Sunday, February 7, 2016

Boreal Mountain Anorak vs. Lester River Anorak Vs. DIY Anorak

This past week I received a Boreal Mountain Wool Anorak and a Boreal Mountain Canvas Anorak and I wanted to take a little time to compare their anoraks to the Lester River Bushcraft/Empire Canvas Works Anorak I have been using for a little over a year. This article obviously isn't going to be based on long-term durability or performance it will center on value, features, quality and baseline impressions. I wore the canvas and the wool anorak each for a few hours before we filmed this video so I would have an idea of the performance but I haven't spend 50+ nights in it like I have the Lester River Bushcraft Anorak. I know the video and article below are a little long, but I hope you find them worth the time if you are in the market for a new Anorak. Just click on the image below to start the video where we compare all four anoraks.

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Boreal Mountain Wool Anorak
  • Feel: Aside from the Woolrich merino wool sweater in the video this anorak is without a doubt the softest and most comfortable against the skin. The wool is soft to the touch, doesn't cause any itching and wears well. The anorak is cut a little tighter than the Lester River so for layering purposes I would say go up a size as you can fit a t-shirt and maybe a sweater (the Woolrich sweater is a little tight under the anorak but still doable).
  • Functionality: I messed up and didn't realize that pockets were an option you needed to add to the anorak and I'm a big time pocket person. So I need to somehow get the front pockets on both of their anoraks before I get too deep into testing them so I give them a 100% fair shake. When wearing an anorak you lose access to your pockets and belt (unless you wear a bushcraft belt which I cant bring myself to do), so I view that front pocket as critical for carrying those items that would normally be in my pockets. 
  • Weave & Stitching:  In the video when I do the flashlight test you can see how tight the wind is on this garment. It did a good job of stopping the wind when outside (5-10 mph against my back) and after about 30 minutes I began to feel the entire back of the garment get cold. Now mind you I was just wearing a cool gear shirt under the Anorak. This anorak is by far the tightest weave on the table, only the Woolrich sweater is close in tightness of weave. Both the Lester River Bushcraft Anorak and the DIY Anorak require an outer layer above 5 mph winds or so as the wind just cuts right through the garment in my experience. As for stitching the anorak comes in second to the Lester River Bushcraft annorak as they have roughly double the stitches for the same area. That doesn't mean this anorak will not last as long (haven't done my long-term testing yet), it simply means there are less stitches over all. It does have twice as many or more stitches in each area as the DIY anorak, which has now been in heavy use (Jeremy uses it as his primary anorak fall-spring) for over a year without any issues or failure.
  • Cost: At rough cost $180.00 USD (the USD is declining vs the Canadian Dollar as it was $163 whenever I shot the video last week) depending on exchange rates (costs $250.00 Canadian Dollars) this anorak is one of the most affordable on the market today. Aside from making your own anorak from a wool blanket the only competitors who have cheaper anoraks or equivalent wool garment are military surplus dealers (heavy duty wool coats) or G Fred Asbell who offers a pathfinder anorak at roughly $100.00 USD. If you go with one of these options you will not have the neck and face protection offered by a traditional anorak but it will be just as heavy of weight garment. If you have plans to make your own (Learn how here: LINK) it will most likely be a much lower price if you can find a surplus blanket at a thrift shop to use; however if you plan to use a queen sized 100% merino wool blanket be prepared to spend somewhere close to $200.00 USD on just the blanket. 
  • Extras: This anorak comes with decorative beads and a little more fashionable design and modern color scheme. The wool material is also one of the softest wool products I own, with only Woolrich clothing feeling softer. The rapid availability of the product is also a large plus if you need an anorak for an outing ASAP as you simply can't get many of the other anoraks for months. If you plan to make your own (stitching by hand) be sure to leave a good 8 hours to put the garment together if you're not an expert when it comes to sewing... i.e. if you're like me and the only thing you have sewn is in middle school home economics classes, a few field stitches and maybe a few field repairs using bank line. 
  • Warmth: I was really supersized by how warm I stayed in this anorak. I really thought Lester River would be the run away winner but since the video was shot I have worn both for 30 minute or hour intervals switching for at least 12 hours just to get a feel for both anoraks side-by-side. In winds over 5 mph the Boreal Mountain Anorak wins every time as it acts as a decent wind barrier on its own (if I wear a decent base layer instead of my normal t-shirt I don't even notice the wind if my back is to it, but the actual garment feels cold to the touch and where it touches the skin you begin to cool off) but under 5 mph winds the Lester River seems to be a little warmer as it keeps more air heated by my body sealed into the jacket. The interesting thing is the what happens when the wind dies down- The Lester River Bushcraft Anorak feels about the same as it did prior to the wind blowing through where as the Boreal Mountain Anorak stays cold for around 10-15 minutes while your body warms the jacket back up. Now if you layered correctly that won't matter and the Boreal Mountain Anorak would win hands down as it breaks the wind better, but for those of you who like to just wear a t-shirt underneath you might be a tad cold for awhile until your body heat rewarms the garment.  
