Patagonia is an intriguing company, at once a leader in environmentally-friendly industrial practices while pushing innovation and technical performance in technical apparel. As much as I admire Patagonia, however, I’ve not really gotten along with its products and have often struggled with the fit, design or performance. Until now, that is.
The Patagonia High Alpine Kit (PHAK henceforth) is a set of apparel designed from the outset to work cohesively together, be as light as possible and function exceptionally in alpine terrain. While there are other brands that have pieces designed to work together, the PHAK is the only set I know of that has been expressly designed as such from the ground up. That’s pretty cool, and a huge leap from Patagonia to spend the time and energy to create and produce something so mission-specific.
I received all the pieces, except for the Merino base layers, and before I broke my ankles at the end of December 2016, had a few months to try them out drytooling, mixed climbing, light mountaineering and ice climbing.
The PHAK consists of Merino Air Hoody & Bottoms (not tested), the Nano-Air Light Hoody and Pants, an M10 Anorak and Galvanized Pant shell layers, the Grade VII Down Parka, a Hybrid Sleeping Bag and a standard Ascensionist 45L pack to carry it all around in. Retail price is in-line with other high-end ultralight pieces, however opting for the full kit adds up to an eye-watering $2760 USD (though $900 of that is in the Grade VII Parka alone!). Is it all worth it?
Nano-Air Light Hoody and Pants
The Nano-Air Light Hoody is everything I’ve ever wanted the Nano-Air Hoody to be: it is extremely breathable while providing light wind and precipitation protection. It’s also exceedingly simple: low-profile, stretchy cuffs; no hem drawcord but it doesn’t need one; a deep chest zip for venting; low-profile, close-fitting hood; and a single chest pocket that is deep enough to fit a 1L Nalgene. It is absolutely awesome, and is the most breathable of all the active-insulation pieces I’ve ever used: the 40g FullRange insulation is so much more breathable than the 60g in the non-light Nano-Air that I’ll happily use it on approaches in temps hovering around zero. I love the simple design, the fit is perfect as far as I’m concerned, the inside lining is comfortable next-to-skin, and I even love the somewhat-retro hunter-tape orange and sky-blue colour scheme. The only way I can possibly think of to improve this piece is to have a second one but without a hood (seems Patagonia has an answer for that already: Nano Air Light Hybrid Jacket )
The Nano-Air Pants are a different story, however I am probably not the best person to test an insulating bottom layer: I tend to run very hot, and found that even at -35C (plus however much windchill added on top of that) my legs overheated when wearing these underneath the Galvanized Pants. That said, the design is very cool: easy, pull-on waistband with a low-profile drawcord, stretchy cuffs and a crotch-zipper that is so tiny I keep forgetting it goes all the way from front to back. They fit great and use the same 40g FullRange insulation as the Hoody: if you run cold, I highly recommend you give these a try!
The Hoody in Men’s medium weighs in at 300 grams, and the medium-size Pants are 256 grams.
The M10 Anorak is another study in minimalistic design. Tipping the scales at 206 grams, it feels more like a windshirt rather than a fully-waterproof, breathable outer shell. It feels so thin and lightweight that I was initially afraid of ripping it while just walking through the woods, let alone scratching up some sharp Rockies limestone. However, after days of bushwhacking, scratching up sharp rocks, a few elbow-on-the-ground slips down muddy slopes and even a 20-odd meter ice-climbing fall, there’s not a single scratch to be found on this shell.
The design is basically the same as the Nano-Air Light Hoody: deep front zipper, simple stretchy cuffs, a helmet-compatible hood, one chest pocket and a single-drawcord hem. The hem is long enough to cover my butt, the sleeves articulated enough so it doesn’t rise up, and the cuffs long enough so my wrists are never exposed even during more athletic, upside-down drytooling. Fit: dialled.
Patagonia uses their proprietary H2No Performance Standard 3-layer waterproof/breathable membrane and I have to say I’m very impressed by the breathability. I’m normally a soft-shell guy as I find shells just not breathable enough, but I’ve happily used the M10 over just a base layer as a windshirt and haven’t gotten any sweatier than I would have with one of my regular jackets. It also packs down into pretty much nothing, so I’ll pack it along even when I don’t think I need a shell.
