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GoLite Belay Parka REVIEW

Product performance review of the GoLite Belay Parka, a lightweight synthetic insulated backpacking jacket.

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by Ryan Jordan | 2005-02-22 03:00:00-07

Overview

GoLite Belay Jacket - 1

The GoLite Belay Parka is an Epic-shelled, Polarguard Delta-insulated hooded jacket that provides a pound-and-a-half (size L) of outstanding protection against inclement weather and cold temperatures. It uses lightweight materials with heavier fabric in abrasion-prone areas, a two-way front zipper, large pockets, and a very comfortable hood.

In Brief

  • Highly breathable and weather resistant Epic shell
  • Durable, high loft Polarguard Delta insulation
  • Fabric reinforced shell provides good durability
  • Hood fits over small volume climbing helmets
  • Excellent warmth to weight ratio
  • Two zippered, uninsulated hand warmer pockets and one zippered interior pocket

Specifications

• Garment Style

Full zip, high-loft, synthetic hooded jacket

• Fabric Description

Epic by Nextec shell with ultralight micro-ripstop liner. Epic silicone-impregnated micro-ripstop nylon in key abrasion areas (shoulders, outer hem, elbows, and cuffs).

• Insulation Description

3.0 oz/yd2 (100 g/m2) Polarguard Delta

• Other Features

Two zippered, uninsulated handwarmer pockets. One zippered inside pocket. C-Thru Endurance knit cuffs and underarms.

• Weight

1 lb 7.5 oz as measured, size men's L; 1 lb 5.0 oz (595 g) manufacturer specification

• Loft

1.1 in (2.6 cm) single layer loft

• Model Year

2004

• MSRP

$200, Manufacturer's suggested retail price

Warmth

The GoLite Belay Parka is insulated with Polarguard Delta, a continuous filament insulation that is perceived to be one of the more durable insulations with the highest loft to weight ratio on the market. The insulation is quilted vertically on a 6-inch spacing interval. Such minimal quilting retains maximum loft of the insulation and makes the Belay one of the warmest jackets for its weight.

I have tested no warmer jacket at this weight. The Polarguard Delta insulation and well-articulated hood (that can be cinched down to provide excellent face protection when not wearing a helmet) combine to make a jacket that is as warm as the Integral Designs Dolomitti (1 pound 9 ounces), and nearly as warm as the Wild Things Belay Jacket (1 pound 12 ounces). The Integral Designs Dolomitti Parka holds an edge over the GoLite Belay Parka in terms of hood size and the ability to provide storm protection while wearing a helmet.

A two-way full front zipper, elastic drawcord hem, and elastic drawcord hood provide enough temperature regulation to vent heat and moisture adequately. Fixed diameter knit cuffs are not adjustable and don't contribute to ventilation of the arms. One unique feature of this jacket is the knit underarms, which contribute greatly to core comfort because of their breathability and allowance for some convective airflow.

We spent several nights using the Belay in conjunction with an elephant's foot down sleeping bag in an eVENT bivy sack. Overnight low temperatures ranged from 24 °F to 49 °F. Below freezing (32 °F), the Belay is probably not enough insulation to keep you comfortable for more than a few hours. In the 30s, comfort is marginal for a 4 to 6 hour sleep with no wind. In the 40s, we found the GoLite Belay Parka to provide enough overnight insulation - in windless conditions - for a comfortable night's sleep, where you wake up only once to do a series of jumping jacks! For summer alpine climbing where nights at the base of the climb may not dip below 45 or 50 °F, I may very well leave a sleeping bag at home, thanks in large part to the GoLite Belay Jacket's very warm, and comfortable hood.

Storm resistance

The front zipper of the GoLite Belay Jacket is backed by a grosgrain-stiffened zipper flap and was less resistant to snagging in the field than those with front flaps. In one heavy and wet snowfall while on a climb in the Montana Absoroka Mountains, the zipper leaked somewhat but it is not a critical weakness of a belay style jacket. Pocket zippers are protected by thin front zipper flaps that work surprisingly well at preventing moisture from entering pocket zippers, owing to an attention to detail not often seen on pocket zipper flaps: interior stiffeners.

