2011-2012 FlyLow Higgins Jacket
Material: [shell] polyester, Level 5 Dupont DWR coating; [lining] brushed nylon
Fabric Waterproof Rating: not specified
Fabric Breathability Rating: not specified
Hood: yes, fixed
Venting: underarm zips
Pockets: 2 hand, 1 chest
Seams: fully taped
Weight: 1 lb 9 oz
Manufacturer Warranty: limited lifetime
MSRP: $270, USD
Test Locations: Taos Ski Valley, Wolf Creek, Ski Santa Fe
Days Skied: 30+
FlyLow. Not exactly what a parent might tell a kid, but perhaps a slogan to fit these minimalist times. The brand name itself promises more by promoting less; these folks are definitely about coming in under the radar, gently tweaking the more grandiose marketing slogans of the Nike “swoosh” era, and perhaps the self-seriousness of a certain high-flying Canadian theropod….
FlyLow is deservedly synonymous with “simplicity” and “functionality,” but thereby has acquired an inverse adbuster cachet: anti-style as style (funny how these things work). It comes off as a jacket for the 99 Per Centers.
That said, it’s definitely made for the one per cent who really know how to turn ‘em (or just point ‘em). By the company’s own account, the skier they aspire to clothe is that person most of us aspire to be: a certain freeriding ski mountaineer who gets off the highest lift, then looks even further up, before giving in to the lure of the down.
For 2011-2012, FlyLow offers two men’s shells to choose from: the ”Quantum” ($360) and the ”Higgins” ($270). Both are popular return hits that have been slightly modified for this year. This review is chiefly about the Higgins, the jacket I have happily skied in this season and will grab here in a minute on my way back up the hill. But in order to get to the Higgins, we need to go through the Quantum, and take a look at the fair alternative it represents.
The “Quantum” fills the role of the classic technical hard shell and carries a 20K waterproof rating and somewhat asthmatic breathablity to match (although ultimate climate control is best assured by its 15 inch pit zips.) Hydrophobes will feel secure within its carwashproof confines: every seam is flawlessly taped, zippers are exposed, YKK waterproof.
Further evidence of thoughtful design includes an iPod pocket that is accessible from outside, but allows ear buds to route from within. There are ample mesh side bins for climbing skins, face masks, and such. The powder skirt is detachable and stowable in place and the hood is an uncomplicated and cooperative helmet blanket.
The Quantum is a well-designed, no frills envelope, and certainly worth considering, especially at a price more than a hundred less than some offerings in this category. But therein lies the rub; for me, a technical hardshell has legitimate appeal to individuals who foresee themselves enduring some form of weather hell, either while skiing when the lifts are afraid to run or ice-climbing in blizzards (or skiing in the Pacific Northwest, of course.) And in that scenario, you’d be “self-limiting” (i.e. suicidal) to get hung up on cost or issues of proletarian style.
For everyday laps in or just beyond the resort, I was more intrigued by the Quantum’s little sibling, the FlyLow Higgins. I speculated that the name was a nod to the “CJ Higgins” hickory skis sold in the old Sears Catalog (and now gracing countless ski chalet mantelpieces.) Turns out, it’s even quirkier. “We were looking for a jacket to go with our Magnum pants, and Higgins was Magnum’s buddy from the TV show,” related FlyLow founder and president, Dan Abrams. (Thanks, 80’s television!)
All the same, this is significant. FlyLow made their name on their pants, so it bodes well that the Higgins is cut from the same stuff: the three layer Intuitive fabric, 90% nylon with a hint of spandex for busting a move, a 10k/10k hydrophilic membrane, and a “brushed tricot” lining for additional warmth and wicking.
This combo puts the Higgins squarely in the hybrid shell category, the jacket is neither hard nor soft. Unlike with the hard guys, here there’s no sheen, no quacking with every move, and breathing and stretching come with a little more ease. And this is where things get interesting, because in this practical, real world category, the Higgins comes in almost $200 under the magnificent Arc’teryx Venta MX. And here, when conditions allow, you can survive without it.