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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Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review
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Patrick Topel
(patricktt2020) - M

Locale: Greater Yellowstone
Review on 03/16/2010 14:26:24 MDT Print View

Feathered Friends has an 11oz.,850 fill down jacket with an Epic or Nano fabric, list price $199.00 and it's made here in the States not in China! Which brings me to another subject would it be too much to ask to have the country of origin (manufacture) listed somewhere in all the statistics for every product tested? Just wondering.

Stephen Ogden
(StephenLeeOgden) - F
Amen. on 07/21/2010 14:12:35 MDT Print View

I just bought this jacket today for $65 (Red medium, no hood) at the Eddie Bauer in Columbia, MO. I own an 800 fill down Marmont vest and this is the same or better quality. Can't wait to put it to the test.

Edwin Weiser
(EdWeiser99@aol.com) - M
Compares Favorably to Marmot Zuess on 12/23/2011 12:14:03 MST Print View

I received an EB First Ascent sweater last month as a business gift. I've owned a Marmot Zuess for 2 years and have taken it on 2 long backpacking trips. At first I didn't even consider comparing the 2 because I didn't consider EB as a serious player. My son-in-law told me that the First Ascent line is serious stuff, so I started seriously comparing.

I'm impressed. This is a great down sweater with an excellent warmth to weight ration. As others have noted, it's very difficult to accurately compare warmth, but subjectively, this is just as good as the Zuess and weighs 1 oz less. I like the DWR finish on the EB. The best feature is the fleece lined pockets; such a nice treat compared to slippery nylon when your hands are cold.

I'm still not sure which sweater I'm going to take on my next backpacking trip. It's nice to have a choice!