Korpijaakko

– my personal views on all walks of outdoor life

Tag Archives: Arctic

Sasta Everest jacket – Review

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.

The Use

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.

Successes

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.

Summary

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…

Availability

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.

Ultima Thule 2011 trip report – in pictures!

Now, about a one month after the three-week Ultima Thule skiing expedition to Svalbard I have finally scraped together a trip report!

As I wrote live updates from the ice during the expedition I didn’t feel that a traditional trip report would be necessary. I will still post a bunch of posts related to the expedition when I find the time but there will be no traditional chronological trip report. Instead you can read the six updates I wrote during the trip. You can find the updates from my blog or by clicking the links below

Post 1: Greetings from the Arctic!
Post 2: Days of storm and whiteness!
Post 3: One miss, one hit, one to go!
Post 4: Perriertoppen and Pyramiden
Post 5: Summer has arrived!
Post 6: From the arctic to the Southern spring

Click yourself to the gallery!

But the new thing is a trip report in the form of pictures! I took a big bunch of pictures during the expedition. I don’t know how many pictures I actually took but after deleting failed ones and duplicates I ended up with 1330 pictures. After some hard time with selecting pictures to be published I ended up with 256 pictures, which was clearly too much. Then after some more time I ended up with 173 pictures. It is still a bit too much but I didn’t feel that a smaller amount would have made justice for the great trip. To give some more content for the pictures I wrote short captions for each. The slide show viewer of the gallery doesn’t show captions so I recommend manual clicking instead.

So, grab of cup of coffee and try to forget the summer and enjoy the three weeks skiing on the high arctic of Svalbard. When you are mentally prepared, click yourself to the gallery.

Later on I will make a very selected edition of the pictures with only some of the technically and aesthetically most pleasing ones but there will not be too many if any new ones in that set.

Please, feel free to leave comments to the blog or straight in the gallery.

Huom! Kuvatekstit on kirjoitettu myös suomeksi! Kommentit suoraan blogiin tai galleriaan ovat tervetulleita myös suomeksi!

Pictures from Svalbard – Teaser set

I promised some pictures from the Ultima Thule 2011 expedition by the end of this week. Unfortunately I had some other things to do so I’m not quite finished with all the post processing but I made a randomly picked teaser set for you to take a look at. The pictures are uploaded into my kuvat.fi gallery and you can get there by clicking the picture below!

Click the picture to see the whole set!

As I mentioned previously, in addition to our twelve man expedition, there was another Finnish expedition in Svalbard at the same time with us. They skied basically the same route but faster so we didn’t meet but crossed and followed their ski tracks occasionally. They have also uploaded some photos online and you can find them from Kari Kossila’s album. (Psst! When we visited the bar few days after the guys, there was also beer and vodka for sale on the shelves – in addition to water and soft drinks. Lucky us!)

I’ll try to get a better set of pictures online at some point in addition to the promised aftermath posts. But it is quite summerish already and I’m more in a mood for planning new adventures than writing about past ones. So please, be patient.

Oh, and if you can guess what I’m planning you can win a free meal with dessert! Give a guess here!

Post 6: From the arctic to the Southern spring

30.4.2011 – The 1st full day at home for a while

Somewhere along Lomonosovfonna

I am now back from my three-week expedition to the cold shores and jagged peaks of Svalbard. Ultima Thule 2011 is over but the aftermath has barely started.

Tent after a blizzard. Spot the pulka on the left!

On Thursday we skied a tad over one leg to the warehouse where we mended and dried our gear. We took an early start at 07:00 and had enough time to do some shopping and eat lunch in cafeteria before receiving our rooms at the hostel. We didn’t sleep much during the day but instead mostly bought souveniers, packed gear for return trip, had a long dinner in restaurant and many drinks in the bar.

Expedition closing to its end. Longyerby in the horizon.

