Thursday, December 30, 2010

Gear Review: First Ascent BC-200 Jacket (Updated)

Who knew the invisible man had a career in modeling?

When I used to think of Eddie Bauer, I thought of a crank powered radio that I bought at their outlet store.  It was somewhere between the flashlight key chain and the battery powered tire pressure gauge in their novelty item section.  I also thought of the Ford Explorer that had their name plastered on it.  In short: they were a store of gimmicks.

Fortunately for outdoor enthusiasts, it appears that one of their gimmicks has unwittingly led them into offering a solid line of clothing and one awesome jacket.

Border Patrol or Soccer Mom?
For me, Eddie Bauer has always represented the New Jersey suburbanite version of "being outdoorsy".

They are a barn jacket over a safari vest with an Indiana Jones hat for a trip in the Ford Explorer to Harold-Parker State Forest to cook filet mignon on the hibachi while watching America's Funniest on the portable television surrounded by tiki torches and sparklers.

I detested the place almost as much as J Crew.  That is, until I discovered their First Ascent line.

As described on their website, the entire line was designed with the guides at Whittaker Mountaineering to be "Simple. Functional. Light. Durable. Everything you need. Nothing you don't."

Scotch or Aron Ralston's Urine?
Before you start to think I'm a spokesman or have let my Arlington zip code affect my judgment, let me say that I still think that they are gimmicky.  I mean, any place that sells a lead crystal decanter set, stag dessert plates, and dog tumblers, alongside their denim jeans and plaid shirts has identity issues.

Between the gimmick and useful universes lies the Nerf football.
Indeed, hiring world renowned climbers to design a line of clothes and then wear them to the top of Everest is in itself a gimmick.  It makes for nice promotional photos and videos, but the proof is in the pudding.  How is the product? 

I think that they've finally outwitted themselves and come up with an entirely useful line of gear for people who actually like to be outdoors.  It's almost as if they went beyond some critical mass of gimmick and unleashed a wormhole into a parallel universe where they sell useful, thoughtful and durable outdoor wares.
"Okay, now give me the banner for Mighty Taco."

It was about a year ago that I finally entered the wormhole and found myself trying on some of their First Ascent gear.  It started with their Igniter jacket and a fleece pullover.  After surviving a frigid night in these, I bought some of their merino wool baselayers.  Slowly they reeled me in.  They set the hook, however, with the BC-200 Jacket.

At eleven ounces, the bag that carried them out of the store was heavier than the jacket itself.  The three-layered material is wind/water proof and breathable up to 20K.

"What is 20K?" you ask.  Don't ask.  Just know that 20K is better than 5K, every time, all the time. (Okay, just in case you decided to ask.)

My summit photo op.  (Killington)
My experience has confirmed that it sheds water and breathes well.  When I wore it on an early season trip to Killington, the wet snow didn't seep through the jacket, but it also allowed my body heat to easily escape so I didn't sweat or overheat.  On another trip, it repelled 35+ mph winds, keeping me warm while wearing only a thin under layer while skiing.
The three (very thin) layers make the jacket more durable and having tested it during a week of glade skiing at Bretton Woods, it stood up to the occasional branch in the side, or tumble on rough snow.

To keep the jacket light, it is stripped down to the bare essentials.  Two side pockets and a map pocket on the front.  The hood is large enough for a helmet, which also means it will fit my entire head. 

I can't yet attest to its long term durability, but I like what I've seen so far.

Best of all, Eddie Bauer's favorite gimmick is a sale.  Despite the fact that I'm outfitted like a First Ascent model, I have yet to buy a full price item.

Go out and get yours today before Eddie Bauer realizes their mistake and returns to selling only barn coats.

UPDATE (3/1/11):

The long-term durability test is in, and there are a few issues that Eddie needs to address.

First and foremost, the material in the cuff has begun to break down after seven months of light use.  If I had worn this jacket everyday on dawn patrol I could understand some fraying of the cuff material, however I've used the jacket only sparingly in the last seven months.  While troublesome, this issue appears to have an easy solution.  Eddie could simply add a burlier material to the cuff without adding much weight, and without losing any of the jacket's kick-ass weight and breathability characteristics.

In addition, the lettering on the arm of the jacket has begun to peel away.  This doesn't affect the functionality of the jacket and is probably a plus in my column given that I found an uncomfortable amount of writing on the jacket to begin with.  However, I never ran this jacket through a dryer or performed any other related activities which would explain this issue.

These issues (especially the first) led me to ultimately return the jacket, and exchange it toward a burlier Rainier Storm Shell: an exchange that the folks at Eddie were more than happy to perform.  I appreciate ther customer first attitude, and generous return policy.

The Verdict:  The jacket is insanely light, breathable, sheds water and dries quickly.  But, I would hold off on purchasing it until Eddie puts a more durable material it the cuff. However, even if you decide not to take some internet stranger's advice and try it out for yourself only to find the same issues, you can always take them up on their return policy.


  1. I saw a tasty morsel in my local EB store and got a hook stuck in my gills as well. The morsel was the amazingly (cheap) awesome fleece pullover, and the hook in my gills was the BC-200.

    I love it so far but am not sure about using it for back country tele. Deciding to surf the internet for answers (because the internet is always right) I stumbled across your review.

    I'll be honest; I will probably never be back here again. I'm just not a blog follower. But this must be the single funniest and honest review I've seen of this jacket, First Ascent, and EB for that matter. The gimmick wormhole is hilarious; seriously the most accurate way of describing the new line of gear. And you answered my ski question.

  2. Thanks. Since writing this review I also wore the jacket on a backcountry tour on Mt. Ascutney in VT. We did alot of aimless wandering through evergreen shrubs and the jacket held up fine. No rips, tears or other failures. So far so good.

  3. Bought this Jacket and it's amazing. SUPER lightweight and windproof. Best 200 jacket by far. However, I would agree IF i had the money (I don't) I would have baught the Rainier jacket. It's a little more durable and better build quality. All in all, this jacket, when on sale, is still the lightest rain gear you can buy. And on a backpacking trip with 10-20 people, you will still have the coolest and nicest jacket, which is still a win in my book!