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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Wild Things Belay Jacket > Owner Review by Richard Lyon

WILD THINGS BELAY JACKET
Owner Review by Richard Lyon
January 31, 2008

PERSONAL DETAILS AND BACKPACKING BACKGROUND

Male, 61 years old
Height: 6' 4" (1.93 m)
Weight: 200 lb (91 kg)
Torso: 22.5 in (57 cm)
Chest: 46 in (117 cm)
Waist: 38 in (97 cm)
Sleeve length: 36.5 in (93 cm)
Email address: rlyon AT gibsondunn DOT com
Home: Dallas, Texas USA

I've been backpacking for 45 years on and off, and regularly in the Rockies since 1986.  I do a week long 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, but I do my share of forced marches too.  Though always looking for ways to reduce weight, I'm not yet a lightweight hiker and I usually choose a bit more weight over foregoing camp conveniences I've come to expect.

PRODUCT DETAILS.  Wild Things calls the Belay Jacket "a windproof, breathable, water resistant and packable" jacket offering "lightweight warmth." 

Manufacturer: Wild Things Inc., North Conway, New Hampshire USA

Website: www.wildthingsgear.com.  All quotations in this Review come from this site.  Though this site, which the company has recently updated and improved, contains very useful information about Wild Things products, a customer cannot order online.  The site does include an order form for telefax orders and information about telephone orders.

Year Purchased: 2007
Year Manufactured: 2004 or 2005 (I bought it used.)
Size: XL; available in sizes XS through XXL.
Color: Now available in red, black, amber, and blue.  The illustration on the Wild Things website indicates that current models (or at least the current blue models) have different shades at the yoke and hood.  Mine is all the same fire engine red color. 
Shell Fabric: EPIC by Nextec® microfiber.
Insulation: Primaloft®
Weight listed (size not specified): 34 oz/0.96 kg
Weight, measured (size XL): 26 oz/0.74 kg
Torso length, measured: 29.5 in/75 cm, collar to hem
Sleeve length, listed and measured: 35.5 in/90 cm, collar to cuff
MSRP
: $295 US
Warranty: "Our products are warranted against defects in materials and workmanship. Should any flaw appear due to defective materials or workmanship, Wild Things®, Inc. will replace or repair the product at no cost to you. Repairs for normal wear and tear, accident, improper care or negligence, where we are not at fault, will be repaired for a reasonable charge."  Returns of unused and unaltered products are accepted from the original buyer for sixty days after purchase.

Features: The current version of the Belay has "Water Repellant Zippers, Helmet Compatible Hood, T-Pull Hood Adjustment, 2 Zippered Front Pockets, 1 Zippered Inner Pocket, 1 Mesh Inner Pocket; Velcro Wrist Closures, Hem Drawcord."  Mine has all of these except the mesh inner pocket and Velcro wrist closures.

FIELD CONDITIONS

I've used the Belay for hiking, backpacking, fishing, and skiing in autumn, winter, and spring, almost always as my outer layer.  On one really cold winter day I wore the Belay under an unlined three-layer Gore-Tex parka used not for waterproofing but strictly as an extra layer for warmth.  Winter temperatures have varied from -10 to 40 F (-26 to 5 C).  In shoulder-seasons (spring and fall) hiking or backpacking I'll wear or pack the Belay if temperatures are expected to dip below 40 F (5 C).  I especially like the Belay in spring skiing conditions and have worn it for this purpose at up to 60 F (16 C).  I'm cold-prone and skiing has ample sitting-still time, on the lifts and at breaks, when I like an insulated jacket that's windproof and can be sealed up. 

The Belay has been exposed to rain, snow, sleet, and combinations of the foregoing.  As I discuss below I consider it waterproof even if its maker does not and will bring it as rain gear on trips when colder temperatures are expected. 

OBSERVATIONS

Happy backcountry skier in his BelayMy Belay was an impulse purchase in an online auction that has turned out to be a truly useful jacket from September through April, exceeding my expectations for performance.  I like just about everything about it. 

Fit.  The XL size fits just right over a base layer and fleece or wool mid-layer.  Sleeves are long enough for even my extra-long arms and the hem comes below my waist.  The Belay has a trim, athletic fit.  Many XL or XXL jackets seem to be cut for larger-waisted men than I, giving (or, in my case, adding to) a spare-tire look at the waist.  Not the Belay; it's just right for me.  Maybe even a bit cramped when I have to stuff my climbing skins inside on a descent, but I've managed.  My Wild Things Alpinist Bibs (see separate review) have a similar cut.  The company's website has a climbers' flavor to it, which may account for the trimmer fits.  Whatever the reason it's much appreciated.  This fit also allows me to wear the Belay as an insulated windbreaker under my vest on blustery spring and fall fly fishing days. 

