First Ascent is the most recent branch of the Eddie Bauer line of apparel. In fact, I have never been an Eddie Bauer shopper, but when I was in Canada a few months ago, a good friend of mine suggested checking out the store primarily because of the First Ascent mountain-line outdoor apparel. “Eddie Bauer makes mountain gear?” I asked. I knew they made down jackets and sweaters to wear as you sit by the fire, but I didn’t think they made material suitable for high-altitude activities.
I was wrong. Very wrong.
It seems that this entire line of jackets, fleece, socks, – you name it – is tested by mountain guides involved in mountaineering, ice-climbing, hiking at high, high altitude. In fact, Eddie Bauer was the premier high-altitude outfitter in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, and they were there in the 1953 expedition to K2. Since their lives depend on the stuff working, I though it’d have to be legitimate. I’ve so far tested the First Ascent Point Success Jacket and the Mountain Guide Jacket and I am pleasantly surprised (read “amazed”) by the results. And by the way: I do not work for First Ascent or Eddie Bauer, but I do work where its cold and nasty.
Mountain Guide Jacket
Pros: The jacket is a pretty amazing feat of engineering and design: not only is it lined on the inside by a type of thin fleece, but also the outside is completely water and windproof. By mixing just the right quantities of spandex, nylon and polyester. The jacket is unbelievably light and doesn’t get in the way of moving arms or equipment. It is unlike any jacket I’ve seen on the market – and that’s a blessing. The whole system is breathable: there is enough lining on the inside to keep you warm (depending on what temperatures you’re working in) without creating a greenhouse in your jacket. The pockets are smartly lined with a mesh-nylon fabric also helping to wick-away moisture. The pockets themselves are few and deep – and that’s a good thing: two large external pockets (for goggles, hats, gloves – I was able to get all of that into one pocket) and two breast pockets: one internal (for wallet and documents) and one external (iPod friendly!).
Cons: The integrated hood is a nice touch. But its not easy to tighten down the sides when the wind blows in your face, blowing back the hood. So, the trick is to tighten it down before you see trouble coming. In any case it’s a small price to pay for an extraordinary shell.
Pros: The most intriguing aspect of this “fleece” is that – well, it not a “fleece.” Its not bulky and bunchy and it doesn’t prohibit your movements. Again First Ascent has perfectly married nylon and spandex to give the jacket a fitted-feel in the back and at the hips. I believe this is their secret to keeping the body warmer (much warmer than in my other fleece jackets) and the Polartec material keeps all wind from getting in. As with the Mountain Guide Jacket, the Success Jacket wicks away the moisture from your body so you aren’t soaking wet at the end of the day. In fact, while my friends were trying to “air-out” by taking their jackets off, I hardly even realized I had mine on: I was not over-heated or uncomfortable. I cannot emphasize enough how having fitted equipment makes the experience in the mountains all the more enjoyable. I feel most manufacturers cater to the “large and loose” body type which is not practical for winter activities.
Cons: The only thing I’d like to see is maybe an integrated zipper between the Mountain Guide Jacket and the Success Jacket. This way they could be worn as a full unit without having to take one off and then the other (or to facilitate putting them both on at the same time). Apart from this, I’d say First Ascent has made just what their jacket is: a success.
I’m very happy Eddie Bauer has decided to reinvent expedition clothing, and at the same time retain the image of themselves that was theirs in the middle of the last century. I’ll be off doing some Randonée skiing in the next few months, and I’ll be testing the Rainier Storm Shell Pants. If they’re anything like the jackets, they’re bound to be a success as well.