Initial Report - November 15,
Having never seen Red Ledge outerwear
before, I was excited to get a piece of their gear in my hands and see
what they had to offer. Upon receiving the vest, my first reaction
was that the color was much brighter than expected from their
website. I asked for the color that was called 'Mojito', displayed
as a neutral, drab light green - a very nature-like color. In
reality, 'mojito' is much more of a lime green. The color only
applies to the fleece - the softshell material is grey (or 'Concrete' if
going by Red Ledge's terms), and although the fleece
part seemed unnaturally bright originally, I do like the color and
how it blends with the grey. I must admit that in the
short number of days I have had the vest, the color has
definitely grown on me.
After the initial visual inspection, I
tried the vest on. I was wearing a very lightweight sweater at the
time, and the vest fit perfectly. I had chosen the size small since
I intend to wear this over a single base layer
(wool or synthetic tops of various weights), and wanted a
somewhat snug fit because of my intention of adding further layers
over it as needed, such as a thicker fleece, down jacket, or a
waterproof shell. My measurement fell right within the middle of
their women's size small, so it was an easy choice. The sweater I
was wearing on the day I received the vest was similar in thickness
to the base layers I will be wearing underneath it, so I was very pleased
with the fit. The shoulders and arm openings are just a hair on the
big side, but I would rather it be that way than too small since I will be
swinging my arms a lot while using poles.
The next step was to inspect the
features to see if they matched the description on the website. The
vest has everything described, and then some. The zipper pulls are
interesting, with a fine grid in the plastic and a 'wave' to the shape
that make it feel very ergonomic. I expect that these would be
easier to work with cold, frozen fingers or gloved hands than a typical
zipper pull, and of course this will be tested in the field over the next
four months. There is also a cinch cord around the neck and the base
of the vest, presumably so that the vest can be closed up to the wind
(though nothing around the arm holes). The Napoleon pocket is nearly
invisible, looking like a normal seam, and the only visible sign is
a tiny zipper pull.
The vest is very attractive, even with
the bright green color, and the workmanship is impeccable. I have
yet to find an out of place stitch or uneven seam. The zippers are
all YKK and move smoothly. The only branding on the vest is a Red
Ledge logo on the Napoleon Pocket, embroidered in a subtle color that
matches the grey. I don't like to wear flashy and bright advertising
on my gear, and this logo strikes a great balance between proudly showing
ownership versus nothing at all.
I expect to wear this vest quite a lot
over the next several months, both as an every day jacket around town, as
well as a necessary layer while snowshoeing and cross country skiing in
the Sierra Nevada, both on day trips and overnight trips. I
very much look forward to evaluating the capabilities of this vest and
hope to provide valuable feedback in my Field Report, which will be posted
here in approximately two months.
Field Report - January 16,
During the Field Testing Period the
Red Ledge Covert Action Fleece Vest has seen use in the deserts of
Southern California and Nevada, the coastal redwood forests of the San
Francisco Bay Area, and regular use while jogging in the Silicon
Valley area during this unusually chilly winter season.
Over the week of Thanksgiving, from November
18 through November 26, I took a nine day roadtrip through the
deserts of California and Nevada.
The week began with camping and dayhiking in
two different areas of the Mojave Desert. At that time of year
temperatures can be moderate during the day and downright chilly at
night. Our daytime temperatures were comfortably in the 70s F
(low 20s C), and nighttime temperatures didn't drop lower than the mid-40s
F (~7 C). We were car camping in primitive style campgrounds, and
spending our days exploring old mining ruins, lava tube caves, and
famous Internet legends such as the Mojave Phone Booth. I found the
Red Ledge vest to be an ideal piece of outerwear for these days in
the Mojave Desert. At night, when sitting around the campfire,
it was enough to keep the chill off of me when paired with a mid-weight
base layer. Without a campfire I would have needed
an additional layer to keep warm in the cold temperatures, but
the vest was perfectly sufficient for occasionally wandering away
from the fire to attend to the tent, pop another beer out of
the cooler, or wander down to the bathrooms. In the
morning I would pair the vest with some lighter layers, so that I would be
comfortable in the morning and as the daytime
temperatures increased I didn't get too warm.
