touring skis.

INITIAL REPORT
January 3, 2011

Product Description and Details

The Raven is a combination jacket – a waterproof shell and an 800-fill down sweater that can be worn separately as layering pieces or snapped together to make up a lined winter parka.

Manufacturer:  Wolverine World Wide, Inc.
Website: http://www.merrell.com  The second and third photos below come from this website.
Size: XXL; available in sizes Small to XXL (Men’s)
Color: Black; also available in Amazon (green)
Related product: Merrell sells a Falconry Tri-Therm™ for women
Torso length: 31 in/79 cm for size Large listed (the only listed measurement for the Raven); 32.4 in /82 cm measured size XXL (shell)
Weight
: Shell, 18.0 oz/ 510 g; down sweater 16.5 oz/ 468 g
Sleeve length: 39.5 in/100 cm (shell)
Features: The shell has an attached hood, zippered handwarmer pockets, a zippered pocket on the left sleeve, and hook-and-loop strips on the sleeve cuffs to allow cinching.  The sweater has handwarmer pockets, a cadet-style collar, a zippered inside pocket on the right side, and elastic cuffs.  Each garment has pit zips.   
MSRP: $498 US

First Impressions

SnapsConcept.  In the past I have not fared well with “combination” or “integrated” coats and jackets, that is, those with removable liners.  I have preferred to do my own layering, having found that attaching and detaching a jacket liner is a nuisance in the field and that I’m sometimes required to carry a piece (the liner) that has no good use when not attached to the coat.  But at first inspection the Raven seems to overcome all my objections. I was able to detach, then re-attach, the down sweater to the shell quickly and easily.  Merrell uses snaps,  seventeen in all (two on the shell are shown in the photo), for this purpose. All can be snapped or unsnapped when wearing mittens.  Much, much improved over any zipper connection I’ve encountered.

More importantly though, either component appears to be something I can use regularly as a standalone rain shell or insulating layer, as the case may be.  I’m particularly pleased with the sweater.  These past few years I’ve migrated from fleece to lightweight down as my principal insulating layer, and the Raven’s sweater matches the others I have used (including three that are reviewed on this site) on weight, high grade down fill, and comfort.  That’s not to belittle the shell, which also appears usable as a wind or rain jacket, even at warmer temperatures thanks to its pit-zip ventilation system.

Fit.  The XXL, which I inherited when another tester was laid up with back surgery, fits me just as I like a winter jacket to do – full coverage and a slightly loose torso fit to allow adding layers underneath.  When buying upper body garments I often have to decide between the extra torso and sleeve length I need and a more athletic fit in the torso.  In a winter coat I tend to go for better coverage, and I’d have picked the XXL if I’d had the choice.  I might like an inch or two (3-5 cm) less across the chest, but the jacket isn’t so loose that I fear folds under my pack straps.

Raven shellFeatures. The shell has several means of aperture adjustment.  As noted the cuffs may be closed with hook-and-loop closures.  The hood, which has a brim panel but no wire stiffener, may be cinched with a cord lock tethered on each side and in the middle of the back.  The hood also has a hook-and-loop strip to permit vertical adjustment, something in my experience quite useful when wearing the hood atop a ski helmet. The hem of the jacket also has cord locks with tethers that sit at the middle of my hips.  

The shell’s yoke, lower back panel (from pocket to pocket and 8 inches (20 cm) up at the middle of the back, and the outside of the arms are reinforced ripstop nylon, presumably to weather the rigors of pack straps and a backpack (rear and yoke) and brush and rocks (arm sides). This is more apparent on Merrell’s website than in real life, but this feature is definitely there.  

The shell’s WBP fabric, which Merrill calls Opti-Shell™, has something new to me – six per cent elastic.  This gives the jacket a stretchy feel even when handled, and hopefully will accommodate the regular arm movements of ski touring and skiing.  This shell has two fabric layers and a pebbled surface on the inside for breathability.

The side pockets have welded waterproof zippers and vertical openings, and sit slightly to the rear of the jacket as compared to a front country windbreaker, the better to access when wearing a pack.  The sleeve pocket is hidden beneath a storm flap.

Storm flaps similarly protect the pit zippers.  A second feature new to me is a double zipper on the pit zips.  Each zipper is 17.5 inches (44 cm) long, with one half of the length above and below the middle of my armpit.

Turning to the down sweater, this also has pit zips, another first for me.  These are the same length as, and mate with, the shell zippers, but with only a single zipper pull that closes by pulling from bottom to top.  Consistent with use of the sweater as a layering piece, the handwarmer pocket zippers are not welded or covered by a storm flap.  The sweater has sewn-through down chambers 2.25 inches (5.7 cm) wide and, like the shell, a toggled draw cord at the waist.  A very pleasant touch is soft tricot fleece lining of the sweater pockets and inside of the cadet collar.

Raven-sweaterThe sweater, unlike the shell, has an inside pocket, on the right side.   This is 8 x 9.5 inches (20 x 24 cm) in size, zippered, and with mesh on the outside.  It’s large enough for my folded climbing skins, which after first use need to be kept protected from freezing by proximity to body heat.  

Combining the shell and sweater to make a parka is, quite literally, a snap.  The mating snaps are located along the sides (8) and top (3) of the jacket and sweater, at the middle of the pit zips (4), and just short of the sleeve cuffs (2).

Summary

I regret my verbosity in describing the Raven’s features, for one of its real virtues is genuine simplicity of design.  I’m pleased to see the lack of unnecessary gimmicks that only add to the weight of the product without contributing much functionality.  The Raven looks like a jacket (or two or three jackets) designed for use, not style. The only frill I could find was a tiny triangle-shaped ring at the hem of the shell for a ski lift ticket.

I’m looking forward to putting this jacket (these jackets?) through its (their?) paces in the Rockies this winter. 

FIELD REPORT
February 20, 2011

Field Conditions

The Raven combination has served me well on the trail and in one of North Texas’s snowiest winters in recent years.

During a three-day, two-night outing, a short backpack in the Texas Hill Country in early January, I met with our first snow of 2011. After a calm, clear first night at about freezing, our group of three awoke to a chilly drizzle that soon turned to a mixture of snow and freezing rain. The precipitation stopped late in the afternoon, but temperatures remained at or just below freezing until the following morning and never got above 40 F (4 C) that day. 

In early February the Dallas area suffered its coldest sustained weather in more than twenty years: two days of snow, and five days with temperatures from 7 to 28 F (-14 to -2 C).  That may not sound serious to some folks, but ice on the road is a rarity here, and none of the natives knows how to drive in it. So the freeze and icy roads and virtually paralyzed the region.  Most businesses were closed; mine certainly was, so I took advantage with several long day hikes. 

I wore the Raven while skiing one day at Bridger Bowl, Montana, in early February, and a few days later at the demo day at the Outdoor Retailer Show, held this year at Solitude Ski Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon, Utah.  Weather conditions were similar – temperatures about 25 F (-4 C) and overcast, with occasional winds.  I also wore the Raven combination at night while in Salt Lake City for the remainder of the OR Show.

The Raven has served as great front country wear at home, on dog walks during the wintry weather, on a visit to my sister in Delaware, and in Bozeman, Montana, where I spent some time house-hunting.  Delaware had a lovely winter day, sunny and (relatively) warm (about 35 F/2 C), Montana sunny but very cold, -14 F (-26 C) at night and 0 F (-18 C) during the day. 

On all occasions except the backpacking trip I wore the Raven's two components snapped together, though I saved room in my daypack for the liner on the Dallas hikes, in the off chance the sun would emerge.  On the backpacking trip I wore the shell over the liner, unsnapped, on the hike in and out, and in camp after the sun went down.  On all occasions except Delaware and Montana, the only other upper body garment I wore was a long sleeve merino t-shirt, either a turtleneck or hooded zip-neck.  In Montana I added a second merino layer, in Delaware I wore a cotton t-shirt and casual wool sweater.

Observations

The Tri-Therm system has worked well for me in all the uses described above.  I like each piece separately and the two snapped together.

