The Encapsil parka is designed specifically for alpine climbers that need something lightweight and warm for belays and for sleeping in at heinous bivouacs. Fortunately, Patagonia included two handwarmer pockets and a chest pocket that makes the jacket functional for mere mortals and trips around town. The parka weighs 18 ounces and features box-baffle construction, which is considerably warmer than sewn-through construction found on many lightweight down jackets.
The Encapsil parka competes most directly with Mountain Hardwear’s Nilas parka, which also features hydrophobic down and is also designed for alpine climbing. We are in the process of testing these parkas side-by-side and will add them to our Down Parka Review after further testing.
In our tests we are asking:
- Is this the best down parka ever built, as Patagonia claims?
- Can the Encapsil parka serve as a substitute for a synthetic jacket on alpine climbs or for other applications?
- How does Encapsil treated down compare to other hydrophobic treatments like DriDown, DownTek, and Resist Down?
- How much colder is the 18 oz. Encapsil Parka compared to the 27 oz. Feathered Friends Volant? Is this reduced warmth a significant drawback, say for use with a half-length sleeping bag like the Feathered Friends Vireo?
- How water resistant and durable is the Encapsil parka’s shell fabric? How much durability is sacrificed for weight savings? Is this worth it?
- Do the Encapsil parka’s performance advantages warrant a $700 price tag?
The parka is exceptionally well designed. For a lightweight belay parka the features are nearly perfect. The cut of size medium is long enough to cover the butt of a 6' 1" person and it's wide enough to fit over several midlayers. The interior stash pockets lie far off to the sides so that you don't look pregnant and so that you can see in front of you while water bottles and gloves are kept warm- this is a unique feature among all jackets and parkas we've tested and we love it. This feature alone is a significant improvement over the industry standard of placing stash pockets up front (which, ironically, Patagonia does on many of their other jackets).
The Encapsil is the only parka we've tested that comes with an ultralight stuff sack that's attached to the inside of the jacket. This is a very useful feature that no other parka we've tested includes, but we question the durability of the ultralight fabric used for the sack. Every time we stuff the parka inside, which requires a lot of force, we wonder if the fabric will tear. Time will tell if this feature proves to be durable or if Patagonia would have been better off with a stronger material. However, even if the included sack proves to be durable, a cuben fiber stuff sack (made by Hyperlite Mountain Gear, Mountain Laurel Designs, or ZPacks) would likely be a better because it's waterproof, as opposed to water resistant, and equally lightweight. We offer this subtle nit-picky critique because when spending $700 on the "best parka ever" we feel that it's important that every single feature is indeed the best it possibly can be. Though a minor point, the stuff sack could be an area for improvement.
DAS parka and the Fitz Roy, which is a much needed improvement, and it cinches remarkably well with a single hand pull cord that doesn't limit peripheral vision too much. As for warmth, this parka is warmer than the Montbell Mirage but not as warm as the Volant. Even without the benefits of hydrophobic treated down, which we have yet to evaluate, the Encapsil parka is easily one of the best parka's we've tested. For people taller than 5' 10" that want one single parka for all lightweight applications, from climbing to skiing and around town, this is likely the best available. Height is a critical attribute becuase Feathered Friends parkas like the Volant and Hooded Helios are cut shorter than average and their non-adjustable waist prevents them from fitting tall people well. For these reasons and others, the Encapsil parka is one GearLab tester's (Max Neale) favorite parka.
Based on our extensive experience testing downproof fabrics in over 70 sleeping bags and 30 jackets, we suspect that the Encapsil's ultralight 10 denier fabric will not be as durable as heavier fabrics. This reduces the parka's long-term durability and suitability for use as a general purpose winter jacket. One important feature that's missing from the Encapsil parka's design is a two-way zipper that allows you wear the jacket around a belay device. This is an unfortunate omissions that makes the jacket less warm for belaying because the front of the parka need to rise up above the device. Jackets with two way zippers and ideally a snap closure at the bottom hem, like on the Arcteryx Fission SL, allow you to close the jacket around your waist and isolate the belay device. We've found that this feature is significantly warmer-- the parka covers more of your body and you are more comfortable. It appears that Patagonia had this feature on at least one prototype Encapsil parka (see photos of Patagonia Ambassadors using this feature on Mt. Temple, Canada) but removed it for production because, says Patagonia Product Engineer Casey Shaw, "[two way zippers] are more likely to break and because the slim profile of the Encapsil Parka allows it to more easily be tucked inside of a harness and rope set-up."
As a general deign principle, it's true that increasing complexity increases the probability of failure. But our tests show that the two-way component of burly zippers like the one on the Encapsil parka are unlikely to fail even with hard use. Furthermore, tucking a parka into a harness is rarely desirable because it reduces loft (read: warmth) and because it's a pain in the butt. When you're climbing quickly the last thing you want to do is to pause for a few moments while your partner loosens his/her harness to tuck in a parka. Throwing an insulating layer over existing layers and unzipping the bottom zipper to accomodate a belay device is optimal. Thus, we are sad to report that the Encapsil parka does not have a two-way zipper.
$700 is a tremendous amount to pay for a midweight parka. However, Patagonia has a unique wash program for the Encapil Parka that can make the jacket more affordable over the long-term. Patagonia will wash the jacket free of charge and pay for shipping both ways for the lifetime of the jacket!! This also includes free repairs, like all Patagonia products and products from many other premium outdoor brands. For serious users that spend a lot of time in a parka, this program could offer significant cost savings. For example, assuming you wash the jacket once per year and the parka lasts for ten years this could save you $575! (This calculation assumes down detergent costs $15 per bottle, or $7.50 per wash, that you value your time at $25 per hour, that each wash takes two hours of time, and it excludes discounting. Note that down products should be washed in front loading machines; going to a laundry mat is an additional cost not considered here. For comparison purposes, other down manufacturers charge around $35 per wash plus shipping, which would equal around the same amount if you washed the jacket once per year for ten years.) We believe that Patagonia's unique Encapsil Parka wash program could make the jacket significantly more attractive for many people. At the very least, the program is a wonderful convenience.
Patagonia describes the parka's design process in a blog post here and in a video here.
How to Get It and Speculations for what's next for Patagonia
Only 1000 Encapsil parkas are offered in the first limited edition run; get one ASAP if you want one.
We suspect that Patagonia will lower prices over time and introduce Encapsil treated down in other products, such as sewn-through down sweaters. We hope that Patagonia will improve other lightweight down garments so that they compete at a higher level with the products in our Down Jacket Review.