One of the challenges with backpacking in cooler / cold weather is the back sweat.
I’ve rarely had a hike where I’ve been in at a comfortable temperature for the duration of the hike.
And it’s always on my back. I’m either feeling too hot in that spot where my back connects to my pack or I’m cooling down and you get a nice chill in that same spot.
Or I’m shedding layers. Stopping on the trail, taking my pack off, taking my jacket off, stuffing it in my pack, putting my pack on, and then feeling freezing a few minutes later and reversing that process.
It’s a horrible cycle to be stuck in, which is why I have avoided winter backpacking.
Pak-Jak took on this exact case study to create the best backpacking jacket.
The Swappable Back Jacket
Their jacket is designed for ultimate flexibility on the trail with an interchangeable and flexible back.
- Puffy jacket back
- Mesh jacket back
- Or no jacket back with connectable straps to secure your pack.
With this flexibility, it is entirely possible to start your hike with the puffy jacket back and swap out the back when you feel too warm. And I think that’s a great option for long, all-day or multi-day hikes.
When I tested this feature, it took around 90 seconds to swap out the back for the mesh back and just over three minutes to fully remove the back and connect the straps to the jacket and the pack.
Which isn’t bad. When I swapped backs, I didn’t go back to the full jacket. Because I swapped before my base layers were sweaty, I was able to manage my temperature. Plus, my backpack provided enough coverage from the cold on my back.
Options, Options, Options
I don’t call the Pak-Jak the best backpacking jacket easily.
But this jacket earns that title because of it’s flexibility.
I can’t tell you how often I am planning a day trip and I am standing there, staring at my gear closet, trying to decide what to take with me.
Part of that is because I am trying to account for all scenarios.
When you’re above tree level, weather can change very quickly, and I want to be as safe as possible.
But I also want to be comfortable.
On top of the ability to change out jacket backs, the Pak-Jak also had a detachable hood.
The hood itself adds 2.1 oz. to the total weight of the jacket.
With the full back, the jacket weighs in at 15.7 oz; the mesh back is 16.4 oz; and without any back is 11.8 oz.
Now, while there are three options, I do suggest trying out the mesh back versus the no back prior. That way for your hike, you’re only carrying one option to swap out to instead of two.
The Pak-Jak features Primaloft Gold Insulation; one of the best highest performing synthetic insulations.
It has a great warmth-to-weight ratio, which is why the Pak-Jak is so light.
During one of my test hikes, it was snowing. And even with a heavy, wet snow, I found that the jacket had great water-repellency and wet protection.
The jacket also has a no-chafe guard at the top of the zipper near the neck. During my cold weather hikes I really appreciated this feature because I could keep the jacket zipped tight and not feel like my chin was going raw.
For the puffy back and the mesh back, they are connected with zippers. There are guards on the bottom that fold over the zipper so that your backpack doesn’t accidentally loosen the connection.
If you swap to the no back option, the straps that are included synch the back of the jacket so that it isn’t blowing free. But the jacket also comes with universal shoulder straps to help keep your backpack connected to the jacket and minimize bounce.
I think the Pak-Jak is the best backpacking jacket on the market.
It’s a new company and I think this product is going to shake up this category.
The product designers were very intentional with everything they put into this jacket.
I should note that this jacket does come in Men and Women sizes. I test a Large and I’m 5’11” and 185 pounds.