Taxis came to pick us up at the Friday night around 01:30 and we went to airport for the lat big gear hassle. It was a nice hassle trying to squeeze 23 kilo of gear to our bags, 12 kilo to our carry on packages and as little gear as possible to our sleds (they are quite expensive to fly around). At the end the airport stuff just surrendered and put the stickers on all the packs, most un-weighted, and everything was okay. A short nap at the airport floor and the sleepy flight to Oslo, a quick change at the Oslo airport and a bit less sleepy flight to Helsinki. We where back in Helsinki around 11:00 local time and were amazed by the warmth and green grass.

An arctic fox seen from the bar window. Svalbard is wild country.

Preliminary summary

And inspired by Joe’s old post, here is a short summary in numbers:

20 continuous night in a tent in a sleeping bag, personal record
300+ kilometers of skiing, personal record
1712 meters, the peak of Perriertoppen, the highest point of the expedition
100000 calories eaten
2-3 kilo of weight loss (less than anticipated)
1 full day spent storm bound
2 day spent partially storm bound
0 the day when tents were needed as a shelter for lunch break
1 badly burned nose now covered with salve
64 GB of pictures and video shot
+ 16 Celsius, the warmest temperature in the thermometer during the trip
– 25 Celsius, the coldest temperature during the trip

79 degrees Northern latitude crossed!

What next?

Last night I had a nice 11 hours sleep in a proper bed, for the first time for over three weeks. Most of the gear is sorted out and waiting to be washed. I have almost 64 GB of pictures and video to be processed so it will take some time. There are some randomly picked teasers in this post but most of the pictures are still waiting to be uploaded on the computer. And unfortunately I have also three weeks od undone work waiting for me, starting on Monday.

The pass between Galleribreen and Tryggvebreen. Snowy slopes of Perriertoppen on the right.

Despite the minor obstacles I plan to write a punch of post-trip posts and get a nice set of pictures online. But it will take some time.

At the moment I am planning:
– an in-depth post covering my personal views on the expedition in general
– a post about the food which was plenty and worked well
– a post covering major observations on gear
– two sets of pictures (set for those with more time and a very selected batch for those with less time or interest)
– some kind of video built from all the short clips along the way, but this one will take time as I have to first learn how to edit the stuff smoothly together

If there are some things that you are especially interested and would like to know more, please leave a comment and I will try to cover the topics in the following posts!

And it seems to be almost summer here in Southern Finland so I have to put skis and winter gear in the storage and search my summer gear. Before leaving to Svalbard I already bought a neoprene wetsuit (can’t afford a proper dry suit) so there are trips being planned and when there is something coming up, I’ll let you know!

Recommended read: Modern Polar expeditions

This time the recommended read is a quick look on modern polar travel with some background information and links to trip reports and expedition homepages. With the summer getting closer, you can cool down with stories from the coldest places on Earth.

Despite the modern technology, polar travels are still very challenging endeavors, at least if you want to do them “properly”. Now days when planes and helicopters provide relatively easy access to the most remote places on Earth there are certain rules concerning what can be called a true polar expedition. But even though the technology has developed from days of the polar pioneers, the conditions are still equally or even more challenging than they were hundreds years ago. On this season all the expeditions to the North Pole had to be canceled because of bad weather making flights to the area impossible. Earlier this month three expeditions canceled their attempts and today Ben Saunders, who was trying to make a world record time to reach the Pole, announced in Twitter to cancel his attempt because of timetables stretching too thin:

“Ongoing blizzard at N coast of Ellesmere Island = no flights this year. Time to go home and have a cup of tea. Will update the site tonight” by polarben at Twitter. Ben Saunders has some cool videos of the preparations in Resolute Bay so check them out from the expedition homepage (recommended videos).

Geographic North Pole

Hauling sleds in pack ice. Image by Poppis Suomela.

