Once again this is a love story under the name “review”. And more than about a jacket, this a story about a hood. And not just any hood but possibly the best shell jacket hood in the world. And it can be found from Sasta Everest jacket.
The author enjoying the great hood in Svalbard in April 2011. Picture by Janne Holme.
Sasta is a small Finnish outdoor clothing company based in Nurmes in Eastern Finland. Sasta is well-known for modern high quality hunting clothing (“Green” line) and also as a niche manufacturer for the clothing used by Finnish expeditions to Arctic regions (most recently “The Pole” collection). In addition they also make some high quality outdoor clothing well suited for Nordic conditions (“Outdoor” collection) like the Kalotti anorak and backcoutry skiing clothing designed with Antte Lauhamaa.
The jacket reviewed here is a special model of Sasta Everest jacket that was made-to-order for the Ultima Thule 2011 expedition to Svalbard. And to make things complicated Sasta has made several different variations of this jacket sold under the same name so if buying something named “Sasta Everest jacket” make sure you buy the model you were looking for.
A hard shell for winter use? Why?
Even though the conventional wisdom and some people say that in winter you should “avoid membranes in clothing like the plague”, I disagree with this in some cases. I think that hard shell clothing (i.e. something with membrane like Goretex and Event) can offer some advantages in winter expedition style use.
First of all, waterproof & breathable membranes work surprisingly well in cold and dry conditions as the relative difference in humidy and temperature between the inside and outside of the shell clothing is big enough for the membrane to work (i.e. breath). The hard shell fabrics are also completely windproof which adds quite a bit of warmth at least when compared to traditional tightly woven poly-cotton. In certain conditions 100% windproof clothing is a must. The membrane packed fabrics are also waterproof which is very useful in case of rain or wet snow as it keeps the user and layers underneath it dry. And if hard shell clothing gets thoroughly wet (from rain, sweating, submersion, etc.) in sub-zero temps it usually doesn’t freeze into a stiff lump but stays quite operational. All this is very useful on long-lasting winter trips with no real chances to dry clothing where you have to push on despite the conditions.
And if it is cold enough, almost all moisture freezes to the warm layers under the shell clothing or into the shell itself and in these conditions having a membrane or not doesn’t make much of a difference – a snow brush is needed anyway.
Moisture frozen under a shell jacket. Picture by Poppis Suomela from Magnetic North Pole Expedition 2003 of the Airborne Ranger Club of Finland.
And one point for choosing a hard shell is the unfortunate (?) fact that hard shells are often better designed with better technical details meaning that if one wants certain details and functions a shell with membrane might be the only option available. So, from these points, from the experience and experiments by others and from my own limited experience I’d say that hard shell clothing works very well for winter expedition use. And of course this doesn’t mean that a non-membrane clothing* would not work!
The Design and Specifications
The Everest jacket is based on a jacket design by Kari “Poppis” Suomela who designed the jacket used by the Finnish Airborne Ranger Clu’s expedition across Greenland in 1999. During the last decade the jacket has been used on several expedition and revised several times but the basic design has stayed about the same. A slightly different version is now sold as “Sasta Pole Jacket”.
To be honest the jacket is quite a typical mid-length hard shell jacket. It is made using the “core comfort mapping technology” meaning that different materials are used on different areas. Most of the jacket is made of 3-layer Goretex Proshell and the side panels and underarms are made of stretchy 3-layer Goretex. The stretchy panels give some extra freedom of movement. The features of the jacket include:
– beefy full length two-way zipper with double storm flaps and a lacing back-up system
– long (50cm) two-way pit zippers with double storm flaps
– long sleeves with velcro tabs on cuffs
– draw cords on waist, hem and collar (plus a bunch of adjustments in the hood)
– two big chest pockets (33cm x 20cm), a small sleeve pocket and a napoleon-style pocket for a pen flare
– the best collar and hood system in the world
Not that winterish. Notice the different materials (different shades of black).
Being a “winter expedition jacket” it’s not a light one. My jacket is size XL and weights 990 grams with the thick fur around the hood adding 115g. The cut is quite roomy: I am 186cm long and weight around 100kg with relatively modestly built upper body (all the beef is in the legs) and I can easily fit a base layer and two thin fleeces under the jacket. For me the hem reaches below the waist line and a bit further on the back covering the butt. The sleeves are roomy and plenty long enough.
Sasta Everest jackets in use. Notice the full face protection provided by the depth of the hood.
Here are some measurements from my size XL jacket:
– length of the back (from neck to hem): 82cm
– circumference on chest: 135cm
– circumference on waist: 125cm
– sleeve (from shoulder seam to cuff): 73cm
– collar height: 11cm
– hood “depth” (from the brim to the back of the head): 27cm
Visible: the long pit zipper, different materials and some other features.