For the next few days we stayed on the Las
Vegas strip and took day trips out to the surrounding parks. We
did some hiking and sight-seeing in Red Rock Canyon State Park and Valley
of Fire State Park under the same daytime conditions as in
the Mojave Desert. Just as in Mojave, the vest made for a
perfect layer with light weight hiking clothing to keep me warm in
the mornings or in the shady stretches of trail, without being too
hot when the sun came out or I'd have a brief 'puffer' of a hill
to climb. Most of all, I really liked how comfortable the vest
was when I was active. I could wear it with a pack and while using
trekking poles, and not once did I notice any discomfort or rubbing from
seams, zippers, or a bad fit. I also noticed how the softshell
material on the shoulders provided some excellent protection from
the wind, although the wind did pass through the fleece (green) part quite
Me checking a guide
book in Death Valley, the
Vest is layered with a midweight
synthetic top. Photo by Joe
For the final four days of our Thanksgiving Desert Road Trip we drove
deep into the Death Valley backcountry where we met some friends for a few
days of canyon hiking and backcountry 4x4 camping. The
conditions in Death Valley were different from the Mojave earlier in the
week, mostly due to our elevation and the geography of our location.
Our chosen campsite was in a canyon known as Lost Burro Gap, and the
early winter sun would only reach our campsite for a couple of hours a
day. Even out in the sun where we were hiking daytime temperatures
didn't climb much above the 40s F (~7 C), and when we were in our
campsite from late afternoon until morning the temperatures were in the
30s F (~2 C) and below. On the last morning the temperatures
got down to 13 F (-10 C)!
It was during these four days that I
discovered the layering flexibility of the Red Ledge Vest. Throughout the
weekend the Red Ledge vest acted as an inner, middle and outer layer,
and it was comfortable in each configuration. I get cold very easily, and
once cold I have a terrible time warming up, so I am very careful to
keep myself warm and comfortable when temperatures are that
low. When sitting around camp, my layers would go, from inner
to outer: base layer, long sleeve fleece, Red Ledge Vest,
another fleece, then possibly a down jacket over
that. In my Initial Report I mentioned how the vest
fit quite well, except that the arm holes seemed a little big.
I found that the bigger armholes aren't a concern at all. In fact,
it is a really good fit - since the arm holes are a bit
big, I could fit the vest over a bulky fleece, and although it was
snug I could even zip it up. Because the vest isn't big and bulky
either, I could still add layers on top of it as well.
During the day I would wear the vest over a mid-to-heavy weight base
layer and it was very comfortable while I was active. When
stopped, I could throw on a windstopping fleece layer as
added protection, since the pack I was wearing would cause my back to
get wet with sweat. The softshell shoulders of the vest are
quite wind-resistant, but the fleece material is not, so with a sweaty
back I would chill easily when stopped. However, when moving
the vest was the perfect extra bit of insulation I needed without getting
too warm. Other than where the pack was against my back,
the vest allowed for rapid sweat evaporation and breathed well.
I was very rough on the vest during the
dayhikes in Death Valley. Our 'star' hike of the long weekend was
Corridor Canyon, a stunning canyon that offered dry falls, fossils,
petroglyphs, and beautiful towering walls. We did quite a bit of
scrambling and sliding around the dry falls and up the rock walls of the
canyon, getting desert prickers stuck in our skin and clothes, and
generally having a great time. The vest came out of the
weekend completely unscathed, even after one incident where I was sure I
had torn it after catching it on a nasty bush.
Sliding down a dryfall, Corridor
Death Valley. The vest is
layered with a
heavy weight synthetic
Taking the fast way down. Photos
by Joe Idoni.
Upon return from the road trip the vest was dirty and
smelled strongly of campfire, so I tossed it in the wash on a cold
cycle with the rest of my hiking clothes - a couple of other
fleeces, some synthetic and wool layers, and socks. After
the washer, I removed the vest and let it air dry.
It seemed to dry quickly. I had done the wash at night
shortly before heading to bed, and in the morning the vest was
bone dry. It also looked and smelled as good as new. I did not
notice any new pilling on the fleece, no unusual fading, and no loose
threads or seams.
