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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Red Ledge Womens Covert Fleece Vest > Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd > Test Report by Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Red Ledge Women's Covert Action Fleece Vest
Initial Report: November 15, 2006
Field Report: January 16, 2007
Long Term Report: March 20, 2007

Contents:
     Tester Information
     Product Information
     Report
    

Tester Information

Name: Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd

Location: Sunnyvale, CA

Age/Sex: 29/Female

Height: 5'5" (1.65 m)

Weight: 130 lb (68 kg)

Size normally worn in outerwear: Small to Medium

Email: rebecca@backpackgeartest.org

Website: http://www.calipidder.com

Most of the time I am a weekend warrior style backpacker, although I like to get out on longer trips a few times a year.  California has such variety in scenery and terrain that I am never lacking in a place to visit, and most weekends find me off in the mountains exploring new (to me) trails and peaks.  I follow lightweight, but not ultralight, backpacking techniques, but am known to carry a few luxury items from time to time.  In addition to traditional backpacking I enjoy snowshoeing, skiing, and snowcamping, as well as long dayhikes, geocaching, and peak climbing.  These activities are enough to keep me busy year-round in the great state of California.

Product Information

Name: Red Ledge Covert Fleece Vest (women's)

Manufacturer: Red Ledge

Manufacturer website: http://www.redledge.com

Year of Manufacture: 2006

Listed Weight: 13.9 oz/394 g (no size given)

Measured weight:  11.5 oz/326 g (size Small)

Size: Small

Vest from the front

 

 

 

The Red Ledge Women's Covert Action Fleece vest is made with a non-pill light fleece with a 'waffle' like interior.  According to Red Ledge, this raised grid design encourages air flow and circulation under the fleece.  A thin, water resistant softshell material covers the shoulders and collar, and also provides the material for the interior zipper flap and seam lining at the bottom, arm holes, and neck.  There are two handwarmer pockets with fancy, ergonomic-looking zipper pulls, as well as a nearly invisible Napoleon pocket with a tiny zipper and pull.  Other features include a cinch pull around the neck and bottom of the vest for keeping out drafts, and loops both on the inside and the outside of the collar, presumably for hanging the vest up. 

 

Field Information

The winter months find me splitting my outdoors time among the Silicon Valley, the Sierra Nevada and Cascades, and Southern California deserts. Outside of the mountains, this is the rainy season and daytime temperatures range from the 50s to the 60s F (10-18 C). In the Sierra and Cascades, winter will soon be here and stormy winter conditions are the norm. Sunny and warm days on the snow are also not unusual though - it is one of the reasons I love visiting the snow so much! I will also be spending some time in the deserts of Southern California, which at this time of year is usually cold and rainy like the rest of the state.

Initial Report - November 15, 2006

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.

Napoleon PocketZipper 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, 2007

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 easily.

Checking the death valley guide book.

Me checking a guide book in Death Valley, the
Vest is layered with a midweight long-sleeve
synthetic top.  Photo by Joe Idoni.

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

Sliding down a dryfall, Corridor Canyon,
Death Valley. The vest is layered with a
heavy weight synthetic top. 

Taking the fast way down

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 bulkiness.

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 information.

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 configuration.

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.

Snags on neckDurability

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.

 

Overall impressions

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.

 



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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Red Ledge Womens Covert Fleece Vest > Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd > Test Report by Rebecca Sowards-Emmerd



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