Feathered Friends Khumbu Down Parka Review
Cons: Bulky, too warm for most uses, not completely waterproof
Manufacturer: Feathered Friends
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Immediately after donning this jacket for the first time, our testers noticed how light, and yet how warm, this piece is. So warm, in fact, that they couldn't wear it for more than a minute or two unless the temperature was well below freezing. High-quality 900-fill power down and full baffling throughout the entire body of the jacket combine to create one of the warmest jackets we've ever worn. This jacket is made for those venturing to the coldest and highest mountains on earth, like the Alaska Range, Antarctica, and the Himalaya, and it performs wonderfully for those applications. Add some highly technical features and a relatively affordable price point, and you get our Top Pick for Expeditions.
Like many specialty jackets, the Khumbu Parka scored poorly in most categories. This jacket is not built for style, nor is it built to last forever, nor to be the most comfortable winter jacket in the world. It is built to be warm in all conditions and to allow expeditions to succeed in otherwise unreasonable environments.
The Feathered Friends Khumbu Parka is one of the warmest jackets we tested. The Seattle-based company packs tons of ultra high-quality 900-fill power down into the torso, hood, and arms of this jacket. A strip of synthetic insulation is used around the neck, an area especially vulnerable to moisture from sweat and blowing snow. Using tuck-stitch baffling and an interior secondary front zipper, this jacket ensures that body heat is kept in and cold mountain air is kept out. Wearing this jacket is like wearing a sleeping bag on your upper body.
This jacket is packed full of heat-saving features like insulated handwarmer pockets and 3-way adjustable drawcords that keep the hood sealed tight over a hat or helmet. The long hem is also fully insulated and features two drawcords to prevent heat loss. Reinforced velcro cuff closures fasten tightly over gloves or under mittens.
Our only caveat is that this jacket is too warm for most winter use. It is seriously too warm to wear in temperatures above 10-15 degrees Fahrenheit. Most users will find this parka to be overkill except for the occasional polar vortex, and should be steered towards a more reasonable jacket like the Arc'teryx Camosun Parka. That said, on mountains like Denali where daily high temperatures hover around -20 degrees, this jacket will provide comfort in camp and could make or break the expedition on summit day.
Compared to the other expedition parka in this review, the Canada Goose Expedition Parka, the Khumbu Parka is equally as warm and much more technical.
The Khumbu Parka sacrifices some weather resistance in its pursuit of extreme warmth. Where other winter jackets use a thick and tough waterproof shell, this jacket features Pertex Shield fabric on the exterior, which is a fabric used in lightweight rain jackets. This fabric does a great job protecting the down insulation from becoming wet, which could be devastating to the warmth of the jacket. Furthermore, this fabric seems like an appropriate shell for a jacket that is not likely to be worn in temperatures anywhere close to 32 degrees Fahrenheit. That said, condensation on the inside walls of the kitchen tent or dripping water from waterfall ice are possible in temperatures below freezing.
This jacket is mostly insulated with down, but features a small patch of synthetic insulation in the neck, an area that is the most likely to come into contact with water from perspiration, condensed breath, or outside liquid. This is a nice touch that, in addition to the Pertex Shield outer shell, displays a lot of foresight from the engineers of this jacket. Everyone who has been on a winter expedition knows that no matter how cold it gets, getting wet is inevitable, and gear has to be somewhat waterproof in order to be useful at all.
If the forecast calls for milder weather with liquid water or wet snow, reach for a jacket with more synthetic insulation like the Arc'teryx Camosun Parka, which features a Gore-Tex shell that will perform even better than Pertex Shield in the presence of liquid water.
The hood is well designed to provide full coverage for the head, even while wearing a climbing helmet. A sealed front zipper and interior second front zipper keep out any wind and cold from the chest and torso, and velcro cuff closures seal the jacket around the wrists.
One of the first things you notice when donning this jacket is its bulk. When fully lofted, the down baffles are very thick and limit the user's mobility. The Khumbu is not a jacket that you want to wear for chores around the yard or for highly mobile activities. Even on expeditions, this jacket is usually worn when belaying, sitting around camp, and cooking, rather than while climbing. It is too thick of a jacket to provide much ergonomic comfort.
