March 2, 2012

Eddie Bauer North Slope All-Purpose Down Jacket

Relief from the Cold

For those of you that read this blog, it may seem strange to see me writing about a jacket.  However certain photographic situations do require specialized equipment i.e. clothing.  After doing some research into a warm jacket / parka and then receiving this one, I thought it would be helpful to share my findings.

First let me explain what I have used in the past and why I felt a new jacket was warranted.  For a number of years I used a Barbour Arctic Endurance Parka, made from Ventile cloth.  It has a nice style to it and the ventile exterior and interior material is fabulous.  But and this is big but, the parka was very expensive and the construction has many flaws.  Every button and I mean everyone has come off at least once.  The tack stitching at all of the exterior pockets has come undone, also at least once.  The hand warmer pockets are shallow and very high up, making them useless.  The cargo pockets (which are bellowed) are big and hold a lot, but have buttoned closures and nasty little metal grommets on the inside that get stuck on your finger nails.  With the buttons and stitching always coming undone, well you get the picture.  To be really warm in the Barbour, I always wore a very heavy Norwegian fisherman’s sweater underneath.  Going from the cold outside into a warm environment meant shedding both and then putting both back on to go out again, a bit inconvenient to say the least.  The Barbour has sat in the closet all winter awaiting yet another visit to a tailor for repairs (the Barbour cost over $600.00 12 years ago).

For this winter I wore a combination of a light down jacket and wind parka, both from R.E.I. and wearing their brand.  Originally I had bought them for hiking, climbing and landscape photography which required one of the former.  And though they do not appear as durable as the Barbour did, they show no visible signs of wear.  The problem once again is the putting on and off of multiple layers.  But the pockets are great and the fit is also.  Both together cost way less then the Barbour.

So I decided after a particularly cold spell to remedy the problem once and for all.  Thus my search began.  Going online I visited the sites of Marmot, Mountain Hardware, North Face, Patagonia and even Canada Goose.  All were either very expensive and or were not really what I was looking for.  Though there were a few I did like.  The criteria for this search was that I wanted a jacket/parka with a durable outer shell and without the “Michelin Man” look.  Also something a little different, something a little unique from what is out there.

After going to the above mentioned sites, I remembered Eddie Bauer.  My father always swore by them and I remember his old down hunting jackets having a great look and very tough.  At that time (1950’s) it wasn’t a widely known brand, as it was mostly devoted to professional outdoors people like hunting, fishing and mountaineering guides.  Also I remember that during the 70’s and 80’s the Eddie Bauer Kara Koram parka was almost de rigueur  for all of the camera operators on film sets.

The reason why I did not go to them in the first place was, that at some point (I believe in the mid 80’s) the company was bought by the people who produced the “Spiegel Catalog”.  They had gone about changing  the brand from one exclusively for professional outdoor people to more of a broader fashion brand, which had made me a little (actually a lot) disgruntled at the time.  In 2009 the brand was taken over again by new owners who have sought to return to the roots of the Eddie Bauer brand.

Finding out that Eddie Bauer was back closer to it’s origins was exciting news.  The next pleasant surprise was almost everything was on sale, yahoo!  Going over the different jackets/ parkas in their line, I narrowed down to three.  Not wanting all three I eventfully chose the subject of this review, the Eddie Bauer North Slope All-Purpose Down Jacket.  This selection process took awhile for a couple of reasons.  First there was only one product photo of the jacket, as opposed to several product and modeled photos of the others.  Also some of the reviews were conflicting about sizing and warmth.  Then of course judging them all to fully realize my needs.

Construction:  From first sight this jacket comes across as a quality item.  The outer shell seems really durable, reminiscent of my father’s old down hunting jackets (from the 1950’s).  In fact looks a lot like the Ventile cloth. The zippers and metal snaps also look rugged and I suspect this jacket should last.  Not having one of the pre Spiegel era jackets to compare it to, I can only go by my memory.  Though it does seem very similar in construction.  The inner lining is of a different material.  Lightweight ripstop polyester, more like what is found on most down jackets these days.  It is very smooth and makes the jacket slip on and off very easily, though does pose the question as to durability).  Some very nice little details were added on, which gives it some extra style and better functionality.  600 down fill from Northern European Goose down is used throughout the jacket, including sleeves and hood.  One thing I really like and that I think is a shame most manufactures omit, is rib knit inner cuffs.  This to me is essential to any jacket, coat, parka that claims to be for cold weather.  There is also a rib knit collar and bottom hem, though the latter seems a little strangely placed and exposed (see photo).  Seems like it could become wet.  Actually in the lineup at Eddie Bauer’s are enough jackets and parkas to satisfy most everyone and their needs, including some cool looking retro models.  The North Slope jacket however turned out to be the one I was looking for.  Of course the only way to really determine how well constructed the jacket is, is for time to tell.

