My First Anorak Review: Tilak Odin Ventile Jacket

Overview

What’s your favorite do-anything jacket? Is it a trusty Gore-Tex Pro-Shell? Or maybe one made out of those newer membranes like Eco-Shell or eVent, or maybe even a NeoShell? To be perfectly honest I don’t really have one. I love waterproof-breathable fabrics because they are just that: waterproof and breathable. I hate them because they are relatively fragile compared to non-waterproofs, and because even the most breathable hardshell out there has its limits in terms of ventilation. I own two proper waterproofs at the moment: a Fjällräven Eco-Tour Jacket, and an Arc’teryx Alpha FL. Both have their qualities and when Thor drops the hammer (figuratively) they do come out of my rucksack. But I like softshell materials a lot more, because they are more pliant, much more breathable and much tougher than any waterproof out there. One downside: water will seep through eventually…

Enter a much older player in the ‘technical fabric’ game: Ventile.

Ventile is a fabric first developed during WW2 for military applications. Up to that time there was really only one way to make a garment actually waterproof: rubber. This approach has some merit: it is super durable. Hence, you can still see these ‘rain slickers’ in use with fishermen as salt water tends to ruin everything else pretty quickly, and they even had somewhat of a fashion revival in recent years. As a technical performance fabric though, it is downright horrible. They’re extremely heavy and terribly sweaty, so that rules them out immediately.

Another way of making stuff at least water repellent is waxing it. Some brands, in various ways, still make extensive use of this technique: Barbour, for example, uses a fatty and heavy wax to make their fabrics highly water resistant. Fjällräven uses a blend of paraffin and beeswax to make their polycotton blends water resistant while keeping weight down so it is still usable for outdoor pursuits. It’s a relatively simple process, and wax is easy and environmentally friendly to produce and use.

Ventile takes a different, and very unusual approach. At its core, it is a tight-weave fabric made from the top two per cent of the world’s cotton crop. The material swells up when water hits the surface and that makes it highly water resistant. This ensures that, when the material is dry, it has the comfortable and soft feel of cotton, but when wet it has the performance of a waxed jacket. In double layer garments it can even be completely waterproof – all without a layer of wax or a technical membrane.

Tilak Odin Ventile Wet.jpg

The downside is that the material is pretty hard to make. It requires a high-quality cotton crop and a fine weaving process. Therefore, clothing made from Ventile can be relatively expensive. However, when you realize what it can do compared to pretty much anything else out there, you definitely get your money’s worth!

Okay, that introduction was longer than I wanted it to be, but whatever. The reason I’m writing this review is because a few months ago I wanted to buy a good performance anorak. I like the pullover style they have and the performance feel of many of them. I was also eager to try a new material. In the end I found the Tilak Odin Anorak and fell in love with the look and features immediately. Actually buying one though was harder. In the end I found the brand itself willing to advice on fit and ship one over to me. Good service!

I was unable to find a good English-language review of the garment so I took it upon myself to write one. A word of warning: this will be a long one.

Construction

I hadn’t heard of Tilak before I found this jacket but after doing my research, I knew immediately that they know what they’re doing. It is a Czech performance apparel company mostly geared towards mountaineering pursuits. They still design and produce all of their garments within the Czech Republic, a country known for its high-quality sewing industry.

Tilak Odin Taped Threading.jpg

That knowledge shines through when looking at the Odin Ventile Jacket. I haven’t seen this much attention to detail in anything but Arc’teryx gear. The stitching is superb throughout. I haven’t found a single thread poking out anywhere. High wear areas, such as the cuffs, hem and brim have a double layer of fabric, the second inside layer being a lightweight polyamide. The cuffs and brim have also been laminated, giving them some rigidity so they are easily handled and grabbed. The embroidered logo is a nice touch as well, not only from an aesthetic point of view: it has been laminated on the inside so no water will seep through the stitching! YKK zippers are in use throughout, and the main front zip is an YKK Aquaguard zipper, laminated and taped on the inside to prevent water seeping through. All in all, one of the most well constructed pieces of gear I have ever seen or owned.

