First Look Gear Review
Street Price: $516
Pros: Warmest down jacket for its weight ever?! Fully box baffled, comfortable front pocket, custom options available.
Cons: Shortish sleeves, no wrist closure, no draft tube for zipper, snow could enter front pocket, VERY EXPENSIVE.
Best Uses: Fast and light backpacking, backcountry skiing, alpine climbing.
The Nunatak Shaka could be the best ultralight down jacket on the planet. This portable inferno weighs a mere 12.2 oz. and compresses to the size of an orange, yet is as warm as many down parkas twice as heavy. It’s custom made-to-order with your choice of fabrics and features, possibly involving long delivery delays. Several features leave room for improvement and the piece costs a wholesome $500. But, if you are looking for the best superlight parka for fast and light trips that push the performance envelope, this could be just the ticket.
We just started testing the jacket and will have a more detailed Hands-on review later in summer 2013. For now, here are a few First Look observations.
The Skaha is custom made in Twisp, Washington in the heart of the North Cascades. It’s available with or without a hood and front pocket, and you can opt for overfill (extra down). We chose the hood and front pocket because the hood adds a tremendous amount of warmth and the front pocket is the best of all possible pocket configurations for putting your hands in while sleeping in the jacket. (The pass-through “kangaroo” design lets you rest your hands on your belly instead of awkwardly trying to twist them 90 degrees into traditional style pockets.) The jacket we ordered has 6.5 oz of down, that’s 1.5 oz of overfill.
You can choose from three fabric options:
0.8 oz Pertex Quantum – fantastic performance for lightweight applications
1.0 oz Pertex Quantum –increased durability
1.7 oz Epic – highly water resistant and more durable, though now outdated compared to some top-tier waterproof fabrics from other companies
We recommend either of the Quantum fabrics and chose the lighter of the two.
This is the lightest box-baffled jacket we have ever tested. It is also the warmest jacket for its weight of any we’ve ever tested!!
The author measured a remarkable 5" of double-sided loft throughout the chest and arms. There's 6" of loft in the pocket area. These measurements illustrate that the Skaha has the loft of a down parka, rather than the 2" total loft of most down sweaters.
Consider the following comparison of the fill volume (fill power x fill weight) divided by total weight for several top hooded jackets. The number at right is an approximate measure of warmth to weight ratio, the higher the better.
Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer: 2,363 cu / 7.5 oz = 448
Patagonia Ultralight Down Hoody: 2, 760 cu in / 9.3 oz = 297
Western Mountaineering Flash XR: 3,325 cu in / 11 oz = 302
Montbell Mirage: 4,770 cu in / 12.8 oz = 372
Nunatak Skaha Plus: 5,525 cu in / 12.2 oz = 452
The photo below shows the Skaha next to the Mountain Hardwear Nilas parka. Note that the 12.2 oz Skaha has more loft than the 22 oz Nilas.
Many other jackets weigh less, but none are as warm for their weight. We believe the Skaha falls into the sweet spot for most mountain activities. It’s super light and super warm. Saving five ounces, like once can do with the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer, cuts warmth by more than half. That amount of weight savings is the equivalent to the weight of only two energy bars… So, for most mountain applications we feel that it’s worth stepping up from a down sweater to something like the Skaha.
The Skaha either looks fantastic or very ugly. It depends on your preferences. The jacket’s super lofty design turns even the most curvaceous babe into a homogenous blob. And, no, there isn’t a women’s version. This is a piece intended to maximize performance, not look fashionable around town. But, so far, we found that it’s quite eye catching.
Through our extensive testing of down garments we’ve found that no small company (Feathered Friends, Western Mountaineering, Nunatak) is able to match the fantastic fit found in down products from the big name premium brands (Arcteryx, Mountain Hardwear, Patagonia). The Skaha is no exception. Its fit is relatively unsophisticated. The Medium size has a great girth around the torso but the arms might be slightly too baggy around the bicep and, more importantly, the sleeves are on the short side. The sleeves are about 4” too short for the long-armed author.
The kangaroo pocket is fantastically comfortable- arguably the single most comfortable pocket found on any down jacket we’ve tested. Many traditional style zippered pockets are terribly painful to put your hands in while sleeping-- you often need to wear gloves, which is bad because they are often wet. No, the Skaha’s pocket doesn’t have a zipper, but it has elevated sides that prevent things from falling out. It is also massive and can accommodate lots of things (lighter, gloves, camera) that you might need to stash somewhere while climbing, hiking, or around camp. The largest potential drawback to the pocket is its open design; we fear that snow might accumulate inside and melt, which would be very bad. That is an area for further exploration.
The Skaha doesn’t have a two-way zipper and therefore will not be as warm for belaying as parkas with that feature. (A zipper and snap closure let you put your belay device “inside” the jacket and cinch the bottom hem tight like you normally would. But, this is a very small drawback relevant to a limited audience.
We were surprised by the very burly elastic cord and large plastic adjusters at the hood and waist. Typically, lightweight jackets have smaller and lighter adjustments in these areas. The Skaha’s are closer to the size of those found on backpacks— unnecessarily large for an ultralight down jacket. We suggest thinner elastic and smaller adjustments in exchange for the addition of insulation behind the zipper.
Patagonia Encapsil Parka and keeps your wrists warm without unnecessary fabric that absorbs water (like the Mountain Hardwear Nilas), velcro that freezes up with snow and ice (like theRab Neutrino Endurance) or cords that get caught on things (like ZPacks cuben fiber rain jacket and mitts). So, the Skaha’s wrist closure leaves room for improvement.
Patagonia R1 Hoody fleece and it’s probably 10 times warmer.
The Skaha is a one of the best ultralight down jackets in the world. Its basic design is fantastic and provides unparalleled warmth for its weight. Several specific features could use improvement and would further help to enhance the jacket’s legendary status. If you have a lot of cash to push the fast and light performance envelope this could be the feather light inferno of your dreams.
It’s the warmest for its weight, but also very very pricey. Many other jackets, including the Montbell Mirage, offer a better value and perform nearly as well. Many other down parkas provide much more warmth than the Skaha for a lower price. Perhaps even more striking, you can get two high quality down jackets (such as the Mountain Hardwear Hooded Ghost Whisperer AND Montbell Frost Smoke) for the price of one Skaha.
How to Get It
The Skaha is only available directly from the manufacturer. Order online at www.nunatak.com
— Max Neale
OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews
Most recent review: June 22, 2013
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