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need down jacket advice
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Loki Cuthbert

Locale: Portland, OR
need down jacket advice on 09/25/2012 18:42:10 MDT Print View

Today I stopped by Oregon Mountain Community to try on some down jackets that I've been looking at on-line. So far I've been surviving in cotton thermals and a rain jacket on cold nights in camp. I've already got my smartwool thermals ordered. Now it's time to find a real jacket.

Montbell alpine light 12oz $140 - This jacket is thick and warm I really can see myself weathering some cold times in this bad boy. On the other hand I feel like the neck is WAY too tight. I tried it on in a size medium and it fits perfectly in the body, but once you pull the zip up over your throat it is restricting(all other jackets where size medium and I had no problems with fit). I'm not sure if I'd be able to live with this. Also part of the reason to have this jacket is to boost the temp range of a 30* bag and I kinda feel like I would over heat in this jacket.

Montbell UL 8oz $131 - This jacket is nice and I really like the look of it. I can definitely enjoy that it's only 8oz, but I wonder if it will leave me wanting a warmer jacket. I kinda feel like I should buy the jacket that I can get the most use of first and if I want a lighter jacket down the line for a special reason then I would buy it

patagonia down sweater 12oz $110 - I know there isn't a ton of love for this jacket on the forum. Mostly because it's over priced and under performs at the $200 msrp, but I can get it for close to half off and I personally love the way it looks. If I buy another jacket for backpacking I would almost consider buying one of these to wear around town. If I took it out backpacking I don't know if I'd be wanting more jacket if this is what I brought.

mountain hardware nitrous 13oz $122 - I feel pretty much the same way about this jacket as I do the patagonia down sweater accept I prefer patagonia's colors.

I really want to love the alpine light the most. It has high performance low cost and reasonable wieght. Does anyone else have problems with the neck? I tried the size larger and didn't have an issue, but I didn't like the fit of the rest of the jacket. The neck seems to feel nice and warm I don't know if I'd leave it down unless I was super cold. I don't think I could wear a balaclava with it zipped up or it would strangle me to death.


Tyler Barcelli

Locale: Southeast
Re: need down jacket advice on 09/25/2012 19:23:43 MDT Print View

What are your expected temperatures? Without knowing that its hard to recommend one over the other

Richard Lyon
(richardglyon) - MLife

Locale: Bridger Mountains
Comparing down jackets and sweaters on 09/25/2012 20:29:42 MDT Print View


Thanks to pressure from the UL community there are two categories of down jackets/sweaters:

-- lightweight pieces, usually with high-insulating down but not too much of it, intended as a mid-layer, to replace fleece or a wool sweater. All your prospective choices except the MontBell Alpine Light fall into this category. I'll call these down sweaters.

-- true down jackets, intended as outer layers to seal out the cold and maybe provide some waterproof-breathable protection. These may be made of lightweight fabrics but they tend to bulk up on zippers, collars, sleeve protection, drawstrings, and the like, as you'd expect in an outer layer.

Both are great products, but they have different purposes. As Tyler says, your choice depends on the temperatures you'll face and why you want a down piece. I own both types. I think a down sweater will keep you warm by itself down to 40 F/4 C; if warmth below that range is what you're after, go for the Alpine Light. If it's a true sweater, any of the others (i've owned a MB UL and Patagonia sweater) will be fine.


Kimberly Wersal
(kwersal) - MLife

Locale: Western Colorado
re: Down Jackets on 09/25/2012 21:00:10 MDT Print View

My husband and I both have the MB Alpine Light--neither of us has any issue with the necks feeling tight (but maybe we have pencil necks?). It is a nice balance between real warmth and light weight. I also have the UL down jacket-- I like it and have gotten a lot of use out of it, but, for backpacking, I pretty much always bring the Alpine Light-- it is substantially warmer for just a few extra ounces.

Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
down jacket on 09/25/2012 21:09:34 MDT Print View

the UL and "sweaters" are "summer" jackets, I've owned (or own) most of the jackets you list. I'd rate the Pat sweater a little warmer than the MB UL- I think that's accurate as it has a little more fill

I have the Alpine Light in the parka- it's beyond a "summer" jacket, no problem w/ the fit- maybe the parka is cut different????

if you are looking for something beyond a "summer" insulating layer, I'd recommend getting a parka- you'll appreciate the hood :)

all the jackets you've listed are pretty well thought of and proven, so as long as it meet your needs you can't go too wrong

Loki Cuthbert

Locale: Portland, OR
I'm in the Pacific North West on 09/25/2012 21:10:41 MDT Print View

being new to backpacking I'm not sure the entire range of temps that I'll end up in. I'd say temps down to 20-30* F. I'm in the the Pac NW. have done all of my backpacking so far this season between may and september.


