Kristin and I duke it out to see which jacket is better. Trollveggen, Norway.
In the winter of 2011, Rab came out with the Infinity down jacket, one of the first commercial garments to use Pertex’s new Quantum GL 10D fabric (25 g/m2). The Infinity also marked the first time Rab used 850 fill power down in a product. This winter, GoLite entered the ring with the similarly designed, but lighter, Bitterroot down jacket, which also features Quantum GL and 850 fill power down. Both jackets have a bevy of features, like a full front zip, zippered hand pockets, internal pocket(s), and a hood.
Kristin wore the Infinity and I, the Bitterroot, through three months of backcountry skiing and camping in the European Alps and mountains of Norway. How do the two fare, on paper and under real world conditions?
|Golite Bitterroot||Rab Infinity|
|All size medium||Womens||Mens||Womens||Mens|
|Fill Weight||4.9oz (140g)||5.3oz (150g)||6oz (180g)||7oz (210g)|
|Total Weight||12oz (340g)||13 oz (370g)||14.5 oz (410g)||16oz (460g)|
|Measured Weight||Not Tested||13.8 oz (390g)||12.1 oz (401g)||15.2 oz (430g)|
|Down/Total Weight Ratio||32.7||40.8||40.8||43.8|
*See final note at end of article. New retail price is $199 as of March 2012.
Common Features on all jackets:
850 fill power down, Pertex Quantum GL shell and lining, stitch-through baffle construction, insulated hood with nonadjustable elastic closing, elastic cuffs, full front zip with YKK5 zipper, zippered hand pockets with YKK3 zipper, double cordlock hem, and stuff sack included.
|GoLite Bitterroot||Rab Infinity|
|Two-way front zip||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|Chin guard lining||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Hand pocket lining||Yes||Yes||1/2*||No|
|Front zipper baffle||No||No||Yes||Yes|
*Microfleece lining only on outer side of pocket, not on palm side. See photo in Performance.
Performance – Apples to Oranges
Kristin and I wore the jackets throughout a winter and spring of backcountry skiing. We wore the jackets at our snow camps, during lunch breaks, on summits, and even at night to boost the temperature rating of our 3-season quilt. We stuffed and unstuffed the jackets every day for months on end.
First, the fabric. At no time did the feathers poke through the Quantum GL. There are no tears, signs of abrasion, or unraveling seams. Moderate snowfall did not penetrate the Quantum GL, even though the fabric is not DWR treated. Call me impressed!
Front and rear views of the GoLite Mens Bitterroot and Rab Womens Infinity. The difference in stitching pattern is quite noticeable, particularly on the backside of the jackets.
The jackets are both very warm for their weight thanks to the light fabric and large amount of high-quality down. The Rab has quite a bit more down and feels like it is overstuffed. After months of use, the Infinity still lofts fully. Originally, the GoLite jacket had nearly as much loft as the Rab. However, by the end of our testing period, there were certain areas that had compacted slightly, like the inside of the elbow and the armpit. This isn’t necessarily indicative of a difference between the jackets. I do sweat more and am a warmer sleeper than Kristin, so it’s possible that this moisture wilted the GoLite down feathers slightly. Rab has a simpler stitching pattern on the back, which could save a bit of weight and cost compared with Golite’s more complicated pattern. GoLite’s stitching creates more cold spots but should also better hold the down in place. I’m unaware if there is any consensus on which method is better.
The womens Infinity has micro-fleece lining on the outer side of the pocket but none on the palm side (left). Long sleeves but short torso on the Infinity in womens medium (center). A tug on the jacket shows the excess of interior volume as the lower torso area is too loose fitting (right).
Kristin generally wears a size small, but had to move up to a medium Infinity for her arms to fit. With the medium, the sleeves are nice and long, but the torso is still on the short side and the torso has way too much extra space. Rab keeps the torso short so as to not interfere with a climbing harness. However, Kristin (like most females I know) really prefers a longer torso to cover most of the hips for better warmth retention.
The GoLite zippers are more finicky. The hidden zippers on the hand pockets are more likely to catch. I often had trouble starting the front zipper on the Bitterroot – I generally have this problem with two-way zippers. Furthermore, I find it unnecessary to have a two-way zipper on a jacket unless the torso is seriously long. For those who prefer a two-way front zipper, the Bitterroot is the way to go. Otherwise, the Infinity gets the nod here.