That said, the thin interior lining fabric is soft and comfortable, and the baffles lay softly against your body. One tester described wearing the jacket as like wrapping oneself in a down comforter. Some minor complaints included abrasive fabric from the reinforced velcro cuff closures irritating the skin around the wrist, and the lack of any chin protection from the zipper when fully zipped up. This jacket isn't designed for comfort, and yet it is comfortable enough to wear for extended periods in very cold weather. Despite being a much thicker jacket, the Khumbu Parka was only slightly less comfortable than the Editors' Choice Award-Winning Arc'teryx Camosun Parka.
Feathered Friends pared down the features on the Khumbu Parka to include everything necessary on an expedition, and nothing that isn't. This jacket's rating in the "Features" category reflects the successful location of that sweet spot.
The handwarmer pockets are large and can accommodate gloved hands. The interior stash pockets are large and deep, perfect for storing and warming extra gloves, a thermos, or any other equipment that needs to be easily accessible. There is one exterior chest pocket, but in the cold conditions that this jacket was designed for, it is unlikely that a cell phone battery would last very long so close to the external environment if stored in this pocket. All external zippers are sealed.
One interesting feature of the jacket is a dual front zipper system. The external front zipper is joined by a second, internal zipper, which is offset by about 5cm to the side of the outer zipper. This creates an overlap of down in the front zipper region where there might normally be no insulation at all, or where other companies use two vertical tubes of down to insulate this weak spot in the armor. This preserves warmth while saving weight. Our testers noticed that the external front zipper took some practice to get the zipper to engage properly. This jacket's chief competition, the Canada Goose Expedition Parka, has larger zippers that are much easier to operate.
Our testers all commented on the quality of the hood, and in particular, its comfortable and snug fit. Three elastic pull cords help tailor the fit and eliminate any unoccupied space. The hood wraps around the sides of the face and accommodates a climbing helmet easily. It contains plenty of down insulation to keep your head warm and comfortable in Alaskan storms. The hood is more technical than that of the Canada Goose Expedition Parka.
Style is not this jacket's forte. Designed for the Kahiltna Glacier, not the fashion runway, the Khumbu makes the wearer look a bit like the Michelin Man. Whether this jacket is worn in the high mountains or the streets of the coldest cities on the planet, in both instances, fashion takes a backseat to staying warm and alive.
Those seeking a jacket for expeditions to the coldest places on earth will not be deterred by this jacket's simple, technical style. The North Face McMurdo Parka III scores better in the style category, at least making an effort to look good and fashionable while staying warm. The Khumbu Parka makes no such efforts, and its users won't care.
Down is more durable than synthetic insulation, as long as it is stored properly and allowed to loft while not in use. We noticed some down feathers escaping through the hood drawcord holes throughout our testing, and although not that much down escaped, it was disappointing to see. The jacket features Taslite fabric reinforcements around the outer forearm and elbow, all the way down to the wrist cuffs, adding durability to the most commonly worn-out areas.
The shell fabric of the Khumbu is less burly and more fragile than most other jackets in this review, and will likely wear out or rip before other jackets, especially after a few arctic expeditions, or if users aren't careful with their skis, ice axes, and crampons. The cuff closures use velcro, which wears out over time and must be replaced, compared to the sleek and comfortable stretch-knit cuffs of the Arc'teryx Camosun Parka.
Considering the purpose for which this jacket is built, it comes at a great price. Other expedition parkas on the market are hundreds of dollars more expensive. This jacket won't last forever due to its lightweight construction, but Feathered Friends guarantees all of their products for life against workmanship and material failures, and they will also repair their jackets should they become damaged. And if you are venturing off on the kind of adventure this jacket is designed for, this jacket is a relatively cheap insurance policy against extreme cold.
Excellent warmth and a thoughtful design make this jacket a no-brainer for our Top Pick for Expeditions. This jacket will keep you warm when all others fail, and you'll barely notice it in your pack when the high pressure moves in. It makes some sacrifices in comfort, weather resistance, and style, but its warmth and features make it a perfect choice for long and cold expeditions.
— Jeff Dobronyi