Mike M
(mtwarden) - MLife

Locale: Montana
Re: I'm in the Pacific North West on 09/25/2012 21:22:49 MDT Print View

temps- I found I was comfortable w/ a base layer, down jacket (either the Patagonia or UL) and a windshirt over the top (along w/ a beanie and gloves) down to around freezing- I tend to run a little on the warm side and I don't spend a ton of time sitting around camp (hour or two in the evening, maybe 1/2 an hour in the morning)

the Alpine Light I've used down into the teens comfortably

one other thought- I know a lot of folks in the PNW advocate a syn insulating layer over down, not everyone, but a lot do as you usually see a lot more precip than the Mtn West

Tjaard Breeuwer
(Tjaard) - MLife

Locale: Minnesota, USA
Don't get the Alpine Light on 09/25/2012 21:23:45 MDT Print View

... if it bug's you in the store, it will certainly bug you out in the field. What use is a hooded parka if you can't zip up the neck?

Even cheaper: Stoic Hadron (coupon code save50).

Not cheap but nice, and if your in Seattle you could actually go look at it:
Feathered Friends Daybreak or warmer models

See also the reviews on the website, including the recent shootout.

The easiest way to group them is by looking a the amount of fill:

The thinnest ones (~2-3oz down) are basically a lighter version of a fleece sweater, if you think you'd be warm enough in a thick fleece, pick these.

The warmer options (~5-9 oz down) are really warm, good for mornings and evenings. around freezing and a serious boost to your sleeping bag temp rating.

The parkas with more fill than that are for real winter use.

Personally, for normal backpackping, I'd sooner pick one of the thinner ones. It needs to be lighter than a fleece jacket, otherwise you will end up bringing a fleece jacket in warmer weather. Rather have the thinner down jacket, and then add a fleece if it's cold.

If you arelooking for mild conditions, vests offer a lot of warmth for the weight and money, as long as you layer a shell over them.

Mary D
(hikinggranny) - MLife
need down jacket advice on 09/25/2012 22:44:49 MDT Print View

This article series is 2 years old now, but still lots of good info. Note that these are three-season down jackets, though, not winter.

While around Portland you're probably looking at lows in the mid-20's at worst, if you go over to the east side of the Cascades you need to be prepared for much colder temps. However, there is considerable variation--I remember sitting around in shirtsleeves while on a February winter camping instruction trip at White Pass, WA. I also remember when I was working on my accounting degree at CWU in Ellensburg, commuting from Moses Lake, leaving home with temps in the upper 30's and arriving in Ellensburg to temps around zero and all the toilets frozen in the building housing the accounting department.

Anyway, that's why Tjaard's suggestion of a thinner jacket and an additional fleece layer (which also will cope better with our rainy winters) is, IMHO, excellent. Often you need only one of those layers and sometimes you'll need both!

I can't remember ever wanting a down jacket for in-town use in Portland. Most of the time while I was still working, I wore a raincoat. During our few cold spells, I'd put in the zip-out fleece liner.

Edited by hikinggranny on 09/25/2012 22:58:30 MDT.

Stephen Komae
(skomae) - MLife

Locale: northeastern US
re: need down jacket advice on 09/25/2012 22:52:29 MDT Print View

I have the Patagonia Down Sweater and while it is a daily jacket for me once the weather gets colder I like to pack something with a bit more warmth for the weight when I go backpacking in the winter -- right now that's the Marmot Zeus, but I just snagged an Eddie Bauer First Ascent Downlight (what a mouthful) that looks like it'll be a bit warmer and lighter than the Zeus. I love my Patagonia Down Sweater but I think the fabric and build is a bit heavier than I need in the backcountry, especially when it'll be living in my pack while I'm active. On the other hand, at $100 it's a great deal and if you don't have *any* down jackets it'll do great double duty for urban and outdoors wear.

layers on 09/25/2012 23:12:21 MDT Print View

If you are a hiker, get the light one. Hikers dont spend a lot of time not moving.
Use your layers to stay warm, the jacket alone isnt intended to do it.

