We were skeptical the first time we saw the JakPak, which is a hardshell jacket that transforms into a bivy shelter. Primarily, we struggled to envision scenarios when we’d need such a thing. The idea behind the JakPak is that you can venture out on a stormy day without a backpack, and just slip into the bivy if you get caught out overnight or the weather worsens. But we don’t think that’s a likely scenario -- although there are some who may just wander into the woods without the essentials, we usually venture into bad weather fully prepped -- even with a pack full of gear and food.
Nevertheless, we appreciated that the JakPak was an original idea with some out-of-the box thinking, so, rather than dismissing it, we decided to put it through the paces. Through our testing, we did come to appreciate some of the execution of the design, but we’re still not sure that the product is practical for most outdoor trips although it could serve a purpose if the weather is questionable.
The primary component of the JakPak is a waterproof hardshell jacket made of 3.1-ounce, urethane-coated ripstop nylon and polyester. The lower portion of the bivy sack that covers the legs is made of the same material and is stowed on the interior of the jacket at the upper back. This is secured in place by straps with hook-and-loop closures. A pocket on the exterior of the back of the jacket holds the small shelter for your head and includes thin flexible rods to give it structure.
To transform the jacket into a bivy, you first remove the jacket and undo the straps for the lower section of the bivy, and then you roll it out. You then remove the head shelter from its pocket and position the rods to form a little tent for your noggin. After which, you slip your legs into the lower portion of the bivy, and put on the jacket to cover the upper body. Finally, you slip your head under the tent, and there is also a piece of netting that covers the head and torso to keep out mosquitoes, which we thought was a nice addition.
Deploying the bivy took a little practice, but once we had the process down, we were able to set it up pretty quickly. When it was time to transform the bivy back into a jacket, it was not too difficult to stash the pieces back into their nesting places. All in all, we thought that the designers did a decent job marrying the jacket and bivy concepts.
Unfortunately, deploying the bivy requires that you remove the jacket, so if it’s already raining, you’re going to crawl into the bivy soaking wet, which is not a good idea in low temperatures when hypothermia is an issue. Plus, it just sucks to sleep while soggy, no matter what the temperature is.
We also took issue with the tight quarters inside the head covering. One tester who tends to sleep on his side kept mashing his face against the walls of the head shelter. As for the lower portion of the bivy, it has no padding or insulation, so you really have to add a sleeping bag for some warmth or at least some kind of pad for some cushioning. The whole concept of the JakPak is that you can carry your shelter without having to tote along a traditional backpack filled with gear -- that means no sleeping bag or pad -- so the thin nature of the lower part of the bivy is troublesome -- unless it really is just an emergency shelter and then something is better than nothing, of course.
We did several day hikes with the JakPak, wearing a daypack during a few trips, and wearing only the jacket and a waist pack with water bottles during the others. While the bivy sack components form a lump on the back area when stowed, it does compress quite a bit, so it was not too uncomfortable to wear a day pack. But there was a bigger issue at work: When it’s not raining, and it becomes too warm to hike in a hardshell, there’s no place to put the JakPak. Weighing more than 2 pounds, it proved too heavy and bulky to wear tied around the waist comfortably. So, you basically have to wear the thing during your entire hike -- or wear an extra pack or belt to stow it, which sort of defeats the one-jacket-does-it-all purpose. We don’t tend to hike in a hardshell for long periods unless it’s actually raining or snowing.
There was one component of the jacket we thought was interesting: There are internal suspender straps that you clip to your belt or pants, which prevents the load stored in the back of the jacket from drooping. The straps really do help to balance the load. Despite that nice element, there are a few components that need to be redesigned, such as the above-mentioned snug hood, which does not have enough volume to sit over a cap and lacks the sophisticated shape to fit nicely around the face when cinched down -- partly we assume because its design is also for the bivy use.
As for the basic performance of the jacket, it was plenty waterproof, but we didn’t think it was as breathable as other shells we’ve tested. It does at least have pit zips to help regulate body temperature and moisture.
Obviously, the JakPak needs several design improvements to match the performance of other shells, or other bivy sacks. But the big question is whether the basic concept of the product has legs; is there really a market for such a shell-bivy combo? As we were testing, we kept thinking that it would still be more convenient and comfortable to carry a small pack that could hold a light sleeping bag and bivy sack, as well as a shell, which we could pull out quickly during rainstorms. Sure, there are probably some scenarios where the JakPak could serve as an emergency shelter -- say you venture out into the rain, and want a little insurance in case you have to spend the night out unexpectedly. But as a mainstream product for outdoor travel, its usefulness is limited. Still, we do appreciate that the JakPak represents an attempt to think outside the norm.
SNEWS® Rating: 3.0 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested retail: $250
For more information: www.jakpak.com