Over the past couple of weeks we have
experienced an unusually cold winter chill in the Silicon Valley
area, with record lows and below freezing temperatures. I still try
to get in my thrice-weekly jog, although I find myself bundling up a lot
more than usual. The Red Ledge Vest is a perfect outer layer for
jogging in these cold temps, worn over a mid-weight wool or synthetic
base layer. I am usually a bit cold during my five minute warmup
walk, but once I start running the vest is a perfect balance of
breathability (I sweat a lot when I run) and warmth.
I have only two small complaints about the
vest. The first is that the collar, made with a double layer of the
fleece and softshell, is a bit tall for my neck. If I zip it all the
way it goes well over my chin to the point of pushing up my ears.
This wouldn't be too bad, except that with the thicker layer of
double material it is also stiff, so it is a bit uncomfortable when I move
my head around. I normally have the neck unzipped, but the
collar doesn't lay down very flat so I do notice it from time to
time. I notice this most often when I am running.
The other small issue is that I wish there
was a small key clip or tiny key pocket on the inside of one of the
regular pockets. When jogging, the only thing I bring along is a
house key on a key loop. When I am wearing the vest it means it is cold
enough that I am wearing my warmer running tights which
are pocketless, so the only pockets available for my
keys are in the vest. The key then proceeds to
noisily bounce around and annoy me for the rest of my jog. It would
be nice to secure it in once place so it wouldn't do that.
There are a couple of features of the vest
that I have found to be unneeded. Specifically, the cinches around
the waist and the neck haven't been used, and I haven't found myself in a
situation where I would even think about needing them. If it were
windy enough that I would want to cinch the vest up, the wind would come
in through the armholes anyway. If it is windy, rather than take off
the vest and fiddle with the cinches, I'd rather just throw on a windproof
layer. Also, I do not find myself needing the Napoleon pocket.
With two large hand pockets available already, I don't need the small
additional space that the Napoleon pocket provides. I think that
removing these features wouldn't detract from the use and quality of the
vest, while at the same time it would lower the weight and
After two months of regular use the vest is in
pristine condition. It looks the same as it did the day it
arrived in the mail. The fleece has stood up well to active use and
several washings, showing no sign of matting or pilling. The zippers
move incredibly smoothly, and there are no stray strings or loose seams to
find. The materials and workmanship on this vest still impress
me. I don't think I've ever put a piece of fleece outerwear
through as much use without noticing wear and tear.
During the Long Term Test Period I plan to
put this vest to the test in the snow of the Sierra Nevada, which is
unfortunately very behind schedule this year. I hope to have several
day and overnight trips on skis and snowshoes before the winter is
out! This concludes my Field Report. The Long Term Report
should be completed by March 13. Please check back then for further
Long Term Report - March 20, 2007
Long Term test locations and conditions
During the long term test period I took the Red Ledge Covert Fleece
Vest out on two overnight backpacks and a few day hikes throughout the Bay
Area. The first overnight was a snow camping trip in Lassen National
Forest. The first day of the trip was incredibly warm and sunny for a snow
trip, with sunny blue skies and the temperature hovering around 60 F (16
C). Overnight a cold front moved through and the second day was overcast
and chillier, around 40 F (4 C). The second overnight backpack was along
the California coast at Point Reyes National Seashore. The temperature was
approximately 70 F (21C) during the day, dropping to the mid 40s F (7
C) at night.
The day hikes were at a local Open Spaces during typical winter weather
- cloudy and in the mid 50s (13 C).
Long Term performance
Although I am disappointed in the pathetic showing that winter has
given us in the mountains of California this year, the conditions that I
have had to work with have been ideal for this fleece vest. On both
overnight backpacks I took during the Long Term Test period, the Red Ledge
Covert Fleece Vest was worn all the time - during the day as an outer
layer and during the evening as an inner layer.
When arriving at the trailhead in Lassen National park I was wearing
the vest over a lightweight long sleeved wool top. While spending time
chatting and packing up at the trailhead I was very comfortable in this
configuration as the morning temperature slowly rose to around 60 F (16
C). When we got moving I warmed up significantly, but the main source of
warmth was the intense sun on the black wool top. I chose not to remove
the vest since it would just expose more of the dark wool to the hot sun.
