Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review

This jacket really rocks - an excellent balance of light weight, basic features, warmth, wind and water resistance, and cost.

Recommended

Overall Rating: Recommended

The Downlight Sweater gets it right. It’s an excellent balance of light weight, essential features, warmth, and value. It fits well and will layer over a couple of thick baselayers, a thin jacket, or a vest. Its wind and water resistance are excellent – no water leaked through the seams in my standing water test. It’s not the very lightest jacket among its peers, but it’s an excellent balance that will satisfy many hikers.

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by Will Rietveld |

Introduction

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review - 1
Hiking in the Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater on a cold January day in Arches National Park, Utah

Eddie Bauer was not on my radar screen to find lightweight performance outdoor clothing. That changed with the introduction of their First Ascent line, in concert with a successful Everest expedition in May 2009. Their experienced climbing team provided a lot of input into the garments’ design, which is evident in the Downlight Sweater. This jacket has an excellent balance of light weight and essential features, it’s very warm, and it’s a great value.

Description

The Downlight Sweater meets our requirements for ultralight three-season backpacking: it’s insulated with high-loft down (800 fill-power), has a lightweight shell with a DWR finish, has a minimal feature set (see the feature list in the specifications table at the bottom of this review), and weighs less than 14 ounces (397 g). A special edition of this jacket insulated with 900 fill-power down is available for a limited time. A hooded version is not available.* (*Editor's note: a hooded version became available in late 2010.)

The shell fabric is 1.1 oz/yd2 ripstop polyester, which is more water resistant than nylon and nearly as strong. Actually, modern polyesters are essentially equivalent to nylon for strength and durability.

Eddie Bauer claims that the features of garments within the First Ascent line are designed to be compatible when worn together, including body sizing and length, location of pockets and zippers, sleeve length, need for a hood, etc. I have not personally tested this.

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review - 2
Several things stood out when I first discovered the Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater: it’s available in both men’s (left) and women’s models (right), it’s available in regular and tall sizes (plus petite for women), and it costs about US$50 less than many other down jackets.

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review - 3
Front and rear views of the Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater.

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review - 4
The front of the jacket (left) has two zippered handwarmer pockets that are fleece-lined. There are two drop pockets on the inside (right) that are very convenient for drying gloves, or for keeping a variety of smaller items warm and handy.

Performance

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review - 5
I tested the Downlight Sweater in late fall and winter while backcountry skiing (shown), snowshoeing, winter hiking, and snow camping. Note that I am wearing the down jacket over a shell jacket during a break; the jacket does not have a hood.

The Downlight Sweater in size Large has a roomy fit on me (6 feet, 167 pounds, 37-inch chest, 34-inch arms), with enough room inside to wear several thin layers or another jacket or vest. Its 27.5-inch (70-cm) body extends below the hips (see photos). The tall version’s body is 2 inches (5 cm) longer and sleeves are 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) longer.

I measured the jacket’s double-layer loft at 1.75 inches (0.9 inches single layer / 4.4 cm double, 2.3 cm single), which is good. Eddie Bauer does not specify the amount of down in the jacket. In my field trials I found the jacket to be quite warm when worn while hiking on cold days, worn as a midlayer under a shell while backcountry skiing on cold days, worn as a midlayer under another insulated jacket while snow camping, and worn in my sleeping bag to extend its warmth.

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review - 6
I measured the “Relative Warmth” of the Downlight sweater according to the method developed by subscriber Richard Nisley and posted in the Backpacking Light forums. I inserted a heating pad pre-heated to 95 F (35 C) into the jacket (back side up; room temperature at 60 F / 16 C) and measured the surface temperature in twenty locations after one hour with an infrared thermometer (left). The Relative Warmth (average surface temperature) for the men’s version was 77 F and 74 F (25 C and 23 C) and for the women’s version (right). The difference between the two is not significant, so the men’s and women’s versions have equivalent warmth. Note that the seams on the men’s version leaked more heat than the women’s version.