If there is a negative, it’s the pull-over design as I’d prefer a full-length zipper for easier on/off and am rather jealous that the ladies’ version is a jacket not an anorak. I’m curious how much extra weight a full-length zipper would add (Patagonia lists the Men’s at 196g and the Women’s at 240g, however the Women’s also has two hand-pockets in addition to the full-length zip. The Men’s M10 Jacket is listed at 266g but it also has two two hand-pockets…). I also wish the chest pocket was a bit bigger: the opening just fits my bare hand, and the inside is not much roomier.
As an ultralight waterproof shell, the M10 Anorak is hard to fault. I am still somewhat skeptical of its long-term durability, but I absolutely love the design and performance, and for the first time I can think of, a waterproof/breathable 3-layer shell has become a staple of my mountain wardrobe.
As someone who prefers the cold and wet of ice and alpine climbing to warm summer rock, a lightweight, durable, waterproof and breathable pant with a soft, quiet fabric is the holy grail of legwear. Even though my legs produce enough heat to dry out wet pants at almost any temperature, I prefer to stay dry from the outset but absolutely cannot stand the crinkle of Gore-Tex if I can avoid it. Enter the 364-gram Galvanized Pants.
I must sound like a broken record by now, but I once again love the no-frills, mission-focused design. There are two, long, trim-fitting leg bits attached to a high-waisted bit of fabric with a full-length crotch zipper around the butt and waist, all held up with built-in suspenders. Other than two thigh pockets, that’s it. Sure, there are also a couple climbing-focused features such as a drawstring at the cuff and tabs for tie-down loops, but these don’t add much weight or complexity to the design.
The membrane is the same superb H2No Performance as in the jacket but in a much heavier denier (i.e. more durable) and with a lot more spandex (these are stretchy!). Performance is once again superb, the fabric being absolutely waterproof, windproof and breathable enough that I haven’t noticed it to be an issue. The pockets are big enough to accommodate a pair of gloves each, and sit low on the thigh, out of the way of a harness.
My favourite bit is the waistband, however. It is high all-around, going up to my belly-button in the front and covering the small of my back. There is no size adjustment but it seems somewhat unnecessary thanks to the attached suspenders. However, I would prefer the pants to come in more sizes for a better fit around the waist: Patagonia states the Medium as fitting from a 31” to a 33” waist, however they are a bit loose around my 32” tape-measured waist.
Aside from that slight discrepancy between my tape measure and whatever method Patagonia uses, these are my new favourite winter pants. Lightweight, waterproof, durable and breathable. Oh, and did I mention they’re quiet?
Grade VII Down Parka
There are so many features to the Grade VII Parka that I don’t really know where to begin. I love a belay parka with pockets, so maybe let’s start there: the Grade VII has eight of them, four internal drop-pockets (technically five if you count the tiny stuff-sack storage compartment), two large chest pockets and two hand pockets. Storage options galore!
The interior drop-pockets have mesh on the bottom for draining, and are large enough to shove in half a dozen pairs of gloves and a couple water bottles. My only gripe is that they are positioned towards the front of the jacket, so if you really have a lot of stuff in them, the hand pockets are awkward to use. I would like to see them moved back a couple inches, so they sit more along the sides rather than the front.
The two Napoleon-style chest pockets are lightly insulated, perfect for stashing energy bars and gels, and big enough to fit a 1L Nalgene. The hand pockets are of a similar size, also insulated, and all four outer pockets have robust, easy-sliding zippers with large pull tabs. Once again, superb attention to detail.
The Grade VII is designed to go over the rest of the PHAK, so it’s quite roomy on the inside and easily slips over all the other layers, and accommodates a fully loaded harness as well. The drop hem is long enough to reach down to the top of my thighs, completely covering my butt. I especially like how the drawcord tucks in the hem, sealing in body heat.
Filled with 800-power European goose down, the Grave VII has a fully baffled construction to eliminate cold spots, and a differential cut to ensure the down lofts more easily (basically the liner is a little smaller than the shell, creating uneven, 3D-shaped baffles that stay ‘open’ more readily). The hood is similarly baffled, and the draft tubes behind the front zipper are massive and overstuffed to eliminate any drafts. If anything, the draft tubes along the chin are a bit overstuffed in my opinion, and sit too close to my mouth when the zipper is fully done up. A small gripe, but somewhat annoying both during belays and while trying to fall asleep.
