For years, Outdoor Research’s tagline was “Designed By Adventure,” and though ‘adventure’ itself wasn’t defined, it was clear from the products that the company had outdoor roots and the gear was designed with mountain athletes and outdoor enthusiasts in mind. These past few years, though, I’ve noticed that the iconic tagline has disappeared, the terms of the famous ‘Infinite Guarantee’ have changed and, frankly, the apparel looks and feels like it’s designed more for ‘Urban Adventure’ than the mountain-based adventure ethos I had become used to.
(Side note: As recently as the Fall/Winter 2017 workbook, OR’s Infinite Guarantee® stated that it “warranties our products forever and is the finest guarantee in the industry.” Now, for Fall/Winter 2018, their website states that “Outdoor Research® gear is guaranteed to perform throughout the lifetime of the product.” There’s a big difference between ‘forever’ and ‘lifetime of the product.’ And as far as I can tell, there was also no public posting or notification that the warranty terms have changed — so if I bought a product when it was guaranteed ‘forever’ will it still be eligible for warranty years from now, or has it changed to a new ‘product lifetime’ metric?)
Anyway, on to the Floodlight Jacket…
OR touts this as “Totally waterproof and windproof protection packed with 800 fill down for cold weather athletes in harsh alpine environments.” I cannot fault the waterproof and windproof claims — the Pertex Shield+ outer shell sheds rain and snow as well as any Gore-Tex shell I’ve ever used, and wind doesn’t even stand a chance of getting through. The DWR finish is superb, too, as water readily beads up on the surface before sluicing off.
It is also a remarkably warm jacket, especially given how little down it actually contains — just 96-grams of 800-fill for a Men’s size Large. (Mid-weight jackets have around 120 to 150-grams of down, while big puffy belay jackets are filled with around 250-grams down.) I suspect much of the warmth comes from the exceedingly weather resistant outer shell, which helps cut down on heat loss through seam drafts, but there’s also something else at work here: the Floodlight is practically body-hugging tight, so there are minimal air gaps between the jacket and you.
The jacket’s fit is noticeably tighter than any other belay-style parka I’ve used. This, of course, helps eliminate cold spots and wind drafts. Combined with the generous length and deep hem, the Floodlight excels at retaining body heat, and you can feel it warming up immediately after putting it on. The feeling is marvellous, especially on a cold, damp, day.
But as I mentioned above, OR seems to have lost their ‘adventure’ design ethos and migrated to something more ‘urban-inspired’ as the very design that makes the Floodlight so warm is also what makes it nearly unusable as a winter belay jacket. The lower torso area is so tight, in fact, that I cannot zip the jacket up if I have even a few items on my harness — on multiple occasions I’ve had to lift the hem up, zip it up above and out of the way of my ice clippers, then unzip the lower slider so I can finally pull the jacket back down over my butt. Adding to the frustration is that there’s no hem snap, so with a half-un-zipped lower, the jacket flaps around in the wind and doesn’t keep my butt warm anyway!
Exacerbating the tight fit problem is the position of the two interior drop pockets. These are located at the lower edge of the hem, right by the main zipper, and are generously sized to fit a pair of gloves or a water bottle. But, if I put anything in there, even a pair of gloves, I am once again unable to close the main zipper without significant effort.
It kills me that a jacket can fit so well across the shoulders, have long sleeves and a big hood that easily slides over a helmet, yet it has these simple, fundamental, flaws. It’s as if whoever designed and approved this piece didn’t intend for it to ever be used in the mountains, and yet somehow it’s meant for “cold weather athletes in harsh alpine environments.”
If you have a smaller torso than I do, or if your alpine adventures don’t always involve a harness and climbing gear, I suspect you’ll love the fit of the Floodlight. Looking at OR’s size chart, I’m close to a Large in upper body (109cm chest to my 106cm measurements), just above a Medium in the waist (81cm to my 82cm waist) and between a Small and Medium in the hips (91cm Small, 99cm Medium, and I measure in at 95cm). So if anything I should feel tightness around my shoulders, and fit should be fairly loose through the waist and butt, but unfortunately it’s the opposite.
Otherwise, the Floodlight is a pretty typical winter down jacket. There are two zippered hand pockets, lined throughout with soft fabric, and a left-side zippered chest pocket. The zippers are not waterproof but feel robust enough, and I’ve never had them snag or freeze up. In typical modern OR fashion they are double-coloured, as in one side is the colour of the outer shell and the other side of the zipper is the colour of the lining. It’s probably some kind of fashion statement, but I don’t get it.
The sleeves have velcro tabs to cinch them down with, and the hood easily adjusts with a couple drawstrings. The stiff plastic brim also helps to keep water from dripping down onto your face in particularly nasty weather. The elastic hem drawcords are big enough to work well without slipping, which is a nice bit of detail — I’m not a fan of saving weight but minimizing function, as seen on many other down jacket where I often have to tie the drawcord into knots to keep it from slipping past my chosen tightness.
Weight for my Men’s Medium comes in at 636-grams. The Floodlight retails for $395 USD or $465 Canadian. It doesn’t stuff into any of its pockets, and unfortunately doesn’t include a stuff sack either.
As a day-to-day winter jacket, the Floodlight is awesome. It’s warm, waterproof and windproof. The long hem keeps my butt warm, the long sleeves keep my wrists cozy and the fleece-lined hand pockets negate the need to carry gloves everywhere. I love the cozy hood which, thanks to its helmet-friendly size, is more than big enough to slide over a toque, even an extra-large one. But when it comes to harsh alpine environments, especially ones that involve wearing a harness and the associated climbing kit, the Floodlight just doesn’t cut it for me. Perhaps I should take up skiing… (ha!)