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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien

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Reviews

Jan 25, 2019

Wild Goose: A Visit to Canada Goose in Toronto

The Outdoor Journal travelled to Toronto to get a behind-the-scenes look at the brand that builds the world’s warmest jacket - and is also 100% made in Canada.

WRITTEN BY

The Outdoor Journal

This article originally featured in the Spring 2015 print issue of The Outdoor Journal.

During yesterday’s morning coffee meeting, The Outdoor Journal’s editorial team discussed the growing number of Canada Goose jackets, to be seen on the streets of New York City. A fashion statement, but not just a fashion statement, a well-tuned piece of technical equipment too. Our Editor-Chief reminded us that a member of our team visited their offices in Toronto a few years ago, and prompted us to revisit the following article.

Scientists wintering in Antarctica wear it. Barack Obama wears a custom-made one. So does top adventurer Ray Zahab, who in 2008 walked unsupported to the South Pole in just under 34 days. Canada Goose makes the warmest jackets in the world. One of their proudest statements is that they’re “100% made in Canada and sold in China”. The country’s minister of finance called the brand a national treasure. So with all the hype, we acceded to their invitation to fly to Toronto to check out what is arguably the best cold-weather clothing anywhere.

I didn’t go to design school, I have a degree in outdoor recreation

Behind a showroom front with displays on the wall including Laurie Skreslet’s Everest jacket from 1982, was a factory floor lined with women behind sewing machines. Swatches of fabric lay in marked bins, and the din of stitching and cutting filled the air – as well as wisps of their eponymous down feathers. Canada Goose was started in 1957 as Metro Sportswear by a Polish immigrant, Sam Tick. Today, it’s run by his grandson, Dani Reiss, and in the last thirteen years their business has gone from $3 million to $200 million; and got invested in by Bain Capital. Reiss’ controversial decision early on to retain manufacturing in Canada is evidently paying off in spades. With international growth, they’re “rebuilding a manufacturing industry that was decimated years ago,” says Kevin Spreekmeester, the brand’s marketing head. This year they’re also planning to be available in India.

We met chief designer Spencer Orr, who calls himself a “professional camper”. “I didn’t go to design school”, he told us. “I have a degree in outdoor recreation”. It shows in their products, which while are popular as fashion statements, more importantly, do the job better than any other.

The heavy-duty – and heavy – Snow Mantra Parka is the warmest in the world, for example – built to withstand a mind-boggling -70°. It’s actually too warm for Antartica summers. If you’ve ever worn one, you can tell it’ll help you survive. The Parka is cut thigh-length for maximum coverage, the coyote fur-lined hood ‘tunnels’ out, and the whole thing is made with what they call “Arctic Tech” fabric, a cotton-polyester blend. They state that the fur is used only when dictated by function. But we ask him, what about the adage – cotton kills in the cold? Spencer tells us that in extremely cold conditions this works fine because there’s no moisture it can absorb, and the fabric is more durable and resistant. From this heritage, you get an entire line of parks and jackets, from the Expedition Parka to the Mountaineer Jacket. Each piece is developed in consultation with staff and Goose People, from its original utility into something that can be worn from the high street to the high mountain.

“Dad, we have the world’s toughest musher in our living room”

“Goose People” are athletes and adventurers who fit the soul of Canada Goose, people like Lance Mackey, champion dogsledder, winner of the gruelling 1000-mile Yukon Quest, and the classic Iditarod. Their selection may seem a bit idiosyncratic, but Spreekmeester explains that the person should fit the soul of the brand and be like a member of the family – Lance, for instance, ended up staying at his place when they were discussing his booming a Goose Person. Ray Zahab is incredibly easy-going in person, when we go for a short hike with him. He explains how he was a fat slob sitting on the couch when he decided to get fit, run across the Sahara Desert (yes, all 4,300 miles of it) before founding impossible2Possible to inspire youth through adventure education.

So what’s in the future? As we watch a parade of products from older to recent lines; it’s evident that Canada Goose is evolving from a highly desirable brand with roots in cold-weather survival, into a more technical, outdoor sports brand. The team works on an 18-month development cycle, and the newer lines of flexible, lightweight down jackets like the Hybridge Lite won the Backpacker magazine award. Their new waterproof-breathable shells with a unique four-way stretch, which we reviewed in the previous issue of The Outdoor Journal, won best in show at Outdoor Retailer. We’re keenly awaiting their upcoming soft shells while sending our assistant editor off to Antartica to test this stuff for real.

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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.

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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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