Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Borah Gear Down Vest: First Impressions and Short Term Review

Recently I got a package in the mail that I had been eagerly awaiting.  In it was the brand new on the market Borah Gear down vest, which as of now is one of the very lightest down vests commercially available (if not the lightest).  Over a month ago John from Borah Gear asked if anyone was interested in a down vest over at BPL, and I along with several others expressed interest.  I contacted him shortly after to ask him more about buying a vest from him, unsure if he was going to go through with putting out an official Borah Vest on his site.  He let me know that he was in fact going to start producing them, and that if I wanted a vest, that I would get the very first one.

I own a Borah bivy that I have been very happy with, and it was clear to me before I ordered the vest that Borah had good workmanship.  I also read a lot of good reviews online of their other products, so I decided to go for it.  I had been looking for a solution for an ultralight yet warm and versatile insulating top for some time.  I have a synthetic vest that I was happy with, but after years of use, the fibers have become flatter, and as a result it is not as warm.  Plus at 190g, it is a bit heavier than other ultralight vests and layers out there.

So far I am very happy that I decided to go for this vest.  Borah's listed weight on their site is very accurate.  It is a size large.  On my scale it comes in at 105g, and the claimed weight is 3.7oz, or 104.893g--pretty much spot on.  It fits my body well, and actually rather than select a size large myself, I told John my physical specs (6ft and around 190lbs) and he picked the size for me.  Almost immediately after I opened up the package with my vest, I put it on, and was impressed right away.  It fits me great, the fabric is comfortable and feels silky on my skin, and it's very puffy as you can see in the pictures below.

It is a minimalist vest, and that's exactly what I was looking for.  It's a pull over with a small zipper, no pockets, and a simple elastic waist cord.  That's it.  John told me via email that my vest has 1.8oz of 850+ water resistant down, and to me that is perhaps the most important feature of this vest.  

Compare this with, for instance, a popular UL choice of minimalist insulation tops, the Montbell Ex Light down jacket--which also has 1.8oz of down (in a size medium, to be fair), but 900 fill rather than 850 WR fill.  I have read/heard great reviews of that jacket, and it was the front runner when I was doing research before buying a solid UL layer; but after seeing the specs of the Borah Gear vest on paper, Borah won out.  And as an added bonus, I would also be supporting an independent company that in the past has always given me great customer support and communication.

My wife is a pretty talented with fabric and sewing--I guess you could say she is a hobby seamstress.  She usually likes to inspect clothing I buy, and I am happy to have her feedback.  She said that it was much nicer than she expected, very professional looking, and I agree with her.  It looks great.  But how warm is it?

I decided for its first test I would wear it for a short 2km walk around my neighborhood with only my Marmot Precip rain jacket over it, a cotton T-shirt, wool Buff as a scarf, a wool hat, and leather gloves as my top layers.  For bottom layers, I just had jeans, synthetic socks, and my controversial leather Chucks.  I wanted the vest to do most of the work to warm me up, essentially, in -2 to -3 C (28 to 26 F) temperatures.  There was some steady wind, and it had just snowed the night before.

It performed beyond my expectations.  I was just fine in the given conditions.  I wasn't toasty warm, mind you, and didn't expect that.  But I did expect to get a bit chilled, yet I didn't.  I think all I needed to add to be toasty warm would have been a wool base layer or maybe a light windbreaker.  Needless to say, individual results will vary, but I wanted to do some kind of test, and it passed with flying colors.  I am really looking forward to adding it to my 3 season gear lists, where it will get a lot of good use.  I plan on doing a long term review in the future on this vest, in roughly a year or so.


Update 31/01/14: I have since done another test just to test my hypothesis on adding one more layer with the vest for optimum comfort in the given conditions.  I went on another 2km hike around my neighborhood with the same clothing as before (-3C and moderate wind), but this time with an added synthetic base layer top.  After getting over the initial chill leaving my home, I soon became very comfortable hiking through the snow--toasty warm, even.  Granted, I was hiking at a steady pace and this contributes a lot to warmth, but with the Borah vest doing the lion's share of keeping me warm as my insulating layer, it again performed excellently.  And I would also add it is easy to put on and take off, due to the smooth fabric and good design.


That's pretty much it for a short, sweet, and positive initial review of the Borah Gear down vest.  For the record, I paid full price for this piece of gear, and was not asked to write a review by Borah Gear.  It was my idea, plus as a very new product on the market, it needs to be done anyhow, and I am happy to oblige.

The bottom line is that this stands to be an excellent key piece of gear for backpacking, and I am at odds to come up with anything negative about this vest from my first impressions and testing.  Keep up the good work, Borah Gear!