Moving on, the sleeves also require some attention as the cuffs are really cool. They’re lightly elasticized so they sit lightly against your wrist, exerting just enough pressure to seal in gaps but with enough freedom of stretch to be easily pulled up your forearms without exerting undue pressure. The baffling at the wrist is quite bulky, so it is a nice feature to be easily able to pull the cuff out of the way when cooking or fiddling with gear. In contrast to the Nano-Air Light Hoody and the M10 Anorak with which I have absolutely no issues with sleeve length, the sleeves on the Grade VII are a bit short and pull up a bit too readily when reaching overhead.
One other gripe, and one I seem to have with most double-zipper jackets out there, is the lack of a snap at the bottom hem: I’d love to be able to keep the bottom of the parka closed up tight around my butt while being able to access the belay loop on my harness. Such a small thing, but maybe I’m the only one that likes this as I see so many jackets without that little hem snap?
Now, on to the performance, i.e. warmth, of the Grade VII. Well, it is stupendous. Even though the Parka weighs only 670 grams, it is the warmest belay parka I’ve ever used (and, coincidentally, the lightest). In fact, I’ve rarely actually zipped it up all the way, especially up to the neck. That said, it is wonderfully warm when used as a half-sleeping bag in conjunction with the Hybrid Sleeping Bag. I’m not sure if it’s the welded baffles, the wonderfully lofted down in them, or just a combination of everything, but this is one very, very warm jacket.
I feel I must also address the price, which at $900 USD it is not exactly inexpensive. Though, I have to admit, it is in line with other high-end ultra-warm belay down parkas from other manufacturers (the better issue may be how did we get to there being multiple down jackets priced at or over $1000 on the market? the high cost of high-end down?). Is it worth it? That’s a question only you can answer: but when it’s -35C and the wind is howling, it sure is nice to snuggle into the Grade VII!
Hybrid Sleeping Bag
This is one of the coolest things I’ve ever used: a sleeping bag for the lower half, and a windproof shell for the upper section. Weighing in at only 518 grams, the Hybrid is designed as a bivy bag to be used in conjunction with the Grade VII parka, creating something akin to a sleeping bag. There is no temperature rating on it, but I’ve used it down to around -10C and stayed warm (but again, I tend to run hot) and a female tester (who always tends to be cold) has continued to use it into the summer months as a lightweight sleep system paired with a lightweight insulated jacket.
The bottom is the excellent Pertex Quantum, a durable, ultralight, highly water resistant fabric, filled with 850-fill-power goose down. The foot box is roomy enough to fit double boots (Scarpa Phantom 6000s) though much more comfortable with just the liners, or no footwear at all. The lower half is also long enough to easily overlap with a butt-length jacket, and has a drawcord at the top to create an air-tight seal.
The upper section is made of a lightweight, windproof fabric coated with a DWR finish to help protect whatever jacket you wear underneath it. There’s a hood drawcord to seal in around your head / hood / helmet, and a double-slider central zipper for easy in/out. The upper is quite long and roomy, and my Regular-length bag would easily fit someone significantly taller than I am.
I’m not sure what else to say about the Hybrid. It’s a cool product, and if you already own a belay parka, it works great as a lightweight bivy/sleeping bag without adding too much weight. And if you’re a cold sleeper, it apparently also works very well as a summer-weight bag, too!
The Patagonia High Alpine Kit is an excellent collection of high-performance, superbly-designed pieces for alpine or winter climbing. They are all outstanding on their own and, as expected, work together very well and layer flawlessly.
Standouts for me are the Nano-Air Light Hoody (if I had to have only one of the PHAK pieces, that would be it) and the Galvanized Pants (possibly the only pair of winter climbing pants I’ll ever need). The M10 Anorak is close behind, and is a superb piece for wet ice climbing, though I think I would still take one of my softshells for a regular day in the mountains. The Grade VII is, to be honest, overkill for most situations but can’t be beat for when you need absolute, maximum warmth. And the ‘Elephant’s Foot’ Hybrid Sleeping Bag is just plain cool, and much more useful and versatile than it may at first appear. All of these are Highly Recommended.
I’ve also created a video review, check it out here: PHAK on Youtube
I’m stoked to hear what you think: written or YouTube or both? Let me know!
Cover image of your truly drytooling at the Temple crag by Chris Sheremata. Check out his other images here: Chris Sheremata Photography
And, as always, a huge thank you to Patagonia for trusting me to put this stuff to the test!