Gear Review: Black Diamond Stance Belay Parka

img_0859.jpgThis thing is warm. Ridiculously warm.

Before I say anything more about this insulated parka I have to cut to the chase. It’s warm. Really warm. I’ve been wearing the Stance Belay Parka as my everyday winter coat for all of January, and the Midwest has been through an exceptional patch of cold weather. Just now I stepped outside to move my truck so the maintenance crew at my apartment could clear the parking lot of snow. It’s January 29, 2019 and Wisconsin is under a state of emergency because of projected cold temperatures over the next several days. Ambient temperature is -2 degrees Fahrenheit. The wind is steady at 12 mph with gusts to 21 mph. This puts wind chill temps into the -20 F range.

With the Stance zipped up I felt completely warm. I was wearing a light sweater over a wool t-shirt underneath. I couldn’t feel the wind penetrate the parka at all. I was enveloped in a comfortable feeling of warmth.

Now, it might help that I spent the previous 45 minutes throwing kettlebells around in my apartment, but the point I’m trying to make is that, in some pretty decent winter conditions, with a minimum of layers underneath, the Stance Belay Parka delivered wind resistant insulation that was truly impressive. I could feel the wind blowing through my wool hat and stealing heat from my face and bare hands, but my torso was so completely protected from the cold that I  stopped for a minute to appreciate the sunset and feel the wind on my face before heading back inside, mumbling to myself, “damn this coat is warm.”

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Two chest pockets. One with an internal phone pocket.

I wrote those words several months ago. Today it’s 80 degrees and thunderstorms are rolling across Madison. I’m rained out from work, so it seems like a good time to finish up this review.

 

I bought the Stance Belay Parka last winter when I was looking for an affordable, warm, synthetic parka to complete the high loft component of my Simple Clothing System. The military surplus option was going for about $80, but I found last season’s Stance on the web at a closeout price. It was a nice, subdued olive color that I thought would be good for backcountry hunting and the asking price was about a hundred bucks. Seemed like a fair price.

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Two internal drop pockets for gloves.

 

I needed something that would fit over all the other layers in my clothing system, so I checked on sizing with Black Diamond. They assured me that the jacket was cut oversized and a large would work for me at 6’1″ with a 44 chest.

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Big hood. It’ll fit over a helmet, no problem.

When the jacket arrived I layered up and tried it for fit. It was snug, but I figured it would work OK. About a month later I decided I was wrong. The forearms of the Stance are cut close, and with a couple layers underneath, I felt like a stuffed sausage. I also didn’t have much room for mittens inside the coat. XL seemed like a better option for my 200 pound plus frame.

 

A couple months later, I had a chance to order a second Stance parka at a discounted price and went for an XL. I now have two of these things, one that will fit over street clothes, and one that will fit over every layer in my winter clothing system. So, in the end, I didn’t save any money over full price, but I did get a couple kick-ass synthetic parkas.

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Single pull at the back of the hood tightens everything up snug.

The XL is plenty roomy in the arms, has lots of room for mittens inside and comes down well below my butt. Fits better over puffy pants too. If you’re at the top end of the size chart, and you’re planning to layer over full winter gear, you’ll want to order up a size.

The feature rundown on the Stance is straightforward. It has an attached hood that is BIG. It will fit over a climbing helmet if you need that, or you can scrunch it down to fit your bare head. A single pull tightens both top and bottom drawcords on the hood. The chest has two Napoleon pockets, one of which has an inside pocket for a phone or MP3 player. Two handwarmer pockets are positioned at hip level. Inside at the bottom are two drop-in pockets for drying gloves or mittens. There’s a snap at the bottom that allows you to unzip the two-way zipper and thread your belay device through the gap without opening the whole bottom of the jacket. Cuffs have a small piece of elastic to keep them snug around your wrists. Nice, tight feature set. Well executed.

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Snap at the bottom lets you belay without a draft.

The insulation used in the Stance is ThermoLite. It’s a short staple bonded insulation that has modest bulk.  The world of synthetic high loft insulation has gotten pretty mixed up in the last 20 years, and I can’t speak with confidence to the durability of ThermoLite (more discussion on this topic here). So far, so good. What I can attest to is how warm the thing is. As I mentioned above, it’s friggin warm.

The Stance packs down fairly small. Not as small as my big, baffled Mountain Hardwear Sub Zero SL Parka. But small enough to get the job done.

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Elastic at the cuff. Low profile and snug.

The whole point of a synthetic parka is that you can put the thing on when you’re damp or even soaking wet and walk yourself dry with your body heat. You can’t do that with down. Synthetics are the best choice for extended trips in cold weather where you don’t have the option to dry yourself out if you get wet. They’re the right choice for serious trips, and the Stance is a solid option in the category.

Buy This, Not This
If you’re looking for a VERY warm insulated parka for serious outdoor trips, the Stance is a good choice. If you can find one at a deal in the off season, all the better, but even at full MSRP of $229, the Stance is a lot of bang for the buck. Buy one, you won’t be disappointed. Just remember to size up if you’re at the top end of the size range.

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