Patagonia DAS Parka
Price Paid: $199
I shopped around for a while for a synthetic belay parka and it was a quick while because everyone directed me to two jackets that set the standard of belay parkas: The North Face REDPOINT OPTIMUS ($199) for its minimal weight and great packability and the Patagonia DAS PARKA ($265) for its superior warmth, and function.
After playing around with the very flimsy OPTIMUS in The North Face store I decided to spend more and get the obviously warmer DAS PARKA. After a cold weekend in the woods, I found the DAS sleeves in my size (Small) fitted too short and narrow so my wrist would be exposed between the gloves and the cuffs while belaying. After I exchanged it to the next size up, I found the cut was overly big, loose fitting and too bulky--limiting alot of movement, adding apparent weight and subtracting from the economy of packing less.
Also hiking the approach on a 20-30 F degree morning in a bigger-oversized DAS was miserable because the silk-soft exterior-shell was easy to pick up dirt and seemed that it would shred under any type of snag or sharp branch. Plus the tiny zipper pulls and imppossibly miniscule hem cinchcord were not glove friendly at all.
Another gripe about the hem cinchcord pull tabs is that they are placed right under the main zipper in the center so when belaying with the lower zip naturally zipped open/up, it's difficult to cinch or adjust the hem without first zipping it back down over your harness. Then because the cinch bunches up in front next to the zipper it creates alot of extra bunching and puffing out where your harness's belay point is even if the lower zip is open. This was very distracting for me plus if you are wearing gloves forget about it. I felt having the hem cinch tabs at the sides would have been better for adjusting and the hem tension would bulk the jacket's hem at the sides away from the zipper, and your belay point (The MAMMUT STRATUS jacket I wear now has it at the sides and it does make a lot of difference).
So I took the DAS back for good when I found a great deal on the much better MAMMUT STRATUS synthentic belay parka (on sale for $95)at a local shop.
Update: August 25, 2007
I previously reviewed the 2006-2007 version of the Das which I found to be one of the least liked gear I've ever taken out in the cold outdoors with me. Following my review, a friend, who always raved about the Das, read what I wrote, called me immediately after. He agreed to ship me the DAS Parka from the 2004-2005 model year as a gift from his local store and urged me to use it as best as I could and re-write my reviews for the DAS.
I received my new Das Parka early February and was able to make the most of it during the latter half of one of the briefest ice climbing season ever recorded in the North East.
The 2004-2005 model was without a doubt a five star jacket, filling all the needs of an active winter outdoorsman; warmth, lightness, ease of wear and durability. In fact my experience with the 2004-2005 model was night and day compared to the 2006-2007 model that failed me before. The earlier model was sized better so the medium fit on point, with plenty room for layering, great sleeve length, without the extra bulk and bunching up in the torso-like the 2006-2007 models tend to have. The outer fabric was a bright cobalt blue nylon which was very sturdy and dirt resistant compare to the newer silky-soft nylon found on the outer shell newer DAS Parkas.
One gripe is that Patagonia usually sells these DAS Parkas on the basis that the synthetic loft and out shell is water resistant enough that you could throw it over a rain shell and hike through a winter's sleet/freezing rain storm without discomfort. During an early spring weekend in the woods, after a day of rain activities, temps dipped into the upper 20s at night and I found that the sleeve area around the wrist which got soaking wet, became freezing cold and didn't dry before the end of the trip. So in future I think a quicker drying rainshell over the DAS instead of under will be a wiser move.
Overall, this is a great jacket, and you can still find these much better older models at small local shops in most ski towns or on eBay. Hopefully, Patagonia will reverse their direction of marketing by lowering the quantity and variations of products (eg. do we need four types of specialized down parkas) and improving the quality of the more-technical gear they've been selling that made them famous to begin with.By focusing on fewer high quality items instead of trying to sell lots of various styles/fads of low quality items they will avoid the ever common trap of retail over-expansion that companies like the GAP and The North Face fell into.
Price Paid: $165
The large fit well, accommodating several layers, but not so oversized that I couldn't put a shell over it for heavy NW rainstorms. This is now a standard piece in my cold weather arsenal, packed right next to a light weight sleeping back. I wear it to bed with a just a t-shirt underneath, it is that warm.
The huge inner mesh pockets allow you to place gloves, socks even a jacket inside to dry. The hood is big enough for a helmet. Not a single complaint.
Price Paid: $250
I bought this for general use in Northern Wisconsin. It's very light and comfortable, but not very warm. I thought it would be warm enough to wear to work in the winter over a light shirt. With a hat and no layering it keeps me warm to about 25 degrees. There is maybe one inch of loft, and if you carry any weight in the pockets, that collapses.
It would be good in cold weather for extremely high activity use like running. Otherwise, this is not a cold weather parka. They really skimped on the Primaloft.
UPDATE: Since I wrote this review, I learned that Patagonia changed the jacket this year, using a different type of fill, and less of it. Older reviews that tout its warmth, are apparently speaking of a very different jacket.
Price Paid: $120-ish
My first belay jacket and it's been good to me. Wore it out in some foul Chicago winter weather as a test and it made me confident that it'd perform in the mountains. It did.
On an early spring climb of Longs with single digit lows and average winds I was toasty standing around camp and on climbing breaks. Never had to belay with it on, but I could see how the hem drawcord placement could be annoying. Fabric is on the silky side so don't expect to bushwack in it. Also it doesn't pack down like...er...down.
All in all I'm very happy.
Price Paid: $175
Got this new on ebay for about $100 less than retail. A synthetic belay parka sized large enough to fit over everything. Not quite as much loft as my old (early '70s) Alpine Designs (Alp Sport) Glacier Parka, but will be a lot better in the possibly wet winter conditions of the White Mtns of N.H. If you don't want down, this is a great choice.