Dark Peak are a small British brand based on the edge of (surprise surprise!) the Peak District. Currently they produce a single product in two variants the down and synthetic Nessh Jacket in both a women’s and men’s fit. We have been testing the down NESSH which stands out amongst a plethora of down light belay/action jackets for a couple of reasons; one being the ethical business model Dark Peak are founded on and the other the design philosophy shared between their down and synthetic models, each being a mirror copy of the other with only the fill differing. By the way for our more southerly readers ‘nesh’ is a northern dialect term usually applied to someone who feels the cold a bit (soft) so the NESSH might be their ideal companion.
Starting with Dark Peak’s business model. We have become fairly used to outdoor companies rightly adopting ethical business practices and these usually centre around the environment, reducing negative impacts of production, and fair/ethical trade an production ensuring the workers and communities that produce our lovely kit get a decent deal and are not exploited. Uniquely in the outdoor world (to my knowledge) Dark Peak concentrate on social responsibility in their products market countries. Dark Peak pledge that for every jacket sold they will supply a homeless charity with a warm winter jacket. These are not the same as the Nessh but are an ‘anonymous’ dark synthetic fill jacket that can withstand the rigours of someone living on the streets and being sans branding will hopefully not attract theft or attempts at resale – more so than if it were something like the Nessh anyway. Personally this concept is more attractive than a pledge to donate x percentage of profits (not that there is anything wrong with that I hasten to add) because it is so simple and you can readily equate your purchase with providing practical help to a homeless person. As a gear reviewer I must confess to feeling a little fraudulent at this point as the jacket I’m reviewing has been provided free of charge by Dark Peak but hopefully this review will encourage people to consider the Nessh when searching for a lightweight belay type jacket.
Onto the design and performance of the jacket itself. Obviously if the jacket is not up to scratch then no matter how good your ethical business model is you are unlikely to sell many jackets. The NESSH is up against some serious competition in the lightweight action/belay jacket market with the likes of Rab, Patagonia, Arcteryx and so on but it would be fair to say that it certainly holds its own in terms of performance, quality and style at a very competitive price. Fill wise Dark Peak use 850 fill responsibly sourced down and my size small contains 134.7g of down according to their figures (the volume/weight of down varies according to the size of the jacket. The face fabric has a DWR coating that will keep off a shower for a few minutes but works well to shed snow so the jacket won’t wet out.
The tailoring of the Nessh is superb and is as good as any insulated jacket on the market regardless of price. This is an active/athletic piece and not a boxy belay jacket for Scottish winter forays, it will fit overly light mid layers but is not designed for full on gnarl. Where it excels is fast and light days in the mountains and as a warm layer between redpoints or problems on the bouldering circuit. It makes a great belay jacket for dry multi pitch rock routes too. Feature wise the Nessh has a tailored cut with cleverly orientated channels that facilitate ease of movement whilst maintains a trim fit – you can happily climb in the Nessh when warming up and it’s sensibly robust but beware of sharp rocks! You get a total of five pockets; two zippered hand warmers, an internal zippered chest pocket (ideal for phone/wallet/keys) and two internal drop-in pockets (good for your belay gloves). The left hand warm pocket can be inverted to stuff the jacket into and has a loop to clip it to your harness but I found this a struggle even in my living room and darn right impossible on the hill with he jacket a little damp. My personal preference is always a stuff sack and one that is slightly ‘generous’ so you can stuff easily whilst clipped on a hanging belay etc. I’ve got a little superlight 4L Alpkit dry bag which easily takes the NESSH and can be compressed down super small with the added bonus of protecting the jacket from rain or spilled drinks in your sac!
The hood fits perfectly over a helmet yet snugs down easily onto a bare head which is a pleasant surprise on a lightweight jacket such as this and somewhat of a rarity. Another nice touch are the ‘wristie’ type cuffs that create a little mitt for your hand, sealing in warmth and providing a bit of additional insulation. These work brilliantly for most things but don’t try and force a heavily gloved hand through them in a winter climbing scenario!
I’ve used the Nessh hanging around bouldering throughout the winter and as a ‘utility’ jacket wear when heading out and returning in the van from winter runs. Like all down jackets the NESSH is vulnerable to the wet so a little more care needs to be exercised in our oft damp UK climate! The drybag I use for storage is one side of that but with the NESSH being such a well tailored fit it can actually be worn underneath a waterproof without too much hassle though you get very warm very quickly if you’re moving! I can actually wear it beneath my Rab Pacer running waterproof. As always we would never recommend a down jacket for Scottish winter use as the constant in and out of the pack in damp conditions just overwhelms them (even those with hydrophobic down in my experience). However as a warm layer or belay jacket in dryer conditions and with a bit of care you get unrivalled compressibility and warmth to weight. The NESSH is great for cragging, bouldering and as a ‘brew stop’ warmer on hikes, I’ve even taken it along on longer mountain runs as a back up knowing I can pretty much keep it dry with a waterproof over the top so long as I’m not taking it on and off too much. The Nessh strikes a sensible balance between being nice and lightweight but with a face fabric that can stand a bit of abrasion against rock and vegetation so you don’t have to ‘baby’ it too much.
- Great cut and design
- Sensible balance between weight and robustness
- Excellent warmth to weight ratio
- Difficult to stuff into pocket
- The usual down weaknesses when wet
Stockist Dark Peak
Disclaimer – CGR reviewers are never paid to provide a review and the website does not take advertising. We are a bunch of keen climbers and travellers that accept sample products and offer an honest and independent review of the item. The reviewer will often keep the sample after reviewing it for both hygiene reasons and more often they’re in no fit state to return!