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A true conservationist is a man who knows that the world is not given by his fathers, but borrowed from his children.

- John James Audubon

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Reviews

Jul 03, 2019

Gear Review: Dark Peak NESSH Jacket

Buy one, give one. A Sheffield, UK-based startup outdoor brand brings the one-for-one business model to outdoor clothing.

WRITTEN BY

Apoorva Prasad

Does the world really need another [insert new clothing or gear item]? After more than a decade as an outdoor journalist and having hit the floor of trade shows year after year, I found it impossible to show any kind of genuine excitement or interest over the latest [insert marketing-driven fancy-word-for-a-zip-or-waterproof-layer]. For years now I’ve been content with a few pieces I’ve acquired over the years that have proven their worth. A bomber Millet down jacket for hardcore use, an Arcteryx ultra-light shell for alpine climbing among others. The cold, hard truth is, apart from the invention of some very lightweight and strong fabrics, incrementally improved waterproof-breathable inserts and coatings; clothing technology has not significantly advanced in the last decade or so. Whatever we do, 99% of the consumer population who buy outdoor gear or clothing don’t need anything beyond what already exists and has existed for a while. Making and buying new stuff simply perpetuates a flawed economic model that encourages consumerism and is bad for the planet.

So what the world does need is a better business model.

When Dark Peak reached out to us to do a review of their Kickstarter-launched NESSH down jacket, we were, therefore, intrigued not because of the impressively complete tech specs of the product itself, nor the genuine credentials of the team – those were a given for any new product today – but by their mission and business model.

  1. A reasonably priced jacket that sells direct to consumers – unlike mainstream brands, built around a lot of marketing and distribution costs, requiring the company to sell even more simply to justify their model.
  2. Buy one, give one away to someone who really needs it. Just like well-known consumer brands Tom’s and Warby Parker, Dark Peak donates a new jacket (via homeless shelters) for every jacket sold on their website.
Press Photo

This model is not new, of course, given that Tom’s has been doing it since 2006. However, the outdoors industry – a USD 800+ billion behemoth – has, for the most part, refused to leverage its size to genuinely do good in the world. So it was a refreshing change to hear Dark Peak’s pitch and note their Kickstarter success.

Cut out the expensive retail spaces, middle-men, third-party licensing fees and so on, and you get a high-quality product (it is made in Asia, like all other major brands) at something like half the price.

The jacket they give away is not the same as the one you buy, of course. It’s non-branded and made with different, less performance-oriented but equally warm, weather-resistant materials. Given our own beliefs at The Outdoor Journal, we felt this deserved a real review.

Dark Peak launched the jacket on Kickstarter, blowing past their goal of £15,000 to eventually raise £107,084.

It took a little while to get my hands on the actual jacket – shipping couriers seemed to have some problem with my address in Helsinki, Finland, which is where I tested it over the winter. In other words, yes, the weather was cold.

I received a maroon colored, lightweight NESSH (UK S, US XS size) jacket that came with some very positive first impressions. The build quality and shape were almost better than I initially expected. But I was genuinely struck by the weight or lack thereof. A 340g winter jacket is very, very light indeed. It comes complete with details that are more common in the higher-end models of more mainstream and expensive brands. Integrated wrist gaiters with thumb loops? Check. Two-way YKK zips? Check. 10D Nylon shell inside and outside? Yep. 850 fill down with hydrophobic coating? Check. (The company says that the down is “responsibly sourced” and certified by Responsible Down Standard). You can also choose to get the same jacket with 3M synthetic insulation too, should you prefer that (or spend more of your outdoor time in wetter conditions).

The jacket is clearly made for outdoors people (in other words, shaped to fit your body, and not built like a rectangular sack, unlike many a brand. I find it almost impossible to fit in many other jackers, which, understandably, seem to be built for people who have bulging middles and larger waists than shoulders).

If you haven’t spent time in Helsinki, Finland, well, the weather in winter is a bit weird. It can go from -20 C to 0 C overnight – and then repeat the thermometer yoyo again and again. It was almost disconcerting to have such a lightweight jacket on while going about daily life, but it worked as long as it was not too deep in the negatives. More importantly, it worked while I was active, including a bit of skiing and ice-skating – in fact, it was a great deal more lightweight, athletic and comfortable than most of the major brand-name jackets I’ve used or own. That may relate to the fit and cut – in general, I fit better in the UK or European brands than US ones, which is a function of body type – but it felt like the Dark Peak team had made an effort to build a product that is genuinely for outdoor enthusiasts, and not the average retail consumer (think about it – bigger brands need to sell to the widest possible audience to maximize revenues and profitability). While I haven’t taken it on an all-day, multipitch climb yet, so far it really feels like this may soon become my favorite warm layer to have with me, assuming the jacket survives the shred. I’m really quite curious to put it through the serious beating in my pack and up a climb, later in the year.

Press Photo

Dark Peak’s jacket genuinely feels like a very high-quality, ultra-light high-end 850 down jacket, the kind you’d usually buy from a well-known brand like The North Face or similar and expect to pay nearly twice as much for. And the fact that they’ve indeed gone with the one-for-one business model, makes Dark Peak’s NESSH a jacket we’ll recommend without hesitation. Go buy yours on their website here.

