Burton [ak] 3L Freebird Jacket
Shell Material: 40 denier, 3 Layer Gore-Tex Pro Fabric with 40 denier Gore Micro Grid Backer
Reviewer: 6’2”, 175 lbs.
- Fully taped seams
- Gore-Seam Tiny Tape (13mm)
- Zippered, Bellowed Chest pockets for Skins
- Internal dump pocket
- YKK Matte water-resistant zippers
- Neck gasket collar
- Water repellant removable powder skirt
- Jacket-to-pant interface
- Lightweight packable design
Days Tested: 30
Test Locations: Maine, Vermont, France, Switzerland, Austria
The 3L Freebird Jacket is the lightest shell in Burton’s “[ak]” freeride line, and is designed for those who spend a lot of their time the backcountry. I usually spend a good chunk of my winter touring on my splitboard, so I was excited to hear about the Freebird’s lightweight Gore-Tex Pro shell fabric, skin-specific chest pockets, and its looser snowboard fit.
Sizing / Fit
I generally wear jackets in a size Large, and the Large Freebird fits my 6’2”, 175 lb frame well. I have enough room to add a mid layer and a thick puffy under the shell without feeling too restricted, yet when wearing just one or two thin base layers, the Freebird’s fit isn’t too loose.
The Freebird is a little less baggy than Burton’s other snowboard pieces, as it’s sleeves are half an inch shorter. While the sleeves cover about half of my hand when my arms are straight down by my side, when I move around and bend my arms, they tend to ride up above my gloves, exposing my wrists. No matter how tightly I cinched the velcro closure, I could never get the cuffs to sit securely on on my gloves. As such, I think the sleeves might actually fit better if they were a tad longer, but others with shorter arms might feel differently. Other [ak] Burton jackets I’ve worn have had wrist gaiters with thumb loops, which I would have liked to have on the Freebird.
My main gripe with the Freebird’s fit is that I found the jacket to be too tight around the lower neck when I fully zipped up the collar. If I had on multiple layers and my thin Mons Royale merino neck gaiter, I didn’t have much room around my neck, which was pretty uncomfortable. The jacket provides plenty of room around the top of the cuff (above the chin), but it was just this one spot, lower down, that felt pretty tight to me.
Waterproofing and Breathability
The Freebird is made with Gore-Tex Pro, a fabric Blister has discussed in detail in other outerwear reviews. If you’d like to learn how Gore-Tex Pro works, and read some comparisons between it and other waterproof/breathable fabrics, I recommend reading our Outerwear 201 article, as well as Sam Shaheen’s review of the Mountain Equipment Tupilak jacket.
I’ve worn the Freebird on a number of snowy days with wet, heavy snow, and the jacket has always kept me dry. However, I should note that while the jackets DWR (Durable Water Repellent coating) was effective in helping the precipitation to bead up and roll off the jacket initially, after just a few weeks of use, the water no longer beaded off and began to saturate the face fabric. Although the water was not soaking all the way through the membrane and getting me wet, the DWR was starting to fail in high use areas around the waist (where my pack’s hip belt sits) and at the wrists. I haven’t re-treated the jacket with DWR yet, but this should help to restore some of the face fabric’s waterproofing.
The Freebird is Burton’s lightest jacket in their freeride line, and is supposed to be quite breathable for high output activities.
I spent most of my time in the Freebird in cold winter conditions on the East Coast and in Europe, and rarely spent a day in it in temperatures above freezing. I’ve been impressed with the jacket’s breathability as a true hard shell. The Freebird’s lighter face fabric, in conjunction with its long underarm pit zips, prevented me from overheating on any hikes. I always try to plan accordingly with my layers when I know I’ll be hiking, and on every day I was wearing the Freebird while skinning uphill or hiking inbounds, I was able to regulate my temperature well and not overheat. This was on cold winter days, though, and I probably would have taken the Freebird off eventually, had I been hiking in warmer spring temperatures.
