One of our customers James Garrett recently returned from a trip in Lapland where he tested a modified Foinaven jacket.
This is his story:
The Jacket was ordered to be used as an outer layer while skiing and husky racing in Finland/Lapland. It needed to be large enough to accommodate insulation layers under it, breathable and capable of dealing with cold, damp UK weather as well.
Modifications from a ‘standard’ Fionaven smock included re-modelling of the hood and collar areas, adding a gusset behind the main front zipper, re-shaping the cuffs, adding waist size adjustment, side vent zippers and pocket insulation, and tinkering with the basic sizes.
Heavier weight Ventile ‘L19’ was used for the outer shell due to its added toughness and weather resistant properties as well as the fact that it is available in ‘Blaze Orange’ colour. This particular colour is not normally available and had to be ordered specially. Paramo’s pump liner fabric was used for the inner lining to give the jacket a more slippery inner when worn over layers as well as to deal with moisture in wetter conditions.
The jacket arrived on January 28.
The ‘Blaze Orange’ Ventile is certainly very bright indeed, perfect for the dark, low visibility conditions expected in Lapland. It is also quite a heavy fabric, heavier and slightly stiffer feeling to the touch than the L24 used for the standard Fionaven. However, the difference in total weights between the two jackets was only 150g, so not enough to really worry about. In addition, once the jacket was put on its apparent weight was not noticeable and movement was in no way restricted. Considering that the jacket is intended to be worn all day and not packed into a backpack for repeated putting on and taking off then, again, the added weight is not a problem. On the other hand, the apparent increase in toughness should be beneficial when dealing with sharp husky claws.
The jacket has contrasting black L19 areas added to the back of the arms/elbows and shoulder areas. These were requested partly for added wear resistance as well as cosmetic appearance. It seems that the areas on the arms have been ‘let in’ to the rest of the arm fabric while the shoulder areas have been added as additional ‘patch’ areas to double up the fabric thickness. On the arms this helps keep the weight of the jacket down and, thanks to where the seams between the two fabrics have been put, it also helps the arms articulate around the elbows. Of course, the double thickness over the shoulders simply beefs up the already impressive toughness of the jacket.
As mentioned above, one of the big changes to this jacket was to do with the hood and collar areas. On the standard Fionaven the hood is a simple, two-piece design that is ‘grown on’ to the rest of the jacket, i.e. there is no separate collar. In use, this was plenty good enough for most UK weather conditions but it did cause issues when it was either very cold or very windy – this simple hood was not roomy enough to wear layers of hats or balaclavas comfortably and it did not really extend forwards enough to fully protect the face from side winds. The modified hood is a three-piece design and has a significantly larger volume (but the same 3-way volume adjustment to clinch it down when needed). When tried on at home there was now plenty of room for hats and balaclavas. It also seemed to give much more face coverage with the front zipper now ending at about lip height when fully done up and the side sections and hood’s peak now finishing well in front of the face. This should be good when used in more extreme conditions.
The throat area / front zipper has also been modified. Firstly a large, triangular gusset has been added behind the main zipper. This is to enable the zipper to be undone for venting off heat but still offering wind protection at the same time. Secondly, an adjustable draw-chord had been added around the neck, again for adjustable venting options. During home trials these both seemed to function well and fulfil their necessary tasks well, although the very top of the triangular gusset seems relatively narrow compared to the mid-section which means it does not always open fully when the zipper is undone all the way. However, plenty of ventilation still seems possible since the gusset can be folded down below the chin to give an increased open area around the throat if and when needed.
Other modifications were the change to the cuffs, front pocket and general fit. The cuffs had their overall diameter increased by an inch or so to allow them to slip over glove/mitten cuffs more easily – even with goose-down mittens on the cuffs now go on over these with ease. Alternatively, the velcro adjustment allows the jacket’s cuff to be clinched in around the wrist when wearing longer cuffed, gauntlet type mittens or gloves. The main front kangaroo pocket has had 200wt fleece added inside it to keep the contents insulated. This has only been added to the back face of the pocket (the side which will be against your body when wearing the jacket) for some reason. It should provide some insulation, I hope it will be sufficient.
The dimensions of the jacket were increased for overall body length (with extra increase at the rear) so it now completely covers my backside and comes to around crotch level at the front. Aside from that, its overall size is very close to a standard ‘medium’ fit. This seems pretty close to an ideal size for both UK and arctic conditions – it allows room enough for base layer, thin fleece and synthetic insulation pullover (PHDesigns ‘Sigma’ smock jacket) to be worn under it for when the weather is very cold, yet it does not seem excessively baggy with just a fleece under it for UK winters.
It is pleasing to note that the pump liner fabric allows relatively good movement no matter what layers are worn under the jacket – since this fabric has quite a smooth, slippery inner face to it, under-layers don’t seem so prone to bunching up during use or coming off with the smock when you need to take it off.
More standard areas of the jacket include a standard front pouch pocket at chest height (zippered closure and velcro storm flap), size zippers for easy on/off and venting, zippered pocket on the left chest area (with internal loop for attaching items to) and adjustable lower hem. The only minor niggle here is the lack of extended zipper pulls – I have added my own to make the zippers easier to use when wearing mittens or gloves. Of course, doing my own has meant I can choose some really garish colours…
Overall first impressions were extremely good, I can’t wait to get this jacket out and try it!
