THE NORTHFACE SUMMIT LG DOWN BELAY PARKA
Sometimes you need the big guns—namely a belay parka so warm it’s almost overkill—for the coldest days cragging and harsh alpine conditions. The Summit L6 might be considered the Howitzer of belay parkas, then—a “beefy alpine brawler,” noted our tester after 20 days guiding on Rainier, another 12 in the North Cascades, then 5 days in the Bugaboos. The jacket, he noted, was “sturdy above and beyond any other jacket I’ve used of similar design.” Made with dense 800 fill goose down, the L6 has a 20D x 30D body and DWR finish; it’s made with “woven-chamber” baffling to reduce the seam count and thus cold spots/leakage. Our tester was never chilly, notable on the glaciated upper reaches of Rainier with 103 mph winds. He also praised its durability: Though the jacket caught several times on an ice-axe spike, it didn’t tear or even scratch, and he was able to stuff and retrieve it aggressively from his pack without worrying about a “goose explosion.” At 30 ounces, this is not an ultralight jacket, but the beefiness pays off in durability.
Climber-friendly features include a helmet-compatible hood; two-way front zip to access your belay loop (our tester dug the zip’s mitten-friendly size); deep, low-profile hand-pocket zips that access the hem cinch cord; an internal chest pocket; and internal drop pockets. These latter came in handy while guiding, with our tester on Rainier ably stashing things like a water bottle and gloves during breaks without having them “blow east to Idaho.” He also liked the longer, harness-compatible cut, and never felt it creeping up when he bent over. The only dings were that he wished the chest pocket had been external, to facilitate easier retrieval of a smartphone, and that the thin fabric on the hand-pocket weather flaps tended to jam in the zippers. “For most summer alpine under 14K, it’s a bit of overkill,” concluded our tester. “But for winter ice and higher-elevation summits, the L6 is a cozy, comfortable friend.”