When you’re looking for clothing to keep you warm, it’s fairly important that what you select a product carefully. A poor decision could end in discomfort, hypothermia and, in extreme cases, divorce (that is, if your spouse is likely to swipe your warmest gear whenever the mercury plummets).
Generally, synthetic fill jackets are known to be less efficient and not quite as ‘cosy’ as real down jackets, but the closest anyone has come to replicating down’s warmth-to-weight ratio is a relatively unknown Austrian brand (relatively unknown in Australia, I should say). European manufacturing and extensive usage by the armed forces are two good reasons to trust your body heat to Carinthia, but you can also just tell the G-Loft Alpine Jacket is going to be warm simply by looking at it. Having said that, for the purposes of this review I gave it a more thorough test while ice climbing in New Zealand, where belaying my partner involved standing around for extended periods in zero temperatures, sometimes even in a blizzard. Used as part of a layering system, the jacket kept me warm doing just that, and while it was too hot to wear while climbing, my partner couldn’t wait for his turn to belay, when he’d use it in preference to his own jacket.
The reason for this excellent thermal efficiency is G-Loft, Carinthia’s proprietary synthetic insulation which, like the jacket, is made in Austria. The Alpine Jacket uses 145g/m2 of G-Loft fill in the body, which is a lot, and 110g/m2 in the arms, which is unheard of. Carinthia claims that its microfibers have a memory effect, meaning they will always spring back up to full loft, although I’ll need to go on a lot more ice climbing trips to test the truth of this.
In terms of features, this guy is tricked out: elastic thumb loops keep your wrists warm and sleeves in place when wearing gloves; fleece on the inner collar is cosy against the neck; the hood is like a womb for your head; underarm zips add to the natural ventilation of the fibres and there are loads of pockets, including a handy forearm pocket for anything from a lift pass or lip balm to a flashlight. As for the externals, the face fabric is Gore Windstopper with abrasion resistant panels and an ePTFE membrane, which gives it the water resistance and durability necessary for military endeavours. I felt no compunction about lying down on ice or snow, and were the jacket to puncture, the spiral form of the G-Loft would prevent it from leaking out as can happen with down.
While the Alpine Jacket may be aimed primarily at snow-hounds, being perfect for anything from backcountry skiing to mountaineering, the recent cold winter saw this one getting some use on a weekend’s camping along the Great North Walk, and even in our living room when the heater was playing up. There’s no denying this is a top-notch piece of clothing, but here’s the rub – it costs $659.95. Also, as you’d expect, at 940g it’s not super light, although it does come with a stuff sack to cram it down to a reasonable volume.
At the end of the day, if you’re after the best, warmest synthetic jacket on the market, Carinthia’s Alpine Jacket would have to be at the top of anyone’s list.
UPDATE: Carinthia’s local distributor has recently informed us that this product is to be discontinued in 2016. For more, read their statement here.