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review - 7
In December I wore the Downlight Sweater while hiking in a wet snowstorm (31 F / -1 C) for several hours, and found the jacket’s DWR finish repels water for awhile, then wets out (right). The sleeves (right) wetted out more on the underside where they contact the jacket. I weighed the jacket and found it absorbed 0.7 ounce of water. The water did not soak through the jacket and wet the down.

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review - 8
I followed up my field observations with a one-hour indoor “puddle test” (left). The results confirmed my field observations - the fabric surface wetted some (which is difficult to show with a photo), but NO water soaked through the fabric or the seams to wet the down. The tray I placed inside the jacket was completely dry.

The jacket’s water resistance is excellent; although the outside surface of the shell wetted somewhat with prolonged exposure to water, no water soaked through to wet the down or enter the inside of the jacket. This suggests that the surface DWR could stand some improvement, but fabric and seam resistance to water penetration is excellent. From my testing experience, only the Rab Microlight Jacket has better water resistance; in that case the shell fabric did not wet out and no water passed through the seams.

I also found the Downlight Sweater to have good wind resistance. The elastic cuffs and hem seal well, but the neck is loose. While hiking into the wind on a cold day in Arches National Park (top photos) I felt a cold draft around my neck, but when I put my chin inside the collar, it sealed better.

Lastly, I did not have any problems with the shell fabric snagging easily, as I have seen with a few jackets. Overall, the shell fabric is very soft, adequately durable with reasonable care, mostly downproof (only an occasional feather came through), and very water resistant.

Comparisons

The following table compares specifications of jackets similar to the Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater. All jackets have premium down insulation, sewn-through construction, and a full-height front zipper. Manufacturer data for size men’s medium are shown.

Jacket Shell Fabric Insulation Measured Single Layer Loft (in / cm) Features Weight (oz / g) Cost (US$)
Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater 1.06 oz/yd2 polyester 800 down 0.9 / 2.3 Two zippered hand pockets, two inside drop pockets, elastic cuffs and hem 13.4 / 380** 169
Mountain Hardwear Nitrous 1 oz/yd2 polyester 800 down 0.6 / 1.5 Two unzippered hand pockets with flap, zippered chest pocket, drawcord hem, elastic cuffs 12.0 / 340 220
Rab Microlight Jacket 1.3 oz/yd2 Pertex Microlight (nylon) 750+ down 0.75 / 1.9 Two unzippered hand pockets, zippered chest pocket, elastic cuffs and hem 11.3 / 320 190
Patagonia Down Sweater* 1.4 oz/yd2 polyester 800 down 0.9 / 2.3 Two zippered hand pockets, one inside zippered mesh pocket, drawcord hem, elastic cuffs 12.4 / 352 200
Western Mountaineering Hooded Flash Jacket 0.9 oz/yd2 (dot ripstop nylon) 850+ down 0.9 / 2.3 Insulated hood, elastic cuffs and hem, two unzippered hand pockets 9.0 / 255 260
MontBell Alpine Light Down Jacket 30 d Ballistic Airlight (nylon) 800 down 1.1 / 2.8 Two unzippered hand pockets, two inside drop pockets, elastic cuffs and hem 11.3 / 320 160

*The Patagonia Down Sweater has been upgraded since BPL reviewed it in 2005. Data in the table (except loft) are for the current version.

** The actual weight for size Large is 12.6 ounces (357 grams).

The Eddie Bauer Downlight Sweater compares favorably with similar jackets in terms of down quality, loft, and cost. The closest comparison is the Montbell Alpine Light Down Jacket which has a little more loft, weighs about 1.5 ounces (43 g) less, and costs a little less. The Western Mountaineering Flash Jacket has similar loft and features, weighs about 3 ounces (85 g) less (and has a hood), but it costs $90 more.

Assessment

The Downlight Sweater has become one of my favorite ultralight down jackets. It’s an excellent balance of light weight, basic features, warmth, and cost. It is sized well for layering under it, and the fleece-lined pockets are appreciated on cold days. Its water and wind resistance are excellent. I can personally do without the pocket zippers to save a little weight, but that feature gets down to personal preference.

