I have a shameful number of Paramo items in my arsenal of outdoor gear at home but, now retired, I'm out every day, albeit sometimes only for a dog walk. So, of late I've found myself revisiting my older jackets and getting good use out of them. I am, however, still susceptible to being drawn to new items of kit, especially where technology has moved on.
Many moons ago Paramo sold the Fuera windproof jacket to be worn with their Taiga fleece. I bought both of them. The Taiga had the same pump lining as their Analogy waterproof jackets and, if used in combination, the Fuera and Taiga formed an equally waterproof jacket, though thicker and warmer than, say, their Alta. Great for a really cold winter day but serious overkill for much of the year.
Recently Paramo have revisited this concept and currently in their range is the Ostro fleece and windproof and the Bentu fleece and windproof. Whilst relaxing for a week with the van in Hawes last month, I tried both of these combos in a local retailer. They were being offered at a discount if you bought both items together. I found the, very light, Ostro a little too lightweight for my taste but was quite taken by the Bentu. I wasn't so keen though on the sage green colour, which was all they had in stock.
Returning home, I ruminated for a while before giving in and ordering a blue Bentu combo from Gorge Outdoors in Cheddar for £171; a good discount. This was around 3 weeks ago now and whilst not a long time, we've had a wide range of weather conditions and temperatures here in the Peak District and I've worn the combo almost every day in everything from a mild, dry autumn day right up to the overnight backpack I did with Islay just last weekend in full-on wintery weather (read about it here).
Here's the fleece jacket.
My chest measures 40" and this and the windproof are sized large.
In addition to the two zipped side pockets there's a good sized chest pocket.
The sleeves have loose cuffs with no elastic. This makes them very easy to push up your arm for cooling, but they're a little long for me so I'm tending to turn them back.
The zip is backed with a light flap.
The pockets are backed with the latest, lightweight pump liner.
And here's the windproof, which I'm wearing over the fleece for illustration.
It has four zipped pockets, all of a good size.
Like the fleece, it's a shorter jacket but the back is dropped to cover your bum. Good for cycling.
I prefer shorter jackets, just aesthetically. If it's raining I'd always be wearing some form of waterproof legwear.
The hood is roomy enough for hats or a helmet, has volume adjustment and pulls in around the face.
It has a wired peak.
The hood can be stowed using a velcro tab, though I can never quite see the need. I like my hoods to be ready for quick deployment.
The hood and yoke are lined with the light pump liner, giving the windproof alone more potential to keep you dry than previous, completely unlined, Paramo windproofs.
For those of you unfamilar with Paramo, their Analogy garments have what they call a pump liner, which serves to move moisture, mainly sweat, out away from your base layer clothing, through the outer windproof layer to the air outside. In addition, they don't allow outside weather to get in through the two layers. The fabrics are rendered water-resistant by the addition of a water-based wax which is washed into them, which can easily be renewed, and the outer and liner become, effectively, waterproof. Hence Paramo garments can be rejuvenated almost endlessly. This, together with their ethical production facility in Columbia, makes them one of the most ethical manufacturers out there. Read more on Paramo's website if you're interested. With the combo garments, like my Bentu, the fleece functions as the pump liner. Neither the fleece not the windproof would give complete waterproofing but, together, they do. Such is the theory, but what about in practice?
Being a bit of a Paramo nerd enables me to make direct comparisons between the Analogy and combo garments. Chrissie and I have the Velez jackets, one of the lightest full-on Analogy jackets they currently make. We've used this successfully backpacking in Arctic Sweden this year and I'm very familiar with its functionality as the latest in a long line of Paramo Analogy jackets.
So far, I have only worn the fleece and windproof together, but to be fair, that's probably the best test of its functionality as a waterproof. In milder, autumnal weather, around 11C, I've worn the combo over a thin, technical T shirt (Rab Dryflo 120) and it's been warm enough, though not too warm to cause discomfort. Taking the jackets off after a long walk wearing my day sack, I have found the back of the fleece still damp with sweat but no more than my Analogy Velez would have been.
On dry colder days, which so far have been down to minus 3C ambient, I've removed the jacket to find it virtually dry, my having sweated much less. I had been wearing a Montane Allez microgrid base layer.
On wet days the Bentu combo has functioned every bit as well as my Velez. I have sometimes found the fleece to be quite damp but no more so than the pump liner in my Velez would have been in similar conditions.
I'll digress here momentarily. Back in my MR days, whilst using Paramo we had maybe 2 team members out of around 60 who reckoned the jackets weren't waterproof. There are one or two people I know on social media who think the same. Here are my thoughts. I've worn every type of waterproof from the early days of non-breathable Peter Storm and B&H Cagjacs, where you always got wet through because they weren't breathable, through to the very best of Goretex. In my experience:
1. There are some weather conditions where ambient humidity is so high, no breathable garment will allow moisture to pass out through it, since there needs to be a lower humidity outside than inside for the breathable function to work. I remember one day, over 30 years ago, when, returning from a long day in heavy rain in the Lakes, wearing high quality Mountain Equipment Goretex waterproofs, every piece of clothing I was wearing underneath was completely wet through, so heavy and constant had been the rain and the humidity so high.