Features

The Tilak Odin Ventile Jacket is a clean looking jacket but it sure is feature-packed! The hood is fully adjustable, with a Velcro tab and one-hand pull cord on the back, and the usual two pull cords on the front. Its brim is laminated to keep rain and wind off your face. The hood is also completely helmet compatible (tested with a Black Diamond Half-Dome, not exactly the smallest one out there…).

Tilak Odin Kangaroo Pouch Inside.jpg

Pockets-wise, you won’t be disappointed. Aside from the large kangaroo pouch, which has a nice divider inside as well, you get a left-arm pocket, a small pocket in front of the kangaroo pouch, and two zippers to enter the large hand warmer pocket on the lower front. The main kangaroo pouch has a hole for comms cords or headphone cables and there’s a loop for the cables in the hood. A nice touch, and I especially like the contrasting color on the cord loop in the hood.

Tilak Odin Inside Hood.jpg

The two side zips serve as ventilation ports, and one can be opened fully to help donning and doffing. These zips are also slightly placed forward to ensure comfort while wearing a pack. The fully open zip is secured with a single button on the left lower side so you can open the zip completely without your jacket flapping about like a flag in the wind.

Tilak Odin Side Zip.jpg

The hem is adjustable through a single one-hand draw cord at the right inside. The draw cords throughout are worth a mention in their own right. I really like the one-hand design and the way they are there when you need them, but unassuming when you don’t. Only the one at the hem could have been smaller in length, but that is something a small knot can solve.

Tilak Odin Hem Drawcord.jpg

The cuffs are nice as well. They are laminated and long, so they’re easy to grab and adjust, with Velcro of course. They also have a slightly different color from the rest of the jacket so they are noticeable. They are eccentric though: most jackets have their cuffs running inside-to-outside. These are the other way around. It’s weird at first but once you’re used to it, it actually makes a lot of sense. It makes adjusting them on the fly much easier, especially while wearing gloves.

Tilak Odin Cuff Adjuster.jpg

Fit

I would say the Tilak Odin Jacket is generous in cut. I have a size Medium and at 71kg and 1,78m with an athletic build I have enough room to layer warm winter stuff (down jackets) comfortably underneath. It is not so big that it becomes completely unusable in the summer though, although you will have some extra room of course. Due to the cut it is a very good year-round jacket when you wear the appropriate stuff underneath. It does, however, present some problems when taking part in more technical activities such as mountaineering, especially in summer. Due to the generous cut, it can be hard to see your harness sometimes, so attaching and detaching gear can be an issue. This is mostly a problem while wearing thin layers underneath, but it did lead me to decide not to take it on an alpine route this summer, opting for my Arc’teryx Acto MX instead.

Details

Most functional details have already been mentioned but I also like the aesthetic ones. All the logos are embroidered, and laminated. There is the brand logo on the front, the red Tilak dot on the back of the hood, and then there is the black-on-blue Odin Ventile on the left sleeve. All of these give the jacket a sleek look, all while remaining performance-based in DNA. It’s a really well done combination.

Tilak Odin Outside Hood.JPG

Usage

To be perfectly honest, the Tilak Odin Jacket is not going to be the do-all jacket I thought it would, but that is only because it is slightly too bulky to wear during climbing to use safely – at least for me. Other than that, it is perfect. Trekking, hiking, cycling, everyday use… This jacket does it all. And the Ventile material works wonders, without any need to regularly reproof or wash. It withstands so much water that it makes my waterproofs almost unnecessary. I say almost because at a very persistently rainy day water will eventually start to leak through the breathability-improving but seeping stitches. Another point worth mentioning is that soaked Ventile becomes heavier and a lot denser than dry Ventile. It can almost feel like cardboard. If you’ve ever worn a thoroughly waxed Fjällräven jacket, you know the feeling. This is not much of an issue for me but I imagine that it might be for somebody else.

Pros

Clean look

Functional details

Ventile is virtually waterproof

Fully windproof

Relatively maintenance free

Hardwearing

Great construction

Roomy fit but clean cut

Cons

Only one draw cord at the hem

Too roomy for technical climbing

Ventile becomes stiff when soaked

Overall

For most purposes, this is a great jacket. The Tilak Odin Ventile Jacket looks clean enough to use as an everyday jacket, but it offers enough functionality and weather protection to take it on almost any trip on almost any day. It looks cool, it feels super comfortable and is highly durable. It makes your waterproofs last a lot longer because you will barely have to or want to wear them any more so in the long run it will save you a ton of money as well.

