Front and back views of the Western Mountaineering Hooded Flash Jacket. The Flash is an ultralight minimalist jacket with thin shell fabric, 850+ down insulation, and an essential feature set consisting of an attached hood, two insulated pockets, and a full front zipper.
Western Mountaineering targeted the 9-ounce (manufacturer specified average weight) Hooded Flash Jacket to provide sufficient warmth in less extreme temperature ranges, like spring and fall backpacking in warmer climates, and summer backpacking in the mountains. Its 0.9 oz/yd2 shell is filled with 850+ fill power down, and the jacket has no drawcords, cordlocks, or Velcro. Rather, it’s a minimalist jacket with an essential feature set consisting of an attached hood, two insulated pockets, and a full front zipper. Its quest is to achieve the perfect balance of warmth, light weight, and performance. This review evaluates how well it succeeds on that goal, and how it compares to some other minimalist down jackets.
I like the sizing of the Flash (see measurements below). I am a typical size Large (6 feet tall, 170 pounds, my arms are a bit longer than average), and the Flash fits me perfectly. It has enough room inside to layer over a thick baselayer, sweater, or vest. The sleeves are extra long, and the body extends about six inches below my hips.
The sculptured hood (left) fits well without any adjustors, and has room to layer over a warm hat. Side pockets (middle) are roomy and insulated. The cuff openings (right) are finished with a simple elastic piping, as are the hood, pockets, and hem.
The Flash Jacket contains about three ounces of 850+ down fill (the actual amount varies by jacket size) and has sewn-through construction. Chamber size varies in different parts of the jacket, with smaller chambers in the front, and sleeves and larger chambers in the back. The down is uniformly distributed and chambers are uniformly filled and puffy. I neglected to measure the jacket’s loft when I first received it, but the measured double layer loft (mid torso and sleeves) after five months of use is 1.75 inches.
I tested the Flash Jacket over a five-month period while backcountry skiing, snowshoeing, tent and igloo winter camping, day hiking, and spring backpacking. In cold weather, I wore it as a mid-layer with a shell over it, and on warmer days I wore it on breaks and in camp. I typically wore it in my sleeping bag for extra warmth.
I wore the Flash Jacket on a February igloo camping/backcountry skiing trip (left) and an early May visit to the alpine tundra on snowshoes (right). In both cases, nighttime temperatures dropped to 25 F and I stayed warm with the Flash Jacket layered over a heavy baselayer and a shell over it.
Early spring backpacking in southern Utah (shown) and summertime backpacking in the mountains – where nighttime temperatures can drop down to freezing or below – are more typical applications for the Flash Jacket.
The Flash’s lightweight shell fabric is superb (see specifications). The micro-ripstop fabric is quite durable, very wind and water resistant, fairly breathable (calendering makes it stronger and downproof at the expense of some breathability), and has a soft hand. Western Mountaineering pays extremely close attention to details in the manufacture of the fabrics used in their products.
Overall, I found the Flash Jacket to be warm down to about freezing when inactive, and warm down into the teens when active. It performs equally well as a mid-layer and outer-layer. The jacket’s shell has a good DWR finish that effectively sheds snow and light rain, but it does wet through at the seams with extended exposure. The shell is adequately durable, but not bomber, and requires reasonable care to avoid snags and punctures. It’s also downproof; I experienced very little down leakage, even from the seams.
It’s important to note that I did not test the Flash in temperatures colder than 0 F, and that was only briefly on a cold morning at the igloo while getting ready to go skiing. On another occasion it was 9 F with a 12 mph wind après-ski, and I had to wear another jacket under the Flash to stay warm.
Is the WM Flash Jacket the perfect balance of warmth, light weight, and performance? In my opinion, it’s pretty darn close for the applications I have described. For summer backpacking in the mountains and spring/fall backpacking in the desert, where it’s not unusual for nighttime temperatures to drop down to freezing or below, the WM Flash Jacket is just right to provide the needed warmth with minimal weight.
Similar jackets in this category would include the hoodless Montbell Ex-Light Down Jacket (6.3 ounces, $160), Montbell Down Inner Parka (7.4 ounces size M, $160), and the Nunatak SkahaPlus Pullover (9.6 ounces size M, $325). For me, the first two, containing 1.8 and 2.1 ounces of down, respectively, are barely warm enough for mountain backpacking, except in mid-summer. The SkahaPlus, with 5 ounces of down and baffled construction, is plenty warm and very light, but it’s also very pricey. Western Mountaineering seems to have done their homework well; the Flash Jacket is very close to the perfect balance of warmth, light weight, and performance.
Specifications and Features
|Western Mountaineering (http://www.westernmountaineering.com/)|
|2009 Hooded Flash Jacket|
|850+ fill power down, average fill weight 3 oz (85 g)|
|Shell is calendared 20d 0.9 oz/yd2 (30 g/m2) tightly woven high tear strength Dot-Ripstop nylon with DWR; lining is breathable downproof plain weave 20d taffeta|
|Sewn-through; attached hood; elastic binding on pockets, cuffs, front of hood, and hem|
|Insulated hood (no adjustors), full height lightweight reversed coil front zipper, down filled draft tube behind zipper, two insulated hand pockets|
|Size L tested. Front neck seam to hem 23.5 in (60 cm), rear body length 27 in (69 cm), tail dropped 2.5 in (6 cm), sleeves 35 in (89 cm)|
|Measured weight men’s L 10.5 oz (298 g), manufacturer specified average weight 9 oz (255 g)|
|Unisex XS-XL (women’s specific sizes and colors available in July 2009)|