We popped up to see the guys at Berghaus this week for a quick preview of some of the highlights of their winter 2012 range, due out later this year. We'll give you a full run through on Monday, but arguably the most interesting bit of kit in the range is the new Ramche Down Jacket.
Why's it interesting? Well, developed by the Mtn.Haus design team in close cooperation with mountaineer Mick Fowler, it's arguably the warmest down jacket for its weight anywhere thanks to ingenious baffling designs and body-zoned fill distribution. It's also the next step in the brand's use of water-resistant, hydrophobic down.
Berghaus first used hydrophobic down this winter for the Mount Asgard Hybrid Jacket. The idea is that it retains its ability to loft even when damp and, once it's dried out, performance is still almost as good as before with no clumping of the fill.
For the Ramche, Berghaus has used higher fill power down 850+ US as opposed to 700+ in the Hybrid), some 220 grammes of it. Higher fill power means better lofting and therefore more insulation per gramme of down.
The light weight focus continued with the fabric. Here Berghaus, after lots of testing, opted for 10D Pertex Quantum GL with it's distinctive translucent sheen.
Body Mapping And Mobility
Here's where it gets clever. Rather than use uniform amounts of fill throughout the jacket, the Berghaus team decided to try and do two things. One, to use different amounts of down to match different areas of the body.
The bits that were prone to losing heat easily, they reasoned, needed more insulation, while other bits could get by with less. Thermal imaging helped them decide which were the crucial zones.
Then, taking things a step further, they decided to try and improve mobility, so that the jacket could be used more easily for technical climbing in ultra-cold conditions. Sleeves designed to allow arms to bend more easily for example.
The design team came up with three zones – a core zone, mosty around the kidneys and torso which needed most insulation. A second zone around the shoulders and upper arms where heat is, they say, generated and can be more lightly insulated. And Zone 3, the under-arm area, where even more heat is generated.
The idea was that the main zone would be quite seriously insulated, zone 2 around the shoulders would have 20% less down while the third, really warm zone, would have 20% less down again.
To make that work, the team chose to use different patterns of baffles in each area. In the main core zone, rather than using conventional box-wall or stitch through construction, the Ramche has a sort of cross between the two, a sort of off-set, stitch through construction that's easier to achieve than box-wall, but still eliminates heat-losing stitch-lines.
In the second zone, over the shoulders and outside arms plus hood area, there's a square, patchwork sort of construction. The relatively small down chambers stop the down from migrating around, say, under the pressure of pack straps. While finally, the third zone, under the arm-pits, inside the sleeves and the sides of the torso uses a different, diamond-like baggling arrangement again to minimise bulk and allow easier movement.
Apparently sizing the baffles to suit the amount of down was a trial and error process and quite time consuming, but the end result should be an optimum balance between insulation and lack of bulk in key areas.
Last but not least, because the Ramche was designed for high mountain, technical use, it gets a full-on helmet hood modelled on the Asgard hood with full adjustability along with an internal mesh water bottle pocket, adjustable hem and so on.
Mtn.Haus developed the jacket along with Mick Fowler. Their tests showed that the jacket's efficiency, measured with a TOG-meter, had a better warmth to weight ratio than anything else they tested and was not only lighter than previous Extrem down jackets, but effectively warmer too.
All of which is great, but lab tests aren't always the best predictor of real world performance, so with a certain amount of trepidation, they outfitted Fowler and his climbing partner, Dave Turnbull, who happens to be CEO of the BMC, with prototype versions of the jacket and dispatched them to the Himalayas for an attempt on a mountain called Mugu Chuli.
'The Star Piece Of Clothing'
What they didn't tell the pair was that the down was hydrophobic. The feedback was startling. Turnbull commented that the jacket was 'without doubt the star piece of clothing on the trip. Incredibly light and noticeably warmer than other down jackets I have used'.
Meanwhile Fowler noted that 'My sleeping bag became damp and cold, but the Ramche Down Jacket held its loft and just kept going. I can't speak highly enough of it'.
Reassuringly, concerns that the zoned construction would mean the Ramche was less warm in static situations seemed to be groundless with both climbers finding the jacket really warm.
Light And Not Insanely Expensive...
Certainly looks interesting. In the flesh it feels ridiculously light for the amount of insulation it seems to offer, based on a quick try on. Claimed weight is just 448g – 220g of that, or about 50% is down – and it's going to retail for £300. There's no women's version.
Realistically, the Ramche is probably going to be overkill for most UK users, but there's also a lighter jacket using the stitch-through zoned construction along with the same down and fabrics called the Ilam Down Jacket in both men's and women's versions. More about that shortly.
Looks like another interesting product from the Mtn.Haus team following on from the Mt Asgard Smock and the Hybrid jacket. The team is allowed to put more design time and effort into it's products with impressive results.
More Berghaus info at www.berghaus.com.