- Buyer's Guide
Western Rise AirLoft Jacket Review
If you’re like me, you have two obsessions that go hand in hand and find great joy in emptying your wallet: outdoor activities and gear. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no issue spending money on quality products. Particularly when they help me focus on the adventure at hand, whether that’s hiking, snowboarding, rugby, or whatever else I find myself doing. However, as many of us know, it is easy to fall into G.A.S, or gear acquisition syndrome. The result? We end up with wardrobes full of items we don’t use as much as we thought we would.
The team at Western Rise are actively combating that issue with their products. Their belief is that you CAN have a product that fits multiple use cases and excels in all of them. Their newest product, the AirLoft Jacket, is a culmination of that philosophy. We’re really excited here at Carryology to be one of the first to get our hands on a prototype and put it through its paces.
Midlayers have historically been an enigma for me. I have used many that I like, including too many I still own. But I have never had “the one” which I always turn to. I have one which I’ll wear for being super active because it’s stretchy. There is one I will wear for hiking because it’s more breathable. Then there is the one for colder days when I might be more static and it’s a bit warmer. Now all of these that I’ve mentioned are great products that have served me well. But there are many situations where I wish I could have one that would work for me on the pitch, up the mountain, and in the bar. With the AirLoft Jacket, Western Rise are attempting to take you from three (
twelve) jackets to one. The only real question is: have they achieved it?
The design of the Western Rise AirLoft Jacket draws your attention to the lack of branding, something that I LOVE in jackets. It allows the AirLoft to be the chameleon it was designed to be. Western Rise are producing it in three colors: Black, Olive, and Blue Gray and all three colors will fit the modern gentleman and their lifestyle. Another benefit of these three colors is how seamlessly they will assimilate into your gear quiver. Going through my snowboarding and hiking gear, I couldn’t find one pairing that didn’t work. It might sound silly, but not having to change your whole aesthetic after one new acquisition is a good thing! I’ve been using this for about a week now, and it goes just as well with my jeans at the office as it does with my hiking trousers or sweatpants.
Personally, I also enjoy that on this pre-production model all of the features blend in. There are no contrasting zips, no shiny metal buttons, just clean matte black hardware. As aforementioned, this fits into the minimal branding preferences I have. I’m more concerned about my products working, rather than being a walking billboard. The tailored fit perfectly blends the active “slim fit” you see on outdoor products and the regular “boxy” fit you often find on casual streetwear. This jacket is slender enough to stay out of the way when you’re being active. But it also allows you enough room to fit a shirt and sweater underneath for a stroll to the pub. The clean matte finish is handsome. It complements the clean non-branded exterior. Plus it avoids that “LOOK I DO THINGS OUTSIDE” vibe that some products can give off.
When we talk about jackets that do it all, that is the most critical part: they actually have to do it all. The AirLoft does. During my week of testing, I’ve worn it hiking, coaching and walking to town. The AirLoft is unique in its thermal performance. It really does keep you warm in the windier, cooler days, but also breathes incredibly effectively while “under load”.
I was running a dead-ball kicking clinic in 50°F and it involved plenty of running, kicking, and general aerobic activity. It kept me cool in the moments of exertion, but warm when the gusts inevitably came. I didn’t find myself unzipping or taking the jacket off at any point during those two hours. That really impressed me. I can’t tell you how many other similar insulated layers I have used that end up on the ground by my bag when I start to sweat, then I have to run over mid session if I need to warm up. It might not sound like a big deal, but it is an inconvenience. Western Rise focuses on the philosophy of less is more and the premise of being fully engaged; this jacket allows you to do that with great ease.
Now it’s time to get comfortable because the science behind the Western Rise AirLoft Jacket is equally impressive and intriguing. Western Rise mentions on their Kickstarter project that this jacket is from the 21st century. It’s easy to see why they say that based on the materials they’ve chosen. The long and the short of it is that most synthetic insulation was designed and developed decades ago. The US army invented Primaloft in the 1980’s. DuPont developed cluster fiber in the first few decades of the 1900’s (before The North Face reinvigorated it in their ThermoBall product line in 2008). And so on and so forth.