Features.  The Belay has all the features I want but one and, equally importantly, doesn't have bells and whistles that I don't want.  The outside pockets are true hand warmer pockets, usable in the backcountry and on the street, not slash pockets set too high for any use except hard-to-get-at storage for small items.  The inside pocket is zippered (hooray!) and big enough for wallet, keys, and money clip or, if I choose, a 0.6 liter/quart SIGG bottle or small flask.  The draw cord at the waist works with a single toggle that I can adjust with one mittened hand.  The hood has a similar draw cord that is similarly easy to manipulate, and the hood fits nicely over my ski helmet with a comfortable collar in front.  The sleeves on my Belay have a simple elastic cuff, without the Velcro that is now used, which is satisfactory for me as I usually wear gauntlet-style gloves or mittens that come up several inches/centimeters past the cuff.  Even with lighter gloves or barehanded the cuff clings sufficiently to my mid-layer to keep drafts out.

The inside pocket isn't large enough to hold climbing skins, which after first use each day must be stored warm to prevent their icing up, so I would like the inside mesh pocket that's now standard specifically for them. 

One small detail that I like is that the fabric loop for hanging the Belay is located on the back of the hood rather than on the inside at the collar.  This way the entire jacket, hood included, gets a mild stretch from hanging and the inside of the hood doesn't pick up drippings from melting ice from the collar.

Protection.  EPIC is not sold as waterproof; as with other garments and gear that use this fabric there's the more conservative "water repellant" description on Wild Things' website.  When wearing the Belay I've stayed completely dry through thundershowers and two hours of steady rain, and have never had this jacket wet out from snow or melting ice (very common during or after skiing or ski touring when accumulated ice finds sunlight or a warm car).  Even if it isn't waterproof by some arcane scientific definition in my book it's very close as a practical matter.  Rain beads up and slides right off.  I did treat the Belay with Atsko Permanent Water Guard immediately after purchasing it last winter and re-treated it as preventive maintenance early this winter, which likely helped.  I've found the EPIC fabric is, as Wild Things says, completely windproof, even on gusty ridges in the dead of winter. 

The Primaloft insulation, with assistance from inner layers, has kept me warm at temperatures perhaps ten or fifteen degrees F (6-9 degrees C) colder than any other comparably weighted jacket that I have worn.  The Belay is the first jacket I really consider as an alternative to down when I'm facing temperatures a few degrees either side of freezing. 

At warmer temperatures or during a serious uphill hike in winter the Belay can make me too warm.  The only means of venting is unzipping the jacket.  I prefer to deal with this problem by shedding an intermediate layer to adjust my core temperature rather than leaving the zipper down, though this can cause some perspiration stains and odor (see below) on the Belay's lining.

Durability.  This jacket is extremely well made and has withstood several years of use (by me and its prior owner) without a tear or other serious injury.  I won't say that it looks like new but it certainly doesn't show its age or serious mileage.  Everything still works as it should –the draw cord, the zippers, and the hood adjustment. 

The only problem I've had is odor.  As is true of many synthetics that I have used, the Primaloft picks up and retains sweat enough to smell after two or three days' use during rigorous aerobic activities.  At some point the aroma seems to increase geometrically with further use.  Various non-detergent cleaning products (Ivory Snow and Atsko, to name two) remove stains and reduce but don't eliminate the smell, so I counterattack with MiraZyme® whenever the rankness becomes intolerable – twice so far – and this has done the trick for a reasonable time.

Appearance.  I'd prefer the more stylish new two-tone look, but the simple cut and style of the Belay also suit my front-country tastes, making this jacket even more versatile as a weekend piece around town.  Bright red is a great color for the backcountry in the snow – it makes me easier to spot in case of an avalanche.

WHAT I LIKE

Simple and functional

Versatility

Comfortable fit

Windproof and waterproof

WHAT I DON'T

I don't think it packs especially small, but it does as well as any other non-down insulated jacket that I've owned.

WHAT I'D CHANGE

I'd like an inside mesh pocket.  Now included.

I'd add pit zips or some means of venting even at the expense of a few more ounces/grams.



Read more reviews of Wild Things gear
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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets > Wild Things Belay Jacket > Owner Review by Richard Lyon



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