A:Last year, Patagonia released the Encapsil Down Parka—probably the most technically sophisticated down jacket ever made.
In addition to a slew of innovative design features, Patagonia used a process called “plasma deposition” to make the down inside the jacket hydrophobic. Rather than rely soley on chemicals, the company actually changed the molecular structure of the down fiber to make it water resistant.
There are two reasons why you likely haven’t seen this high-tech jacket on the mountain this year. Patagonia only released 1,000 of the Encapsil parkas for purchase, all of which are gone now. The jacket also retailed for a whooping $699.
But don't be too disappointed. Patagonia designers took what they learned from the Encapsil and incorporated those features into next fall's Fitz Roy Down Parka, which my money says will be the best technical jacket of the season.
While the new parka doesn’t have hydrophobic 1000-fill down like the Encapsil, it still boasts a staggering attention to detail in a beautiful package. It’s also $250 less expensive than the Encapsil. And let’s be honest—having a 1000-fill down jacket for most days on the mountain is a bit like using a fire hose at a water gun fight.
When it came to the Fitz Roy, Patagonia's Alpine Product Line Manager Kristo Torgersen only had one real requirement for his designers—that it be the warmest, best jacket in the line. "It was sort of no holds barred, just design the best, warmest, parka," says Patagonia Senior Alpine Designer Eric Rice. "It was a great place to be able to start. Usually there are so many constraints."
Like the Encapsil, the Fitz Roy has a three-dimensional baffle design. Rather than sew through the fabric to create baffles, designers placed a layer of mesh perpendicular to the shell to separate the down chambers—a technique called independent baffling. That eliminates any cold spots a regular baffle might create.
The company didn’t even cut corners when it came to the zipper. While other down jackets have a flap of insulation to cover the zipper, the Fitz Roy Down Parka has what Patagonia calls a "kissing welt" baffle construction. Two draft tubes pucker up behind the zipper—like lips—and close around it when the jacket is zipped tight. This prevents any cold air from seeping in.
The Fitz Roy also has extra warm hand pockets, something the Encapsil actually lacks. Normally, when you open a pocket in your warmest jacket, cool air rushes into that dead space. Rice decided to add extra down around the Fitz Roy’s pocket, so it envelops your hand like a pillow.
I’m not exaggerating when I say there are about half a dozen additional technical details I could geek out on. Take the Fitz Roy's reinforced Y-Yarn constructed shoulders, or its innovative hyper-functional sleeves…
But I will finish on a sustainability note. One of the reasons why this jacket is so expensive is that it uses 100-percent 800-fill traceable down. "We spent five years or more setting up a supply chain for traceable goose down," says Torgerson. "We know without a shadow of a doubt—it is third party verified—that all of the down that we put in all of our products comes from geese that are humanely treated. [Geese] that are not live plucked, that are not force fed for foie gras production."
Yes, the Fitz Roy is pricey. If you do not regularly find yourself outside in sub-freezing or sub-zero temperatures, you can likely find another less expensive option. But before complaining about the $449 pricetag, know that if you do need the warmest functional down jacket on the market, this will probably be your best bet.