Review: Nau Asylum Jacket, Sanctuary from the Storm

No doubt you've seen their quietly spoken adverts on our site and thought, "Nau? What is that all about?" And the question would be a valid one.

For here is a company that hides its light under bushel. Their apparel bears no external logo; their colour palette looks like it was designed for a Ninja wanting to blend in with surroundings, not scream out "look at me!"; they don't sell through any of the traditional outdoor outlets (only their own 'webfronts', where they give you a discount if you don't take the garments home with you) and their (Flash encumbered) online store. Oh, and they give 5% of your purchase dollars away—to others more in need.

It's a brow-wrinkling, forehead-scratching way of doing business. Which is the whole point. Nau wants to be the antithesis of 'business as usual.' A green outdoor company that wants to apply their motto of 'beautiful, sustainable, performance' to every garment in the range.

"Yeh, yeh," you might be saying, "Enough of the philosophy, how does their product actually perform?" After the fold we look at their top-of-the-line Alpine jacket, the Asylum.Okay, so at first glance it looks like most any other high end winter jacket. It has the diecut and laminated external pockets with water resistant zippers; snug, clean styling; curving seams; articulated elbows; laminated cuffs, front zipper placket and hood visor; hood that will work with a mountaineering helmet; ventilating 'pitzips', etc.

The Asylum sports four external pockets, two on the torso away from pack hipbelts and climbing harnesses, one on the left sleeve and one of the chest, which is elaborately designed to accommodate your iPod and route its earbuds internally. Plus there are two internal pockets, one zippered and another elasticated to keep a water bottle warm, or skins close at hand. Oh, and the inner storm skirt can removed by a zipper, if required, as can the detachable hood.

The major seams are all welded, not sewn, (and then taped) to encourage maximum waterproofing.

So yeh, the Asylum has many of the characteristics of a premier Alpine jacket. Except that being Nau, they couldn't leave well enough alone. They had to give their jacket what we believe is the world's first three layer recycled fabric. The tightly woven outer face is 100% recycled polyester, about 20 percent of which is post consumer waste. Bonded to this is their waterproof/breathable layer. To which is laminated a fluffy soft, brushed inner scrim to protect the waterproof liner. And to wick away any moisture that does find itself inside, like your perspiration.

And although they don't say as much on the product's website, we assume this inner scrim is also polyester, because after a useful life the Asylum can be taken back and recycled into fresh polyester for more garments. And this unique 'Cradle to Cradle' style three layer polyester fabric might be the jacket's Achilles Heel, because the final garment weighed in at 960 grams for our medium. That's about 25% or so heavier than most three layer jackets of a similar specification, with some being even lighter.

And whilst the Asylum is very free moving and doesn't have a 'boardy' feel whilst being worn, the beefier package makes it more of a stiff bundle to jam inside your pack. One of the disadvantages of going it alone, setting out to create your own unique and more sustainable fabrications is that you pass up on those economy-of-scale, run-of-the-mill materials that everyone else is using.

(If you are in need of lighter, more compressible jacket take a peek at their two layer models, the Quintessenshell or Hooded Cleanline, pictured below)

On the upside you get a tough, durable cloth that can be recycled around and around. Most other three layer jackets we know of use nylon face and lining scrims, a material with almost non-existent recycling options.

Plus the Asylum comes with a wonderfully high rear collar that protects the nape of your neck. The overall cut provides both flexibility of movement and style—sans hood it would be swish enough for an around-town jacket. The chest hand pockets are cavernous, unlike many we've tried that barely seem to allow your digits, let alone your whole hand inside.

It has a level of tailoring that is incredibly detailed—diaphanous, high end fashion garments aren't as intricately crafted as this foul-weather jacket. The quality is also evidenced by the main front water-resistant zipper. Its from the Swiss firm, RiRi, who invented the moulded plastic zip and supply waterproof zippers to the very demanding ocean sailing fraternity. And the snap fasteners are by German company, Prym.

Although we haven't yet found a raging mountain blizzard to conclusively put the Asylum through its paces, we have sought out drenching rain at ever opportunity. Riding the bike home from work, bushwalking, long exposed coastal beaches. We even braved the wilds of the bathroom shower in the interest of a thorough product evaluation. The Asylum always kept us safely cocooned from the elements, as any good refuge should.

We're sure it will become a regular for thrashing about in telemark bowls, swinging tools in ice encrusted gullies, or keeping nasty weather at bay while sitting on the chair lift. Though the Asylum's heft may have some thinking twice before loading it into a pack for longer multi-day backcountry tours.

Personally there are a few things I'd do differently, like more velcro at the cuffs so these could be snugged in tighter, and less pockets. But when you've designed outdoor gear for a decade or more, you always find stuff you think needs tinkering with.

(You may recall that we reviewed Patagonia's Rum and Cola shoes, where the various parts were either sewn or slotted together to reduce the volume of solvents and adhesives used in production. Oddly the outdoor shellwear market seems to be heading in the reverse direction. All manner of features which were once sewn are now laminated with adhesives. Nau's Asylum follows this trend [while Finisterre's Storm Track bucks it, though not with recycled fabrics] and maybe we need to get around to asking Nau's designers for their thoughts on this conundrum.)

Disclosure: The Asylum jacket we're testing is a trade sample. However, intrigued by what the company is striving to do, this Treehugger has purchased other Nau garments with his own hard earned dough (keep an eye out for their specials), and the same attention to detail is to be found in them all.

For example during the southern winter I became much enamoured with my Base3 long sleeve zip shirt (above left) of renewable, compostable corn-based PLA. It performed equal to its petrochemical brethren. (While we still have our reservations about Ingeo, Nau does, at least, buy an equivalent amount of non-genetically modified corn to offset any that might've been used in the making of their PLA garments.) My partner was rarely out of her recycled polyester Profile fleece jacket (above right). My fingers are kept protected inside the Profile fleece gloves on the late night bike commute home.

If you like your clothing on the trim, close fitting, athletic side, with long sleeves, you'll be fine with Nau's sizing. Their scupltured tailoring is certainly not of the extra roomy, shapeless form once common in outdoor apparel. These clothes fit to you.

Nau remind us so much of the early Rohan. In their hey day (70s and 80s) l'enfant terrible of the British outdoor scene. Thinking-outside-the-box designs, exclusive performance fabrics unlike anything the industry had dabbled in before, unusual colourways, slim cut garments. A company that had opinions, did it their way and rocked the boat. They changed how the outdoor industry in the UK saw itself. We wish Nau the same success in the North American market, but with the infinitely more important agenda of corporate responsibility.

Such industry reshaping been tried before, from the ground up, by Deja Shoe, the first environmental footwear company. But we suspect that Deja were unfortunately ahead of their time, and maybe, hopefully, that time is ::Nau.

Tags: Corn | Corporate Responsibility | Cradle To Cradle

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