By Dave Smith
Lightweight down jackets are everywhere these days, and available in a mind-boggling array of designs and materials. In the end though, what many people will want is a simple and light jacket that fits well, is pretty warm and doesn’t cost the earth. Something that you can carry around in your pack for chilly lunch stops, use for belay sessions in autumn and winter and for security in winter conditions in the hills, and perhaps the odd Alpine trip in the summer. It's worth saying straight off that the Incredilite jacket from Cumulus fits the bill admirably, in fact I’ve been really struggling to find anything very much wrong with it.
Cumulus are pretty new on the UK market but are an established manufacturer of down equipment from Poland. Polish goose down is considered some of the best available and Cumulus use 850 fill power (European standard) down which is at the very top end of the range of down fill you can lay your hands on. The jacket is constructed with a light Pertex Quantum shell which allows the down to loft well and, like all the lightest jackets, is stitched through to contain the insulation. Unlike the trend for narrow down chambers the Incredilite’s are somewhat broader which allows the down room to loft fully. If you hold the jacket up to the light you can see the thinner areas at the stitch through points but there has been no sign of the filling shifting around and as the down is very lofty it does feel significantly thicker, and hence warmer, than some other jackets, especially given its light weight.
In terms of features, or lack of them, the rear hem is dropped so it doesn’t ride up to leave a cold area in the small of your back and there is a very roomy and well insulated hood which can fit over a bulky climbing helmet and be adjusted with a single drawcord at the rear. Elasticated cuffs and hem, zipped handwarmer pockets and a reasonably roomy zipped internal pocket and that’s about it. The front YKK zip has an anti-snag baffle behind it with a chin guard and it comes with a lightweight stuffsack. The whole package has a claimed weight of 295g in size medium and mine had a measured weight of 305 g. It packs down really nicely into the small stuffsack which could be easily hung off the back of your harness to be put on after you’ve led your pitch. The jacket is clearly aimed at the technical end of the market, rather than street fashion, and is described as slim fitting and to be worn as either an outer layer or as an intermediate layer and I’d say that’s an accurate description. A medium size fitted comfortably well on my slight 171 cm frame. In other brands I often taken a small so I’d recommend sizing up if you think you are borderline on sizes.
I used the jacket on a trip to Greenland in the summer, either as outerwear or as a layer underneath waterproofs on a sailing boat dodging icebergs in the freezing fog – there is nothing colder than being on night watch on a sailing boat in the Arctic. In either role it worked well, adding lots of warmth. In the early autumn I used it whilst belaying on chilly Scottish mountain classics and appreciated being able to get the hood over my helmet. Overall it just feels really comfortable, light, soft and warm to wear – as a down jacket should!
A lightweight jacket of this type does have its limitations. The outer fabric is relatively delicate and if you ended up doing your average UK winter climb in it, involving lots of thrutching around on rock, you’d need a roll of duct tape handy. The shell material is not properly water resistant, though it is DWR treated and as the down is not treated (hydrophobic) it will eventually get wet in prolonged rain. In practice though I’ve found a bit of light rain or snow doesn’t affect down jackets such as this too much.
I confess to having three down jackets already from what are probably the best known UK brands - all for different purposes mind – but I can see this becoming a favourite as its difficult to beat its combination of quality, warmth, weight and bulk.