The first few outings with the jacket were simple, relatively low energy walks with the dog in the UK. Conditions ranged from a few degrees above freezing (around +5C) with wind and driving rain to quieter conditions just below freezing (-2C).
In the rain I only needed a thermal base layer under the jacket. Sure, I was a little chilly when I set off but I always warm up easily when exercising and after only a few mins I was perfectly comfortable. I did try with an added 100wt fleece as well on one outing, but I got too hot too quickly. Undoing the vent zippers helped to get rid of some of the heat but I was simply more comfortable with lighter layers under the jacket. I am guessing that the pump liner fabric has quite good insulation in its own right? The hood certainly works well in these conditions and I never felt or got damp under the jacket so it is waterproof enough too.
The added fleece was better when used below freezing, this time a little extra warmth was needed. However, the hood was not needed but, again, it was just as comfortable worn down as it was when worn up. The jacket gets a big thumbs up for UK weather!
The main test was during a recent trip to arctic Lapland and Finland, what the jacket was really intended for. The weather there was significantly more extreme – conditions varied from air temperatures just below -20C with light winds right down to -15C air temperatures accompanied by 40mph gales, driving blizzards and ice storms. We did have significantly colder conditions on a few days (lowest daytime temperatures were around -44C) but it was felt that goose-down duvet jackets would be more appropriate here.
In use, the jacket coped with all this extremely well indeed. For the couple of colder days I used a Helly Hansen ‘Warm’ base layer set (top and leggings), my PHD ‘Sigma’ smock under the jacket and then some PHD ‘Zeta’ bib salopettes over my legs. A windproof fleece hat and balaclava (Extremities ‘Windy Boreas’ models) were used to cover my head, two layers of socks were used inside my ski boots and I used some mittens I made myself (Dachstein felted wool mittens for insulation inside hand-sewn leather shells) to cover my hands. I’m quite an active skier and although the runs in this area of Lapland were relatively short they were quite steep and high energy. On the other hand, most of the lifts were surface drag lifts and the longer ones took 10-15 mins to complete. However, I never felt either too hot when working, nor too cold when sat on the exposed lifts. Sure, I could feel the coldness of the wind as it howled over the mountain but I did not get chilled.
On the ‘milder’ days I ditched the Sigma smock and Zeta salopettes and swapped them for just a 100wt fleece and Paramo Aspira trousers. Again, this was perfectly comfortable for most of the day but during the longer trips on the lifts and during open air lunch stops I did add a PHD ‘Minimus’ down vest over the top of the jacket for a little extra warmth.
On all days the jacket was absolutely windproof, dealt with whatever moisture build up occurred inside it extremely well (I never felt the need to specifically dry or air under layers at the end of a day) and also provided good physical protection to these relatively fragile insulation layers. The re-designed hood coped well with extra layers of headwear and getting mittens under the larger diameter cuff openings was extremely easy. As for size, the jacket’s longer length covered the overlap between under-layers around my waist well and the adjustable waist and neck draw chords did an excellent job of keeping the winds out!
I have examined the jacket carefully since returning to the UK and there are no signs of wear from rucksack straps, no loose or broken threads on the sewn seams, no discoloration of the outer Ventile and no obvious signs of bobbling on the inner pump liner fabric. All zippers and toggles still work perfectly.
Overall this is a cracking jacket and it offered fantastic comfort and protection it in extremely horrid conditions. There are only two potential downsides I can point out – the lack of full insulation in the front tunnel pocket and the positioning of the added velcro strip for a fur ruff. In use I was reluctant to put anything electronic (camera, GPS or walkie-talkie) in the main pocket for fear of it getting too cold. Instead I kept these in the pockets of whatever under layers I was wearing. When using the PHD Sigma this was very easy – it has a single front tunnel pocket and this could be accessed quickly and simply via the side vent zippers on the Fionaven. However, it was more of a problem when I just needed my fleece under the Fionaven – this only has pockets high up on the chest and access to these was nearly impossible without striping off completely. On this occasion I got around the problem by bundling my camera inside a fleece liner mitten and then storing this in the Fionaven’s front pocket. It worked well, the camera’s battery indicator did register lower voltages as the day wore on and the camera got a bit cold, but it survived without any damage. I’m guessing a second layer of fleece lining behind the front face of the pocket will get around this potential problem.
Similarly, the position of the velcro on the hood could easily be adjusted. It is currently positioned don the inside of the hood a few centimetres back from the hood’s rim. The fur ruffs I have stuck on securely enough but the way they had their velcro positioned meant that they ended up sitting inside the hood rather than around the outside of the rim. The not only restricted visibility but was not particularly comfortable to have touching your face. In use I had to flip the hood rim inside out so as to put its velcro on the outside to get the fur in the right place. Now, I don’t know if all fur ruffs are sewn up like mine but I have several and they all lie the same way. A simple solution would be to re-position the hood’s velcro strip on the outside of the hood, right along the rim. This way it would be in exactly the right place, the hood rim would not need flipping and it would therefore also offer much better protection.
Like I said though, overall this is a fantastic jacket and several of my friends on the trip were very envious of it!
Many thanks for all your help and assistance with this jacket, and please pass on my appreciation to the rest of your team,
Post Script: We liked the modification of the Foinaven so much we have decided to make it a standard product. We will call it the Liathach Extreme Smock after the iconic Torridonian mountain in North West Scotland. The comments made by James will be incorporated into the new product.