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The Perfect Jacket for Backpacking

One of the challenges with backpacking in cooler / cold weather is the back sweat.

I’ve rarely had a hike where I’ve been in at a comfortable temperature for the duration of the hike.

And it’s always on my back. I’m either feeling too hot in that spot where my back connects to my pack or I’m cooling down and you get a nice chill in that same spot.

Or I’m shedding layers. Stopping on the trail, taking my pack off, taking my jacket off, stuffing it in my pack, putting my pack on, and then feeling freezing a few minutes later and reversing that process.

It’s a horrible cycle to be stuck in, which is why I have avoided winter backpacking.

Until now.

Pak-Jak: The Best Backpacking Jacket

Pak-Jak took on this exact case study to create the best backpacking jacket.

The Swappable Back Jacket

Their jacket is designed for ultimate flexibility on the trail with an interchangeable and flexible back.

  • Puffy jacket back
  • Mesh jacket back
  • Or no jacket back with connectable straps to secure your pack.

With this flexibility, it is entirely possible to start your hike with the puffy jacket back and swap out the back when you feel too warm. And I think that’s a great option for long, all-day or multi-day hikes.

When I tested this feature, it took around 90 seconds to swap out the back for the mesh back and just over three minutes to fully remove the back and connect the straps to the jacket and the pack.

Which isn’t bad. When I swapped backs, I didn’t go back to the full jacket. Because I swapped before my base layers were sweaty, I was able to manage my temperature. Plus, my backpack provided enough coverage from the cold on my back.

Options, Options, Options

I don’t call the Pak-Jak the best backpacking jacket easily.

But this jacket earns that title because of it’s flexibility.

I can’t tell you how often I am planning a day trip and I am standing there, staring at my gear closet, trying to decide what to take with me.

Part of that is because I am trying to account for all scenarios.

When you’re above tree level, weather can change very quickly, and I want to be as safe as possible.

But I also want to be comfortable.

On top of the ability to change out jacket backs, the Pak-Jak also had a detachable hood.

The hood itself adds 2.1 oz. to the total weight of the jacket.

With the full back, the jacket weighs in at 15.7 oz; the mesh back is 16.4 oz; and without any back is 11.8 oz.

Now, while there are three options, I do suggest trying out the mesh back versus the no back prior. That way for your hike, you’re only carrying one option to swap out to instead of two.

Features

The Pak-Jak features Primaloft Gold Insulation; one of the best highest performing synthetic insulations.

It has a great warmth-to-weight ratio, which is why the Pak-Jak is so light.

During one of my test hikes, it was snowing. And even with a heavy, wet snow, I found that the jacket had great water-repellency and wet protection.

The jacket also has a no-chafe guard at the top of the zipper near the neck. During my cold weather hikes I really appreciated this feature because I could keep the jacket zipped tight and not feel like my chin was going raw.

For the puffy back and the mesh back, they are connected with zippers. There are guards on the bottom that fold over the zipper so that your backpack doesn’t accidentally loosen the connection.

Pak-Jak Back Strap

If you swap to the no back option, the straps that are included synch the back of the jacket so that it isn’t blowing free. But the jacket also comes with universal shoulder straps to help keep your backpack connected to the jacket and minimize bounce.

Conclusion

I think the Pak-Jak is the best backpacking jacket on the market.

It’s a new company and I think this product is going to shake up this category.

The product designers were very intentional with everything they put into this jacket.

I should note that this jacket does come in Men and Women sizes. I test a Large and I’m 5’11” and 185 pounds.

Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Kit Review

Outdoor Research sent our team their Skytour AscentShell Bib and Jacket to test. It was perfect timing because ski season had just started.

Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Kit
Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Kit

The Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Kit uses a proprietary waterproof/breathable membrane to provide top-of-the-line weather resistance. The Bib and Jacket combo is the most breathable water-resistant hardshell we have tested. It is comfortable to wear and stretchy. It has a lot of features, making it a great choice for backcountry skiers.

Breathability

Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Kit
Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Kit

The Skytour AscentShell Bib and Jacket provides little warmth. The shell is thin and allows air to pass through the fabric, so that as you’re moving up through the backcountry and working up a decent sweat, warm air can escape easily. This kit needs to be paired with insulating mid- and base-layers (such as the recently reviewed Ibex Baselayers). The warmth of this bib and jacket is comparable to a pair of hiking pants or a heavy rain jacket. But this lack of warmth is ideal for anyone that is wanting to ski hard and elevate their heart rate.

It also has several vents that were easy to unzip and zip with gloves on. This provided additional breathability and didn’t compromise the waterproofness.

Waterproofing

When we tested how waterproof this product was, it held up over our half-day excursion in the backcountry. Outdoor Research’s proprietary waterproof/breathable membrane is called “AscentShell” and is built in the bib and jacket. Both products are fully seam-sealed and the zippers are waterproof. The hood on the jacket provides good coverage, but it didn’t fully cover my ski helmet. Additionally, the bib’s legs are wide enough to fully cover my ski boots while providing enough coverage so snow didn’t pack inside the leg openings.