  • Overall Quality: This is one good looking piece of clothing! The strips, color and beads really give this anorak something extra. The color in particular I like a great deal as it seems to match just about anything where as the solid OD green doesn't as much (not that I really match when I'm in the woods, but that might matter to some). Upon initial inspection all of the seams were well sewn (not that I'm an expert), the garment was in excellent shape and it appears to be field ready out of the box. The softness of the wool is notably high which will make a more comfortable nights sleep and the accent beads are a very nice touch. 
  • What Would I Change: 1) If I'm putting beads on something it would probably be pace count beads so I would probably try to make the beads at the chest pace count beads; 2) Some kind of sleeve adjustment to help keep your cuff in place and seal in warm air; 3) Extend the sleeve a few inches to allow you to tuck your arms in whenever your sleeping without a sleep system; and 4) Pocket added- this is my fault as I didn't realize it was an option until after I got the garment in the mail- the bad thing is this anorak is so nice looking I hate to order one to sew on as I'm sure I wouldn't do it justice.
Lester River Wool Anorak:
  • Feel: This anorak is the most irritating to the skin so if you have issues with wool products then you will itch with this one. With that said...... I have spent many nights using just this and a ground pad or a pine tree as my sleep system and when your tired the itching stops for me. You can see the loose fibers that you expect with military surplus style blankets on this anorak, so it isn't the smooth soft feel you would get with the Boreal Mountain Anorak. 
  • Functionality:  This is the most functional anorak in the group in my opinion. Everything about this piece of gear has been engineered to meet a particular need of someone who spends a lot of time in the woods and is a heavy user. I will cover a good bit of this in the extras category but it seals in heat well, has plenty of gear organization and is a bomb proof shelter option for light rain, snow or sun but doesn't do its best work on cold windy days (either have a wind break layer under it or throw a canvas anorak over it.
  • Weave & Stitching: As you can see in the video this was the second thickest weave, although it is close to the Woolrich weave. The stitching is hands down the most bombproof of the anoraks evaluated in this review! In the video I compare the amount of stitches per seam and there are almost 3x the amount of stitch per seam on the Lester River as opposed to any other anorak. While the single line of stitching on the DIY anorak has held up to continual used by Jeremy over the last year so this might not be of great significance, but a failure would be very detrimental if utilizing this as your exclusive shelter option in a survival situation. 
  • Cost: $267.00 USD inclusive of shipping. Before you say no coat is worth that much money.... I have to differ on that opinion. This anorak has been my home on several spring and fall hunting and fishing trips where I didn't feel a shelter was necessary. I merely would throw up a quick wind break for the prevailing wind, pile pine needles or debris at the base of a pine tree lean against said tree, tighten down everything on the coat and go to sleep. That level of confidence in your anorak is where the money spent becomes worth it in my mind. 
  • Extras: The front pocket is perfectly engineered for every last bit of gear I would carry in my pockets and might need rapid access to: bear gun, flashlight, headlamp, fire tin, car keys, lighter and gloves all have a nice little place they call home leaving room for tinder material as I go or a birds nest that I need to dry out or keep dry. The interior loop to hang the anorak in the field is also a great plus as you can use that to hang the rack instead of a limb which could potentially damage the hood. It also allows the anorak to be used as a makeshift door for a shelter or hung on a ridge line and used as a quasi wind break. 
  • Warmth: I have no complaints with this anorak as it has seen me down to -22 F with good layering underneath. I will say that wind does cut through this anorak more than the Boreal Mountain Anorak as I explained above; however, this anorak warms back up faster after the wind dies down. 
  • Overall Quality: It's really hard to beat bombproof and this anorak is bombproof. I have lit hundreds of fires, caught critters/fish, camped, lounged and worked in this anorak for over a year now and I couldn't be more pleased with the quality of craftsmanship, durability and design. 
  • What Would I Change: I would try to make this anorak a little softer if possible for those who have issues with the itching feeling that comes with this type of wool. I also might try to solve the issue of everything bunching up when sitting, this isn't a problem in the woods but presents problems for long rides in the car or wearing around town.  The design is perfect so there really isn't much to change in my mind.
DIY Anorak
  • Feel: This anorak is middle of the road on feel between Lester River and Boreal Mountain as it was made from a cheap harbor freight wool blanket. It is much thinner and lighter than both of the aforementioned anoraks as well. 
  • Functionality: This anorak has served Jeremy well since we made it last year and got him through spring gobbler season, the entire fall hunting/trapping season and a snow storm we worked through where we got nearly 3' of snow in 24 hours at the onset of our 56 hours at work that weekend. It doesn't have any bells and whistles, but its down and dirty and it serves it purpose!
  • Weave & Stitching: This anorak had the thinnest weave of all the anoraks tested and it is obvious when you hold them in your hands or wear them, its just a much lighter weight wool. That said, it hasn't failed with heavy use, but you have to layer well when using this anorak. This is the only hand stitched anorak evaluated and thus has much wider stitching. That said, it hasn't failed or even started to unravel. 
  • Overall Quality: This one is what it is, two guys made it in between calls at work out of a cheap wool blanket (find out how to make one here- LINK) and stitched it 100% by hand. It isn't pretty by any means and there are 0 frills. If you have extensive sewing skills, plenty of time and high quality materials then I'm sure you could make a product which rivals its commercial equivalents. 
