CAMP is an Italian company that specializes in ultralight gear for climbing and skiing. They have recently expanded into producing ultralight clothing. One of their first garments is the Flash Anorak, a 4-ounce (112-gram) pullover wind shell with a MSRP of $119.95. Randonee ski racing inspired the Anorak’s innovative design, though it also can be used for backpacking and cycling. The Flash Anorak aims to solve the all-to-common “on again, off again” problem faced by wind shell-loving outdoor enthusiasts.
From the front, the Flash Anorak appears to be a normal lightweight wind shell (left). However, from behind, it is clear that this shell is different as it is worn over the shoulder straps and hipbelt, and lacks any fabric on the back (right).
The 2011 Flash Anorak is made of CAMP’s proprietary Araneum fabric, which is a 30 g/m² uncoated nylon. The fabric is claimed to be breathable, windproof, and water resistant. The shell’s hood is very basic - it is quite small, does not adjust, and has no brim. Additionally, the shell has an un-adjustable elastic waist, cuffs, and pinky (yes, pinky) loops.
The shell’s most unusual attribute is that there is no fabric on the back. This allows the user put on and take off the shell quickly without removing their backpack. While not being worn, the shell is stored in the attached front pocket which has a thin nylon belt that allows the user to wear it around their waist. The pullover style forgoes the full front zip of a “jacket” to minimize weight, bulk, and cost.
Worn like a fanny pack,the stretchy mesh and Araneum pocket, sewn into the inner stomach-area of the Anorak, stores the shell when not in use (left). The thin adjustable nylon strap and plastic buckle secures the pocket around your waist, ensuring that the shell is readily available (right).
A YKK#3 front zippers seals the shell from the sternum area to the Adam's apple, but Velcro is used above that to seal the hood around the chin (left). The minimalist hood rolls away with a small Velcro tab on the back of the neck (right).
Another unique feature of the Flash Anorak is the thin elastic pinky loop (left), as opposed to a more traditional (though not ubiquitous) thumb loop. There are two advantages of the pinky loop: it doesn’t get in the way when gripping something, and it avoids potential overlap with baselayer thumb loops (center). Like a thumb loop, the pinky loop keeps the sleeve from sliding up the wrist when the arm is stretched out (right).
Without a visor or brim, the small hood hangs low on the forehead. Note that the pocket is sewn to the inside the shell, and weighs it down enough to create a bulge of fabric below my belly button (left). The back of the shell, as seen without a pack (right).
I tested the Flash Anorak for three months of backcountry ski tours in the Dolomites and hikes in the French Alps. I found that the shell was great for certain conditions in both sports and seasons, but it also had distinct limitations.
I am 6 feet (183 cm) tall and 170 pounds (77 kg) and normally wear a size medium, but had to move up to a size large for the Flash Anorak. The medium was too short in the sleeves and torso. The overall fit of the large was not great as the torso was too baggy and the hood was too small. To clarify, the hood was plenty big to fit around my large head (with a beanie), but would not fit over any type of helmet, despite CAMP’s claim the the hood is helmet compatible. The loose-fitting torso may be one disadvantage of the backless design. The large was big enough to wear a wool baselayer and MontBell Thermawrap Parka underneath, though I rarely did this in practice. The limited “unisex” sizing of small to extra large means that this shell will suit a limited range of males, and probably won’t fit most females very well.
The Araneum fabric is strong for its weight and windproof, but not very water resistant. CAMP’s website states that the shell offers “protection from wind and even from a light drizzle,” which is accurate, based on my experience. The fabric is untreated and does soak through under prolonged exposure to light rain or heavy snow. Water permeates the Flash Anorak faster than my GoLite Wisp or MontBell U.L. Wind Parka. I have not yet tested Pertex Quantum GL or MontBell’s 7d Ballistic Airlight, the lightest wind shell fabrics currently available, and therefore cannot make a comparison.
Putting on the jacket is easy, but does involve a few steps: pull the shell out of the pocket (top left); slide arms through the sleeves (top right); head through the unzippered front opening (bottom left); pull down on the torso (bottom right).
Now secure the back “tail”of the shell: take the two Velcro tabs by the hips and mate them in the middle, just below the backpack. This can be quite tricky while wearing gloves.
During backcountry ski trips, I found that the Flash Anorak works well in dry, windy weather. Skinning uphill, I would typically wear a very light baselayer. If the wind became too chilling for a certain section, as when crossing through a treeless area, I would only stop for a few seconds to put on the shell. The Anorak significantly cut down on wind chill without causing me to overheat. Also, I didn’t have to take off my pack, which can be a safety concern on steep/ exposed terrain. When the wind stopped, I could pack the shell away without breaking my stride.
I also liked having the Flash Anorak for warm-weather hiking trips. If the weather cooled at dusk or when going over a mountain pass, I could easily add the shell. Again, not having any back fabric allowed airflow to my back. I find it quite unpleasant wear any type of shell when my back is already sweaty! Compared to a traditional windshirt, the Flash Anorak allowed better air flow to my back, extending the comfort range by reducing the likelihood of overheating. The shell was also the perfect lunch-break layer on cool days. Instead of adding a long sleeve t-shirt for warmth, I wore the Anorak on top of a short sleeve t-shirt. This kept me warm enough while allowing the wet t-shirt back to dry.
