Tester Feedback on the
Bottom Line: He is selling his previous favorite Jacket.
6 March 2017
Conversation of February 28, 2017
It was clear after speaking with Mike Dean for only a few minutes that he is a hardcore, very serious outdoorsman, and that he would be a very serious, hardcore tester of WeatherWool. We didn't need anyone else testing our All-Around Jac, but I really wanted to hear what Mike had to say about it.
Mike spent his early years in Northern Maine, then 20 years in the US Military. After his career in the Service, Mike lived five years off-grid near Talkeetna, Alaska, where he became one of the first Alaska Hunter Safety Instructors. Hunter Safety Instructor certification in Alaska requires demonstration of a variety of outdoor survival skills. During his time in Talkeetna, Mike also served for years on the Search and Rescue team. After Alaska, Mike passed years living close to Nature in the Colorado High Country. Mike's most recent move was a return to his roots in the North Maine Woods.
Now, at age 60, Mike has a lifetime of experience enjoying, living and surviving in the outdoors, frequently alone, in places and conditions where failure or mistake can be fatal.
Mike's experience has taught him wool is the way to go when conditions can be serious. We quickly found common ground in that belief, and in the belief that Woolpower is the best base layer for cold weather. Mike had never before heard of WeatherWool, but he liked what he found on our website and decided to phone us. Mike and I decided he would test our All-Around Jacket, which he received in January 2017. Mike had told me he'd give it a good test, but I didn't get the specifics until the end of February.
Mike gave me his tester-report during the course of a 90+ minute phone call. Here are the highlights of what Mike told me during that long talk:
Mike strapped on his snowshoes, loaded up a toboggan and towed it about four miles through the snow to his cabin on Squapan Lake. This is a very remote spot. Nothing but the woods and the lake to keep him company. Mike spent about 30 days alone.
Weather conditions included three Nor’easters within one week, resulting in 70 inches of snow and 84 inches in 10 days. Temperatures ranged from -10F/-23C to 45F/7C. There was sun and clouds, still air and winds up to 25 mph (40 kph) and gusts even up to hurricane strength of 70 mph (116 kph). “That coat went thru some serious weather!”, was how Mike summed it up.
Mike had wanted to test the AAJ in rain, but didn't get any. So, he came up with his own plan to test water resistance. On an overcast day with little wind and the temp at 25F/-4C, Mike chopped a hole in the ice of the lake and set the AAJ on the water. After 10 or 20 minutes, the AAJ was still floating, so Mike used a stick and held the Jacket under water for 45 minutes to simulate spending time out in heavy rain. [Nobody ever tested our wool this way, as far as I know! Mike suggested I float one of our Jackets just to see how long it takes to get wet and sink.] After this soaking, Mike felt the AAJ was wet from top to bottom, inside and out. Then Mike hung the Jacket for 15 or 20 minutes. By this time the surface water had disappeared, and Mike shook the Jacket and put it on. He felt a chill … the Jacket was soaked and icy-frigid, after all … but after about 20 minutes he was temperature-stable and good to do chores. “I'll tell you what … that coat can handle it!” Mike said he and his AAJ were good to “Do anything I needed, no problems at all.”
After Mike was satisfied with the results of the soak-test, he hung the Jacket near an open fire to see how long it took to dry … about an hour to dry on each side … Mike felt this was pretty quick, given the situation and Maine's typically humid winter air.
In Mike's view, in the type of situation he experienced alone at the lake, “Your clothes are even more important than your ax and your saw or your knife. If your clothes let you down, you'll freeze to death really fast. I was stunned at the amount of weather that coat can handle. It doesn't matter how much skill you have if your clothes don't work. You may not come back at all. And there are people who don't come back. Clothes are your first line of defense.”
Mike was not only snow-shoeing, which can be extremely hard work on its own, but also dragging a toboggan around because in such deep snow, this is easier than carrying a pack. Also, when you work hard, the first place you start sweating is your back, and with a backpack on you'll sweat more. A winter garment needs to deal with moisture released by the wearer.
“I was there for 4 and-a-half weeks, alone. Cutting firewood will heat you up quickly, and it will also test your clothes. You will see if your clothes are breathing. The colder it is, the better the test. I wore the AAJ for the ax work. There was frost on the outside of the jacket. That tells me that the WeatherWool was letting the moisture out to the outside, which is where it should have been. I wasn't cold at all. It breathes really well.”