If you are a camper, you may want the heavier one. You will spend more time sitting around, outside of your sleeping gear.

Only you can determine this.

The fallback is always if you are cold, get in sleeping bag/quilt, or wrap up in it.

Steven Paris
(saparisor) - M

Locale: Pacific Northwest
need down jacket advice on 09/25/2012 23:19:56 MDT Print View

Another NW hiker here. The "insulation" part seems to be the hardest layer of a UL clothing system to pin down and the one most tinkered with. There isn't a perfect balance between lightweight and warmth for every place and condition; I think that's why many folks here wind up with several insulation pieces. I have a few (too many!) and keep looking at others.

Tjaard's descriptions of the two "categories" of 3-season down jackets (~2-3oz down) and (~5-9 oz down) are good. I think any of the jackets you list are good-quality, so fit and whichever amount of down you need is best. If I was getting only one, I'd get something like the Alpine Light. There's only about 1-2 months of the year here where lighter insulation is needed and then just fleece or a mid-layer would suffice. However, I wouldn't get the Alpine Light itself if the neck already bothers you; that doesn't seem like something that's going to resolve itself.

The reason PNW hikers (and in similarly wet environs) often prefer synthetic insulation is not because it is too hard to keep down insulation dry from rain, but because it is hard to keep down from slowly collapsing over several days from humidity (in the air and from you) and there isn't always a reliable break in the weather to dry it. That said, that's all theory to me; I don't seem to get out enough or in really bad weather lately where I've suffered because of my down quilt or down jacket.

Here's a good recent thread with the usual suspects discussing some of these ideas:

Finally, don't forget Next Adventure on Grand (sometimes really good prices on certain gear) and Mountain Shop, which carries Feathered Friends.

Serge Giachetti
(sgiachetti) - M

Locale: Boulder, CO
plenty of good info here... on 09/26/2012 00:12:14 MDT Print View

...can't go too wrong with any of it. But might as well add my two cents.

Sounds like you don't do much deep winter stuff yet, so I doubt you need a true down or synthetic parka just yet. For cost/weight/versatility considerations I'd look into a down/synthetic combo like a stoic hadron and a patagonia nano pullover. Together, they'd be warm enough for anything short of true winter, with good moisture management. In the dry season, you could go very light at 8oz with a hood. When its wet, you could pair a light fleece midlayer like an R1 or cap 4 with the nanopuff and be good to go. Then if you end up needing something for true winter later on you could buy a more substantial down puffy like a rab infinity or alpine light and pair it with your nano as a mid.

Together you'd pay $190 for a pretty versatile setup. You could probably also just get away with a nano (add light fleece in wet weather) as your primary 3 season insulation.

Tom Lyons
(towaly) - F

Locale: Smoky Mtns.
camp on 09/26/2012 03:03:28 MDT Print View

For the most part, a coat like that is for when you are in camp and not doing much work.
And it's probably night, or early morning, when it's the coldest parts of the day.
That requires much more insulation than when you are actively hiking.

For 20*F temps, I like a real coat for sitting around outside.
With a hood.

If it were me, I'd get a real warm down parka, and not worry about how much it weighs.
You can get very warm ones weighing about a pound or a pound and a quarter. And they compress pretty small too.

I always expect to have to carry more in the winter, or else I freeze. It's just the way winter is.

Edited by towaly on 09/26/2012 03:04:52 MDT.

drowning in spam
(leaftye) - F

Locale: SoCal
Re: camp on 09/26/2012 05:59:16 MDT Print View

^^ Agreed. More jacket insulation is needed to stay warm in camp, especially if the legs aren't going to be insulated.

Erik Basil

Locale: Atzlan
Layers on 09/26/2012 07:10:06 MDT Print View

Like some above, I use a layering system that includes/excludes a fleece that goes along with a Patagonia Down Sweater. In temps down into the high 30's I don't need the fleece, and then that takes me down into the high 20's. Below that, I go inside and enjoy an ultralight fire in the fireplace, ho ho.

There's another option if you like the Down Sweater: Costco now house-brands an extremely similar, 800-fill ultralight down jacket for $70. There's a thread with photos and a few reviews in the "Gear Deals" forum. I bought one and have recommended it to several of my friends who are putting together layering systems.