Overall, the Downlight Sweater is well designed and sized, it's lofty and warm, and a great value. It’s quite light weight, but not the lightest. It’s an excellent choice when you realize that the lightest jackets with comparable warmth cost about $100 more. I noticed the Downlight Sweater on sale in late 2009 at $139, which is an outstanding value.

Specifications and Features

  Manufacturer

Eddie Bauer (http://www.eddiebauer.com/)

  Year/Model

2009 First Ascent Downlight Sweater

  Sizes Available

Men’s regular and tall S to XXL
Women’s regular, petite, tall S to XXL

  Style

Hoodless jacket with full front zip

  Fabrics

Shell is 1.06 oz/yd2 (36 g/m2) ripstop polyester with DWR
Lining is 1.3 oz/yd2 (45 g/m2) nylon taffeta

  Insulation

800 fill-power down

  Construction

Sewn through with 2.5-in (6-cm) horizontal quilting (men’s), 4-in (10-cm) rectangular quilting (women’s); set-in sleeves

  Loft

Measured two-layer loft is 1.75 in (4.5 cm)

  Features

Down-filled stand up collar, full height #5CNs YKK reverse coil zipper with one slider and storm flap under zipper, two fleece-lined zippered side pockets, two interior drop pockets, elastic cuffs and hem (no drawcord), 1.5 in (3.8 cm) dropped tail, chamois chin guard, stuffs into left hand pocket

  Weight

Size men’s Large tested
Measured weight: 12.6 oz (357 g)
Manufacturer specified average weight: 13.4 oz (380 g)

  MSRP

US$169
Disclosure: The manufacturer provided this product to the author and/or Backpacking Light at no charge, and it is owned by the author/BPL. The author/Backpacking Light has no obligation to review this product to the manufacturer under the terms of this agreement.


Citation

"Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review," by Will Rietveld. BackpackingLight.com (ISSN 1537-0364).
http://backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/eddie_bauer_first_ascent_downlight_sweater_review.html, 2010-03-02 00:05:00-07.

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Forum Index » Editor's Roundtable » Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review


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Addie Bedford
(addiebedford) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review on 03/02/2010 15:00:47 MST Print View

Companion forum thread to:

Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review

Dave U
(FamilyGuy) - F

Locale: Rockies
Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review on 03/02/2010 16:46:08 MST Print View

Wow - fantastic performance for the price!

Travis Leanna
(T.L.) - MLife

Locale: Wisconsin
Re: Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review on 03/02/2010 20:43:47 MST Print View

My Eddie Bauer had the 900-fill at 50% off. $100 instead of $200.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: EB 1st Ascent Downlight Review on 03/02/2010 21:58:03 MST Print View

I considered the Downlight sweater recently with the sale prices, but didn't think it would be much different than a Mountain Hardwear Nitrous (which I already own), especially after reading Will's recent review of the Nitrous.

Both sweaters/jackets have narrow-ish horizontal spacing. Is the spacing on the EB large enough to offset the "cold spots" of all the stitching, or is it that the EB has more down/loft, as indicated by Will's chart? Just curious . . . .

R Alsborg
(FastWalker) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
Re: Re: Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review on 03/03/2010 00:28:09 MST Print View

Bang for the Buck... Nice Review!

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
EB has more reported loft ??? on 03/03/2010 01:53:44 MST Print View

Steven,

For the average person doing camp chores sheltered from the wind, the MH Nitrous thermal tests 43F - 27F. For the same test environment, the EB First Ascent 800 thermal tests 40F - 22F. Although the EB First Ascent is actually warmer than the MH Nitrous, they will appear to be equivalent warmth jackets since the average person can only judge the feel of insulation granularity in increments of .5 clo. The EB is .3 clo warmer. These measurements ignore down loft as the theoretical determinant of insulation value.

