When Sarah Hannibal headed off to Kyrgyzstan to bag some first peaks on a mountaineering and ski touring adventure one of her kit requirements was a super warm down jacket. Check out this Helly Hansen Verglas Down Insulator review to find out if she picked the right gear.
For a mountaineer “warmers kit” is essential. This is the kit that goes straight on when you take a break, or reach a transition point at which you will cool down and stay cool due to moving slowly thereafter, for example with ice axe and crampons. It’s also worn when you get to a peak and want to take a few moments to enjoy that feeling of achievement and peace, without risking hypothermia from the cold and wind.
As this implies, it spends a lot of time in your rucksack. So space and weight are definite considerations in the purchase of any super warm down jacket. The first thumbs up in this Helly Hansen Verglas Down Insulator review is for packing up nice and small.
Explaining down insulation
The Verglas Down Insulator is the first real down jacket that I have owned. I suspect part of the reason I previously chose synthetic down over real down was due to my lack of knowledge about down jargon. The Verglas Down Insulator has Allied down 85/15 European goose and a fill power of 700+. But what does that mean?
Firstly, that it is responsibly sourced. The supplier of the down, Allied Feather & Down, was the first adopter of the RDS (Responsible Down Standard). As their website says: “The RDS is a new standard set by the outdoor industry to audit and ensure the ethical treatment of all animals in its down supply chain and validate all claims through an established chain of custody process”.
As someone who considers themselves environmentally friendly (or at very least environmentally aware and considerate) this really appealed to me. Helly Hansen have not just chosen a supplier for price or quality, but have chosen a supplier who sources responsibly. So a double thumbs up for this Helly Hansen Verglas Down Insulator review!
Secondly, it means that it is a good insulator. Fill power measures the fluffiness of the down product, another way of interpreting it is as a measure of the quality of the down or the ability of down to loft and regain its original volume after being compressed. Air is an insulator, more fluffiness means more air between/in/around the feathers and hence more warmth.
The fill power rating is calculated by measuring how many cubic inches an ounce of down creates at its maximum loft. The down fill rating of 700+, for example, means that one ounce of down can cover over 700 cubic inches. A bigger area can be covered by more fluffy down.
Fill power ratings range from 300 to 900+ and that the higher the filling power, the greater the ability to insulate and provide warmth. So the rating of 700+ means that the Verglas Down Insulator is a super warm down jacket – it is also very comfortable.
Thirdly, it means that this is a quality product. The down to feather ratio is the proportion of down to feathers in the insulation. This ratio implies quality since down underlies the feathers of the goose. Whilst the function of feathers are to keep the goose dry, allow it to float and fly, the more lofty structured down’s purpose is to keep the goose warm. Given that the most common numbers are 70/30, 80/20, and 90/10, with the first number representing the percentage of down, the 85/15 ratio of the Verglas Insulator means it is high quality.
I must confess that to start of this Helly Hansen Verglas Down Insulator review I was quite worried about the amount of down that was coming out of the jacket. I asked some fellow kit freaks and was reassured that this is normal at the beginning.
I also went on to learn that actually it is more likely that the jacket was losing feathers rather than down. The feathers are on the outside of a goose or duck, the down is underneath. Since it is feathers that are much more firm and have a quill like structure, they will naturally pierce the jacket and make an escape from time to time.
Helly Hansen Verglas Down Insulator review
With the majority of kit I have, I can name a number of “it would be much better if…” improvements I’d like to make. With this super warm down jacket however, I really felt that care had been taken in the design and every last detail had had attention paid to it.
An example of this is the pockets. They are deep, which is a real bonus for both stowing bits and pieces and also for warming hands. Another win from this attention to details was that I was able to zip it up, tuck my face in and not get a sore chin from the zip. Not once did I have to fight the zip to get it done up, even with thick gloves on. Thumbs up numbers three and four.
The fitted shape of the Helly Hansen Verglas Down Insulator is seriously flattering, which whilst not a crucial on the mountain, it is one more desirable feature of the jacket. The jacket was the perfect size, not too big and yet I could wear several mid layers beneath, without looking like the Michelin man, and I still had plenty of movement.
The length of the jacket added to the flattering fit. But also meant that it was long enough so that when I bent over to transition from skis to crampons, or for any other reason, my kidneys were not exposed.
Sleeves can sometimes be an issue with tops and jackets, too short and you have exposed skin, too long and they get in the way. The sleeves of this jacket were a perfect length for me. They are also finished off with a different material to the rest of the jacket which I believe, and time will prove me right or wrong, will prevent fraying of the cuffs due to wear and tear. I have to stop counting the thumbs up here, as I am sure you can tell I am a huge fan of this jacket and I am not finished yet.
Hoods. These days everything has a hood, to the point where I can be wearing up to four layers each with an excessive piece of material behind my neck that I don’t use. Down jackets are one of the pieces of kit that a hood belongs on for me. They are so much more useful on outer layers rather than bottom and midlayers.
Not all hoods are good hoods. It can be quite irritating and potentially dangerous if you turn your head and end up looking into the inside of the hood – for example when turning your head to look up a piste as you ski across it.
I really cannot work out how, but Helly Hansen have managed to design a hood that is well fitted and generous enough to fit on over a hat or helmet – without feeling that the back of the jacket was being pulled upwards. And that also is close fitting enough to rotate with my head. Such a delight to not have to throw it off in frustration as I turned my head to do something!
Excellent super warm down jacket
Warmers kit is also important off the mountain. My favorite off-hill use is when sitting outside a hut enjoying a beer, after an epic day, watching the sun go down. However, whilst I have enjoyed an outdoor beer in this jacket at European Alpine altitudes, I did also test it in slightly more wild conditions.
Whilst camping for 3 weeks at 3,800m in Kyrgyzstan and experiencing extreme winds and temperatures, the Verglas Down Insulator and I became BFFs (Best Friends Forever). Off the hill it proved vital in staying warm in the evening, when we were sitting around camp, as an extra layer in my sleeping bag on particularly cold windy nights and also for going outside of the tent in the middle of the night.
Our first few nights I really thought that I was going to be cold and miserable for the entire expedition. It turned out I was not. I must give my body some credit for adapting to the conditions, the rest of the credit goes to this super warm down jacket.
Verglas Down Insulator review: Conclusion
It is very rarely my choice to wear a down jacket as an outer layer for activity. But I can imagine that as long as it isn’t precipitating, this jacket makes a great stand alone layer due to its warmth and ability to keep some wind out. I must admit this jacket looks so good, that it’s likely to get used as a jacket in resort every now and then.
For years I have been rather jealous of my ski mountaineering companions super warm down jackets that pack up to nothing. It is now time for them to be jealous of mine.
We hope you found Sarah’s Helly Hansen Verglas Down Insulator review useful and interesting. If you are looking for a super warm down jacket it is well recommended. You can buy it from Helly Hansen for £180 here: www.hellyhansen.com/w-verglas-hooded-down-insulator