By Matt Westby
When I started looking for a lightweight down jacket, I had my heart set solely on the Rab Neutrino Endurance, a jacket that for many is the benchmark in this class.
It is light, boasts a strong fill power and comes with a Pertex outer shell. I had a friend who had recently used it on Aconcagua and he was full of praise for its performance in high-altitude conditions.
But there’s one sticking point: you’ll do very well to get it for under £200.
If I had to spend that, I would, but I wanted to size up its competitors first, and that’s when I came across the Mountain Equipment Vega.
Not only is its total weight lighter (535g against the Neutrino’s 625g), but it is packed with more down (250g against the Neutrino’s 225g) and you can get it for as little as £150. The fill power is slightly less (750 against the Neutrino’s 800), but for a saving of between £50 and £70 against the Neutrino, I was happy to make that particular sacrifice and went for the Vega.
Out in the elements, it has more than justified my selection. Despite being so lightweight, it boasts that putting-a-duvet-around-you feel that bigger jackets offer, but without making you feel like the Michelin man. It is very unrestrictive and, subsequently, is ideal for technical mountaineering use.
It also does its fundamental job admirably: keeping you warm. I’ve worn mine in temperatures as low as -10C and while I wasn’t exactly toasty, I certainly wasn’t shivering either.
As for its water resistance, the Drilite outer coating works terrifically well. I’ve always tried to keep my jacket as far away from rain as possible, but on one occasion I couldn’t avoid it and ended up walking in my Mountain Equipment Vega for about ten minutes in torrential rain.
It came down so heavy that by the time I got back to shelter I was resigned to the fact that the down would be wet. However, I shook the jacket and marvelled as all the water flew off, just as it would from a bin liner. I woke up the following morning and it was completely dry, as if nothing had happened.
The one question mark I’ve found about the Vega so far is the fill power – and I discovered this in the most innocuous, almost embarrassing way. Keen to keep my bills down, I tried to get as far into one winter as possible without using the heating in my home and softened the blow by sitting in my front room in the Mountain Equipment Vega.
Naturally, it did the heating’s job for me, but what I found over the course of a couple of weeks was that the down at the back of the jacket, which was squashed when I was seated, wasn’t filling back out day to day. Only after being shaken and left hung up for a few days did it fully recover.
That said, you’re unlikely to be sat with a certain part of your jacket compressed for hours on end on a trip or expedition, and who’s to say the Neutrino and other heavier down jackets wouldn’t suffer in the same way.
The only other tiny gripe I would have is that the front collar rides up so high that it can get a bit irritable under the chin, particularly for a man with stubble, but I guess that’s picking bones in the extreme.
Overall, I’ve been really impressed by the Mountain Equipment Vega and haven’t regretted my decision to opt against the Neutrino once.
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