Tilak Odin Kangaroo Pouch Outside.jpg

Just don’t have an elaborate hair-do though – or take care products wherever you go. The choice is yours…

Further reading

http://www.tilak.cz/en/odin-jacket

 

 

 

Footwear Frenzy PT 2: Hanwag Friction GTX

Overview

During one of my prep sessions for a recent winter trekking trip to Skuleskogen National Park in Sweden I discovered that my waterproof trekking boots were as waterproof as a cheese grater. Fair enough, in my army years they really took a beating and I guess that was to be expected after five years of heavy use. Nevertheless, wet feet in cold environments can cause so many horrible problems that I really needed to invest in new boots. Because I want to do proper mountain work in the near future I opted to widen my range of outdoor footwear with a slightly heavier pair of boots. Boots I could take on alpine excursions, without being to stiff for difficult treks.

The middle ground between these two would be a good C or light D category boot. These are stiff, crampon compatible boots that still have a little bit of sole flexibility in them, so you can also use them for trekking through difficult terrain, preferably off-trail.

There is a particular boot in this category I have wanted to try for a while, but they seemed to be out of stock – they are due for an update. As luck would have it, my size suddenly popped back up into stock so I seized the opportunity and ordered them.

I’m talking about the Hanwag Friction GTX. Hanwag is a very traditional German boot maker. They are well known for their old-school double-stitched boots (where the sole is literally stitched to the upper using two rows of very heavy stitching, making these models almost indestructible). Hanwag also make very well thought out modern trekking and mountaineering boots though. The Friction GTX is such a boot. On top of being a well-made piece of equipment, I also like the look of this particular version.

 

Construction

C- or D-category boots are usually quite heavy and well made, which can be expected from boots costing upwards of 300 Euros. Construction wise it’s pretty much par for the course here as well, but Hanwag have really gone out of their way to make these as light as possible, without compromising usability in difficult and demanding terrain.

Where a lot of D-category boots consist of suede or rawhide leather, Hanwag has opted to make the Friction’s partially, in less exposed areas, out of Cordura and synthetic materials. Also, they have opted to let D-ring style lace eyelets on the lower part of the shoe go, instead choosing to have the laces go through Cordura eyelets sewn into the material. This has upsides and downsides. An obvious pro is less metal in the boot, saving weight. Another one is less metal rubbing onto either your feet or the Gore-Tex waterproof membrane, enhancing expected lifetime. Normally, boots start to soak through earliest at the metal eyelets. An obvious downside is that Cordura is easier to wear down than metal. However, due to the Click-Clamp lacelock system installed halfway down the laces, wear-and-tear on the Cordura eyelets is reduced to a minimum. Well-done Hanwag!

Hanwag Friction GTX Click-Clamp.JPG

Stitching is quality throughout, with two rows of stitching on high-wear areas, for example at crampon brace zones. The materials used are beefy as well, with a thick layer of rawhide leather covering most of the boots. This stuff will definitely stand up to abuse!

Features

Like most, if not all, boots in this category the Friction GTX comes with a high rubber brim around the upper, protecting the leather from scree and rock, and moisture. The outsole is beefy, with a Vibram Dolomite profile, providing grip on anything but ice. One annoying thing is that this wears down rather quickly, especially with use on tarmac. This, however, can be expected, as the shoes are so stiff that they don’t flex much during walking. The tarmac is tougher than Vibram rubber compounds so it wins that battle, regretfully. This problem is less noticeable in the Friction’s natural habitat – mountainous, mixed and difficult terrain.

Hanwag Friction GTX Vibram Dolomite.jpg

Hanwag Friction GTX Rubber Brim.jpg

The Friction GTX is equipped with a brace point for crampons on the front and the back, so in theory it should be possible to step into pretty much any model. Do make sure that yours fit before buying a pair though!

