First Look Gear Review

Patagonia Encapsil Down Belay Parka Review

   

Winter Jackets - Men's

  • Currently 5.0/5
Overall avg rating 5.0 of 5 based on 2 reviews. Most recent review: January 2, 2014
Street Price:   $699
User Rating:       (0.0 of 5) based on 1 reviews
Manufacturer:   Patagonia
Review by: Chris Simrell ⋅ Review Editor, OutdoorGearLab ⋅ February 27, 2013  
Overview
The Patagonia Encapsil Down Parka is the world's first down product to use a hydrophobic treated down that increases fill power. (This fall Montbell will introduce the 1000-fill power Plasma 1000 jacket-- Patagonia narrowly beat them to the 1000-fill finish line.) Increasing fill power from 900 to 1000 boosts warmth while reducing weight-- because less down is used to fill the same volume. One ounce of Encapsil down occupies a tremendous 1000 cubic!! Rumor has it that Patagonia's Encapsil partner, AeonClad Coatings, is already working on a 1200-fill power treatment. Side note: at what point does increasing fill power no longer increase warmth?

This jacket has generated a ton of buzz, but its not clear how available it will be. Here are some options that are: Our top rated available parka is the Rab Neutrino Endurance and the top rated warm down jacket is the Montbell Mirage Parka.

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 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?

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Patagonia Encapsil Belay Parka. Note the two interior stash pockets that lie off to the sides and the attached stuff sack.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab
Initial Impressions
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.

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The Patagonia Encapsil Belay Parka's attached stuff sack lacks a drawcord closure and is made of an ultralight water resistant fabric. You must tie your own knot in order to keep it closed, which is inconvenient when your hands are cold!
Credit: OutdoorGearLab
The Encapsil parka's two handwarmer pockets sit above a harness and backpack's hipbelt and are large enough to cover glove and mitten clad hands. The parka's single chest pocket is a marvelous convenience that's not found on other top-tier parkas like the Feathered Friends Volant. The hood has much more chin and neck coverage than Patagonia's updated 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.

Limitations
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 Arc'teryx 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.

Click to enlarge
Patagonia Encapsil Belay Parka. Note the recessed waist drawcords that stay out of the way of a harness and all the gear that you clip to it. Unfortunately, the jacket DOES NOT have a two-way zipper.
Credit: OutdoorGearLab
Click to enlarge
The Encapsil Belay Parka does not have a two-way zipper. But a prototype version did and Patagonia Ambassadors used the feature!
Credit: Taken from a Patagonia catalog.
Value
$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.

More Info
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.

Testing Update


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Chris Simrell and Max Neale

OutdoorGearLab Member Reviews


Most recent review: January 2, 2014
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:   
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful:
Jan 2, 2014 - 03:53pm
 
Roscoe · Skier · Port Coquitlam BC
This sounds like an interesting product. I work for a down and feather manufacture that has wash tons and separated tons of goose and duck down.

The sewing method is the same as used in high end duvets. But how can you measure loft at 1000. Loft has been test at 559 using eiderdown. We test lost everyday.
Good loft usually is around 200 loft and great loft is at 400. Anything above 500 is rare an exceptional and I have never seen it.

loft is a marketing term and sleeping bags with 900 loft are impossible. The Down Association of Canada and the American Down and Feather Con. just test product to see they contain down and what is the feather content.

If you have a jacket with 400 loft that would be outstanding. Goose farming is declining by 10% in the last 10 years so down jackets will be going up in price. If a sleeping bag has 200+ loft I would be very happy with that.

I really curious if the loft is certified by any lab. as I do not know or an lab that test loft in North America, So large retailer have a cylinder for testing loft but to do it properly requires testing in different atmosphere conditions and taking an average. Down is very sensitive to environmental conditions and making a jacket breathable seems to me a real challenge. To do that in one year is amazing and my hat is off to them because people have been trying that for centuries.

I hope the Jacket is as good as it says it is.
And a that price it is cheap a really good deal.

Thank you
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Credit: www.patagonia.com
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