I can still vividly remember the first time I used Arcteryx’s Dually Belay Parka. It was my first year of ice climbing and a couple of new friends had invited me to climb The Sorcerer, a long, hard climb situated in the near-mythical area called The Ghost. I don’t actually remember how cold it was, or how Kristoffer and I came to switch belay jackets, but I do remember the moment I pulled on that Dually. The jacket was huge, big enough to go over my harness and all the stuff hanging off of it, and still cover my butt with layers of wonderful warmth. Water droplets beaded on its surface, and the huge, insulated hood made it feel like I was wearing a suit of armour. Ever since that day almost four years ago, the Dually has been the belay parka of my dreams. In Fall 2013 I finally managed to get a hold of the Dually, somewhat redesigned for the season, along with its redesigned smaller sibling, the Solo Hoody. Both jackets had gone on hiatus in 2012 when, I hear, Arcteryx couldn’t source enough fill to maintain steady production. Much to many a climber’s delight, they’re back for 2013/14 and better than ever. Both jackets are designed as cold-weather belay parkas and use Arcteryx’s proprietary ThermaTek for insulation. Arcteryx describes ThermaTek 2.7oz as “100% nylon face, 92 g/m². Comprised of a high tenacity 30 denier nylon fabric laminated to a 2.7 ounce continuous fibre fill insulation which is then completely immersed in DWR (Durable Water Repellent) treatment.” The Solo features a single layer of this stuff, whereas the Dually, somewhat obviously, has two layers (quite surprising to see pronounceable names from Arcteryx!).
The outer face fabric is the same on both jackets, and is incredibly tough: I have yet to rip, tear or even scratch it after a couple months of use. Just the other day, I stood up and whacked my helmeted head on an overhang, dragging the Solo’s hood over the rock (and Rockies’ limestone is pretty sharp!). The sound was sickening, and I was sure I’d ripped a giant scar into the Solo’s hood. But it was not so — the jacket still looks as new, and try as I might, I can’t even find evidence of the hood’s contact with that rock. The two jackets share most features: they come with carabiner-clip equipped stuff sacks; two zippered, fleece-lined hand-warmer pockets, with zippers that are large enough to resist snagging; extra-stretchy cuffs that will expand even over bulky belay gloves; tough main zippers, backed by a stiffened wind-blocking strip, that slide easily even when half-frozen and encased in rime; large helmet-friendly hoods; long drop-back hems to keep your ass warm; and elastic hem drawcords to keep the jacket close even over dozens of screws, draws and the other usual climbing paraphernalia.
The Solo is designed with an Athletic fit, though as a belay jacket, it is large enough to fit over my usual climbing layers. It is, however, not so large as to be unusable as a warm active layer (though if you are looking for an insulated climbing jacket, Arcteryx offers better options, mainly in the Atom line, as well as the new Nuclei Hoody, reviewed elsewhere on this site). Inside, the Solo has a very large mesh pocket on the right side, and an equally large zippered pocket on the left. My only gripe with the Solo concerns the zipper: it doesn’t have a dual-slider, a crucial feature allowing easier and warmer belaying while still being able to pull the jacket down for maximum coverage and protection. Even without the dual-slide zipper, I still absolutely love the Solo Hoody and wear it more often than any other insulated jacket I own, be it climbing or running errands. It weighs 508g in a size Medium.
The Dually has Expedition fit sizing and, though the same ‘size’ as my other Arcteryx jackets, is big enough to fit over any combination of jackets I can imagine ever wearing without constricting movement (I once tried it on over a softshell, hardshell and two insulated jackets and still had enough room to move around!). That said, I should point out that used stand-alone, over just my active climbing layers, it is still a great fit and doesn’t feel too big. Inside, the Dually has two very large mesh pockets, easily big enough to accommodate two 1L Nalgenes each or multiple pairs of gloves. The Dually also has a dual-slider zipper, and a snap at the hem, so you can open up the bottom of the jacket and still access your belay loop. (Why the Solo doesn’t have this baffles me.) The Dually weighs 723g in a size Medium.
The Solo has become my do-it-all insulated jacket, from 0C to -20C, it comes along on every outing. The Dually, on the other hand, has a tendency to be too warm, if there is such a thing. I bring it along on those -20C and colder days, or when it is windy, or I anticipate standing around for hours on end. In anything over -10C, I actually overheat in it, even while standing still. I’ve been unable to verify how water-resistant the insulation actually is, as the DWR coating is so effective that water literally beads off the surface. Short of standing under a shower, I can’t imagine a scenario in which you would get wet enough to test out ThermaTek’s built-in water-resistance.
At $400 for the Solo and $600 for the Dually, these are not inexpensive jackets. However they are, in my opinion, worth every penny. If I were to have only one, it would be the Dually. And it would probably be the last belay jacket I’d ever buy.
Arc’teryx Solo Hoody
Pros: fit, insulation, water-resistance
Cons: no two-slider zipper
Overall: An amazing belay jacket, and probably my most-used piece of kit.
Arc’teryx Dually Belay Parka
Pros: insulation, fit, water-resistance, dual-slider zipper
Overall: The best and warmest belay parka I have used, expensive but worth the price.