Ken Bennett
(ken_bennett) - F

Locale: southeastern usa
Re: need down jacket advice on 09/28/2012 19:24:10 MDT Print View

"Also part of the reason to have this jacket is to boost the temp range of a 30* bag and I kinda feel like I would over heat in this jacket."

Don't wear the parka to bed - instead, open it and drape it over your torso inside the bag. That way you can get a lot more coverage (I can cover from my shoulder all the way over my hips/butt) without compressing the down under you or being too warm inside the parka.

While I'm not a huge fan of hoods, I find I prefer having a down parka with a hood. It's so much warmer with very little weight penalty.

ul down on 09/28/2012 20:35:47 MDT Print View

you can get montbells ex light down right now at campsaver outlet on sale. (last yr colors). Price is 144, but another 15% off is taken for $124.

I have one in L weighs 5.9 oz,w/o stuffsack It is supposed to be warmer than the UL down jacket

My fleece has a hood, my rain jacket has a hood, My puffy doesnt need one.

James Marco
(jamesdmarco) - MLife

Locale: Finger Lakes
need down jacket advice on 09/29/2012 05:47:12 MDT Print View

Loki, I think you will find that lighter sweaters will work down to about 32F. If you plan on colder temps, around 20F, you need the heavier shell. They are different and have different purposes and temp ranges.

Down Sweaters are really excellent in sleeping bags. Low bulk, very warm and good for about a seven to ten degree boost to a summer bag (40F.) Because they are down, you can sort of adjust the upper temp range a little with unzipping all the pockets and down the front. They are great for midnight runs to the local stump. Waking up in one and getting out of the bag is nice because you don't get a temp shock. For hiking in, even at 20F, they are just too warm and tend not to breath well enough to stay dry. In rain or heavy mist, you really cannot use them. If they get wet, the down will collapse, leaving you cold...especially at night if you rely on them. If you need one under a shell, you are looking at very cold temps, indeed. While they usually have some sort of DWR, they are not shells, nor do they work all that well as one. I have never hiked the PNW but I believe it is wet...even in winter like conditions with wet snow, sleet and stuff falling off trees. Sweaters were not designed to cope with this and a shell will be better.

If you get a shell, you cannot plan on it to sleep in. If it rains(or wet snows,) you should not put it in your bag. But, if you need a shell, chances are it will be below 30F for the entire time you plan to be out. Water is not that big of a problem when it is ice or can usually brush most of it off and it does not saturate your bag over two or three nights. Older military arctic stuff had actual plastic pouches around the down to prevent moisture from penetrating the down. A good system, but really heavy. If all you are looking at is hovering around the freezing point, I think the down sweater would actually be more usefull. But you should couple that with a fleece (or shell you can unzip the lining from for hiking in.) Of course, winds will play a lot into your needs. Cold weather hiking is a matter of constant heat regulation, opening, closing, taking it off, putting it on as you hike. Water, sweat, is THE problem. Generally, you are better off hiking cold than allowing your insulating layers to get wet with sweat.

Shells may or may not have baffles. Sweaters never do. Same for hoods, though some sweaters have them. A good shell will have a lot of features, primarily pit zips, hood, high collar, dual fasteners, outer pockets (outside the insulation,) inner pockets, pass through pockets, thigh skirts/and adjustments, and more. A sweater has none of these niceties. Well, maybe a bottom adjuster. These are designed to keep you tighly sealed aganst the enviornment. The sweater relys on the shell for that protection. They simply are designed to supply insulation, maybe a few features to make them a stand-alone jacket. Again, thay are designed for two different purposes. Generally, a shell is purchased one size larger than what you would normally wear. This is to allow extra insulation under them. Sweaters are designed to fit you rather tightly, maybe with your base layer and shirt under them. I don't think the complaint of a tight neck is a problem, you likely are looking at the wrong size. The fit being poor on the rest of your body is likely due to lack of insulating layers under it. Maybe is hard to say from a distance.

James Reilly
(zippymorocco) - M

Locale: Montana
Daybreak on 09/29/2012 10:17:19 MDT Print View

If I may through another jacket in the mix. The feathered friends daybreak is on sale on their website Site. I have been using it for two seasons now and love it. It uses 900 fill power and weighs about 8 oz. It tends to be the heaviest jacket I wear year around in Missoula Montana. I highly believe in achieving warmth through layering.

The other jackets you mention seem great too but I wanted to mention my favorite. I think my real point is that a sweater/light jacket is more versatile than a 12 oz coat.