Loft as the primary determinant of a garment's insulation value has been a consistent BPL editorial position as far back as 12/16/2001. See http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/00094.html . This article states in part,”… Measuring the loft of a down garment is a difficult thing. Each of the many chambers has a slightly different loft. Measure a jacket once, pick it up and shake it, put it down and measure it again, and you won’t get the same number. Measure it a day later and you’ll get yet another number. All of the jackets increased 10% to 20% in loft over the week of observation. As such, my loft figures are probably as good as you can expect. Under trail conditions where it has been stuffed in your pack all day, you’ll likely have less loft. I measured each jacket four times over the course of the week. Each time I made ten measurements on a jacket, four on the torso and six on the arms. A level was used to make loft measurement more accurate. I took the best two (namely, loftiest) of the measurement sessions for each jacket and averaged them for the loft measurements reported in the comparison table. The weighted loft figure I report in the comparison table takes into account that torso loft covers more of your body and is more important to overall warmth than sleeve loft. Weighted loft is calculated as follows: Weighted Loft = [(2 x Torso Loft) + Sleeve Loft] / 3 Thus torso loft gets twice the weight of arm loft in the final loft figure.

Skipping forward about 8 years, “loft determines insulation value” is still the standard BPL editorial position and loft measurement inconsistencies still exist. As a recent example, look at BPL’s reported down loft of the Montbell Ex Light Down Jacket. Mark Leaman posted to the forums on 01/13/2010 07:28:41 that Will measured the loft of the EX jacket as .75” in his backpackgeartest review. In Will’s BPL Mountain Hardwear Nitrous Jacket Review table he measured the loft of the EX as .5”. In Will’s BPL PHD Mountain Software Ultra Down Pullover Review table he measured the loft of the EX as 1”.

Similar inconsistencies exist in the BPL measurement of sleeping bags that are very easy to see by comparing the BPL measured loft values with the EN 13537 test results. Reference http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/forums/mb_post_form.html?po=edit&note_ id=219939
&forum_thread_id=26645 . Subsequent to my post, the BPL measured 2.5” loft for the Marmot Hydrogen was changed to a 2” measured loft. This was the original table in the article.

Original Table

Even if you specified a common method to get a loft reading, there is no Domestic or International standard that recognizes loft as a determinant of thermal resistance (insulation value). Only a traceable national lab calibration, in combination with a guarded hot plate, a thermal flow meter, or a calibrated manikin is recognized. If you have nothing else to go by, then a ruler will give you a gross approximation but to expect accurate thermal insulation resolution is a mistake.

Edited by richard295 on 03/03/2010 12:03:03 MST.

Lucas Boyer
(jhawkwx) - MLife

Locale: 38.97˚N, 95.26˚W
re: review on 03/03/2010 07:24:56 MST Print View

Nice write-up Will. I really appreciate the thoughtfulness that goes in to these reviews. Overkill for the average layman, but pure erotica for enthusiasts! You write:

" The closest comparison is the Montbell Alpine Light Down Jacket which has a little more loft, weighs about 1.5 ounces (43 g) less, and costs a little less. "

Playing devil's advocate, is Eddie Bauer giving me any reason to trust an outdoor gear provider turned strip mall clothing retailer for my backcountry clothing needs? I think they are by reading the review, but I'm not sure why I wouldn't go w/ the MontBell for the marginal gain in loft, lower weight and price. Not to mention a reputable name in gear. I hope Eddie Bauer gets back to its roots and can offer price points this competitive on all of its gear. I have a wool sweater that I bought at E.B. about 15 years ago. I use it for car camping, etc. I even throw it in to the washing machine, despite the instructions not to. Can't seem to destroy it.

Mike Snodderley
(Snodds) - F

Locale: Midwest
Re: re: review on 03/03/2010 08:48:00 MST Print View

I can definitely see where you're coming from with those sentiments. I opted for the EB jacket purely because I could try it on in a store without having to do the online return process. For clothing, I generally want to have some idea what the manufacturer sizes like, and with Mont Bell, I have no access to their clothing locally. If I could have tried Mont Bell's stuff on before buying, I may well have gone with it.