“The stitching and the way a coat is put together is a big deal. Nobody else has those slot buttons. It's quality, it won't come loose. It's not a big deal in town, but in the tough stuff, it's important. That coat will last a lifetime. With my use, it will last me 20 years. Most people can hand it to their kids.”
“Synthetic fleece is really famous for getting wet and cold, and you have to cut off your clothes because they are a block of ice. Because it's synthetic, it cannot adjust to your body temperature and keep you warm. Fleece was originally designed for high altitude mountaineering Alpine conditions, to be a light weight on your back. In those conditions, high and dry, it works very well. But now they use fleece for conditions it wasn't designed for. No synthetics can work like wool. Polartec makes most of the fleece, and even their website says it's not designed for getting wet. Fleece doesn't breathe well either, and you can't get fleece around fire. Molten yuck. Serious injury happens.”
“Wool is heavy. Heavy when it’s dry and heavy when it's wet. But sheep can handle an amazing amount of weather. You don't see many sheep frozen to death.”
“There are different types of wool, made to a price point or made to a standard. Yours is to a standard – the best it can be.”
“I have been researching the Jacquard loom you use. That is a serious piece of equipment. A fine, tight weave, more weatherproof. I don't wear raingear. I wear wool. I go fishing in the rain all the time.”
Mike had some very strong closing comments. “I found WeatherWool [online] while looking to replace my Filson Mackinaw. I will never switch brands. I want enough so that if your quality goes downhill, I won't have to worry about it. There is one company's wool that stands out above all the rest, and that's WeatherWool. Go on a serious trip, where you have to depend on yourself. Go, this stuff really does well!”
Mike added that part of his role as a tester is to help make the products better. He would like to see a map pocket on the back of the AAJ and a drawstring around the bottom sweep of the Jacket, just above the spot where the front of the Jacket joins the back of the Jacket.
Mike loves the cold, and one evening he was standing out on the frozen river, drinking a beer. It was very cold and extremely windy. Mike wore Woolpower base layers, a light Filson shirt, the WeatherWool All-Around Jac and his (very tightly woven) cotton Anorak windbreaker over everything. “I was totally warm drinking a beer. Weather slushed that beer [turned the beer to slush] in 15 minutes.”
Mike used to guide in Northern Maine, and he described his gear recommendations and a couple of personal observations and experiences:
After testing WeatherWool, Mike revised his list of clothing for the type of month-long, solitary outings he enjoys:
Mike also felt businessmen are going to love the LYNX Pattern. “You can wear it in any setting. LYNX will work in fields, and will blend right in with leaves and snow. It will disappear if you stay still.” Mike expects DRAB Pants with LYNX AAJ will be a great combination for remaining inconspicuous in Nature but that the same combination will work elsewhere. He said his AAJ is “a really really nice city-level coat. It doesn't look like a hunting coat. I could go to a business meeting and nobody would know I just spent 4 and-a-half weeks in the woods with it. A little brushing and you are good to go. Truth be known, I probably put that coat thru more outdoor use than most anybody would.”
Once the Maine weather warms up, we will try to figure if we can modify Mike's AAJ with the addition of a bottom drawcord and map pocket. But he said we'll think about that later. “I am not giving up my WeatherWool before the end of April.”
Mike added that, on his solo outing, he brought the Filson in case the WeatherWool didn't perform, “But I never needed it. Now I have it up for sale.”
Mike did a little more testing after we had the conversation above. He told me he was out in a steady wind that was measured at 17mph (27 kph) and he could just feel the wind coming through the wool a little bit. So he felt our estimate of withstanding a 15mph (24 kph) wind was just about right. And he agreed 15mph was a good compromise between wind-resistance and breathability. (Like us, Mike has never experienced the Holy Grail of a garment that is windproof and breathable ... and believes a garment that does not breathe well is not acceptable for all-around use.) Mike reviewed this writeup and signed-off on it via email: “I love this coat. The more I wear it the better I like it. Absolutely top of the line and with the hood it's like being in my sleeping bag only walking around. Great AAJ. Love it, Mike”