The Fit

Many of the hardshell jacket and bibs we tested were stiff and didn’t allow for a lot of movement. During testing, we found that the Skytour AscentShell Kit didn’t have that problem. The material is soft and stretchy and the brushed interior fabric is light on the skin. On the jacket, there is a fleece-lined chin guard, which provided an extra layer of comfort.

Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Kit
Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Kit

The fit is straight-cut which was perfect for my body-size and accommodated my mid- and base-layers.

I also found that the jacket and bib weren’t noisy. When I’m out in the backcountry, I enjoy the stillness the snow brings, and crinkly and noising hardshells can easily ruin that serenity.

Skytour AscentShell Kit comes with a lot of pickets that were easy to access and use. On the jacket, the two hand pockets and two external chest pockets provided tons of storage. The jacket’s left sleeve pass pocket was useful for accessing RFID turnstiles without stalling. On the inside, it has a mesh stash pocket and another zippered chest pocket. I was able to easily store and access snacks and my iPhone.

Conclusion

Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Kit
Outdoor Research Skytour AscentShell Kit

If you’re looking for hardshell jacket or bib or both, the Skytour AscentShell Kit is a great value. It provides terrific weather and water resistance at a much lower price. Plus, it has some amazing features and storage. If you’re heading into the backcountry, this jacket and bib will be the perfect companion for you.

The Skytour AscentShell Kit is available in Men’s and Women’s sizes. I am 5’11” and 185 pounds and I wore a large in both the bib and jacket comfortably.

Rocky Talkies Review in the Backcountry.

Backcountry radios occupy an interesting niche in the outdoor community. They’re used operationally by heli guides, ski guides, mountain rescue teams, some mountain guides and ski patrol, but rarely by recreational users. I think the vibe is that they’re too sophisticated for whatever mellow multipitch we’ve decided to do today. In a word, embarrassing for weekend warriors, but I’ve seen so many people yelling at each other from rope lengths away, often making life-or-death decisions based on the muffled cry of their partner. Wild that people do that.

The established radio in the outdoor world is the BCA Link, which helps the above phenomenon make sense. It’s a 2-piece unit, and it’s burly. Beyond being a little intimidating, finding a place for all that in your pack feels like a lot. And it’s expensive ($180).

In the smaller, single body radio world, there’s not much on the scene, apart from crappy Motorola and Chinese radios. Having used both options for mountain guiding a number of times, I can say that they are unsatisfactory. Poor, poor battery life and functionality not built for the mountains makes them far from my first choice. With cell service, I would rather use my iPhone. 

Enter the Rocky Talkie. It aims to bridge the gap, offering a slim, backcountry oriented design without all the bulk and presumption of the BCA offering. It’s marketed not only as a skiing radio, but a climbing radio, making long, windy alpine routes a touch less scary. With huge battery life and range specs and a much lower price point that the Link, I was highly intrigued. 

Rocky Talkies in the backcountry with Huck Adventures

Performance:

In my first two months of use, I’ve found these radios to perform on par with larger units. My local ski area is two large basins divided by a prominent ridge, and the radio has had no problem receiving or transmitting signals several miles through this ridge, and the fidelity has been strong. The performance is comparable to the larger sets used by patrollers across the mountain. Even in tight, rocky gullies facing away from the rest of the ski area, I can still pick up what’s going on. 

The battery life has also been quite impressive. I’ve not charged them once since I picked them up two months ago, taking them out at every opportunity (maybe two dozen times). They still sit at about 70% battery life. While they will not sit ‘on’ for hours on end, they will stay on for about an hour without input before sleeping. If you are base comms, this is a little inconvenient, but these radios are designed for on-route on-demand communication.   

Design:

I’ve also found the design quite inspiring. Attaching radios to backpacks is always a pain. Where do they go? Do I just cinch them on crane my neck in to speak? How floppy is the attachment? How large and obnoxious is the unit? Do I have to run cords to my backpack? The Rocky Talkie has two attachment points, with one pre-setup on a spiral extension cord. This means I can keep the radio secure on my bag, and unclip the main carabiner easily to bring the radio right up to my mouth. While orienting the radio initially was a bit of a pain, once I found my spot, it has lived on my bag ever since, even on ski tours where I didn’t need a radio. 

The single unit design has also been quite nice. When I do find myself swapping bags often (Black Diamond Cirque 35 to Mammut Pro X, depending on avalanche conditions and terrain), it is really convenient that I don’t need to rethread the mic and transceiver through a port in the bag with every swapover. It clips on and clips off. Done. 

Will I keep it on my backpack?

What Rocky Talkie set out to do, which was to create a safety tool that climbs and skiers would carry every day, is a daunting task. For people cutting grams out of their equipment lists, creating a radio that could be compelling for disasters yet still sleek enough for a recreational is hard. But I think they did it. This is a no-frills radio that doesn’t seem handicapped by that feature. It’s powerful and will go on my bag deep into the backcountry without (much) complaining from me.

Visit https://rockytalkie.com/ to learn more.

Rocky Talkies are rugged radios designed and tested in Colorado. Over 3-days of battery life and 25+ mile max range.