Parkas are a staple of any alpinist’s wardrobe. But are they overkill for the sport climber who can’t bear to leave their project behind while the rock is still dry? And would that unmatched warmth come at the cost of mobility and functionality at the crag?
The Mountain Hardwear Phantom Belay Down Parka was designed for extreme weather conditions in the high alpine. I wanted to see how this women’s-specific, 800-fill, box-baffle parka would work in rock climbing scenarios as a reliable way to fight physiologically induced aversion to the cold and maintain warmth on the wall even after taking it off to climb.
This jacket came with me through the fall climbing season at Rifle Mountain Park to help me find out how late into the year I could retain enough feeling in my fingers to crimp without popping a pulley.
In short: I needed a way to extend my climbing season into the fall without making myself (and everyone around me) miserable at best and putting us all in danger at worst. The Mountain Hardwear Phantom Belay Down Parka provided enough long-lasting warmth to counter the debilitating effects of poor blood flow in the cold so I could climb and belay safely in sub-freezing temperatures.
- Insulation 800-fill RDS-certified down insulation in a box-wall baffle construction. Supplemental layer of polyester insulation throughout the shoulders, yoke and lower sleeves
- Shell material Pertex 20d Diamond Fuse ripstop with DWR
- Liner material Pertex 20d Diamond Fuse ripstop with DWR
- Hood Insulated, helmet compatible
- Pockets Two handwarmer, one chest, two innner drop
- Incredibly warm
- Durable shell
- Packs small
- Great handwarmer pocket configuration
Mountain Hardwear Phantom Belay Down Parka: Review
The Last Resort
I’m no alpine climber, but that’s not for lack of trying. I can barely make it through the beginning of shoulder season, let alone past that. It all comes down to conditions. The cold and I do not get along. I have severe Raynaud’s Syndrome; the arteries in my extremities overreact in response to the cold by constricting more than necessary and preventing proper blood flow. One thing leads to another until I’m curled up in the backseat after numbing out halfway through my warmup.
It’s not just a matter of comfort but one of safety. More than a few close calls from pulling too hard on frozen fingers have left me too nervous to climb anywhere close to my limit below a specific temperature. I won’t gamble on popping a pulley just because I couldn’t feel it happening.
Belaying also gets sketchy. Don’t tell my partner, but there have been times when I’ve shivered so hard that I lost grip on my Grigri or couldn’t bend my knuckles enough to keep hold of the rope. Not something I’ll ever risk again.
I’ve had to write off cold-weather climbing for the most part to avoid those consequences. That’s a shame because most climbers would do anything to chase the good conditions that come with low temps. I’ve had to take their word for it since I can’t feel the rock. Research says that a warm core prevents symptoms, but no amount of layering did the trick.
Donning the Phantom Belay Down Parka
I took one last chance on cold-weather climbing by seeking out the puffiest of puffies; the Puff Daddy of jackets, if you will. Mountain Hardwear’s new Phantom Belay Down Parka seemed like overkill at first. Fresh out of the box, it is double the size of my torso. Make that triple by the time it had a chance to expand fully.
I questioned my intentions for the jacket, wondering if I really needed something so substantial to stretch my climbing season through the winter. I wasn’t headed up Everest anytime soon, after all.
But overkill for the Average Joe fits the bill for this chronically Chilly Milly. The Phantom Belay Down Parka only looked enormous from the outside. Wearing it felt pleasantly snug and not at all like donning a sleeping bag. My main issue with parkas has been that they’re not small enough to keep me warm without drowning me in down and rendering me completely immobile.
This puffy hugged my body — even my petite 5’1” frame — more closely than most. It fit over a light long-sleeve without leaving space in between for cold air to sneak in. The box-wall baffle design holding in the 800-fill down also helped with that.
This means that the down lives in big boxes of fabric with plenty of room to loft up rather than compressed into pinched pods with copious cold spots at the seams. This design makes box-wall baffle jackets like the Phantom Belay Down Parka so gargantuan, not just the amount of down inside — though that’s nothing to scoff at.
This obviously isn’t a jacket you’ll wear while actually climbing, at least not in single-pitch sport. Think of it as your reward for suffering on the wall, waiting to wrap you in a big bear hug the second you hit the dirt.
That being said, its warmth on the ground lasted throughout the route. Prewarming the core thoroughly made a massive difference in the functionality of my overly anxious arteries. As long as I bundled up before exiting the car, creating a burly barrier between myself and the air from the get-go, the Mountain Hardwear Phantom Belay Down Parka kept the cold from ever settling in.
It really locked in the heat with a quick tug on the waist cinch and hem adjusters. The abrasion-resistant lower back panel made it OK to keep on until the last second before climbing. No worries about roughing it up with gear, chalk, or dirt while you get everything else situated.
I was also a fan of the long hem, which extended even longer than expected on my 5’1” frame. At my local crag, kneebars are more the norm than the exception. That means climbing in shorts all year round. There’s no worse feeling than removing your pants in sub-freezing temperatures to slide on an unforgivingly stiff rubber pad. But the hem covered a good portion of my butt and upper thigh and made that transition just a little more palatable.
Once you’re back down on solid ground, the Phantom Belay Down Parka can do what it does best: facilitate a stellar belay. Cozy stretch-knit cuffs kept the sleeves from sliding around and getting caught up in the belay device. Structured lining along the top seam of the hood prevented it from slipping over the eyes or dislodging belay specs.
Two-way zippers kept the core fully enclosed while allowing the belay loop to peek out. More abrasion-resistant ripstop Pertex fabric along the exterior prevented damage from bad belay stances squeezed between boulders, tree branches, icicles, and more. DWR finish eliminated the need for an outer shell when precipitation paid an unwelcome visit while I waited for the climber to stop milking the rest and get to the top already.
But my favorite feature (OK, second favorite; it’s impossible to beat the warmth factor) is somewhat silly. Every woman knows the struggle of sub-par pockets. What are we supposed to be able to fit in there, a pinky? That won’t cut it, especially given how thin belay gloves have to be to keep hold of the rope.
The Phantom Belay Down Parka doesn’t skimp here. Two huge outside pockets swaddled my paws, gloves and all, in down. They’re deep, but not so deep that my hands felt like they were swimming. The seam ends high enough that they rested on the bottom of the pocket comfortably. It’s a weird thing to appreciate, I know, but you’ll see what I mean.
Two more deep internal stash pockets helped keep gloves handy or shoes warm. If you haven’t tried stashing your climbing shoes like that in between pitches, your piggies are in for a serious treat.
When the sun did peek out enough to warrant a wardrobe change, this behemoth somehow packed down to the size of a loaded burrito. At less than 1.5 pounds, too, there was no harm in bringing it along.
I could clip it to my harness during a sweaty approach or slip it into the water bottle pocket of my pack. Getting it in the stuff sack took a little finagling, so I also liked to roll it up inside the hood for quicker storage when space wasn’t in demand.
Mountain Hardwear Phantom Belay Down Parka: Final Thoughts
I thought I’d never be able to take my love for climbing into the alpine or even into November. But my southern-bred body simply needed more insulation than I’d ever thought to give it. Nothing less than the epitome of puff would satisfy. Now that I have that, I might pick myself out a winter project.
The only nick I could give it is the price. At an MSRP of $550, it is quite the investment, but extending the season for me, year after year, is well worth it.