Hanwag Friction GTX Crampon Front.JPG

Insulation wise they’re far from the warmest boots, but I wouldn’t say that they are suitable for just about any summer outing either. I would say they are good enough for temperate climates, where temperatures can range from anything from -10 Celsius to about 15 to 20 Celsius. Insoles make a lot of difference here, though. I used them with a felt insole we tested for Woolpower. It was nice for winter use, but way too warm for 15 Celsius and above.

I especially like the Click-clamp lace-lock system halfway up the boot. This ensures that you can adjust the forefoot part of the laces to your liking and don’t have to fiddle around with that part of your laces every time you put them on. This saves valuable time and energy, especially in difficult terrain and weather. If you have a high forefoot, like I do, this also ensures that you can create enough space there without compromising on heel lock, because you can still pull the rest of the laces in really tightly.

 Hanwag Friction GTX Crampon Back.jpg

Fit

The Friction’s have a normal, if slightly roomy, fit. This is mostly done to accommodate foot swelling in warm weather and double-socking in cold weather. I have found that these boots are most comfortable while double socking with one thin and one thick sock. This creates an extra cushion, as these shoes are quite stiff and hard without it. This might be an individual issue, but if I only wear one sock I get a sore point at my left big-toe joint. That is quite peculiar, but totally manageable. The fit is also carefully worked through to make sure the boots stay comfortable during long crampon use.

Details

Most of these I have already mentioned, although some are worth going through. The boots are equipped with ventilation holes on the shaft, assisting with dumping excess heat (as much as possible though, these are obviously and understandably still covered by the Gore-Tex liner). They also feature multiple pull-tabs to assist donning and doffing: two on the tongue and one on the back of the shaft. The leather heel cap is protected by highly durable PU-coated leather, so crampon locks will cause less damage in the long run. All of these features make these Hanwag boots very durable and very usable. As for durability: all Hanwag boots feature a cemented construction, enabling resoling and prolonging their lifetime. The Friction GTX is no exception. This really makes them worth investing in and essential to maintain properly.

Usage

So far I have used them in difficult terrain in Sweden and tarmac in the Netherlands. I will not put them through much tarmac use anymore as that puts them up for a resoling job way sooner than my wallet would like – that said, for a D/C Category mountaineering boot they’re not half bad on the road.

During a winter trek in Skuleskogen, Sweden they were in their proper element. Scrambling up hills, navigating snowy and icy trails, plodding through bush… They have saved me from nasty falls multiple times. The Vibram Dolomite outsoles are beasts, providing grip on pretty much anything but ice. Wherever the trails were more like ice-covered slip-and-slides (all the time, more or less…), the Friction’s basically just became tanks, making sure I could traverse alternative routes over rock, snow and scree – it was awesome.

In June I will take them with me on a Via Ferrata trip to Germany. I hope they will perform as admirably there as they did in Sweden.

Pros

Built to last

Bright red – instantly recognizable

Grippy on anything but ice

Reasonably warm but not ridiculously so

Stiff but comfortable

High protective brim

Resolable

Click-clamp lace locks ensure custom fit

Cons

Vibram wears down quickly on tarmac

Only really comfortable with thick or double socks

Overall

So far I really like these boots. For such a stiff boot the Hanwag Friction GTX still feels quite comfortable while walking in flat or slightly angled terrain, but they can handle the rough stuff as well. Thanks to the Click-clamp lacing system the fit is somewhat customizable and it saves the lace eyelets as well. They also play nice with various crampons and gaiters. The outsoles are replaceable and have traction on pretty much anything except icy trails and ice-covered rocks. The look is nice and bright, and the technical details make them stand out. All in all a very well rounded boot suitable for difficult treks and entry-level alpine excursions.

Hanwag Friction GTX Overview.jpg

One caveat though: due to the fact that Hanwag is about to release an update this particular version will be difficult to get. The revised version will be slightly different in look, and will feature Hanwag’s Alpine Wide fit, which features a wider toebox to accommodate wider feet and to enable the use of thicker socks. If that’s your thing you might want to wait for a couple of months!

Further reading

http://www.hanwag.com/friction-gtxr

http://scottishmountaineer.com/hanwag-friction-gtx-boot-review/