Fit and feel are the most important features in any piece of clothing that I will bring into the mountains, and this is where the Valandre Troll down jacket stands out. Valandre designed the Troll around 56 anatomically shaped baffles, enclosed by a smaller inner liner and a larger outer shell, which allows the 850+ fill power down to loft more fully. Valandre claims that this creates a “cozy vacuum sensation, making the jacket feel weightless.”
I am skeptical of gear manufacturers’ flowery techno-speak; what would a “cozy vacuum” look like? When I initially donned the Troll, I noticed that the 24.7 ounce jacket felt nice and light, but weightless? I don’t know about that. I must say, however, that Valandre’s claims of superior loft and articulation stand up to real-world experience. Simply put, this jacket lofts better under all conditions than other down jackets I’ve used, and the resulting warmth it creates is impressive.
Over a couple of months, I wore the Troll jacket nearly daily around town and in the mountains of Idaho and western Montana. In Valandre’s words, the Troll jacket feels like a “warm, embracing, mirror image of your naked body, complete with effortless full range of motion.” Seems a bit overreaching, and why do they have to bring my naked body into it? But once again, Valandre’s marketing claims held up to scrutiny. The jacket looks like a sleeping bag, feels like a puffy cloud, and has nearly perfect articulation.
The Troll jacket is more durable than many of the lightweight options on the market, which I found to be refreshing. There is nothing worse than brushing up against a rock and watching a white stream of down rushing away in the wind. Valandre uses a multi-stitch pattern on the zipper baffle to prevent from snagging on the fabric, and the feature worked exactly as advertised, proving its worth every time I put the jacket on. The hood fit perfectly for me–with a helmet and without. In addition, the collar zips above your nose, protecting you in the extremes of high wind and heavy precipitation.
The Troll has been a nearly perfect winter belay parka for me, but there are two features that could be added or improved to warrant a five-star review. In my experience, large internal drop pockets are an essential feature of any belay jacket, and I expect the pockets to easily hold a pair of gloves while I attempt to dry them out. Many climbers put 1-liter water bottles in these pockets. The Troll does have internal chest pockets, but they measure only 6-by-8 inches, and are not pleated to allow for bulky items. You can fit one glove in each pocket, but even then you’ll probably find it to be a finicky operation, something I do not want to deal with on a big north face. Another feature that I consider essential is a pull cord at the hem to block out drafts. Although the troll inexplicably lacks this feature, I never felt cold air entering the jacket from below. The trim fit at the waist seemed to do an adequate job of blocking drafts without the aid of a closure mechanism.
For some, it is important that a belay jacket zip into its own pocket, but I have never liked this option. I find it quite difficult to stuff a coat into its own, typically undersized pocket–when climbing a 20-pitch route, I just don’t have the time. Instead, I prefer to find a stuff sack with a hang loop in the correct size, and I can stuff the puff quickly and hang it on my harness. At any rate, the Troll does not offer an integrated stuff sack, so you’ll have to come up with a method of your own. As a side note, I would stay away from ultralight silnylon stuff sacks for this application. They offer very little abrasion resistance, and more than once I have destroyed these ephemeral sacks brushing up against Patagonian granite. It’s not worth the risk of losing your down jacket to save half an ounce.
In comparison to other jackets filled with high-quality down at a similar weight, the Valandre is more expensive–but considerably warmer. Over the last few years, my favorite belay jackets, Patagonia’s Fitz Roy Down Parka and Rab’s Positron jacket, have seen heavy use in the Canadian Rockies, Montana and Patagonia. They are close in weight to the Troll’s 24.7 ounces–22.3 ounces for the Fitz Roy and 27 ounces for the Positron–yet neither comes even close to matching the warmth of the Valandre. On the other hand, you’ll pay over $200 more for this superior warmth and loft.
Like many climbers, I have far more gear than is reasonable for one human to accumulate. There are seven puffy jackets hanging in my gear closet, but if it looks like it’ll be any colder than about 25 degrees Fahrenheit, I’ll be reaching for the Troll every time. If you’re willing to pay top dollar for meticulous quality and the warmest one-and-a-half pound jacket you’re likely to find, you will not be disappointed by the Valandre Troll.
For those who like to know about a company’s practices, Valandre has a 39-year history of making high-end down sleeping bags and outerwear from a small village in the French Pyrenees. Through direct contact with farmers in the southwest of France, Valandre is able to pick out the very best quality of down, harvested from mature, free-range geese, which are not live-plucked–they are slaughtered for their meat as well as down. (“Live-plucking” involves the painful removal of feathers before a bird is killed; some companies–including Valandre, North Face, Patagonia and others–now have sourcing policies in place to avoid this practice.) For more on the history of down jackets and related ethical issues, see this Tool User article from Alpinist 45.
Scott Coldiron is based in Spokane, Washington. He has been climbing for 23 years and has established numerous first ascents in Montana’s Cabinet Range. (Stories about some of those routes can be found on Alpinist.com here, here and here.)
Excellent warmth to weight ratio
Innovative baffle design lofts noticably better than jackets of a similar weight
Outstanding fit and articulation
Two-way, no-snag zipper with baffle
More expensive than jackets of similar weight
No drawstring at the hem
Internal chest pockets are small
No external chest pocket