2. The transference of moisture from sweat is a constant, ongoing process, so, unless you're not sweating at all, when you remove your waterproof, the inside layer, and maybe your base clothing, may well still be wet with the sweat that has not yet been transferred out through the jacket. It is my opinion that this effect may be mistaken for leakage of the jacket from the outside in.
3. As I understand it, there is potential for rain to occasionally find it's way through the windproof outer of any Paramo. The outer on its own is not totally waterproof. However, the pump liner will still continue to move any water away from the inside, back out through the outer. It's important to understand that it's the two layers together which provide the waterproof function.
What matters to me is, when wearing a waterproof in rain or snow, how comfortable are you underneath it. Which brings me to my most extreme application of the Bentu combo so far, this past weekend.
I had wondered whether or not to wear the Bentu since I know that, in the cold, when backpacking, I've often taken off a Paramo Analogy jacket to find it damp on the inside (see point 2 above). Again, in the cold, this often does not dry overnight so you can end up putting a damp jacket on in the morning. But in practice this has never caused a problem since the jacket soon warms and the pump transference begins to do its job again. I could foresee having two wet layers kicking about in my tent overnight. But, I thought, on a short trip I'd give it a go.
I wore a Montane Allez microgrid baselayer again, below the combo. It's fair to say I sweat a lot when working hard, so I was not surprised that I could feel myself sweating on our initial ascent. If I'd taken anything off I'd have been cold. It was cold and snowing. I cooled a little, to the point of being more comfortable, when we hit higher ground and were, in effect, crossing level terrain. We experienced winds up to around 25mph, hail and heavy snow.
After four and a half hours of tramping we hit our camp spot. It took around an hour for me to set up camp, settle my precious pup and make a brew before I considered removing my clothing to, as usual, don clean dry clothes for the evening/night.
The Bentu windproof was damp under where my rucsac straps had been, where, of course, it couldn't breathe. Otherwise it was dry. The fleece was only slightly damp with some very small patches wetted out. These seemed to be around the front of the yoke, below the level of the pump lining on the windproof. I laid out the fleece over my rucsac, which was lying inside my Terra Nova Southern Cross 2, and spread the windproof over the foot of the water resistant cover of my Rab down sleeping bag. But now the critical bit. Removing my Allez hoodie I found it to be totally dry except for some damp on the hood where it had been exposed to the elements before I'd raised the hood of the Bentu windproof. The Paramo kit had done its job and pushed virtually all my sweat out and not allowed any water from snow in, keeping my base layer, and me, warm and dry. I'd call that a success.
In the morning, unsurprisingly, the fleece and windproof were in the exact same state as the night before. It'd been cold, almost freezing. When I put them on again before decamping they felt fine, since the damp wasn't touching any skin and the Allez didn't transfer it.
Our walk back was in very similar conditions to the day before and, once home, taking the jackets off revealed them to be in pretty much the same state as the day before, with only slight dampness. Once again, my Allez was dry. Excellent.
I'm impressed with this combination and it will take it's place among my armoury of waterproof jackets for all conditions. In particular, I'm hoping it will make a good option for this cycling adventure in France next summer. Once the warmer weather arrives I plan to see how the windproof alone functions, in rain, over different base layers, including the T shirts I plan to cycle in. I'm not expecting total waterproofness, but I'll experiment nevertheless. I will take the fleece on my cycle adventure in any event.
"Is this the perfect jacket for all occasions then, Geoff?" I hear you ask.
When it gets silly cold I'll still use my trusty Aspira smock. It's, as they say, bombproof. But, I reckon the Bentu combo could probably be used in a very wide range of conditions, especially once you factor in using each garment on its own.
But, I need to add the few negative thoughts I have about the Bentu...and they are only few.
1. I'd prefer a light elastic around the cuffs of the fleece.
2. The lower pocket on both garments are just slightly too low for use with a hipbelt. Though you can just manage to access the top of them in the windproof. Not used the fleece alone yet.
3. The chest pockets on the windproof lack cord pulls on the zips, meaning some difficulty using them with thick gloves (don't get me started on my cold hands). I'm gonna add some this afternoon.
I'm glad I bought this jacket combo and, for clarity, despite my being a Paramo addict, I paid for it with my own brass and have no connection with Paramo (I used to, in my MR days, but that's many moons back).
Make your own mind up. Gear's a very personal thing and we're all different, but I reckon I'd be happy to recommend the Paramo Bentu windproof and fleece.
Smile and, above all, enjoy!