Pockets:  A few reviewers mentioned the smallish size of the pockets.  I have fairly large hands (always need XL size gloves) and I do not find the pockets too small.  In fact even with my insulated gloves on or stuffed into the hand warmer pockets there is still room.  The upper “stuffs” pockets are well placed for extra things and are out of the way when my hands are in the hand warmer pockets.  The pockets are big and deep enough to place some smaller prime lenses in.  There are two snaps to keep the flap secured on the “stuffs” pockets and zippers on the hand warmer pockets.  The lining in the hand warmers are micro fleece and a satin like polyester in the “stuffs”.  The inside security pocket has a snap and is also of good proportions.  Though I normally prefer more of the open breast pocket (like those found on a sports coat).

Hood:  Here a number of people have complained about the hood being too big.  It fact it is quite large, although it has two different ways of adjusting it, which I find makes it fit fairly well (which hoods do fit well?).  Besides most times I wear a knit watch cap.  Personally I prefer an attached hood over the detachable ones.  The hood as I already mentioned is fully insulated with down.

Style and Color:  Besides looking for something durable during my search, I also wanted something a little different from the “norm” style wise.  The North Slope Jacket for me full filled that requirement.  It is kind of a cross between an army field jacket, a rancher’s jacket and an mountaineering parka.  In other words unique.  The color is a little greener then how it appears online, but sometimes takes on brownish highlights.  Actually very much like the color of “capers” as it is called.  It would have been nice to have a selection of a few colors, but again the “Capers” color is different from what is out there.  In my accompanying photos, I have tried to adjust color to as close as possible.

Warmth:  Since the jacket arrived the weather warmed up.  So I can’t say in honesty how warm it will be in really cold weather.  However I have gone out in 38-40 F with only a cotton t-shirt on and not zipped up and was more then comfortable.  Normally I would have had a wool scarf, wool hat and gloves on, in addition to two or three layers (I live in the Netherlands where it feels colder then what the thermometer says, because of the wind and dampness, or as the Dutch say “water koud”).  So far so good.  It was one of the criterias of my search as I wanted that one layer simplicity.  Water beads up very nicely and I suspect and believe the claim that it is “waterproof” not just “water resistant”.

Sizing:  As I wrote earlier I found the other reviews of this jacket somewhat confusing when referring to the sizing.  My vitals are 6’2”, 190 pounds, 35” waist, 35” sleeve, 16 1/2” neck and 16” biceps. From most sizing charts I am at the upper end of Large.  However in sports coats I get a 44L and in sweaters, jackets, parkas, etc. I normally get XL, as I like my cloths loose fitting.  Sometimes the XL’s come way too big or not big enough.  So I was a little worried about that.  In the end I ordered an XL Tall.  It fits loose with only a t-shirt underneath, but I am far from swimming in it.  It can accommodate a medium sweater or fleece without restricting movement.  So in size it gives me at least some versatility for that.  The Tall adds about 2 inches in length to the hem line, thus giving it more of a parka feel.  However the Tall also has longer sleeve lengths, which in my case are too long (better too long then too short I suppose).  Most likely had I ordered the Large model it would have given me more of a “fitted” look.  And in Regular shorter sleeves and more like a jacket.  From the photos you should be able to get an idea about the sleeve length and overall size fit.  Sizing of course is up to personal tastes, but I feel Eddie Bauer in this jacket have sized it accurately for most body types.

Changes?:  Mmmm, there are a few.  First change would be the rib knit bottom hem, it would be better to have it recessed, less vulnerable.  Possibly a different interior material, what though (cotton I feel would be best)?  Maybe double the exterior fabric at the elbows and yokes, but of course that would make it heavier and besides another jacket of theirs has it.  Change the zippers to brass from whatever metal is used, for anti corrosion and ease of use.

The jacket is made in China (what isn’t), of course most of the other brands also have their things made there.  However the other manufactures never seem to reflect the lower wages of the Chinese workers in their pricing.  My North Slope jacket was on sale when I bought it.  But regularly it is I believe$229.00 for Regular and $249.00 for the Tall, which to me given the competition and quality is a bargain to begin with.  Just after purchasing mine, the jacket moved from “Sale” status to “Clearance” status, oh well can’t win them all.

The new owners of the Eddie Bauer brand name should be commended for trying to bring back the quality and spirit of the original brand.  And of course for their fair pricing.

If like me you are looking for a good, warm jacket, which is durable and does not restrict movement, then try this one.  It gets my full recommendation.  It is obvious that a lot of thought went into it’s style, functionality and construction.

Side view, showing fit.





Nice detail here with inner rib knit cuff


Lining, hood and rib knit collar


Detail of exterior pockets


The rib knit hem, the part I don’t understand.


Discreet Logo, another nice touch.