Another advantage of EB's locations (malls) is that they are easy to get to and you can exchange items on the spot. That's fantastic for me, I hate dealing with shipping items back and forth.

I think, to a limited extent, EB is trying to get back in the game. Its like a reverse North Face! Although, I suppose we can't really blame these companies for getting into the luxo clothing lines. It's where the money is at.

As for the jacket itself, the only problem I have experienced with it in about 2 months of ownership is the baffles on the back get all their down smooshed out of the middle if you wear it with a backpack a lot. I have to shake the down back in about once a week or so.

Donna C
(leadfoot) - M

Locale: Middle Virginia
Re: re: review on 03/03/2010 10:09:29 MST Print View

Eddie Bauer used to be owned by Spiegel, so that may be why the quality shifted. Now I believe they are owned by CCMP Capital, who also have a share in Cabela's and a few other well-know stores. This could be why some changes are being made.

Richard Nisley
(richard295) - M

Locale: San Francisco Bay Area
Down Loft Measurements - What ever you want it to be? on 03/03/2010 11:21:36 MST Print View

Down loft measurements are not a reliable method to measure the insulation value. The table, in the article, lists the loft of the MB Light Down Jacket as 1.1".

Another BPL staff member reported the loft as 1.25" in his forum post http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/backpackinglight/xdpy/forum_thread/10136/index.html?skip_to_post=73469#73469

I just took 2 pictures of a MB Light Down Jacket's loft:

loft1

2 layers

Edited by richard295 on 03/03/2010 11:59:33 MST.

Mike Snodderley
(Snodds) - F

Locale: Midwest
Measuring Warmth on 03/03/2010 11:43:52 MST Print View

To me, warmth is highly subjective, and thus numerical measurements of warmth or things that equate to warmth hold little sway with me.

I think perhaps a panel approach, though more expensive and time consuming, would be worth exploring as a way to articulate the warmth of a piece of clothing. Some people run 'hot' and others run 'cold', and their perspectives on identical items could give people a sense of what to expect.

Using multiple people with varying perceptions of temperature would make sort of a 'safe range' where a reader could be relatively certain that an article of clothing will perform for them in a given situation. For example one reviewer could say 'I was able to stay warm in this at a moderate activity level down to 20 degrees' or 'Even when I was really exerting myself, my extremities felt cold at 30 degrees or below.'

To me, this kind of information is far more valuable than the relative warmth test or how much loft there is or is not.

Christopher Knaus
(Knaushouse) - M

Locale: Northern California
Offered in Tall sizes... on 03/03/2010 11:51:48 MST Print View

Kudos to Eddie Bauer and First Ascent for offereing this in a tall size. For some time, I have been in the market for this sort of prodcut to fit my 6'4" frame and 37" sleeves. I have been reluctant to drop big bucks on a product that didn't fit and left me with cold wrists! My research found only that only First Ascent and Feathered Friends offered a tall version; both with a $20 extra charge. I'd be interested to learn of other competetive, tall products, but this review gives me confidence in making the plunge to this product. Thanks for the review...

Lucas Boyer
(jhawkwx) - MLife

Locale: 38.97˚N, 95.26˚W
RE: Tall sizes on 03/03/2010 12:14:56 MST Print View

Christopher, I hear ya'. At 6'5" I'm struggling w/ some garments and loving others, all the same size!! Fortunately, my arms aren't as long as yours and I can get away w/ regular length large in "most" garments. My torso is a touch long and that can lead to some belly shirts. Unfortunately, garment makers interpret "tall" as needing to go ahead and stretch everything out. Whoa! I have long arms and torso, but how does that imply that my gut expanded by a comparable amount? I have pretty much stopped even considering tall sizes because I like athletic fit clothing, not circus tents.

As for the MontBell vs. EB: obviously YMMV, but I'd say they are close enough to each other that either will work for "most" people. I'm all for a panel of testers who can perform the same activity, etc. and report back their findings. Start sending me gear:) I'd be happy to contribute! As for having retail locations to try on and touch and feel, that's a gold mine.

