Someone suggested Feathered Friends as the puffy grail. I’d ignored these Seattle clothiers because I’d always had the impression they just made big expedition parkas for guys using oxygen masks. But this being the age of web it was a simple click over to the Feathered Friends website, where I discovered the goose feather artists from Seattle do indeed make a variety of jackets, with a couple being perfect for your average North American backcountry skier. So, this being WildSnow and we indeed being backcountry skiers, we got a couple of Volant jackets (with removable hood) for a long term test. Here is a first-look.
While Feathered Friends does several models of super light sewn-through jackets (Hyperion), my whole point with this exercise was to get more warmth per ounce, even if doing so added a few ounces to my pack weight. (To compensate, I’ll be even more careful about what I carry for upper body layering.) To that end, Volant fit the bill as Feathered’s lightest weight but baffled garment. We got a pair just the other day, here is a first-look. Long term review in a few months.
Volant is slightly over-stuffed with the best 850-fill goose down. It balloons out like a blimp, and that’s the point. If a down jacket is under-filled as most are, as soon as it’s been stored in a stuff sack for a while, or damp, the down collapses and you end up with thin spots as the fill shifts around. Aggressive stuffing mitigates that problem. At 25 ounces without hood, Volant is definitely more of a winter piece; a bit hefty for the super-light springtime backpack I like to carry in the western U.S. or in Europe. On the other hand, no matter what time of year, when you’re tired and cold there is nothing like draping a super warm puffy over your torso and bathing in the glow while you recover from a long backcountry skiing climb — or sip tea on a hut deck as you watch the sunset. Indeed, zipping up a jacket like the Volant can be like climbing into a warm bath.
Fit is a snug “athletic” cut. I usually wear a men’s medium in a puffy, and a large in the Volant still fits me snugly. If I was outfitting for an expedition I’d probably need an XL, but the tighter fitting large is perfect for my normal backcountry skiing. As one would assume from a decades old company known for its quality, construction of these parkas is top drawer. Two slash pockets, internal vest pocket (with zipper, so that’s where the money clip goes), fairly rigid zipper flap that seems to not easily jam in the zipper, collar about right in diameter and height, hood fits and works (attaches with snaps), fabric is high tech (choice of either Epic or Event). In all, impressive.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.