Aspen Times Weekly: Llama Fleece Jacket | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Times Weekly: Llama Fleece Jacket

by Stephen Regenold

Shear a llama and you get a fine fleece that for millennia served to insulate and protect people in the Andes region of South America. Today, a Utah company is bringing llama fleece to the mainstream.

The Kusa jacket line from Cotopaxi includes two unisex pieces. Both are baffled and stuffed with an insulation made by combining polyester with wool trimmed from the long-neck domestic beasts.

The wool produced by a llama is soft and lanolin-free, requiring less processing than sheep wool, Cotopaxi cites. Its hollow-fiber structure is touted to be light, quick-drying, and comfortable across a range of temps in the outdoors.

For three weeks, I've had the llama coat on my back. The Kusa Jacket Half Zip model costs $169 and has a nylon face fabric with a water-resistant treatment. A full-zip jacket version costs $199.

Cotopaxi touts up to a 50-degree "comfort range" with the magic llama fluff, meaning it will adapt as the air temps change. I tested it in freezing air and up to the low 60s while hiking this fall.

Overall impressions? The llama insulation is nothing revolutionary, and there are countless jackets out there using insulation from sources as normal and obscure as goose and duck down, wool, polyester, and bison fur, just to name a few.

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But as a versatile insulator, the Cotopaxi llama blend did impress. The Kusa was wearable through a range of weather, comfortable and just warm enough on cold October nights as well as for walks with my kids during the day near our neighborhood creek.

As a pull-over, there is a single "kangaroo pouch" pocket on front where your hands come together and touch inside. The jacket packs up small into its own chest pocket for transport when not in use.

Overall, the Kusa Half Zip is not a performance-oriented piece. There is no hood, and the fit, which as noted is unisex, is somewhat loose or boxy. The collar is wide open, meaning there is no way to cinch it to the neck when the wind picks up.

Lycra wrist cuffs buffer the arms against chill. But, similar to the collar, the jacket's waist has no drawstring; snaps seal the Kusa closed on the side, but they do little to block wind or seal in warm air.

Indeed, in colder weather the jacket is better as an insulating layer than a primary piece. It fits under a shell jacket and gives a lofted and hot-air-trapping layer to keep you toasty in temps below freezing.

Like wool, llama hair can insulate when wet. The blend in this jacket, which is 50 percent polyester, did remain somewhat lofted when I soaked the coat in a test.

Also like wool, Cotopaxi cites, the llama fibers are naturally antimicrobial, meaning they will not retain odors like some synthetics can.

In the end, the Kusa is a stylish and unique sustainable jacket. Its secondary traits come in the technical realm.

For performance in the backcountry, I'll stick with other jackets in my closet. For wearing around town and hiking with friends, a jacket like the Kusa is a fun and affordable insulation option.

Stephen Regenold writes about outdoors gear at http://www.gearjunkie.com.

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