I’ve used this jacket mostly during the winter 2011 from January to April. I’ve used it on short ski trips, on snowshoeing day trips, while building snow shelters, on weekend skiing trips and of course on the three-week expedition to Svalbard. The conditions have varied quite a bit and occasionally the jacket has been an overkill* but often, especially in high winds, it has been a real gem. I think that I’ve used the jacket for some 50 times, often one time meaning a full day outside. I think that I have enough experience with the jacket to write a review of it. I haven’t used the jacket during the warmer time of the year, mostly because of it being heavy and overkill for the conditions. So this review is written purely from a winter use perspective. I know also that the exact model and similar ones by Sasta have been used for example in climbing at the Alps, the Andes and the Denali so it seems that the jacket would also work for mountaineering.
I think that the design in general is good for hard winter use but some features are more important or better than others.
All the zippers (all YKK) are adequately protected with storm flaps and all the zipper pulls have long cords to enable operating them with gloves. I think that it’s cool that the main zipper’s storm flap has a velcro closure and on the last 20cm there are small webbing loops that enable turning the jacket into an anorak in case of a zipper failure on a long trek! (Just add some cord and sew the rest of the zipper shut.)
Visible: double storm flap, pen flare pouch, collar wedge and backup loops.
The best part of the jacket is the collar and hood system. There is a 11cm high fleece-lined collar with a draw cord to keep the nasty weather outside. This is often enough and for better but not-that-good weather there is a fleece lined wedge with some velcro that can cover your neck even if you’d partly open the main zipper. I often use it to add a bit of ventilation but still keep me protected from the weather.
Visible: hood half-way down providing still some protection. Notice also the extra velcro tab for use with a hard face mask.
The hood itself is sewn to the lower edge of the collar. It is very spacious and you can even fit a helmet inside but in my opinion it works better without one. There is a bunch of adjustments in the hood: In the back of the hood there are two volume adjustments and in the front there is a total of three adjustment cords. The adjustment next to the forehead adjusts the fleece-lined seal next to skin. The next two cords adjust the big tunnel that protects your face from the hostile cold winds. The peak of the tunnel is stiffened with wire and there is some additional soft stiffening material on the sides. There is a 4cm wide velcro strip on the edge of the tunnel for attaching a fur**. (Fur is not included, I got some really furry raccoon from a hunter.) It’s really nice to be able to detach the fur on a rainy day. The tunnel can be easily folded for better field of view in better weather and with some adjusting the fur can still protect the cheeks, ears and neck while not wearing the hood.
Visible: The side profile and all the adjustments of the hood.
Because of the collar wedge and a big velcro tab that goes over the front of the hood, the hood can also seal over a hard face mask (like Scott Safari goggles with mask) to offer superior protection from raging winds.
The jacket worn with hard face mask. Feeling invincible.
The long and roomy sleeves are also nice. There is a lot room for movement especially with part of the sleeve being stretchy. The sleeves reach below knuckles providing cover for hands. I can also tuck the cuffs of my thick winter gloves (another love story to be reviewed) inside the sleeves. There are also small plastic rings for dummy cording gloves but I usually put the lanyard around my wrists so I haven’t used them.
Visible: long sleeves, velcro tabs, ring for dummy cord and sleeve pocket.
The big chest pockets are nice: they are roomy, easy to access and don’t interfere with backpack or harness. The pen flare pouch is useful if you need to have one easily available for example to fend of curious polar bears. The pouch fits one flare to the bottom and the launcher on top of it. Instead of a pen flare I carried a lip balm in the pocket and it stayed relatively warm and soft there. The sleeve pocket has been originally added for the needs of smokers but as a non-smoker I use it to carry a compass, sunglasses or something similar light and small.
Visible: chest pockets. The pockets reach all the way down to waist.
There is also a double layer of fabric on one place on the sides of the jacket as it seems that pulling sled for some 1000+km causes inevitable wear on this area. And actually some of the girls in the Ultima Thule 2011 expedition had visible wear already after some 400-500km of skiing with the jacket.
Room for Improvement
There are no major problems in the jacket but few small things could be improved.
In my opinion the major shortcoming of the jacket is that it is too short. I’m relatively long guy and to properly cover my groin area and butt (often chilled in stormy winter conditions) the hem should reach about 5 cm lower. This is not a crucial shortcoming but annoying one anyway. I’ve been thinking that an optimal ski expedition jacket could be even 15cm longer covering most of the upper legs. This would of course hinder the use with a climbing harness but might be worth it for skiing in very cold and windy places. And if the jacket would be that much longer it might be nice to add big pockets to the hem?
Visible: the hem (too short in my opinion) and the hood with the "tunnel" folded for better visibility. (Pics with me wearing the jacket by N.)
There could also be some additional length in the hood. Now at some cases the shoulder starps of backpack or sled pulling harness pulls the jacket down on the shoulders causing slight pressure on the top of the head if wearing the hood. This doesn’t happen always but when it does, it’s again slightly annoying. I think that a centimeter or two of extra fabric on the back of the hood (or the user having shorter neck or being shorter) would solve this.