Warmth and Versatility
The Freebird seems to be on par with other shells I’ve worn in terms of warmth, and I haven’t needed to change up my usual layering scheme. In mid-winter, I typically wear both a light and midweight Mons Royale merino top, and occasionally a back protector-vest. If it is really cold, I will throw on a down vest or jacket under the Freebird. The jacket blocks wind effectively, and as long as I layer correctly, has kept me warm and comfortable in the mountains.
Although the Freebird is technically a snowboarding jacket, I’ve worn it while stacking wood, walking the dog, going to the bar, and all around town. It’s stylish enough to pull off as a city jacket if you prefer more the more relaxed, technical look, but it would not be my first choice as a rain jacket since it’s a little big to wear over summer layers. I do think it will work well for spring touring missions, though.
On the whole, the Freebird has held up pretty well, and I imagine it will last for a couple more seasons. I have had a couple of minor durability issues with the jakcet, though. First, although they are not hugely important pieces of the jacket, both waist bungee buttons ripped out (one after just 5 days), leaving minor tears on the inside of the jacket.
Second, the velcro around the cuffs is breaking down, and I doubt it will survive the rest of the season. Almost half of the stitching attaching the velcro to the cuff has come off.
Finally, there are signs of my pack chafing the jacket around the waist, which I think is what is wearing down the DWR in this area. The chest pockets are also looking worn from stuffing them with binoculars, a Go-Pro, an iPhone, balaclava, gloves, and other odds and ends. Given that the chest pockets show this type of wear already, I worry that over time, the face fabric will continue to chafe and eventually allow water to seep through. While I can live with all of these issues, they’re not ones that I expected to see on a $600 jacket, especially so quickly.
The Freebird is meant to be very packable, and it’s the best jacket I’ve used from Burton in this respect. It easily rolls up into the hood and cinches down to fit into a binding or pack for hiking. I wouldn’t consider the Freebird a super lightweight shell (on par with a jacket like the Outdoor Research Axiom, for example), but given the jacket’s performance and overall durability, I’m happy with its weight and packability.
The Freebird only has four pockets, which helps keeps the weight down, but I don’t love the layout of those pockets. The internal left chest pocket fits my IPhone 4S with a case, although the fit is quite tight and is very difficult to use with gloves on. The pocket is pretty much see-through, so I can read texts, but can’t use the touch screen through the pocket.
The large, open mesh pocket on the inside of the right chest panel is helpful during a split changeover when I’m looking to stash my gloves quickly, but I didn’t use it in many other situations since it does not close. The jacket also has a small place to store your pass, but found it to be a bit low on the hem to register on a lot of the automatic ticket scanners.
The Freebird’s two outer chest pockets are very large. However, when I used these pockets to carry my splitboard skins, I couldn’t fit much else in them, and had to put anything else in my pack. The Mammut Alyeska jacket, which has a six-pocket layout, allows me to carry more (in addition to my skins) than the Freebird.
I found the Freebird’s hood a little too small, as it didn’t fit comfortably over my Giro Discord helmet. I could really only wear the hood over my bare head or with a cap/beanie. The hood’s two side bungees effectively tighten down to reduce the space between the collar and the hood, which I really appreciated while hiking on colder days.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t really tighten the hood down in this way if I had a helmet on, which was a bummer because I often found snow getting down my collar when riding. Even with Burton’s new neck gasket collar (which has an additional bungee on the back to help tighten the top of the neck) I still had snow getting in the top of the jacket.
The Freebird’s YKK zippers are water resistant, and they seem solid. I did notice that the black paint wore off around the hinges of all the zippers, though. I don’t consider this a big durability issue at all, it did give the new jacket a worn look after just a two weeks of testing.
If you’re looking for a relatively lightweight jacket with a looser cut for backcountry touring and resort riding, the Burton [ak] 3L Freebird is a good option. It doesn’t offer the best storage capacity (compared to similar shells I’ve used), and I wasn’t too impressed with its durability, but I was happy with the Freebird’s breathability and waterproof performance, and think it looks really good, too.