Sizing is just right.  With the XXL I have coverage several inches/centimeters below my waist, and a cuff that extends past my wrist.  This latter is much appreciated by a long-armed guy.  A big advantage of the clip-together system is that the wrist snap keeps the down liner at my cuff.  When I have worn the pieces separately, as when I wore other down liners with other jackets, the liner cuff will often ride up when swinging my arm.

However the snaps in use do hamper performance in one important respect.  If I wear the pieces separately I can easily zip the liner all the way up to my neck, and adjust the shell zipper to regulate temperature when hiking.  That’s a tricky exercise when the two pieces are snapped together, requiring more than one gloved hand. At the temperatures I've worn the Raven most frequently - mostly right around the freezing point -- a fully zipped liner makes me too warm, so I'd rather leave the liner's zipper at half mast and adjust ventilation with the outer zipper. 

The liner, with its dense down, keeps me nice and warm when in use.  It’s insulated as well as any down midlayer I’ve ever used, and as these pages indicate I have used many.  In camp or at rest stops I'll zip it up to my chin for full protection.  I like the pit zips.  On my Dallas day hikes I left the pit zips on both components open, allowing some temperature moderation.  Again, I found it fairly easy to regulate temperature using the shell zipper, having left the liner zipper about half way up. 

On the backpack trip I preferred to use the pieces separately, as I carried an inordinately heavy pack for a fairly easy hike.  The other campers were a seven-year old with a big appetite and no taste for backpacking food, and his mother, whose tastes coincided with mine – steak and potatoes.  This meant that I carried tent, stove, and food for three.  The hike was relatively short and not especially difficult, but I was laden heavily enough to stow the down liner for the hike in and out.  Without a midlayer the shell was a bit blousy, but not to the point of causing discomforting folds under my pack.

I’m still adjusting to the shell’s stretchy fabric, something new to me.  I find the inside of the shell somewhat slick but not uncomfortable, and once I’ve set out I don’t notice any stretching.  The Opti-Shell fabric, waterproof zippers, and storm flaps make the shell completely waterproof.  As I’ve almost always worn it with the liner I’ve perspired quite a bit, and both pieces have wicked very well.

The liner’s fabric isn’t advertised as waterproof, and I’ve had a small corner of the liner wet out, down included, from inadvertent exposure to snow.  Down doesn’t dry rapidly, and I had to wait for some sunshine to get the down back to insulating as opposed to chilling.  I take this as a lesson in limiting the liner’s use to underneath a waterproof shell.

I see a few feathers escaping every time I wear the shell.  Not serious yet.

Neither piece has shown any deterioration after almost two months.  I’ve not thought it necessary to wash either.

The Good

The concept.  I like the ability to clip the two pieces together, and the Raven provides a simple and idiot-proof way to do so.

Pit zips on the liner.  A great idea.

Solid, no-frills construction and design.

Room for Improvement

I’d like a second snap at each sleeve cuff.  Occasionally the liner will unclip when I pull my arm from the sleeve.

LONG TERM REPORT
May 1, 2011

Field Conditions

Milford Track I’ve worn or carried the Raven shell on two overnight backpacking trips in the Texas Hill Country, a four-day lodge-to-lodge trek on the Milford Track in Fiordland Province, New Zealand, and on a few day outings in the Rockies  The liner was worn or in my pack on all these occasions, at all times separate from the shell.  

Temperatures in the Hill Country ranged from 45 F (8 C) at night to 90 F (32 C) late one afternoon.  We had scattered rain showers on the first trip; on the second the weather was clear but we had constant wind, gusty at times, and the Raven shell came in handy as a wind jacket.

Fiordland is a rain forest, as may be inferred from the photo at left.  My hike in early March (late austral summer) had temperatures and weather said to be typical of that time of year: rain squalls throughout the day, and constant rain in the evenings and at night, with temperatures from 50-70 F (10-21 C) except for the day we hiked over McKinnon Pass (at 1100 m/ 3500 ft the highest point on the trek).  Once above tree line, under overcast skies we were exposed to brisk winds and occasional rain and snow at about 35 F (2 C), cold enough for both layers of the Raven over my merino shirt.  On this trek the Raven’s liner came in very handy at the lodges in the evenings and early in the mornings.

