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.
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.
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.
Front and rear views of the Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight Sweater.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
|Eddie Bauer (http://www.eddiebauer.com/)|
|2009 First Ascent Downlight Sweater|
|Men’s regular and tall S to XXL
Women’s regular, petite, tall S to XXL
|Hoodless jacket with full front zip|
|Shell is 1.06 oz/yd2 (36 g/m2) ripstop polyester with DWR
Lining is 1.3 oz/yd2 (45 g/m2) nylon taffeta
|800 fill-power down|
|Sewn through with 2.5-in (6-cm) horizontal quilting (men’s), 4-in (10-cm) rectangular quilting (women’s); set-in sleeves|
|Measured two-layer loft is 1.75 in (4.5 cm)|
|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|
|Size men’s Large tested
Measured weight: 12.6 oz (357 g)
Manufacturer specified average weight: 13.4 oz (380 g)