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.

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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.

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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…).

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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

 

 

 

Outdoor Gear Review: Fjällräven Keb Jacket

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Full disclaimer: I currently work for Fjällräven as a sales advisor. However, that does not mean critique is a foul word in my book.

Overview

Named after Kebnekaise, Sweden’s highest mountain, the Keb series of garments is Fjällräven’s most technical line of clothing. It is meant for demanding treks in high mountain regions, and as such focuses on freedom of movement, ventilation, a high degree of comfort and the ability to deal with almost any weather. The Keb Family, as almost any other family in the Fjällräven collection, is designed to be used as a system of garments, with the inclusion of base, mid, reinforcement and outer layers. This jacket is meant to be used as an outer shell for active outdoors activities such as trekking in the mountains, or mountaineering in dry but demanding weather.

Construction

As most Fjällräven jackets are, the Keb is largely constructed out of G-1000, the company’s tough and durable 65-35 per cent polyester-cotton blend. While often understood as a Gore-Tex alternative, G-1000 is not actually completely waterproof. While its wind- and water-resistance can be improved upon by applying Greenland Wax (which is a soap-like substance made from paraffin and beeswax), you’ll still need a hardshell or poncho for those torrential rains, while it will suit you well for anything from a light drizzle to a short shower. The upside to this is that G-1000’s ventilation is unparalleled and that its durability is incredible, meaning that you won’t destroy your precious hardshell with a heavy backpack when you don’t actually need that 30K water column jacket because of unexpectedly good weather.

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A very large part of the Keb Jacket is made from four-way stretch material, mostly on the sleeves and the back. This adds extra freedom of movement and ventilation at places where you need them most. This stretch also covers a part of the front, although Fjällräven was smart enough to make this only cover the outside of the front pockets, meaning the user still enjoys the benefit of G-1000’s weather-repellant abilities on the entire front side.

As far as stitching goes, this is where you’ll notice that this is still a human’s job… For those obsessed with small imperfections that might be a deal breaker as some of the end stitching might show some loose threads. These are mostly leftovers from production, however, and cutting them loose should not result in any major unraveling or breaking. As you might expect from such a major outdoor equipment manufacturer, Fjällräven has quite a well-organized and generous warranty policy so any imperfections and major malfunctions should be dealt with.

Features

Feature-wise this is one of the most well rounded jackets I have ever used. Its hood, for example, might come across as ridiculously large the first time you put it on. But then you discover all the Velcro and draw-cords used for adjustment and it becomes one of the best collars cum storm hoods ever. It is fully and snugly adjustable so it follows any head movements to the tee. No more lost peripheral vision! Also, it is large enough to fit a helmet, or if you’re like me, the hood(s) of one or several mid layers, without it feeling stuffed. Also, due to the large collar, the tunnel hood acts as a snow deflector due to the few centimeters of space between the brim and the user’s face.

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Other smart features are the stretch panels covering the chest pockets, so they are incredibly expandable. They are roomy enough to fit items such as GPS devices, gloves or other cold gear as it is, but with the stretch the jacket makes sure they don’t bother the user while they’re full of useful items.

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As you might expect from a jacket like this, it has an elastic draw cord at the hem to make it sit nice and snug on the hips. This ensures no wind will come through to cool the wearer down. I have this one in permanent use due to the fit of the jacket, which brings us to the next point.

Fit

While I am, as most people, tempted to buy a jacket which looks super nice and tailored to my body, that actually is a costly mistake with most outer shell jackets, whether they are hard- or softshells (unless of course, you have a money tree growing in your back yard). Per definition, such jackets are designed to be used as a system garment, meaning the user has to have enough leftover space for a base and mid layer – in extreme circumstances even a reinforcement layer. Nowadays, most insulation layers are filled with either down or loft fibers, which means they rely on the principle of air pockets. This means the user needs extra space to hold on to that precious warm air. With a tight-fitting jacket, the user will smother the mid layer, ruining its insulating effect – meaning he or she will eventually have a very cold body core.

So much for theory.

In practice, this means that I have opted for one size larger than I would have chosen from a fashion standpoint. I chose a Medium. It still looks quite nice on my shoulders, but on the main body it looks a tad bulky when I’m wearing just a t-shirt underneath. But this is more than just a summer jacket. I want to be able to wear this year-round. That means being able to pull this over a thick sweater or even bulkier loft or down jacket. And then, all of a sudden, that Small becomes incredibly tight and weird looking, while the Medium is super comfy.

From a functionality and insulation standpoint, extra space is a necessity.

Details

Always the simplicity enthusiasts, Fjällräven has opted to keep this jacket as undetailed as possible. Of course, there’s the usual, such as the hood draw cords, which are integrated in a subtle and clean way. Another one is the (apparent) lack of hand pockets, which I personally think is not a lacking feature but a feature in and of itself, because a smart user will notice that the ventilation zippers at the sides (core ventilation instead of arm pit ventilation) double as a way to access the pockets on any mid layer worn under the jacket. Hand pockets are inaccessible when wearing a heavy pack or climbing equipment anyway, and this construction helps keep the weight and bulk of the jacket down.

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On the left sleeve there’s another pocket one could use for stuff such as GPS devices or flashlights I guess. I personally tend to keep as much gear in my trousers as possible because I want to be able to switch from a soft- to a hardshell jacket as quickly as possible when the weather turns and having a large amount of small items in my jacket pockets makes this impossible so I doubt I’ll use it much.

Usage

Since obtaining this jacket about a month ago I have used it almost every single day. For me, it perfectly fulfills the role of an everyday jacket suitable for most weather conditions. While some might think that it looks a little too sporty and hardcore (it does), I actually like that look – a lot.

G-1000 makes sure I’m good for most weather conditions, meaning my extremely expensive rain jacket will only come off the hanger when actually needed (resulting in a longer lifespan!). I am looking forward to testing this jacket in a proper outdoor situation very soon. Next month I will take it to a weeklong trip to Ireland. To be sure, of course I will also pack a hardshell. Lord knows I’ll probably need it (but don’t tell my girlfriend…).

Pros

Very good-looking

Natural feel

Simple

Well-adjustable tunnel hood

Freedom of movement

Durable material

Well-ventilated

Weather protection on exposed areas

Cons

Stitching details are off here and there

Tunnel hood is extremely large

Hem draw cords have no vertical orientation

Stretch not as weather resistant as G-1000

Overall

All in all this is one of my new every-day favorites, which, for me, works as well on the streets as it does in the mountains. It’s adjustable in all the right places, and well thought through with some very useful features and details. It offers just the right amount of weather protection to be useful on almost every day short of those featuring Biblical precipitation. Its cut is tight enough to be good looking without mid-layers, but generous enough to wear them when necessary and do so comfortably.

It does have some features and details that some people might find annoying, such as the overly generous tunnel hood. While this used to be an issue for me, after a month of use it no longer bothers me and I have grown to like it quite a lot due to its excellent double function as a very wind resistant collar.

I do, however, have a small issue with two details, one being the stitching details and the other being the hem draw cords. The cords could have been stowed away a little more elegantly. But this is nothing a small knot can’t fix. The stitching details do not negatively affect the functionality of the jacket in any way. It’s just something which, when done better, would have elevated the jacket from a very good looking, to an extremely good looking jacket.

All in all, I really like this jacket and it only has some very minor caveats. Buy when you’re not a stitching-obsessed person, and you’re looking for a very good general purpose, technical trekking jacket!

Further reading

http://www.fjallraven.com/keb-jacket

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTwmJIgAlGQ