The Western Mountaineering Flight Vest provides one of the highest warmth:weight ratios of any garment on the market. You can use this vest for cold rest stops, to boost an underrated sleeping bag, or to throw in your daypack for a cold and windy summit. The vest stuffs down to a ball about five inches (13 cm) in diameter (about the size of a grapefruit). Like most down garments, the Flight vest is ideally suited for staying warm when you’re not too active in dry weather. Conversely, it is not applicable for aerobic efforts (you’ll rapidly overheat) or when exposed to wet weather (wet down loses its insulating capacity). In addition, with its very light 0.9 oz/yd2 (30 g/m2) shell fabric, the Flight should not be subjected to a lot of abuse.
Our men’s medium sample of WM’s Flight Vest had 1.7 inches (4.3 cm) of single layer loft. Surprisingly, for this weight (our sample was 6.0 oz / 170 g), you still get a full-featured garment—a nice down filled collar, insulated handwarmer pockets, a full front zipper with down filled draft tube and an elastic drawcord hem with dual cordlocks
An insulating vest offers other advantages over a jacket, besides just saving weight. While there is no question that a vest is not going to keep you as warm as a jacket, a vest does concentrates all of its warmth where it does the most good: around your neck and torso, and thus, provides a higher warmth:weight ratio. A vest works better than a down jacket for light aerobic activities, since the armholes on a vest allow for some moisture venting. In addition, you can wear the vest in situations where you might tear the abrasion-prone fabric on the arms of the jacket. Finally, with no puffy arms to get in the way, you get great freedom of arm motion.
Note on Availability: Western Mountaineering expects the first Flight vests to ship to retailers in late November.
Western Mountain Sports
1025 South 5th St. San Jose, CA, 95112
PH: 408.287.8944 – FAX: 408.287.8946 http://www.westernmountaineering.com/
The Flight Vest is filled with 850+ fill power goose down and uses sewn through baffling construction. Down has the most loft per weight of any insulation material available. It compacts more and retains its loft longer through multiple compressions than synthetic insulations. Down excels as an insulating fill in dry and cold temperatures. If down gets wet, it loses almost all of its insulation and dries far slower than synthetic insulations. In comparison, synthetic insulations absorb less water, retain significantly more insulating value when wet, and dry faster.
The Flight Vest has an insulated collar and full front zipper. The collar makes an excellent seal around the neck due to slight compression of the down in the collar as the vest is completely zipped. True handwarmer pockets are fully insulated, providing warmth for both sides of your hands.
The Flight Vest provides a good balance between features and weight. It has a snug down filled collar, insulated handwarmer pockets, a full front zipper backed by a down filled draft tube, and an elastic drawcord hem with dual, “one-handed” cordlocks. The front zipper is a very light #3 one-way coil from YKK. The full front zip provides the most versatile temperature regulation (relative to pullover-style garments with half-zips) and simplifies doffing and donning the vest rapidly at rest stops. Fully insulated handwarmer pockets are un-zippered with a simple elastic trim. There are no internal storage pockets on the Flight Vest.
Sizing and Fit
The Fight Vest fits fairly trim over a base layer shirt and thin shell jacket (a common scenario for use, as the vest is donned to prevent heat loss at rest stops), without restricting movement or compressing insulation (our male model for evaluating fit was 5’8” / 173 cm and 145 lbs / 66 kg with a 38 in / 97 cm chest and 34 in / 86 cm waist). The hem length is just below the belt level – don’t expect the vest to provide much butt or thigh coverage. The collar fits snug over a 200 weight fleece balaclava layered over a 16 in (41 cm) neck.
With a down insulated draft tube and a snugly fitting collar the flight vest is a good insulator dry and breezy conditions. Not surprisingly, strong winds and even light activity results in heat loss from the armholes. The vest should be combined with insulating headwear and layered under a roomy shell jacket for maximum performance in cold, windy conditions.
With its very light shell, the Flight Vest is more prone to outside moisture penetration than down garments with more robust shell materials. With its effective DWR finish, the shell material of the Flight can withstand brief periods of mild moisture , as might occur when you brush up against the condensation-soaked wall of your shelter, but it is not appropriate as outerwear in wet weather. Although we noticed that a pool of water placed in a fabric depression away from seams did not penetrate the fabric for several minutes, moisture readily penetrates the seams and easily wicks into the insulation.
The lining and shell of the Fight Vest are uncoated, highly breathable fabrics . Thus, moisture vapor emitted via evaporative cooling can easily pass through the garment. The Flight’s significant quantity of down fill, however, inhibits the breathability enough so that it is not useful for sustained periods of activity. You can extend its use during periods of activity in very cold conditions by opening the zipper and by allowing heat to escape from the armholes, though this risks the accumulation of moisture in the vest and subsequent reduction of its insulating qualities.
In the field, we found the Flight vest suitable for staying warm at short rest stops in temperatures of 25 to 40 degrees,with no or little wind. In windier conditions, we needed to layer a hooded shell over the vest (or if not too cold, to layer the vest over a shell we were already wearing). Typically, we were comfortable performing camp chores in temperatures near freezing wearing a lightweight wool base layer, the Flight Vest, a 200-weight fleece balaclava, and a hooded shell jacket.
For temperatures around freezing we found the vest comfortable to wear as a hiking warm-up (on level ground or downhill!) by using the zipper to control ventilation. It should be noted that one of our reviewers hiked downhill for several miles in very windy (up to 25 mph), sub-freezing (25 °F / -4 °C) conditions in a Flight Vest and remained comfortable without excessive moisture buildup. Thus, we would expect the vest to be suitable in similar conditions as an “emergency” hiking layer, as long as your level of exertion was not high enough to expel too much moisture into the garment.
Warmth as Part of a Sleep System
We tested the Flight Vest as part of a sleep system (combined with an overfilled Rab Top Bag (2001 model, 21 oz) and an Epic/silnylon bivy sack) down to temperatures of 28 °F (-2 °C) and remained comfortably warm. We wore the vest with other clothing while sleeping that included a 200 weight fleece balaclava, lightweight wool baselayer, and a lightweight soft shell jacket. One advantage of the vest over the jacket is that it takes up less room when worn inside a narrow sleeping bag. However, one advantage of the jacket is that it can be more effectively layered (rather than worn) over the chest area, providing some draft protection with the arms of the jacket strategically wrapped around your neck. This type of layering provides uninhibited loft of the insulating garment and is the warmest method of incorporating it into your sleep system. The vest can also be effectively layered in this manner, but is somewhat cooler without the additional insulation provided by arms on the garment.
While the Flight Vest is not a climbing garment by any stretch of the imagination, we can envision it being used for a quick belay in mild and dry conditions, or as a warmup garment for general mountaineering use. Without arms, we found this a good garment for scrambling in cold weather provided there was little potential to scrape the front of the vest on sharp rocks or brush. Again, make no mistake – the Flight shell material is not very abrasion or rip-resistant, and it is probably inappropriate for use in belayed climbing.
Recommendations for Improvement
One reviewer complains, “The two big cord locks and bungee at the hem are like 36" mud tires on a Mini Cooper.” Western Mountaineering reports that “we have asked quite a few of our vendors & customers and our response has been strong enough that a drawcord is necessary.” While we recognize the value of a drawcord at retaining heat, we also recognize that there are lighter elastic cords and cord locks than the ones on the Flight. Better yet, in keeping with the ultralight style of the garment, a simple Lycra-bound elastic hem would be even more appropriate. For the hardcore ultralighters, it should be noted that it’s not hard to cut the cord and cordlocks off the vest, if you so choose!