The Geographic North Pole is a coordinate  point in the middle of ever-changing sea ice of the Arctic ocean and the commonly accepted rules define that a journey to the Pole should start from land (not from sea or sea ice) and of course reach the 90 degrees North. Nowadays most expeditions to the Pole start from the Canadian Arctic by flying with ski equipped charter plane from village of Resolute Bay to the Ward Hunt Island in the far North and skiing from there some 800km to the Pole. This is a challenging journey through packed ice, open water leads and extreme cold. And as a bonus the currents and winds may drive the ice floes away from the Pole adding the challenge even more. The extraction from the Pole is usually done with helicopters via temporary Russian station called Barneo. Barneo si a science and expedition camp that is annually built on drifting sea ice in a massive airborne operation. The station remains active for a month or so and is then dismantled.  This year the Russians haven’t yet been able to start building the station because of, yeah you guessed right, bad weather. The other way to get back home from the Pole would be charter flight to Canada. The only problem is that is costs six figure sum…

Crossing open water on the way to the North Pole. Image by Poppis Suomela.

In 2006 The expedition of the Airborne Ranger Club of Finland reached the North Pole after a very challenging journey. The expedition homepages are still online and include a lot of background information and diary and can be found from www.pohjoisnapa.fi (recommended read). Truly recommended read. IT is fascinating and exciting story (though I killed some of the suspense by telling that they got to the Pole…)!

Geographic South Pole

Skiing in sastrugi (rock hard snow drift formations). Image by Poppis Suomela.

The Geographic  South Pole on the other hand lies in a middle of huge ice sheet of the Antarctica. It is equally hard to reach and even getting to the starting point is extremely expensive as there are no permanent settlements (well, many research stations are manned the year round) and everything, including plane-fuel, have to be flown to the continent. Most often it is agreed that a journey to South Pole should start from the edge of the landmass of the Antarctica. This doesn’t mean the true coast as the ice sheet expands well over the underlying continent. The stricter definition says that the journey should start from the edge of the ice further away from the Pole. Vast majority of the expedition fly from Punta Arenas Chile to Patriot Hills summer vamp in Antarctica, take a short charter flight from there to the Hercules Inlet ant start the over 1000 kilometer ski over the ice plateau to the South Pole. The Amundsen-Scott base lies in the immediate proximity of the South Pole and during the summertime there are regular flights from the Pole but those aren’t cheap either as the fuel to fly out has to be first flown in to the Pole…

In 2008 Kari “Poppis” Suomela and Pasi Ikonen became the first Finnish expeditions to reach the South Pole unassisted and unsupported. At the same time Poppis became 11th person in the world to ski to the Geographic North and South Poles unassisted and unsupported. The expedition website with diary can be found from here: www.thepole.fi (recommended read).

Poppis is also a reporter and nature photographer and he has written books about both expeditions. The books are great with amazing photos. You can order them (in Finnish, Swedish or English) straight from the man himself by clicking  here. There are also some free sample pages to take a look at.

What is unsupported and unassisted?

The purest form of polar travel is considered being unassisted and unsupported. This mean using only human power (no motors, no dogs, no wind assistance) and being totally self-sufficient for duration of the journey (not receiving any outside help or supplies). Being self-sufficient is quite understandable as there are no supply points en-route and charter flights for supplies cost a truck load of money. On the other hand being self-sufficient is very challenging and many expeditions rely on resupplies on the way. Both Expeditions linked above were unassisted and unsupported, pure human-powered polar traveling.

Some might say that it is cheating to fly out from the Poles. There is a certain point in the claim but on the other hand, expeditions almost always fly to and from their starting and ending points so it is more a matter of definitions. Only a few phenomenal expeditions have done unassisted and unsupported full crossings of the Arctic Sea (Gjeldnes & larsen, 2000) and the Antarctic continent (Skog & Waters, 2010 – over 1800km and 70 days!). There  has also been one unassisted and unsupported return-trip to the North Pole  (Weber & Malakhow, 1995) but dispite attempts, no one has ever managed to ski unassisted and unsupported to the South Pole and back. That would be well over 2000km of skiing!

For more information about “the rules” of polar travel, expeditions and historical statistics, see Explorersweb.