Many outdoor companies have found ways to use said synthetic insulation more efficiently, but there is often a caveat. Maybe side panels are made from different materials, a lightweight outer material, or even a hybrid mix. While individually these products have their use cases, and achieve some goals, there isn’t truly one all-rounder that can cover the bases. The AirLoft fixes that by using 3DeFX+, a synthetic insulation which tackles the traditional issues in a fascinating manner.
Simply put, four different coil-shaped yarns allow for two key factors in an active insulation layer: stretch and heat retention. The different coil shapes of the fibers allow a maximum amount of air to be trapped for excellent thermal efficiency. In the same breath it allows increased flexibility and stretch (one of my favorite features).
This insulation also eliminates fiber migration, such as feathers poking through in a down jacket, or synthetic fibers coming through the inner liner. This in turn increases the durability of the product. Traditionally, insulated jackets will try to combat fiber migrating by the use of ‘down proof’ fabrics with zero CFM (cubic feet per minute). The obvious downside of such material? No breathability. Western Rise have removed the need for that extra layer by the use of 3DeFX+. The absence of these extra construction layers means the jacket becomes lighter, stretchier, and more breathable. This technical side is critical because it is what makes the jacket so effective.
As wonderful as the insulation is, if you’re going to build a jacket with such incredible bones, you can’t skimp out on the shell either. You don’t put a bumper sticker on a Bentley, as some say. The Primeflex® exterior fabric works with the insulation and provides a four-way stretch that allows you to move freely and provides good weather and stain resistance. I’m 6ft, 200lbs with a 44″ chest. In my time using the AirLoft I didn’t once have that dreaded shoulder stop when moving (you know, the one when you’re convinced something’s going to give!?), even in a sample that is a size down from my usual.
While this isn’t 100% waterproof (nor does it claim to be), it handled two hours of consistent medium rain with ease. After my initial shake when returning home, it was dry within 30 minutes. The Western Rise AirLoft Jacket surpassed all of my expectations when it came to performance. This feels like a big achievement after years of “I love X and Y about this jacket, I wish it had/did Z…”
When we think of our favorite clothing or gear we own, there’s always a feature that makes it our go-to. For example, my favorite bodywarmer has a high neck collar that I love and can’t find on other vests. So even though it’s battered and not the newest of the new, it is my go-to. On the AirLoft Jacket, this feature for me is the catch pocket. Traditionally seen on hunting garments, the catch pocket runs across the back of the jacket and can store multiple things with consummate ease. In my testing I managed to use the catch pocket for the following items at different times: 26oz water bottle, wallet, Kindle, notebook, gloves, baseball hat.
Now I’m not saying this is a Mary Poppins pocket that you can shove anything and everything into at once. But it is incredibly useful, and something I find myself turning to more and more with each use. It’s particularly nice, for example, to have your water bottle with you on a walk, but not have to carry it in your hand, or to have your Kindle accessible while waiting in the doctor’s office. When not in use, this pocket is out of sight and out of mind. It also doubles as the packing pocket for the jacket when traveling. In fact, all of the pockets on this jacket are low profile and sleek, much like the matte finish I mentioned earlier. They’re useful sizes and don’t dominate the shape or aesthetics of the jacket.
Other thoughtful features include a smooth two-way VISLON zipper (this should be a law for any active jacket!), a drop tail, recessed elastic cuffs, and easy customization by cinch at the hem and the hood.
Worth your hard-earned?
I was excited when I got to lay my hands on the Western Rise AirLoft Jacket. You may have gathered that I’m a bit of an apparel fiend (if you still don’t believe me, my wife can corroborate). I think I probably have more midlayers than any person really needs thanks to my quest for a true all-rounder. With the AirLoft, Western Rise have come as close as I’ve seen in my years of gear obsession.
Essentially, they’ve taken everything consumers love about the recognized midlayer success stories, seen what doesn’t work, fixed it, and added some extras too. It just works really well, whether that’s up a mountain chasing vistas, or in a pub garden sharing stories. Honestly, I’m not surprised. Will and the team at Western Rise are self-confessed fabric geeks and they’ve always wanted to create products that allow people to be present and excel in their pursuits at any given moment. At this moment in time, they could have a giant killer. And it’s well worth backing.