"Are you going to wear that almost transparent jacket for cross-country skiing?" Kate says to me. It's supposed to be packable, lightweight, and warm enough when you're moving and I reply, "Exactly! And I'm only taking one lighter double-faced underwear...imagine. I won't have anything else. Either I'm going to freeze to death and you're going to call the funeral service or we're going to do the twenty-five scheduled cross-country miles together just fine and then you'll want that jacket too." And so, we set out in December between the holidays for our first test ride with the new ski from Czech Acepac. This news is, in my opinion, quite crucial, because Acepac is expanding its product portfolio after a long time. From the 2023 season, we can look forward not only to the new bikepacking bags that Dag has already written about but also to three new jackets designed not only for bikepacking: the Acepac Countour Alpha, Countour Air, and Levity.
On Saturday, the thermometer showed -11 °C. The temperature dropped slightly to about -9 °C around noon and back to -11 °C in the afternoon. When I put my jacket over my base layer, I felt like I was dressing almost nothing. The Countour Alpha is a very lightweight and packable jacket. The sky was clear of clouds, and we had twenty-five scheduled miles around Moldava ahead of us. Just as we started, I realized I hadn’t waxed my cross-country skis.
Moreover, I had forgotten the waxes at the pension. But I didn’t want to go back and told myself I would borrow the waxes when I met someone. I took a big Pinguin Drift hip pack because my DSLR camera with a bigger lens fits nicely in it. On the fourth kilometer or so, when I was looking for some ski runners, my skis suddenly slipped like a banana peel and I threw a beautiful backflip, which I didn’t finish and landed hard on my back with my camera, which I “jammed” into my back like a rock. A cutting pain shot through my body, like being stabbed with a halberd.
The shock came almost immediately and I wanted to throw up. After ten minutes I recovered. I just sat there for a while, cursing the hell out of me. Finally, I stood up and decided that we had to test and move on. In the end, we only covered less than twenty kilometers that day. Somewhere in the middle of the way my body recovered pretty well, but we had to keep working to keep it from getting stiff. So we worked like horses. Along the way, we met a retired member of the mountain rescue service. We told him what happened to me and we thought we should call the mountain rescue service. He looked at us, gave us a sarcastic smile, and said that there is no way that someone would come to the “plain” mountain, plus, we would have to pay for it, and he said we don’t want that. Except maybe if the whole cabin fell on you, like what happened to me when I wanted to rest after a hard uphill when I leaned lightly against a porch pillar. That’s when the cabin fell like a domino and I was left under it. He said that he spent an hour digging himself out. Okay, so I’m gonna be a tough guy too, and we’re moving on. Along the way, we had several downhills. At the end of our way, I realized I hadn’t felt cold. Basically, I was kind of comfortable all day. The Countour Alpha jacket relies on an inner layer of Polartec Alpha material that works. You can see its detail in the following photos.
Polartec Alpha is a lightweight insulating material initially developed for US Special Forces tactical winter uniforms. It is designed to actively warm itself with the heat produced by your body. Polartec Alpha can also regulate excess heat because it is also breathable enough. You don’t overheat unnecessarily. But even Polartec Alpha isn’t 100% perfect. If you don’t move, it won’t perform ideally, but if you’re going to be active, it’s an ideal insulating layer. You don’t need to deal with changing layers at all. This is something that comes in handy. That was my first impression from the first weekend of testing. The weight of the Contour Alpha is 300 g / size L.
the pain in my back returned in the evening. I didn’t get much sleep. On Sunday morning, everything seemed better again, and we skied another twenty kilometers that day. Three days later, I decided to visit a doctor because the pain was returning. He told me I could have been dead if I had had internal bleeding. Fortunately, the sonography went well. All that resulted was one broken rib and bruised muscle. I also discovered that I had one extra rib on each side, and that’s not that common. He advised me not to be cremated once I leave this world. It would be better if I sold my skeleton to the medical school as a teaching exhibit. And I’d still be able to provide for my family. Well, thank you very much, Doctor.
Foggy and cold
The snow has disappeared from the mountains and the 2022 year was over. For a while, something like “January spring” arrived. Awakened and buzzing fly at home was an indication that is time for a short bikepacking with my son in the Brdy mountains. The sky was clear, and the night was supposed to be a full moon. This time I wore an Acepac Levity jacket with BHBmicro insulation layer.
