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MEC Radiator Parka – Is this the best lightweight down jacket currently available?
It’s interesting how the average consumer perceives certain brands. Take for example MEC, a company that produces a huge number of higher-end products that rival or even exceed the performance offered by more mountain-oriented brands, yet it’s often seen as a value-based company. The typical comment you’ll often hear from many outdoor users goes something like this: “Sure, the product works and it’s reasonably priced, but how can it be as good as the premium brands?”

Perhaps this type of remark was at one time accurate, but with the introduction of the MEC Radiator Parka (and other similar performance-driven garments), it’s clear that MEC is focusing on making some of the best outdoor gear available regardless of the price.
MEC Radiator Parka

MEC Radiator Parka

Intended as a shield from cold weather conditions the Radiator Parka packs a surprising amount of warmth in a shockingly light package (490g for a medium). In fact, the Radiator is one of the lightest (relative to its warmth) jackets currently available. And this includes jackets made by those other more supposedly mountain-oriented brands. As such, the Radiator is a great choice for a belay parka or for any alpine-like situation where you might have to wait out sub-zero temps.

While the Radiator’s warmth-to-weight ratio is exceptional, what I find more interesting is how MEC managed to achieve such category-leading performance. In an industry full of hyperbole and occasionally dubious proprietary innovations, MEC chose to simply focus on using the most appropriate lightweight materials while eschewing any unnecessary and weight-increasing features.

For insulation, MEC specs 850-fill goose down that has a DWR treatment. This treatment prevents the down from absorbing water or perspiration and ensures that the Radiator continues to offer warmth even after extended use in damp conditions. And while some may ask why MEC did not use even higher fill-power down (like some other companies claim to use), the reality is that higher fill down is exponentially more expensive and its increased loft (greater warmth) is largely only noticeable in controlled laboratory settings or brand-trumpeting ad campaigns.
MEC Radiator Parka Closeup

MEC Radiator Parka pocket and waist close-up.

MEC demonstrates a similarly rational design approach by using a light and reasonably durable 7-denier nylon fabric. This fabric is not only downproof, but it also has a DWR treatment to help further protect the down from moisture. The addition of a box baffle construction (rather than sewn-through baffles), allows for the down to reach its full loft while also minimizing any cold spots.

And while these insulation and material choices help minimize the Radiator’s overall weight, it’s MEC’s less obvious design details that in my opinion distinguish this jacket from its many competitors. Take for example the highly sculpted three-panel hood, which is not only helmet-compatible, but thanks to its elasticized edge (rather than traditional draw cords) offers excellent weather protection without unnecessary weight. This elasticized-edge theme is also noticeable on the cuffs, which feature a wide internal elastic band that reduces weight and bulk (compared to Velcro-style adjustable cuffs) and also ensures the down insulation fully covers the wrist area. At the lower waist, MEC employs the same wide elastic band that effectively seals out drafts without the complexity of drawcords. Other notable features, (especially if you are a climber) include the simple snap closure at the bottom of the zipper that allows you to open the lower zip and access your belay loop without exposing yourself to the elements. For storage of damp gloves, hats or skins, MEC has placed two large internal pockets that feature laser cut venting holes, which should help speed up drying. On the outside of the jacket a zippered chest pocket provides storage for small essentials while the two hand-warmer pockets serve double-duty as stuff sacks for the jacket. Yes, you read that right, the Radiator can be stuffed into its own pocket; a testament to the jackets low weight and excellent compressibility, especially when considering the jacket’s high level of warmth.
MEC Radiator Parka in pocket stuff sack

MEC Radiator Parka in pocket stuff sack.

During use the Radiator performed flawlessly and provided exceptional warmth even after multiple days of damp weather. The jacket’s low weight and compressibility make it a top choice for any winter adventure where weight and warmth are concerns. And while it may lack more urban-oriented features (what, no special tether for my selfie-stick?) it offers uncompromising performance for real-world climbing situations. Now speaking of the real world, it’s important to note that this is a lightweight and somewhat specialized garment that’s not made of some mythical wonder-fabric. MEC has made some strategic construction decisions to create an incredibly light garment. As such, the jacket is more than reasonably durable, but it will not withstand the abrasion and abuse that heavier garments can shrug off. I mention this point, not as a knock against the Radiator but rather to highlight the fact that whenever any company pushes the performance envelope in one area, there will likely be compromises; two-seater sports cars are great for going fast, but they may not be the best choice for shuttling kids to hockey practice.

Finally, back to my original comments about the perception of brands. While some folks still might be tempted to dismiss MEC products as not being sufficiently premium, they will be doing themselves a disservice. Garments like the Radiator jacket clearly prove that MEC is building products that are as good as anything on the market. In fact, you can spend significantly more on a down jacket, but you won’t necessarily be getting a better product. Highly recommended.
You can find out more about the new Radiator Parka and other MEC products at www.mec.ca.
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is a freelance writer who has been involved in the outdoor industry for over 25 years. During his career he has been the editor at Canada’s national climbing magazine, as well as the gear editor for a national cycling magazine, triathlon magazine and running magazine. His work has been published in Canada’s national newspaper, The Globe and Mail, and he has been a guest on television and radio broadcasts. His passion for climbing began in Ontario in the mid 80s and he continues to travel extensively in search of crisp conditions and steep rock.