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Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket: A Slim-and-Trim Synthetic Belay Parka

Posted on: March 27, 2015


The author putting on the Dunkley as he nears the first belay in Hidden Gully, a 650 foot WI3, in Smugglers' Notch, Vermont. [Photo] Chris Van Leuven

MSRP: $299.99

Bluebird days are so rare in Vermont that an overnight low of -18 degrees didn't dampen my enthusiasm for a day of ice climbing at Smugglers' Notch on Mt. Mansfield. I wore a Big Agnes Dunkley Belay Jacket, a slim-and-trim synthetic belay parka, to keep warm if our pace slowed or we lost the sun.

The approach sped by in a blur of sun and sweat. I maintained warmth as we put on crampons, grabbed ice tools and started climbing. After 300 feet of snow slopes and ice bulges, we neared the last pitches and roped up at a belay stance. I hunkered down in my Dunkley jacket as my partner led.

The well-insulated hood with small brim, worn over a helmet, provides great coverage while preserving peripheral vision. [Photo] Ryan Rossi

My hands and feet chilled within minutes, but my torso stayed warm with the jacket's 120 grams of Pinneco Core synthetic insulation. The lighter sleeve insulation, with 80 grams of Pinneco core, kept my arms warm enough too while belaying. Innovative vertical baffles in the Dunkley jacket increase its loft and thermal efficiency, making it seem warmer per gram than many other puffy jackets.

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The insulated hood is a favorite feature. It fit over my helmet and blocked the wind, but, because of a curve on the hood's side, it didn't block my peripheral vision. The hood easily adjusts with one pull-tab behind the head and two on either side of the chin. I should have swapped out gloves and used the two interior mesh pockets to warm and dry my wet gloves. The pockets, scooped in the top hem, are easily accessed without looking, which may have saved me from getting the screaming barfies.

I left the jacket on for the first pitch since I was cold. I liked its slim fit and the way it didn't grab and bunch when I swung my tools. It didn't inhibit movement as I re-racked ice screws on my harness, a problem I've had with bulkier jackets. The Dunkley is warmer than Patagonia's Das; it is, however, less roomy. My three layers fit well beneath the jacket, but it would have been difficult to fit another layer. To wear heavier layers under the Dunkley, I would bump up one size larger than I normally wear.

The Dunkley jacket's big problem was the exterior chest pocket, accessed via a horizontal zipper. This design should decrease the likelihood of my camera or phone falling out while I access the pocket, but the zipper is difficult to use, even without gloves on, so I avoided the pocket altogether. Its location high on the left chest made it difficult to open with my left hand as well as difficult to use with my right. If the chest pocket were easier to use, I would have awarded the Dunkley five stars.

The Dunkley in the author's seven-liter stuff sack, with ice tool for scale. [Photo] Leighton Johnson

At $300, the jacket is similarly priced to other synthetic belay parkas and offers similar features including compressibility, exterior hand-warmer pockets, draw cord at the waist, and relatively light weight. A medium jacket weighs 23 ounces, same as the Das. I look forward to more winter outings wearing the Dunkley and plan to wear it on early-season rock climbs as well.

Pros: Pros: Warm, climbing-specific cut, warm and protective helmet-compatible hood allows for good visibility, average compressibility and competitive price

Cons: Cons: Exterior chest pocket difficult to use

Rating:

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