In search of warmth
I rarely need extra heat. I spend most of the winter in the city wearing shorts and a t-shirt. A walk in the forest, shopping in a bakery or playing football at -15°C? No problem! Mountains – that’s a completely different story. Gore-Tex, down, power stretch and merino wool become my best friends. The way of dressing changes 180 degrees. Adequate heat management is the most important aspect of survival in the mountains. Especially during winter photographing, I can often spend several hours almost motionless after reaching my photographic destination. While not moving the body gives off little heat and thermal doping in the form of additional warmers or down layers is essential.
So far, in winter I used to warm myself up with several layers (merino + power stretch + thin down). This solution has a major advantage – it is flexible. Several layers allow the garment to be better adapted to any temperature. In the mountains, however, I noticed that frequent clothing modifications can strongly affect outdoor logistics. Each change in the configuration of the layers requires the removal of 20-30 kg of weight from the back, additionally exposing the wet body to the cold. It’s neither practical nor enjoyable. Being a person who sweats a lot when going uphill, I decided to test the 2-layer option. A thin t-shirt and / or merino – for approaches, in combination with a thick down jacket – to wear when resting / taking photos. I verified its effectiveness in March 2022 on Breithorn in the Alps or Glacier du Geant at Aiguille du Midi. I took the Cumulus Neolite Endurance jacket with me for testing. Why this particular model? A lot of down, Polish production, i.e. a guarantee of warmth and the highest possible quality of the filling.
- Model: Cumulus Neolite Endurance
- Filling: Polish water-repellent goose down, 850 cuin
- Outer fabric: Pertex Quantum Pro 29 g / m², 10D ripstop, DWR finish
- Inner fabric: Pertex Quantum 29 g / m², 15D ripstop, DWR finish
- Total weight 563g (L) – Verified
- Down weight 265g (L)
Appearance / Build Quality
The appearance of technical clothing does not matter to me as long it is fulfilling its function. However, I must admit that visually the jacket looks great. It’s pretty likeable :) What’s more, I managed to get the red color version, even before it was included in the online store’s offer. Full satisfaction right from the start. Weighing 563g, the jacket holds 265g of hydrophobic goose down, closed in H-chambers, which allows you to think about survival in temperatures lower than -15°C. It is filled with high fill power down (850 cuin). It is widely known that Polish down is the best in the world, so I had no doubts that there was no better place to look for new gear than here. Structurally, the jacket has two outer side pockets, one chest pocket and one inner pocket – all closed with zippers. Additionally, there are 2 open mesh pockets on the inside. The main YKK zipper is solid, it allows you to open the jacket both from the top and the bottom. The hood is large, it can easily accommodate a helmet. It has adjustable cuffs that are also used at the bottom of the jacket. The sleeves are adjustable with velcro straps.
So far, I was able to test the jacket in the Alps and Tatras at temperatures ranging from -16 to 0°C, so slightly above the ones it is designed for. Despite this, at no point did I regret the space in my bag used for carrying it. Anyway, 16×21 cm, it is not really much considering the amount of heat packed in a compression sack. The materials used are of good quality and selected optimally, taking into account the purpose of the jacket. Pertex Quantum Pro, as an outer material, provides a very good balance between lightness, durability and water resistance. Several times during the trip, I happened to hit my jacket with the tip of a trekking pole, which fortunately did not end up with a hole. In winter conditions, the minimum water resistance can be an advantage, although it is not the most important – in extremely low temperatures, we rarely deal with water in a liquid form.