The Epic fabric of the GoLite Belay Jacket sheds water exceedingly well; more importantly, the shell dries very quickly. When we soaked the insulation (submerging it in a stream) and then tried to wear it dry, the Belay Parka dried slower than other insulating jackets with more breathable shells (such as the Pertex-shelled Integral Designs Dolomitti Parka). However, to GoLite's credit, the combination of Epic shell and Polarguard insulation resulted in perhaps the least water-absorbent jacket in this review in terms of the time required to wet it out significantly when exposed to rain, and in terms of the ability to wring moisture out of the jacket when saturated.

The use of Epic fabric in the shell of the GoLite Belay Parka, as well as a midweight (3.0 oz/yd2) insulating layer, limits the breathability of this garment. However, when rappelling off a nighttime multi-pitch winter alpine ice climb in the Wyoming Beartooths, we appreciated the knit panels on the underarms, which provided noticeable breathability in foul conditions that required the jacket to be zipped up for warmth and storm protection. For a jacket of this thickness, we found breathability limitations to be less of a problem than with lighter jackets that are more suitable for cold weather layering while active.

Usability

The GoLite Belay Parka offers two large hand warmer pockets (uninsulated) with metal coil zippers that can be zipped down - but not up - by grabbing the zipper pulls. The two-way front zipper allows the jacket to be zipped upward from the bottom for additional ventilation and access to a climbing harness. Pockets are large enough to house a Platypus Pocket Bottle. An inside zippered pocket (left side of torso) offers plenty of storage for belay station supplies such as an extra sling, snacks, etc.

The hood is large enough to fit over a small-volume climbing helmet, such as a Kong Scarab, Every Sky, or Camp Starlight, but the fit is tight with larger volume helmets such as a Petzl Elderid Ultralight or Black Diamond Half Dome. The hood features a slightly stiffened but too-small brim that doesn't offer meaningful eye protection from overhead precipitation unless it is completely cinched down.

In general, the Belay is easy enough to use, but we would have preferred plastic tooth zippers over metal coil zippers for the main zipper to quicken the process of donning the jacket in cold conditions while wearing gloves.

I balked initially at the use of stretch knit, nonadjustable cuffs, but found that they absorbed less water than I anticipated and did not measurably affect the jacket's overall ventilation. Best of all - the simplicity of the design was greatly appreciated when donning and doffing the jacket.

Head-turning mobility while wearing a pack is excellent, but while wearing a medium or large sized helmet, the hood is not sufficiently large or articulated to prevent upper shoulders from binding while turning your head. With a low-profile climbing helmet, head-turning mobility is good with or without a pack.

Sleeve length is not long enough to completely withdraw hands unless you size up one size (a suitable strategy if you plan to also use the GoLite Belay Parka as part of your sleeping system, e.g., in conjunction with an elephant's foot style sleeping bag). Sleeves are articulated enough to allow arms to be lifted overhead without wrist cuffs riding up the forearms. Upper torso articulation is excellent (little binding when arms are crossed) and the GoLite Belay Jacket offers a comfortable fit that accommodates the demands of setting up a belay station and belaying.

The GoLite Belay is one of the few jackets we've tried that puts reinforcing fabrics in all the right places. Strategically placed reinforcing panels on the shoulders, back, elbows, wrists and outside hem significantly improve durability.

Value

At $200, the GoLite Belay Parka is not the cheapest insulating garment on the market. However, considering its blend of superior fabric technologies, including Epic and Polarguard Delta, that it is one of the warmest for its weight we've found, and that it has a very comfortable hood and strategically placed reinforcing fabric, the GoLite Belay offers a good value. The only meaningful competition in its weight class is the Integral Designs Dolomitti, which carries a price tag of $180 but has a slightly lower warmth to weight ratio and is not as weatherproof.

Recommendations for Improvement

Replace the metal coil front zipper with a larger two-way plastic tooth zipper, to make zipping the jacket easier with one hand, and to facilitate engaging the zipper while wearing gloves or mitts. Increase the hood size to prevent binding at the shoulders while wearing a pack and a mid-volume climbing helmet. Increase sleeve length a few inches so hands can be withdrawn into the parka for warmth. Make the hand warmer pockets insulated.


Citation

"GoLite Belay Parka REVIEW," by Ryan Jordan. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/golite_belay_jacket_review.html, 2005-02-22 03:00:00-07.

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