Keith Selbo
(herman666) - F

Locale: Northern Virginia
A best buy! on 03/03/2010 18:13:12 MST Print View

I guess I'll have to pay attention to the EB catalog when it comes now.

James Naphas
(naphas13) - MLife

Locale: SoCal
Re: A best buy! on 03/06/2010 15:27:23 MST Print View

>I guess I'll have to pay attention to the EB catalog when it comes now.<

I bought the EB down sweater for my son, a powerstretch 1/4 zip for myself...on sale at considerably below the MSRP, one of the advantages of dealing with a major retailer. The down sweater cost less than a MB Alpine light, even including sales tax. Both pieces from EB are really nice garments that easily qualify as serious outdoor gear.

John Z
(Feather) - MLife
$119 at Eddie Bauer - First Ascent Downlight Sweater on 03/06/2010 15:31:44 MST Print View

Found this on sale for $119 in the Eddie Bauer store today. Don't know how long the sale will last.

Rod Lawlor
(Rod_Lawlor) - MLife

Locale: Australia
Still $169 0n the website on 03/06/2010 16:00:42 MST Print View

I guess they must have seen this thread too!!

Bradley Danyluk
(dasbin) - MLife
loft vs warmth on 03/06/2010 23:04:23 MST Print View

I really would like to hear BPL's official response to Richard's issue (that BPL is still endorsing or at least suggesting the use of loft as a measurement of warmth - not to mention the inconsistent measurements).

This has been bugging me lately in just about every BPL review that involves insulation.

IMO, BPL should *only* be publishing measured thermal resistance in sleeping bags and clothing, and *not* mention loft at all. I know many will disagree here, but unfortunately if you are using loft to gauge how warm something will be, you are being led astray.

As an example, my first thought on reading this would be "hey, the Mont-Bell has more loft, is lighter, and cheaper - I should get that instead."
But both the inconsistent loft measurements by BPL as well as the unsuitability of using it as a measurement of warmth means that the Mont-Bell jacket may not actually be warmer. It could be not as warm, in fact.

I'm glad that at least relative warmth has been measured in some capacity, but nothing is shown to compare it to. If it's because you're just starting to measure this now and in the future, and don't have any other measurements on other products, fine, but at least delete the "measured loft" section on the table, because it will mislead people into thinking that those numbers are the ones to use for comparing the warmth of these garments.

As for Mike's comment - there is so much information here in the BPL forums which disproves "warmth is subjective." I suppose that the times which you *feel* warm are subjective in part, but insulation value is completely measurable. Additionally, and more importantly, subjective statements of warmth during whatever activity in whatever temperature have shown to be almost entirely meaningless. You don't know what the person's thermal output is (very small changes in activity can change this a large amount), how the wind is affecting things, what the sky temperature and radiation losses are, how much moisture is currently on - and evaporating from - the person's skin, what the humidity level is, if the person was slightly hypo- or hyperthermic for a period of time before the evaluation, etc. A small change in any one of these can mean the difference between "feels nice and warm" and "I was cold."

Edited by dasbin on 03/06/2010 23:20:54 MST.

Lawrence Cooper
(LawrenceCooper) - MLife

Locale: Mid Atlantic
Eddie Bauer vs LL Bean Down Sweater on 03/11/2010 07:17:33 MST Print View

I almost bought the Eddie Bauer Down Sweater, but my wife clued me in on the LL bean Down Sweater -- it was 800 fill, better fit, and cost a litle less.

You should check it out - it has worked very well for me.

eric chan
(bearbreeder) - F - M
fill weights for FA down jackets on 03/14/2010 22:57:06 MDT Print View

Asked Whittaker shop last year ...

--------------------


Here are the approximate weights in GRAMS of the items in question below. I say grams because you asked for ounces, but we have the measurement in grams (please convert...I'm in another all day meeting today and tomorrow or I'd do it for you from somewhere out on the web)

I also say approximate because there may be SLIGHT variations.

Mens Peak XV - 365.5 grams
Mens Downlight Swtr - 115 grams