  • Cost: CHEAP! We did this project as a poor man's alternative to an anorak and that's exactly what it is. You can have one of these for well under $50.00 USD or you can spend $200 for a top of the line blanket. 
  • Extras:The side slits were added after the first outing to give freer range of motion and accommodate you when sitting. It does have a front pocket, but I honestly consider that a necessity as you're giving up access to your other pockets unless you prefer a bushcraft belt. 
  • Warmth: It comes in last as it is the thinnest and the loosest weave by far. Even the Woolrich sweater is warmer than this anorak. Obviously, you can make these anorak much warmer, but at an increased cost. 
  • What Would I Change: I would essentially make it as heavy and soft as the Boreal Mountain anorak with the pockets and closures of the Lester River Bushcraft Anorak.
Boreal Mountain Canvas Anorak:
  • Feel: This anorak is meant to be the wind proof layer in a winter system and thus is fairly thin and smooth canvas feel. Wearing it with just a t-shirt underneath created no issues against bear skin. 
  • Functionality: It's job is to keep the wind out and the heat your body emits in.... and it does that at a level of efficiency that would rival the best of the best in any industry. This thing is a body heat trapping machine! I would love a front pocket, but once again that was my fault for not realizing it was an option when it was ordered so you can't ding that as it is something you can add.
  • Weave & Stitching: Very Tight... So tight in fact I would say it is wind proof :). Canvas is supposed to be quasi breathable as well, but I haven't worn it enough yet to evaluate that aspect of the anorak. The stitching is all double stitched and of the same workmanship as the wool anorak. There are a lot more stitches per square inch than on the DIY anorak so failure in the sewing shouldn't be an issue (Once again I haven't done a long term field test that will come at the end of the spring I believe). 
  • Overall Quality: HIGH! This anorak is well put together and if you're in the US our dollar will go a long way with this Canadian Company who is very easy to work with and stand behind their products! 
  • Cost: At rough cost $180.00 USD (the USD is declining vs the Canadian Dollar as it was $163 whenever I shot the video last week) depending on exchange rates (costs $250.00 Canadian Dollars) this canvas anorak is one of the most affordable on the market today. The only alternatives I could find cheaper were military surplus which changes the design and function considerably. You can make your own if you have access to canvas locally (look up Jamie from Self Reliance Outfitters video on constructing one from last week); however, I can't find the right size and weight locally or online to provide a decent price comparison here. 
  • Extras: This anorak comes with decorative beads on the hood and neck area much like its wool counterpart.The rapid availability of the product is also a large plus if you need an anorak for an outing ASAP as you simply can't get many of the other anoraks for months (if you need one now you might get it by next winter at some of the other companies). 
  • Warmth: This anorak does it's job and does it well. I wore this anorak with just a t-shirt in 20 F for over an hour comfortably and attempted to wear it with each anorak as a base layer in the teens but felt like I was cast into the depths of Hades! For someone who likes it cold like myself, this is a one season anorak and for those cold winter days where the wind is kicking up. I honestly cant wait until it gets down well below 0F again to test this out with a ground pad and wool anorak as my sleep system. 
  • What Would I Change: I would make the same potential changes to this anorak as I would the wool anorak: 1) If I'm putting beads on something it would probably be pace count beads so I would probably try to make the beads at the chest pace count beads; 2) Some kind of sleeve adjustment to help keep your cuff in place and seal in warm air; and 3) Pocket added- this is my fault as I didn't realize it was an option until after I got the garment in the mail- the bad thing is this anorak is so nice looking I hate to order one to sew on as I'm sure I wouldn't do it justice.
While this is an initial review for the Boreal Mountain Anoraks and a year follow up to the Lester River Bushcraft and DIY anoraks I was able to learn a lot about these four anoraks testing them with various layers in just one week and about 16 hours worth of time outside. I tried not to let past experience or my love for various items cloud my judgment and basically tested everything with a fresh set of eyes. Jeremy helped with the testing so we would each wear a configuration for 30 minutes or an hour and basically switch off configurations to see how they did apples to apples. He fell in love with the Boreal Mountain Wool Anorak the second he put it on due to the fact it was softer and provided a little more protection from the wind. I was more in favor of  the Lester river Bushcraft Anorak as I have been using it non-stop for the last year and it has seen me through some cold nights. At the end of the testing of those two specifically we found that the Lester River performed better  (i.e. kept you warmer) when there was no wind or less than 5 MPH winds and I believe this was due to the fact that you can really cinch that anorak down and seal in all of your body heat. We also found that above 5 MPH the Boreal Mountain Wool anorak performed much better than the Lester River Anorak due to the wind breaking capabilities. The interesting thing is when wearing a t-shirt under the both you would get back to warm faster in the Lester River anorak once the wind settled down as your body heat warmed the anorak faster and it seemed to take longer for the Boreal Mountain Anorak to warm back up after the wind stopped (i.e. the garment still felt cold on you for awhile after the wind stopped blowing). Now all of that doesn't matter if you're wearing a wool sweater under the anorak or a good base layer as the garment wouldn't be touching your skin and you would still be toasty warm in the Boreal Mountain anorak.