It is the absolute thermal insulation leader among extreme outdoor materials. The advantage of the material is perfect insulation and unlike down insulation, this material can withstand very rough handling and can be washed in the washing machine without any problems. Of course, it does not wick moisture as well compared to Polartec Alpha material, but again it cools down significantly slower. And these were exactly the features I needed for the trip with my son Jonas. I knew we’d be going slower. We’d be stopping a lot and then when we got to the campsite, we’d get pretty warm while making a fire, but we’d be sitting statically by the fire for the rest of the evening. I couldn’t have picked a better choice. Levity met my expectations exactly. The temperature during the day was about 9°C and at night it dropped to about 5°C. In the morning it was even down to zero. During the night, a full moon sailed across the sky to bring with it a total change in the weather. At about 2 a.m., the fog came in like the Reed Bunny and Jonah woke me up when water started dripping on his sleeping bag through the mosquito net of his hammock. I got out of my hammock and put on the Levites.
Almost blindly, I hung both of our tarps above us. Through the thick fog, I couldn’t see the opposite tree. The hammocks were lost in the mist. I just estimated that we had 90% humidity. I looked at my cell phone to see what was going on and the weather radar said it was not raining in my area. 😊 Oh, so it was condensed humidity from the trees raining down on us. While I was hanging the tarps, a film-like layer of moisture formed all over Levity. But that was always enough to just “blow it off” and nothing went inside the jacket. In the morning, I looked at the manufacturing labels and checked that the cover material used on all the jackets is indeed Nylon Airpore.
The advantage of the Nylon Airpore material is good water repellency (C6 DWR treatment). The declared water repellency was excellent. The material is also sewn in a ripstop finish. I did find one drawback to the Levity. If you start playing active sports in the Levity, the jacket doesn’t handle the excess heat. You start to get a little cooked and then you find moisture on the inner lining. But the manufacturer has kept this in mind, and that’s why you’ll find zippered vents on the back of both sleeves. This can speed up the ventilation. The Levity is also the only one of the three jackets with an insulated hood. And that’s a good thing because the Levity is designed more for less dynamic activities like bikepacking with the kids, skiing, and camping, but also casual hiking through the winter landscape.
After all, Levity worked perfectly when we rode through the frozen and windy landscape on the chairlift to Skalka pod Ještědem a week later. Jonáš’s friend Miki also borrowed Levity and was very satisfied. 😊 And the weight of Levity? 314 g / size L
Fighting the wind
For the third test, we went to the Krkonoše Mountains. We chose a route through the romantic valley of the White Elbe and then a skialp route to the Hollmanova path leading to Erlebachova hut. And that was a great trip. It was -8 °C and the weather was windy all the time. Katka was wearing a Countour Alpha jacket this time. She confirmed that all my findings so far were valid. So, we got a perfect test of how the Nylon Airpore top material behaves. But, I shouldn’t forget one more thing. Both the Countour Alpha and the Levity have the main hand pockets sewn a little higher up. I’m assuming this is on purpose to make room for a hip belt from a backpack or hip pack. I can’t think of a better explanation, and if that’s the case, I commend it.
Acepac kills two birds with one stone as all three jackets are windproof and have very well-designed drawstrings around the neck and also around the head where there are another drawstrings. On the Levity, it’s just a velcro closure on the hood. On the Countour Alpha, the hood is noticeably modified so that it can also be pulled over a cycling helmet and secured.
Kids had to become testers
Finally, we still had to test the new Contour Air jacket. This windbreaker is the same as the Contour Alpha but without the insulation layer. A week later we went to the Jizera Mountains again. But who ended up testing the Contour Air? Finally, little Valja tested it for you. The Countour Air jacket was a bit big for her, but it confirmed our impressions. She said it doesn’t blow at all and the back pocket is good for chocolate bars. And the weight… 121 g / size L
All three jackets are pretty cool. Light as a feather, super packable, and made with suitable materials. it’s a step in the right direction for Acepac and especially us, users. All the ladies who participated in the testing unanimously say that Acepac still needs to add more women’s fits to the range. They are probably right. 🙂 And if I had to sum it up, I was personally surprised by the quality of workmanship. None of the jackets is a perfect all-rounder, but that wasn’t the goal either. If I had to choose a jacket based on activity, I’d wear the Countour Alpha with Polartec Alpha insulation for cross-country skiing or cycling. If I were walking or camping, then I would wear Levity with BHMmicro insulation as a replacement for the down. Ironically, the less equipped Contour Air will find use year-round. It will be a good windproof layer during the winter months. That’s how we used it too. In summer, on the other hand, you can use the Contour Air as a classic windbreaker and partly as a raincoat.
- excellent craftsmanship
- low weight
- excellent collapsibility
- good choice of insulation and covering materials
- sufficient wind resistance and water repellency
- reasonable prices compared to competitors
- Levity jacket: condensation is noticeable when the body is heated more.
1690 - 3280, - Kč
121 - 314g
Polartec, Airpore, BHBmicro