Pros: A highly affordable, high-quality technical jacket backed by a purpose-driven business model.

Cons: The website feels incomplete and buggy. The athletic cut and shape and technical nature of the jacket may not be for everyone, or appropriate for business meetings!

Rating: 5/5.

Full Disclosure: The Outdoor Journal received one NESSH jacket for the purpose of this review.

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Athletes & Explorers

Oct 29, 2019

Book Review: Tales from the Trails

From the top of the world to the end of the earth, essays from a marathoner’s odyssey to compete on every continent and the lessons learned of friendship, life and pushing past borders

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WRITTEN BY

Douglas Baughman

In the predawn moonlight, 65 adventure runners, wearing headlamps to hack through the darkness of the dense taiga forest and backpacks outfitted with provisions for survival in the probable—or at least, historical—event of calamity, gathered under a makeshift banner for the start of the annual Sunrise to Sunset Marathon in Khovsgol National Park in the far north of Mongolia.

Read next on TOJ: Solo Running in the High Himalaya

The course would be treacherous. Already a mile above sea level, it skirts the shores of Lake Khovsgol, known as the “Blue Pearl of Mongolia,” one of the most pristine and ancient lakes in the world, estimated to be between two to five million years old, before climbing another 2,400 feet to Chichee Pass. From there, the race heads south along a ridge, drops into a marshy river valley, then climbs again up to Khirvesteg Pass on an extremely narrow precipice, where a few years earlier an unfortunate runner suffered a spine-breaking fall.

View of Kilimanjaro from Amboseli National Park, Kenya. Photo by Sergey Pesterev.

“The pages of Tales from the Trails are packed with adventure.”

For publishing exec Michael Clinton, it would represent the penultimate challenge in a shared quest with his sister Peg to run a marathon on every continent, seven on seven—the first in London, followed by Buenos Aires, the Gold Coast of Australia, Philadelphia, Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and finally culminating in Antarctica. He chronicles these adventures, and aside misadventures, in an inspiring collection of personal essays from his latest book, Tales from the Trails, often with self-deprecating honesty and humor:

“My confidence was so sufficiently eroded that I wondered if I would ever be able to complete such a challenging course,” he writes in “Mongolian Madness” on the eve of the Sunrise to Sunset race. “All of a sudden, running Tokyo, a normal city marathon on flat roads, seemed like it would have been a much smarter choice! Maybe I hadn’t done enough research or focused on the details, but there I was in the middle of nowhere with nothing else to preoccupy my time except getting my head around how I would find the courage and stamina to conquer this newfound feeling of fear that permeated my whole being. …

It became apparent that everyone was feeling a bit anxious, evident when the gallows humor set in. Who would fall down the mountain? When we learned there could be wolves on the course, we identified who would be the most delicious runner to eat.”

From Tales from the Trails: Runners’ Stories that Inspire and Transform by Michael Clinton, copyright © 2019, published by Glitterati Editions.

For certain the pages of Tales from the Trails are packed with adventure and stories about the transformative power of confronting and overcoming challenges, both common and personal, mental and physical. But if would-be readers expect a book solely about running, they may also be surprised to discover a few pleasant sidetracks. Clinton’s brisk narrative pace makes ample time for an occasional “off the beaten path” anecdote, in true travelogue style, such as the all-out city sprint to find the last sports bra in Buenos Aires, or the matter-of-fact rationale for remaining calm in a Tasmanian rainforest whilst picking leeches from one’s private parts, even tricks to survive seasickness on a creaking Russian vessel crossing the Drake Passage.

In fact, with respect to some of the more poignant passages in Tales, running itself is nearer to a middle-distance metaphor, a means to facilitate connection, whether through introspection or a way of threading together generations of family, such as in “The Irish Surprise”:

“More than forty years since there had been any contact with our Irish family, my sister Peg and I decided to search for our roots there. It had all started with our decision to run the Dublin marathon, a stop on our quest to run races around the world from Mongolia to Argentina. Ireland was a natural choice since it was the birthplace of our paternal grandparents. Little did I know at the time that it would have a profound impact on me in ways I could have never expected.”

…or pausing for life’s precious and fleeting moments in “Time to Run for Your Life”:

“Life’s mantra should be to chase your dreams with a vengeance. What is important to you? Does your family want you to be an accountant, but your true passion is working with animals? Does your partner complain that he or she hates the idea of long flights, but your dream is to go on a safari in Africa?

Too many people argue they are too old to start running or to go back to school or change careers, yet there are countless stories of people who started running in their sixties, finished college in their seventies, or find an exciting third chapter that has turned their hobby into a business. Every single day that you ignore the deep dive into the depths of your soul, you are not being true to yourself, and that is what always matters first.”

From Tales from the Trails: Runners’ Stories that Inspire and Transform by Michael Clinton, copyright © 2019, published by Glitterati Editions.

The second half of Tales from the Trails is reserved for an elite group of contributors—Jean Chatzky, financial editor of NBC Today; George A. Hirsch, chairman of the New York Road Runners and former publisher of New York magazine, Runner’s World and Men’s Health; and Lucy Danziger, former editor-in-chief of Self magazine, among many other distinguished marathoners—each paying tribute to the motivational magic of this oldest and most basic human sport—running.

Tales from the Trails is available at major booksellers and online at Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

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