The Flash Anorak covers pack straps and the hipbelt (left). Water hydration ports are in each shoulder (right).
While being worn, the Flash Anorak covered my backpack’s hipbelt pockets. However, I could still access them by reaching around the side of my torso. The shell also covered my shoulder straps, but that was not an issue. The Anorak has a port at each shoulder for a water bladder tube. I use water bottles and thus didn’t use these ports. It would take a bit of time and effort to reach under my shell to feed the tube through the port, making me think it isn’t very practical. When the Anorak is not being worn, and is therefore stuffed into its pocket, it does not hinder access to the pack nor does it require an extra step to remove the pack.
There is an obvious advantage of having this easy on, easy off shell while actively hiking, skiing or cycling. However, the advantage while moving is somewhat offset by the disadvantage when stopped, as there is one extra step to access the backpack. Because the shell covers the hipbelt and shoulder straps, I had to take off the shell first before I could take off the pack. In marginal conditions, like cold, windy mountain summits, this meant heat was lost before I could don an insulating layer. Moreover, heat loss through the back could be an issue if the shell was worn for a long time while inactive, like in the evening at camp.
The Flash Anorak works well without a pack. I've used this on numerous runs and a few bike rides. I appreciated the weather protection without overheating or sweating profusely. And in both sports, I was able to easily put on the shell for weather changes (sudden rain on a run, or a big descent on my bike) and take it off when those events had passed. The baggy shell torso is noticeable, however.
At 4.0 ounces (112 grams) and $119.95, the Flash Anorak is both heavier and more expensive than many ultralight wind shells. It is not hard to find a sub-four ounce wind shell that costs less than $100.
The lightest hooded pullover is the MontBell Tachyon Anorak, which weighs 2.4 ounces (68 grams) and costs $89. MontBell uses their proprietary 7 denier fabric to achieve such a gossamer weight. The new Pertex Quantum GL is 10 denier and weighs 25 g/m2 (as opposed to 30 g/m2 for the Araneum). The lightest shell to use this fabric is Montane’s hoodless, full front-zip Slipstream GL, which weighs 2.3 ounces (65 grams).
However, the additional cost and weight of the Flash Anorak are fairly minor and come with increased utility. In terms of design, this CAMP shell is unlike any backpacking wind shirt currently on the market. That being said, the concept is not completely unique. Several cycling vests and shells have a weather-proof fabric on the front and shoulders, with a more breathable fabric on the back. The idea is the same - protect from the weather but allow the back to dump heat and breathe as much as possible.
The design works well in all but the coldest temperatures. At some point (generally well below freezing), some people advocate using a vest with a vapor barrier on the back and breathable fabric on the rest of the garment. This could cause the back of the user's baselayer to get wet with perspiration, but keep insulation layers dry. Mark Twight writes about this in his book, Extreme Alpinism, and the company 40 Below makes a vest of this nature.
It is beyond the scope of this product review to go into further details on comparing the merits and techniques of such a variety of garments, ranging from CAMP's fabric-less back to a normal wind shirt to a vapor barrier-backed winter vest.
The advantage of the Flash Anorak's quick use while moving is somewhat offset by the extra step (and exposure) of taking off the shell to access the backpack. The unimpeded breathability along the back is a huge improvement, but the design makes for a loose-fitting torso. The sub-par fit and lack of female sizing is disappointing. The Araneum fabric is quite light and emphasizes breathability over water resistance, which I prefer. DWR can always be added by the user. During several months of testing, I had no problems with the shell construction or fabric strength. Finally, the shell is heavier and more expensive than many traditionally-styled wind shells. A resourceful backpacker might buy a cheaper and lighter wind shell and then modify the back panel to resemble the Flash Anorak.
The Flash Anorak would be a good shell when speed is important, like for randonee ski races, orienteering competitions, and mountain marathons. Backpackers who sweat a lot might really appreciate the unimpeded breathability of the backless design. Outdoor enthusiasts who face itinerant weather will really like the convenience of the Anorak’s design. When the weather demands taking off one’s pack a lot to add/remove a wind shell, then this saves time and energy.
In the end, this is a shell that I will sometimes use for backcountry skiing, hiking, and cycling. Weighing the pros and cons, the Flash Anorak is not overwhelmingly better than my current wind shell. It is just different.
Resting above Chamonix Valley and staying warm while my back dries off.
Specifications and Features
|Year / Model||2011 Flash Anorak|
|Style||Hooded anorak wind shell|
|Sizes Available||Unisex S, M, L, XL|
|Colors Available||Orange with black highlights, Black with orange highlights|
|Fabrics||Araneum - proprietary 30g/m2 uncoated nylon|
|Features||Attached hood with Velcro tabs at chin area and zipper at neck area, elastic pinky loops,
elastic cuffs, elastic waist, holes for hydration bladder hose, no back fabric, attached
carrying pocket and waist belt
|Weight||(size Large tested)
Manufacturer Weight: 4.0 oz (112 g)
Measured Weight: 3.9 oz (111 g)