The material rustles a little, but it quickly becomes imperceptible. Underneath it there is a thick layer of goose down. After wearing it, I turned into a character from Michelin ads. It is comfortable. Very comfortable. I felt it even more when I turned the jacket into a sleeping pillow. It is the most convenient one I have used so far. Wearing it, I felt that it is well-cut, shoulders are properly contoured, and that it does not restrict movement. It lies like a glove (I’m 192cm tall, I weigh 86kg – up to 96kg sometimes :) – I tested the L size). Apart from the feeling of a good fit and tight filling of the chambers with down – immediately after putting it on I felt warmth. “Instant warmth” – these are two words that probably describe the jacket best. I could finish my review with that. It delivers exactly what it was designed for. Being used to the cold, I did not think how important this fast heating can be. Usually, after waking up in -15 or -20°C, getting dressed or leaving the tent was difficult and required a large dose of self-persuasion. (It’s cold, I don’t feel like it going out.; Maybe there will be no good weather conditions for taking photos?; For sure, if I sleep for a while, I won’t miss any shots; I will go to the summit at a faster pace, so I will make up for the time wasted on sleeping.. etc., etc..).. There are always plenty of excuses for not leaving your warm sleeping bag for a little longer. Especially at 3 in the morning. In these kind of chilly moments in the Alps, the Cumulus jacket teleported me to Tuscany in two seconds. I could easily take care of the tent logistics or take photos – before I decided to move to another location. Only a glass of wine was missing. It got frozen :)
Interestingly, even at -2°C, wearing a jacket gave +10 to comfort, although I cannot imagine going uphill with a backpack in this temperature (or even at -10). Warmth is essential, but what else? I noticed many of the patents used in the jacket while testing it outdoors. The extended back turned out to be very helpful. The wind was no longer blowing at my kidneys, the jacket did not tuck under the waist belt of my backpack. My previous down jackets had a standard cut. In retrospect – a pity. The Neolite Endurance fit me very well, so although I didn’t have to use the drawstrings, it’s good that they were thought of. They allow the good adjustment to the user’s body shape. Elastic cuffs adjustable with velcro fasteners helped to quickly adjust to a pair of gloves that were currently in use. High guard – in difficult conditions – a must have for every winter mountain fashion collection. The front pockets are great! They easily housed the Fuji GFX 45-100 lens, and even, though barely, the 100-200 one. Not bad! There are a lot of them, there is space to keep lenses, caps and accessories. The only downsize is that, when taking the jacket off, the other layers lacked pockets to accommodate everything that I carried in it.. The zipper sliding also from the bottom, turned out to be very useful when you had to deviate from the route for a moment ;) I don’t know if that was the idea, but it works in practice. An additional advantage of this solution is the possibility of faster access to the equipment carried in internal mesh pockets.
The Cumulus Neolite Endurance jacket has become the basic element of my equipment during winter photographic trips right away. It certainly won’t make waiting for the next winter any easier. Taking into account my requirements, all of them were met:
- Lots of warmth and the possibility to quickly warm up during stops and long photo shooting at one location
- A wide range of pockets and compartments
- Compact compression and light weight
- Workmanship, use of good quality materials with adequate strength-to-weight ratio
- Thoughtful patents (zipper opening from the bottom, extended back, internal mesh pockets, etc.)
For shooting at low temperatures and in other situations where I spent a lot of time in one location – it is perfect. Thanks to it, I was able to focus 100% on what I went to the mountains for, without worrying about the cold. At times I even thought it was… a little too easy. In winter, in the mountains, I usually prepared myself to fight with the elements and instead I got all inclusive holidays in a touristic resort. I will definitely test it in temperatures from -20 to -30°C. However, you will have to wait until the next winter season for the review to be updated. I would not recommend the jacket for long trips with a heavy backpack – although there may be exceptions to this as well. Everyone has different body thermals. The Cumulus down jacket works well for the purposes for which I use it and that is enough for me. If you know what you need (and such knowledge often results from lack of equipment during previous trips), it’s easy to judge whether it will definitely be a good purchase. If you need it, the model I tested will work well in the mountains. If I had something to complain about, it is the price, which is over 1600 PLN ($400). It would be nice to be able to buy these kind of products for 200 or 400 PLN ($50-100), but as with photographic equipment – you get what you pay for.