Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $379
Pros: Box baffle construction, very warm for its weight, excellent hood and hood adjustment, elasticized closures at waist and sleeves. reduce weight.
Cons: No large interior storage pocket, expensive, front pockets make you look pregnant.
Best Uses: All types of climbing, general cold weather use.
With 850-fill down, fully baffled construction, and weight saving features, the Feathered Friends Volant Parka puts most other down parkas to shame. This high performance, packable oven is ideal for ice and alpine climbing, but works equally well at keeping you warm when standing around on the ski hill and walking around town at night.
The Volant is among the warmest down parkas we’ve reviewed. Every aspect of the jacket is designed to provide as much warmth as possible while also keeping weight down and maintaining durability. The Volant weighs only 28 ounces overall and is built to the same exacting standards as the company’s high performance sleeping bags. Drawbacks include the lack of interior storage pockets, front pockets that make you look pregnant, and a hefty $379 price tag.
The Volant is not a lightweight, casual jacket for mild climates. If you’re looking for something lighter and more compressible, check out some of the lighter parkas in this review like the Outdoor Research Incandescent, the Rab Infinity, the Brooks Range Mojave, or the more climbing specific Feathered Friends Hooded Helios. All of which are more compressible, weigh around one pound, and are more suited to milder winter weather.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Simply put – this parka is incredibly warm for its weight. The Volant is a fully box-baffled, harsh winter-weather-ready parka that also achieves a great deal in terms of weight savings. Unlike the Mountain Hardwear Chillwave, which stuffs a large amount of warmth into a very heavy (37 oz.) package, the Feathered Friends Volant remains a reasonably packable and weight efficient parka able to stand up to seriously bad weather. With a total weight of 28 oz. (almost 10 oz. less than the Chillwave!), it utilizes 11 oz, of 850+ fill down insulation. For reference, that is about three to four ounces more down than most of the lighter parkas in this review - a very significant difference. In addition, the Volant features a very protective yet removable hood that fully protects your face from cold driving wind and snow.
It is worth noting a bit about the manufacturer here: Feathered Friends is a Northwest climbing institution. Based in Seattle, WA, they have been outfitting NW alpinists in very well designed and weight-efficient down products for decades, and are well respected among those who are familiar with their products. Indeed, availability is a bit of an issue for consumers not within the Seattle area, as you can only physically purchase products in their downtown Seattle store. The company website has been recently updated and all of their products can be found and purchased online there. Feathered Friends also takes custom orders, but expect to pay significantly more money, and of course to wait.
Weight and Compactness
The big story here is not how light this parka is, but rather how warm it is for its weight. The Volant weighs 28 oz. overall, which is 5 oz. more than the Rab Neutrino Endurance but it offers 3 oz. more down (and at a slightly higher fill power). If you’re looking for a parka that offers optimal warmth and weather protection in a reasonable weight and packable size, the Volant is perhaps your best choice. Keep in mind that this is a warm parka. There is a significant difference between this and a lighter style parka like the Rab Infinity which will indeed pack down much smaller in your pack and provide plenty of warmth on your average winter day. The Outdoor Research Incandescent has about 4 oz. less down than the Volant and packs into its own pocket, making it a great choice for your average day climbing ice in moderate winter temps. The Volant, although certainly very light for its weight, is a parka intended for a wider range of weather.
The hood of the Volant is removable. You will lose a few ounces of weight (and a fair bit of warmth) if you leave the hood at home. This gives you a degree of versatility if the Volant is your only down jacket to choose from. In our testing we used the Volant on colder ice climbing days as our warm belay parka on top of our climbing kit that consists usually of a light synthetic insulated layer (like an Arcteryx Atom LT) and a light shell. We also used the Volant on super cold alpine climbs in the Northeast.
As far as down parkas go, the Volant is quite weather resistant. The main outer fabric is a Pertex Shield XT waterproof/breathable. This fabric will be significantly more water- and weather-resistant than the much lighter Pertex Quantum fabrics found on some of the lighter parkas we reviewed here. Also there is the hood design. Weather resistance is not simply a matter of fabrics and water repellency, it also is a matter of design and features – how well does the parka defend your body, and importantly your face, from wind and snow. The hood on the Volant is detachable, something we will discuss later, but in terms of weather protection it is very well designed. Across the front are two large flaps that Velcro shut, covering your face over the nose. On one side is a cinch cord allowing you to close up the hood further. Across the top is a stiffened brim, which keeps sun out of your eyes in the better weather and the snow off your face when it gets poor.
The Volant doesn’t have many features, but some are unique. The primary functional feature here is the fully box-baffled construction. This optimizes warmth and loft of the down and is a feature not found on many of the lighter parkas we reviewed. The hood on the Volant, like that on the Mountain Hardwear Chillwave is detachable. These hoods are very similar, the main difference is that the Chillwave hood attaches with large zipper, while the Feathered Friends hood attaches with a series of snap buttons. For what it’s worth, we have found that the Feathered Friends hoods can be attached while wearing the jacket. As discussed above, the hood itself is very protective. It feels as if you are wearing a helmet, complete with brim, and features face covering flaps that secure with Velcro. There is a cinch to close the hood further around your eyes. The down side to this type of hood design is that the face-covering flaps flop around a bit annoyingly if you’re not using them Velcroed across the face.
The Volant, like the Feathered Friends Hooded Helios, has two bucket-style, or “clamshell” hand warmer pockets. You insert your hands downward into their zipper-less down filled depths. The pocket openings are like elasticized envelopes and seal tightly around your hands. Small objects do not fall out of the pockets (though we prefer to store valuables in the interior zip pockets). The vertical opening of these pockets, in fact, might be more comfortable than traditional side openings. In short, don't be scared off by the unique pocket design. An added benefit to this style of hand pocket is that both sides are down filled, a comfort not found in most of the other parkas and down jackets we’ve reviewed.
Though some say function is beauty, the front hand warmer pockets are very puffy and make you look like you have a big belly. It’s not a slim, sexy around-town jacket, but we have received many a compliment on its design.
The Volant has a big, burly two-way zipper with a slightly insulated anti-draft strip that blocks driving wind. Inside, two zippered stash pockets organize small to medium sized items. These pockets are long and can fit multiple items (such as two small cameras) in each.
Like the Feathered Friends Hooded Helios, the Volant saves weight by having simple elastic piping at the waist and wrist hems, and foregos adjustability.
The Volant aims to be as warm as possible for its weight while still being durable. The shell material, discussed above, is more durable and more water resistant than ultralight ripstops such as Pertex Quantum (found on lighter parkas like the Rab infinity, the Outdoor Research Incandescent, and the Brooks Range Mojave).
Ice and alpine climbing, ski touring, winter camping, backpacking. The Volant is also a great all-around parka for cold winters.
With a hood, the Volant costs a hefty $400. Think of it as a sleeping bag for your upper body. You are paying for a very high quality parka that will last a very long time. If you value quality and venture into unforgiving conditions, you’ll find the Volant to be your new best friend.
Feathered Friends can offer a variety of options since they do custom orders. This will mean time and money to you, and is not necessary for most people. Call them to discuss details.
How to Get It
Feathered Friends jackets are not sold by major commercial retailers.
Shop online at http://featheredfriends.com/
— Chris Simrell and Max Neale
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Most recent review: February 24, 2013
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