A peek inside of the Bitterroot (left) reveals two interior pockets: a small electronics pocket by my right hand, and large zippered mesh pocket on my left. High on the left side of the Infinity jacket is a small zippered pocket (right).
The two interior pockets on the GoLite were more useful than the single Rab pocket. The Bitterroot’s small pocket held my camera batteries and iPhone, and the large one held gloves or socks for drying, a hot water bottle, or even the jacket itself! Meanwhile the Infinity’s interior pocket was just large enough to hold a phone, point-and-shoot camera, and/or a few snack bars.
Direct Comparison – Apples to Apples
Left to right: 1-Liter Nalgene bottle, Infinity and Bitterroot, both in mens medium, in the manufacturer’s supplied stuff sacks. The Bitterroot can pack down more than the Infinity, but it is supplied with a larger stuff sack.
Upon returning to the States, I got hold of a regular production Bitterroot (the orange one that I had tested out in the field was a prototype) and an Infinity, both in mens medium. Now I could compare apples to apples. The direct comparison highlighted a few differences between the jackets that Kristin and I noticed earlier, but couldn’t be sure if the variance was from comparing mens and womens models. The Rab hood is thicker, more snug and has a higher collar. Rab’s hood is meant to go under the helmet, whereas GoLite says that their hood is helmet-compatible.
New jackets! Left to right: Infinity, Bitterroot, and hand pockets of Infinity vs. Bitterroot, both in mens medium.
The GoLite hand pockets are in a lower, more natural position whereas the Rab pockets are higher to avoid overlap with a climbing harness. The womens Infinity has micro-fleece lining on the outer portion of the pocket but not on the inner side. This is an excellent compromise,as it saves weight over a fully-lined pocket but still provides a soft touch to the more sensitive side of your hand, which happens to be the side that rests against the pocket (seriously, this is harder to describe than it is for you to go put your hands in your jacket pocket and see what I mean). I don’t understand why the women get this feature and the men do not. Similarly, the Bitterroot has a micro-fleece chin liner on the womens model, but not the mens. My chin stubble tears up the chins on most of my jackets over extended use, so I would appreciate the extra comfort and protection for the jacket, from me!
The Bitterroot (left) has a longer torso than the Infinity (right), which has a slight drop tail but is still shorter.
The mens jackets were cut like most down jackets – boxy and too much space around the torso for my preference. There was too much extra space even when wearing a thick baselayer and MontBell Thermawrap Parka. I also found that there was too much volume around the upper half of my arms, particularly with the Bitterroot. I exclusively wear mens medium-sized clothing, and particularly like the trim fit of MontBell and many European brands, so you may prefer the “standard” sizing of these jackets.
The Infinity has a weather-resistant zipper and full-length down-filled draft tube (left). The Bitterroot has a thin Quantum GL draft tube and only at the top of the zipper near the neck area. The rest of the zipper is unprotected.
Both jackets are excellent. They are well made, very warm and pretty darn light considering all of the features. They are also designed for different users. The Infinity has more down, consistently smooth weather-proof zippers, a down-filled draft tube, snugger hood, higher collar and harness-friendly hand pockets. If you want maximum warmth and weather protection, this is clearly the better choice. On our scale, the Infinity jackets weigh less than Rab’s specifications, whereas the Bitterroot weighs more, relative to GoLite’s specs. Finally, the Infinity retails for $75 less than the Bitterroot, meaning you get a lot more jacket for the money.
However, the Infinity may be overkill for certain users. If you’re mostly backpacking, I’d definitely consider the Bitterroot. It may not be quite as warm (based on the amount of down and lack of draft tube), but has a hip-covering torso and is 3 ounces (85 grams) lighter. The interior pockets are very useful, the microfleece-lined hand pockets are soft on the hand and in a more comfortable location, and some might prefer the two-way front zipper.
Final note: As this article went to publication, GoLite announced their new direct-to-consumer business model which substantially lowered the retail price of their entire line of products. The Bitterroot now retails for $199 – an excellent value and a significant savings over the Infinity. With this new pricing, it’s harder to make a compelling argument that justifies spending the extra $100 on the Infinity.
Staying warm on summits in Reihheimen National Park, Norway (left) and the Dolomites, Italy (right).
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.