Let’s go back in time to the middle of the century.   The year is 1968 – Yvon Chouinard is still making money off of pitons, Sierra Designs is still in its infancy and Gore-Tex products are a close to a decade off.  1968 saw the introduction of a new wonder fabric – George Marks and his buddy Bob Swanson created a fabric blend made of 58 parts cotton to 42 parts nylon and this newfangled 60/40 shell material launched the fledgling Sierra Designs brand to fame.

Sierra Designs Heritage 60/40 Short Parka Features:

  • 60/40 Cloth
  • #8 Two Way Tooth Zipper
  • Snap Center Front Placket
  • Two Hand, Two Flap Lower Pockets
  • Two Upper Flap Pockets
  • One Vertical Back Pocket
  • Size Tested: Large (5’11” – 180 lb tester)
  • MSRP: $418

60/40: A Classic, Resurrected

The 60/40 fabric blend caused quite a kerfuffle when it debuted in 1968.  The Mountain Parka was Sierra Designs’ flagship product and those who bought it ended up owning an iconic piece of outdoors history, even if they didn’t know it at the time.  Sierra Designs has revived eleven of its classic products in a tribute to their heritage as one of the enduring brands in the outdoor world.  Here’s what’s particularly exciting, though: just as Sierra Designs created all of their products in the USA out of American-made materials back in the day, their 2013 production run is 100% true to the original manufacturing; all of the products are American-made with textiles from the US.  It’s so encouraging to see a company doing this, but it’s a little bittersweet to think that the industry needs to hark back to the 60’s to justify producing in the US.  Regardless, I’m grateful for Sierra Designs’ commitment to Made in the USA.

Even though the 60/40 fabric is definitely a little quaint when compared to modern waterproof/breathable laminates, the original fabric had a ton of good things going for it that remain to this day.  The fabric blend has a perfect handle that feels durable enough for mountain use but is fairly soft and quiet.  Moreover, 60/40 fabric doesn’t lose performance when it gets filthy and its waterproofing is easily restored by a spray-on water repellant.  This is definitely no techy mountaineering shell, but there’s no denying that it has its perks.

photo 1

The tough Sierra Designs branded buttons complement the extremely durable 60/40 fabric. The American stitching is beautiful and straight overall.

The jacket I’m testing is the Insulated Short Parka.  This is a loose-cut, working man’s jacket with a classic wide collar, beefy two way zipper, and a wide array of pockets.  The jacket also has hidden hand pockets which are convenient but aren’t insulated, making for cold hands – wear gloves with this jacket.  The Short Parka comes ably equipped with 200 g/cm. sq. Thinsulate insulation so it’s quite a warm, heavy-weight piece.  Indeed, the Short Parka is quite puffy and I sometimes feel lost in the size of the jacket.  I tested a size Large because my 5’11”, 180lb. frame has rather long arms and the sleeves seem to run just a touch short.  That leaves quite a bit of room in the torso, though, which is helpful for layering but isn’t exactly svelte.

Sierra Designs tied the jacket together nicely with Velcro cuffs and an updated elastic pullstring at the hem, so it’s easy to reduce the jacket’s volume around your waist.  The zipper isn’t sealed, but there’s an external storm flap complete with Sierra Designs’ branded buttons to keep foul weather out.  There are six pockets all together, four of which fasten closed either with buttons or zips.

photo 3

All in all, I was pretty pleased with how well the jacket performs.  It shed plenty of Washington rain and, unlike modern fabrics, it doesn’t care one bit if you roll around in the dirt.  The fabric is absolutely bombproof, so think of this jacket as ideal for hard work rather than climbing.  The collar offers a ton of protection when it’s zipped up, but there’s no zip guard since men in the 1960’s had, without exception, epic beards.

photo 2

The Good

  • 100% made in the USA with American-made textiles – Hurray!!!
  • 60/40 fabric blend is venerable but still has a lot of performance to offer
  • Quite warm, roomy for layering and to help air circulate
  • Bombproof all-around construction
  • Available half-off on SierraDesigns.com (as of publish date)

The Bad

  • Hand pockets aren’t insulated
  • Sleeves seem to run a bit short

The Bottom Line

This jacket is a classic, harking back to the golden age of mountaineering when products were as robust as the mountaineers.  The 60/40 blend might seem obsolete when compared to modern laminates, but in truth the old weave still has a lot to offer.   If you weren’t lucky enough to be around when the first version was made, Sierra Designs is offering a classic range of products for mountaineers young and old alike.

Buy Now: Available from Sierra Designs (on sale for $209)

More of Sierra Designs’ History: History of Gear Project

About Author

Kevin Glover is an outdoorsman living, climbing and biking in Spokane, WA. Originally from the Nevada high desert, he moved to the PNW for its mild winters and allergen-free summers. He has guided throughout the Cascades and Enchantments for Peak 7 Adventures.

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