I traveled to the Rockies in mid-April for some business, fishing, and day hiking.  When fishing, clear and windy, with temperatures between 40 and 55 F (4-18 C).  I wore the liner early in the day and at breaks, when I added it over a base layer and under my fishing vest.  When things warmed up a bit I swapped the liner for the shell, which was needed against the constant wind.

After leaving the stream, the weather changed – snow flurries that night and throughout the next day, and fourteen inches (36 cm) of snow the following evening.  After this front blew in I wore both liner and shell throughout the snowy weather.  It didn’t get above 40 F (4 C) that day, and nighttime brought temperatures down to 20 F (-7 C), fine springtime weather.  When hiking I wore the two pieces over a wool shirt and merino base layer, in the evenings over a wool shirt and wool vest. 

I've worn the shell on the few rainy days in Dallas on early morning dog walks.  It hasn't dropped below 60 F (14 C) until this morning, when I took my dog for  a run in the local dog park (see photo at the bottom).

Performance

Each piece of this matched set has continued to do its job very well; I have little to add to the observations I made in my Field Report.  The shell is waterproof, as advertised, and serves as an excellent wind blocker when worn on its own.  I don’t think Merrell’s proprietary fabric breathes quite as well as some other WPB [waterproof/breathable] fabrics I have worn regularly, as I started to feel a bit clammy when fishing or hiking in the humid New Zealand rain forest, but it is more than adequate in that category.  It does keep the rain out.  I really like this shell’s light weight – just over one pound (454 g) for size XXL, even with the metal snaps for affixing the liner.  It’s light enough that I don’t notice it when it’s stuffed into the pocket on the back of my fishing vest.  

The down-filled liner is a great layering piece.  It stuffs down to a size that makes it easy to store it in my day pack, front pack, or fishing vest, so I don’t think it’s overkill on a day outing.  I use a stuff sack that came with another manufacturer’s down sweater for storage.  One minor Small enough for a day packimprovement to the Raven would be including a stuff sack for this purpose.

The 800-weight down insulates wonderfully well.  I’ve noticed some feathers escaping, but no more so than another superlight down midlayer I tested, and as yet no real cause for alarm.

As I have noted in the Field Conditions sections of this report and my Field Report, on most backcountry occasions I’ve worn or packed the Raven’s two pieces separately.  That’s consistent with the principle of layering that I have followed in the backcountry for years – two pieces that can be worn individually yield a greater range of wind, water, and cold protection (and pack space as well) than a single garment with two or more layers.  I have found the Raven with the two pieces snapped together a very functional jacket for everyday wear when the temperature dips down to freezing or below.

My likes and dislikes remain the same as in my Field Report, with one addition on the bright side - the hook-and-loop closures on the shell's cuffs are very easy to open and close, and when closed seal the sleeves up nicely.  Pit zips on the liner remain a big plus.  I rarely mention price on any gear that functions well, but I believe it’s appropriate to do so here.  The Raven’s MSRP may scare off some readers, but I don’t think it should.  It’s less (considerably less, in fact) than the sum of the prices of many a high-grade WPB shell and down sweater, and with the Raven the buyer gets the extra benefit of an insulated rain jacket on demand.  Truly a three-in-one piece.

Summary

A good concept, well thought out and well executed.  The Raven is a winner in my book. 

Dog Park with Babar 

My Test Report ends here, with thanks to Wolverine World Wide and BackpackGearTest.org for the testing opportunity.





Read more reviews of Merrell gear
Read more gear reviews by Richard Lyon

Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Merrell Raven-Falconry Tri-Therm Jacket > Test Report by Richard Lyon



Product tested and reviewed in each Formal Test Report has been provided free of charge by the manufacturer to BackpackGearTest.org. Upon completion of the Test Series the writer is permitted to keep the product. Owner Reviews are based on product owned by the reviewer personally unless otherwise noted.

If you are an avid backpacker, we are always looking for enthusiastic, quality reviewers. Apply here to be a gear tester.


All material on this site is the exclusive property of BackpackGearTest.org.
BackpackGearTest software copyright David Anderson