The sleeve pocket is somewhat redundant but on the other hand doesn’t cause any problems either. It might also be useful to have lanyard-loops on the chest pockets. But what I’d really like to have would be a pocket or two on the inside of the jacket to keep some things warmer. One could be a napoleon-style pocket accessible under the strom flap without opening the main zipper (camera batteries, iPhone, lip balm, etc.) and the other could be a roomy mesh pocket inside the jacket to temporarily store things like ski skins, a water bottle or an infusing bag of freeze-dried food.
The edges of seamtapes are abrading on some areas. As the seamtape used is wide this hasn’t caused any problems and I don’t expect it to but this shouldn’t be happening to a jacket with RRP nearly 700 euros (around $1000). Another minor inconvenience were the cords on zipper pulls. They were made of soft cord that got stuck in the velcro of the strom flap. Changing the cords into longer and stiffer ones was of course easy.
Visible: the wear on seamtapes and the thin fleece lining inside the collar.
In summary the Sasta Everest jacket is a specialized rugged hard shell jacket well suited for long trips in cold and windy places. It’s not cheap but for some it might be worth the price. The jacket is build with long man hauling trips in mind but in my opinion it should be a bit longer to offer better protection. The cut is good, the details are good, the sleeves are long and big enough. The outer pockets are also good but I think that the jacket would benefit from couple of inner pockets. The best part of the jacket is the wonderful hood and collar system. It’s great for hostile winter conditions – the best I’ve used or seen this far.
I’ll be using the jacket more when the proper winter arrives again and I will report immediately if I find out something new and interesting concerning the jacket. And at some point I’ll write a long-term report to complement this review.
Skiing to the ghost town of Pyramiden in Svalbard in bitter wind.
* PS. I’m also looking for a good light softshell to accompany this jacket on winter tours. It should be a bit beefier than windshirt but not too thick and preferably have a full zipper, couple of pockets, long sleeves, long hem and a decent collar/hood and maybe even pit zips. All recommendations are welcome!
** PPS. If you know a source for legal Russian/Siberian wolf fur, I’d very interested in upgrading my hood fur from raccoon to wolf as it should handle the frost better. Wolverine and Polar bear would be even better but those I can’t probably afford…
As mentioned, the very model of Sasta Everest reviewed here was made-to-order for the Ultima Thule 2011 expedition, but: It is now available from one of the expedition sponsors Trekki under the name of Sasta Expedition Parka “Vaiska” Edition. It is expensive as hell but might be worth the price if it fits to your specific needs. And as mentioned the Sasta Pole Jacket is very similar to the jacket reviewed here and it is available from many places in Finland and also from online and it’s even quite a lot cheaper. And if you are looking for a jacket for a high-key expedition it might be worth contacting Sasta directly.
Well composed and very interesting reading! Designed for a sort of terrain and cold with which I’m all but utterly unfamiliar, and thus of especial interest. Point about all moisture freezing under a windproof shell below a certain temp is a point well taken, and a good argument for a hard shell in winter (esp w/ neg 40+ wind chills).
The softshell you are looking for sounds very much like the Rab Alpine Jacket. It is extremely light and thin and thus very much like a windshirt for winter use. The cut is quite slim but can be comfortably worn over a baselayer and a light fleece pullover. It think it would be very nice under a beefier winter parka.
DaveC: Thanks for kind words! Your point about avoiding membrane is also taken, in woods (not that windy) I prefer non-membrane.
Eero: Thanks for the tip! Looks good, except for the hood. I’d prefer separate collar and hood (like the Everest jacket here has) but looks good anyway and would probably fit nicely under the hard shell if needed.
Thank’s for a good review of a truly special jacket. It’s nice to read these truly extreme reviews from time to time. Reviews of mountaineering jackets, used in normal backpacking situations, are quite common, so I do appreciate your somewhat more true test of the jacket.
I too agree about the gore-tex. It’s often said that you shouldn’t use gore tex in winter, that there are better suited fabrics. While I can’t disagree with the second, I haven’t found gore-tex to ever totally fail in winter either. If I’m out in nasty winter weather I often take my old Haglöfs Helium, it’s heavier than my current shell, but it’s definately warmer and gives more protection as it’s longer. Length of a jacket truly is advantageous during the winter. As for the waterproofness, while the cold actually protects us – by water being frozen -, you do get wet from kneeling down and, not to forget, the occasional avalance from the tree your “best mate” just kicked.
Thanks Daniel! “Extreme review”? 🙂 I’m a bit dissappointend with the level of most gear reviews (tehre are some really, reallyy good also) and I’m trying to keep up the par on my part. The problem might be that the reviews are too long for most readers? Btw a good way to avoid surpsising local snow dumps is to travel on areas without trees. 😉
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