Winter is here. Days are short, temps are frigid, and my motivation to #getoutthere is dropping faster than the snow-line. Meanwhile, everyone else is raving about “sending temps” and “great friction,” so I’m trying my best to enjoy the bounty of year-round climbing accessible from my home in Salt Lake City.
Unfortunately, my Mediterranean blood coupled with a temperate Pacific Northwest upbringing have rendered me a complete cold-weather weenie. I’m tempted to curl up on the couch and experience winter by rewatching the first six seasons of Game of Thrones. But, because I’m fearful of emerging in spring as a soft-skin dough ball, I’ll force myself outside to freeze my ass off on barely-warm-enough rock for the next three months.
My most essential gear for getting through winter climbing with minimal whining is a super-warm puffy coat. A good, solid belay jacket (or layers of jackets, in my case) can be the only difference between absolute misery and a pretty-darn-good time on a winter day at the crag.
Not all puffies are created equal, however. Heck, they aren’t even filled with the same type of goodness. So, when I got my Black Diamond Stance Belay Parka—available in men’s or women’ models—boasting a toasty layer of Primaloft, I had to give it a thorough vetting before trusting it keep me warm through the darkest days of the year.
A functional fit is a top priority. Ideally, I’d like to stay warm without feeling like a manatee. This is one area where the Stance Belay Parka really shined. The jacket packs a lot of warmth into a relatively slim profile. The Hi-Loft Primaloft Silver trapped my BTUs like a thermos, on a cold, sunless day at the Wailing Wall in St. George. The Parka was slender enough that it didn’t get in the way while belaying, and a two-way zipper made for easy access to my harness and belay device.
I tested a size small in the Stance Belay Parka, which was true to my usual sizing in other BD apparel. The fit is loose enough to accommodate a couple of robust layers (even a thin down sweater) underneath, but it tapered nicely around my waist and hips. And, there was plenty of room across my climber-sized shoulders and back.
My only gripe with the fit was that the sleeves were a few inches too long—though, as I have a negative-2 ape index, I can’t be too critical here. This might be a positive feature for female climbers more gifted in the reach department than I.
Beyond belaying, I wore the Stance for all the usual cold-weather climbing trip activities—afternoon beers at camp and making breakfast while waiting for the sun. I also loved using the two big interior pockets to keep my shoes warm between pitches, and the roomy hood fit easily over a beanie or helmet.
Getting Down with Synthetic Insulation
Down is just comfy. You know it and I know it. A big down coat is like being wrapped up in a warm childhood memory.
Usually I prefer down with its superior warmth-to-weight ratio and packability, but the Primaloft-filled Stance has me reconsidering that preference. In addition to being more versatile in a wide range of conditions, from wet and damp to windy, Primaloft is much more economical than high-loft down. I tested the Stance in some icy winds that whipped across the cliffs of St. George this winter, and I didn’t experience any wintry infiltration of my warm cocoon.
Another benefit of synthetic insulation is that it’s easy to wash. No need to walk around town with a dusty, dirt-coated coat. I ran my Stance through the machine after my dog used it as a bed in Joe’s Valley. I didn’t need to employ tennis balls or special detergents either. I just ran it on a cold, gentle cycle, then tossed it in the dryer on low. When I pulled the Stance out it looked like new, and I didn’t notice any damage to the PrimaLoft filling.
The Stance Belay Parka is definitely heavier and less compressible than similarly warm, down-filled jackets. But, for me, these weren’t huge drawbacks since I spend most winters climbing at areas with short approaches and I don’t mind cinching the Stance to the top of my pack. If you’re more ounce-conscious or need a jacket that can pack down to the size of a tall-boy, look elsewhere.
The Stance strikes an ideal balance of warmth to bulk, keeping me really toasty but never leaving me feeling like the Michelin Man’s girlfriend.
At $300 the Stance Belay Parka felt like a reasonable investment to extend my climbing season through the coldest months. So far, it’s holding up well to all sorts of cragside abuse, and a few trips through the washer with no signs of wear.
If given the option to swap the Stance for a comparable down jacket, I’d keep the Stance for it’s functional fit, wind-killing design and wet-weather versatility. I feel like I’ve found an excuse-killer of a jacket to keep me climbing this winter, so hopefully this will be the year that I finally come into spring feeling fit.