In light of our plans to trek northward across much of North America, north of the Arctic Circle, we thought it would be a good idea to get some new jackets. Being from Southern California, where the temperatures can be in the mid 90′s even in November, we think of cold as around 40 degrees.
The first step is to figure out how cold we can really expect it to get. Many of us have been told about how this place or that place is so extreme, only to find out that a lot of that extreme is hype. For many years I have used a North Face Tri-Climate jacket with a fleece zip in liner, or a 650 fill down liner when the temperature gets really cold. I can’t think of a single time that this combination hasn’t kept me warm enough to be comfortable outside for long periods of time. If I am honest with myself though, I also can’t think of a time where I have gone below 10 degrees either. So just how cold does it get in Tuktoyaktuk?
Looking at Tuktoyaktuk’s historical temperatures shows that most of the time, the temperature is between -20 and 0 degrees in winter, while it sometimes dips into the negative 40′s! Yikes! That is cold, but it isn’t the whole story. It turns out that since Tuktoyaktuk is on the northern shore, the temperature is regulated somewhat by the Arctic Ocean. The coldest temperatures would actually be much before we ever get to Tuktoyaktuk. Ogilvie maintenance camp has recorded a monthly average as low as -44°F. We even found blog’s from people living in the area claiming temperatures as low as -70 (http://livingintok.com/2010/10/10-things-people-dont-believe-about-tok-alaska-winters/). Honestly, I didn’t even realize temperatures went down that far on earth.
So what do we wear? It would appear that there are only a few options that really fit the bill.
1. Canada Goose:
This is a brand that has become so trendy and posh that I really doubted that it was even a real contender for arctic clothing. In fact, to even find one in person, we had to travel to a store in Hollywood called Fred Segal, a very upscale sort of store. While Canada Goose does make a whole line of very trendy jackets, including many in the Arctic Program series, it would appear that they do make several real cold weather jackets that are not just show. These include the Snow Mantra, and the Resolute jacket. Having tried the Expedition jacket, I became quite confused about what the differences were between all the jackets. Canada goose uses 625 fill power down for most of its apparel except the Snow Mantra. While this is definitely good, it is nowhere near the 700, 800, and 850 fill jackets that we had been looking at. Also, it would appear that the Snow Mantra is very similar to the Expedition, despite being $1200 vs. $700. So what gives?
It turns out that fill power isn’t everything. Fill power tells us how much warmth a given amount of down will trap, but it doesn’t specify how much of that down is used. Also, it doesn’t tell us what kind of down it is (duck, goose, mature, ect.). These are really important pieces of information. To further muddy things up, Canada Goose puts temperature ratings on their jackets, but they don’t explain how they came to the ratings, or what they even really mean.
Canada goose uses a mature duck down in everything but there Snow Mantra, which uses a 675 fill mature goose down. They claim that 3 jackets from there arctic program are suitable for the conditions we are planning on seeing, the Expedition, pictured below, the Resolute, and the Snow Mantra. These all feature the very in-vogue coyote fur trim hood, although it is not removable for cleaning on the Expedition parka. If I am honest, this jacket didn’t really feel heavy enough for extended outdoor exposure in the arctic, and not being able to remove the fur is a bit of a big deal for me, as I have a tendency to get my cloths dirty from time to time. That leaves either the Resolute at $850 or the Snow Mantra at $1200.
Kyle (pictured on the start of this section) choose the Citadel jacket. This jacket is a compromise between the very cold weather jacket of the other two, looks, and quite frankly, price ($699). While I had my fears about Canada Goose being all hype, I can now say that they really do make a well thought out product, and owners seem to be genuinely impressed and happy with their purchases. We did find a genuine Canada Goose Dealer, Arctic Kingdom, who sells “gently used” expedition gear for a discount.
2. The North Face
Part of the North Face Summit Series is a Jacket called the Himalayan. These are designed for use on Mount Everest and other extreme mountains in the world. Another option would be something called an 8000 meter suit, which is essentially the Himalayan jacket combined with snow pants to make a whole jumpsuit.
The Himalayan is stuffed with an 800 fill goose down, and immediately it is clear that the overall weight of the jacket is far less than the Canada Goose jackets. This is because The North Face intends this jacket to be used by people climbing and backpacking in the mountains, where every ounce counts. Canada Goose never intended for people to go hiking with their jackets, instead opting for longevity. This becomes an interesting question for us. While we are planning on driving most of the way, it is not unheard of for us to trek to a better shooting location. Also, with such an investment in gear, it would be nice to be able to use the gear for other trips in the future. The Himalayan jacket is water resistant, and lightweight, but incorporates many of the nice features found in the Canada Goose parkas such as thumb-holes in the arm-sleeves, reasonable pockets, and an overall robust feel.
For me, the Himalayan jacket solves the problem of cold weather backpacking as well. While I wouldn’t want to wear it while hiking, once you have hiked somewhere it would be nice to be able to stay warm, Canada Goose jackets are really too heavy for this sort of use, as they did not have hiking in mind when they were made.
This company makes my sleeping bag, the Never Summer, as well as several of the glove that we routinely use. I was a bit disappointed to not be able to not be able to find this jacket in the area. As I haven’t tried it, I will just leave it at that all of us have been very happy with Marmot products.
4. Mountain Hardware
Mountain hardware makes a jacket that makes both the Himalayan and the Snow Mantra look like form fitted clothing. This 850 fill jacket is so very poufy. The pocket design seems nice as well, and it comes with its own stuff sac for backpacking. Also it is light, but unlike the Himalayan, it does not have retractable sleeves to keep your arms from being exposed to the elements. It is a nice jacket, but I after trying the other two, I felt like it was somehow lacking. Not something I would expect for $650 a piece of apparel. I suppose that in the end, I felt like the down could move around a bit too much, and that the jacket shell felt somehow easy to rip.
We will post more as we make the decisions, and write reviews of the pieces we get! Stay tuned!