30 November 2008

PHD Zeta Belay Jacket

PHD Zeta Belay Jacket

PHD Zeta Belay Jacket image

Outer: Drishell
Weight (g): 915 (oz): 32
Insulation type: Liteloft
Price: £160
I get a lot of people emailing me about belay jackets, after all the concept is one of the most valuable to those who are taking part in stop and go activities, with the over jacket adding considerably to ones survivability. The problem is that most manufactures view this piece of equipment as a pure winter item, which is fine if you only climb in cold places in the winter. Unfortunately for those who climb in the greater ranges, or at high altitudes (even in the alps mid summer), there remains a demand for a belay jacket, meaning they have to trawl the web for old stock. Luckily there is one company that makes belay jackets all year round, better still they make perhaps the best belay jacket on the market, in the shape of the PHD Zeta Belay jacket.

Now I must admit I have a big interest in this jacket, as I helped design and test it back in the late 90’s. The idea was to take the Patagonia DAS parka, which at the time was the best belay jacket on the market (and still is great), and tweak it for hard core use. Working with Peter Hutchinson via a million fax containing scribbled notes and diagrams (pre email), we came up with a jacket that as compact, light, much more weather resistant, and with a good balance between real warmth and ‘over warmth’ (caused when people buy jackets that are two lofty, wasting weight and bulk when a lighter weight jacket would work just as well). We also designed it so hoods would work over helmets, and be removable to reduce weight (it also meant you could use it as an over blanket on a bivy, yet remove the hood and still wear it). Unlike the DAS we had a velcro flap over the zip, so you could throw it on and off without having to use the zipper, with a short zip which was easy to do up when wearing a racked up harness, and leave the belay loop free. Other features included wide arms so they would slip over mitts, lots of reflective tape for night navigation and identification, taped and reinforced shoulders, and a dozen other little features you probably wouldn’t even notice.

The first jacket the was made was the Delta belay, which was made of down, and used very effectively by Jules Cartwright on many of his trips (including The Knowledge on Hunter), but down just wasn’t the right material for a jacket that would conform to the belay jacket principle, and so the Zeta was born.

I took the prototype Zeta to Patagonia in the winter of 2000, and used it on a winter attempt on Cerro Torre, and found it was close to perfect in weight, bulk and features, and I don’t remember once being cold (and it was cold!!!). Once back and in production a lot of top climbers bought the jacket, even though many were sponsored by other companies, and Ian Parnell for example used his one the majority of his big routes while sponsored by North Face, and would agree that the Zeta was indispensable.

Sure the Zeta isn’t laser cut, or feature glued seams or fancy plastic features, but price wise £160 is a good deal for a jacket that’s so well thought out and made by such a small (but groundbreaking company). Best of all the Zeta, like all PHD products, can be customised (more insulation, sewn hood, Waterproof outer etc), which is a pretty rare thing in these days of offshore manufacturing!

PHD sell direct, and will post anywhere on the planet.

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