When it came to testing the Boreal Mountain Canvas Anorak we had smaller time frames in which we could actually keep it on as it was in the low 20's when I was with Jeremy and low teens when testing it on my own. The canvas anorak fells better with the Boreal Mountain Anorak as they were essentially designed to be mated. Jeremy noted that the Lester River Anorak bunched up a little bit in the canvas anorak but i didn't find that to be the case personally. We were split on which two we thought worked the best together. Jeremy thought pairing both the Boreal Mountain anoraks together provided the best result; whereas, I thought the Lester River with the Boreal Mountain canvas anorak worked best. Jeremy reached his conclusion because he thought the two were more comfortable and warmer together. I reached my decision because of the dynamic of mixing the advantages of a more breathable wool anorak for more temperate times with a very warm canvas anorak for windy cold days. If I was going some place arctic I would probably go with all three. I didn't dear try all three at once but Jeremy did a few times and was at near stroke temperature in the garage which was around 60F. The three actually work quite well layering fit wise but for those who like it cold like I do you are going to have a hard time finding a day that is cold enough for all three. If you are making a go at the Iditarod all three might be for you!

Honestly, choosing between these two wool anoraks is a highly personal decision and really depends in what you're looking for in your anorak. It is my hope that this initial review helped demonstrate the difference in the two anoraks for those who may be on the fence. I personally would buy either with confidence as they will both serve you well for years to come!

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1 comment:

  1. Great practical comparison, really good work man, you are a hard worker I keep saying! Been sending people your links and also out weekly for your radio show, keep up the good work Josh. CANADA.