The snowshoe hike was short and although I was sweaty, I didn't feel
overheated by the time I reached camp an hour later. When arriving in
camp, I dropped my pack and immediately felt the light cool breeze on my
soaking back. Since the sun was so warm I kept the vest on and let it dry
as I set up camp and chatted with the friends I was meeting there. I did
not closely pay attention to how long it took the vest to dry, but I do
know that it happened quick enough that I was dry by the time I started
sitting around the cooler shaded kitchen area, approximately half an hour
after arriving in camp. I was dry and comfortable in the vest and light
wool top until the late afternoon temperatures started to drop. When the
day began to cool off I was able to easily throw a fitted light fleece
jacket comfortably over the vest.
I removed the vest for sleeping, but it was put back on as a middle
layer first thing in the morning. When snowshoeing out that day the
weather was cloudy and cooler than the previous day, and I found that the
black base layer with the fleece vest was a perfectly comfortable
Due to the light winter, the snow was nowhere near its typical depth
and we were able to dig out a fire ring and gather dry wood on this trip,
so we sat around a campfire for several hours that night. Upon returning
home and unpacking, I noticed that the vest seemed to have picked up the
campfire scent much stronger than the other clothes I was wearing
(including other fleece). I washed the vest with my other synthetic
clothing and let it air dry. I still could pick up a mild smoky campfire
scent, but it faded over the next few days.
Throughout the winter months I have worn the Covert Fleece Vest on a
few day hikes in my local Open Spaces and County Parks. I have found that
the vest, paired with a long sleeved base layer, provides a perfect amount
of insulation for me in the average Bay Area winter conditions - cloudy
and in the mid 50s F. In each case I was very comfortable in this
configuration - it kept me warm while taking brief stops, but wasn't too
much to overheat me when climbing up a hill.
The last opportunity for me to wear the Covert Fleece Vest came on an
overnight backpack at Point Reyes National Seashore. Upon arriving at the
coastal park it was sunny but there was still a morning chill in the air.
The vest provided the perfect insulation over my lightweight long-sleeved
base layer as I waited for my hiking partners and picked up the permit.
Our hike was a short mile and a half to camp (2.4 km), but uphill most of
the way. By the time we started hiking the morning chill had disappeared
and it was a beautiful spring day in the mid 60s (18 C). I already had my
pack on and was feeling lazy so I left the vest on even though I knew it
was too warm for it. We climbed the mile and a half to camp and I built up
a minor sweat. I was never uncomfortable, however. The vest was off as
soon as we reached camp, but later that night it provided excellent
insulation as the coastal chill hit the air.
During the four months of use the Vest was washed approximately six
times. It was air dried in each case. The fleece is still in good shape
and does not show an 'old fleece' pilled look, although the fleece is
obviously not new. The vibrant green color has only dulled very slightly.
The seams are still perfectly intact and the zippers still move cleanly.
There are some holes and snags in the flap of material that covers the
cinch for the neck. I never used or needed this cinch, so I do not know
how this damage got there (see photo to the left). There is a bit of
darker stain from sweat and skin oils around the neck that did not come
off in the wash.
Unfortunately, the stiff and tall collar that I described in my field
report did not get softer with time or multiple washings. It is still a
bit bothersome, but not enough to be distracting. I also found that I got
sick of the bright green rather quickly. It isn't the muted green that I
expected from the website, and the bright lime green clashes with nearly
every piece of outdoor clothing I own. It isn't that I care if I match in
the backcountry, but when I look at my photos it hurts the eyes!
Most of all, the Red Ledge Covert Fleece Vest is a very comfortable
vest both for active use and in-camp layering. The material is quite
breathable and I was able to move comfortably in it while hiking, running,
and snowshoeing, including wearing a pack. It is in better condition than
I would expect a fleece vest to be in after four months of use with
regular washings. It fits well into my layering system given its fitted
cut. I have enjoyed testing this vest and look forward to using it
in the future.