Puffy down jackets

-- Last Updated: Nov-29-11 5:56 PM EST --

I've been looking at these lightweight puffy down parkas and jackets as a packable warm garment for canoe and general camping. Goals: warmer, lighter weight and more compressible than fleece.

Some are 600 down, some 800. Some claim to be mid-layers, others outer layers. Some pack into one of their own pockets, some into stuff bags. Some have more pockets than others.

Some are made of puffy synthetic, like Primaloft Infinity, or other unintelligible proprietary names, rather than goose down.

Some have hoods, some don't. I'm really on the fence over this feature.

I've been looking on the web at Marmot (Stockholm, Ama Dablam, Guides, Cauldron), Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear, Stoic, Montbell and EMS.

Just seeking any experience, comments, recommendations or suggestions re this kind of garment, as they are all rather expensive and appear to have fragile outer material.

wet down = no more insulation
You may already know this, but didn’t mention it in your post so I did just in case.

Only in shoulder season
800 fill power is theoretically warmer than 650 or 600. I have two down jackets and frankly only use them camping in May and before and October and later.

Othwerwise in the summer I am fine with fleece. If you are winter camping the full hood would be worth consideration, but in general I have a hood phobia. The only time I miss it is just sitting around the fire in late October on the AT just south of Baxter. Its almost always below freezing and I would like a warm neck. However a wool scarf makes a fine substitute.

Now talk about my down vest. I wear that everywhere including sometimes in the summer in camp. I just dont want to risk wearing it on the water.

I too
would stay away from down on/near the water. For outrageous warmth look no further than the Patagonia DAS parka http://www.patagonia.com/us/product/das-parka?p=84101-0-804 awesome cold weather jacket.

puff ball
i have the patagonia puff ball pull over (old style, no baffles) . It’s become a year round , wear it all the time, favorite. Camping- unexpected cool night add the PB, backcountry skiing- stop for lunch- pull out the puff ball, same goes for paddling. Get off the river - first thing I look for … the PB. I like the black cause it soaks up the sun. Packs to the size of softball in its own pouch. I don’t use it for a layer in any athletic sports… except hunting or fishing. I’ve got a couple small tears that haven’t gotten any bigger and the batting has not fluffed out the holes so I have not repaired it yet…

seal the holes
once the feathers start to escape its impossible to apply a patch that sticks. If you pull out a feather, another one appears half out. Stick on patches do not stick well to feathered fabric.

Avoid down for canoeing
Go for a synthetic like Primaloft instead. They’re still light, compressable and warm, but keep insulation if they get wet.

I have a big down jacket, big down vest, thin down vest, and down sweater. (I’m not rich - all were either presents or bought at a sample sale or on clearance). I love them! I don’t wear them when I’m doing something active, but pack it for the moment I stop and start to cool down.

The only one I take kayaking is a thin down vest. It takes very little space but provides a lot of insulation under a jacket.

I wouldn’t get a hood. A toque will be cheaper and more versatile.

Not for on water use
I wasn’t clear.

The use would be general around town in winter, general outdoors in winter, general tent and van camping in shoulder seasons, and for canoe camping in cooler climes when OFF the water. In other words, for canoeing, I want something that I can carry in my Duluth pack or dry bag that is light and compressible, which I would put on when the canoe is drug ashore for the day. I feel lot colder than I used to. I will now shiver in the 40’s.

I have had a thigh length heavy down parka with a very brush resistant exterior for a long time, but it has shrunk significantly this century and has always been too bulky to take on a canoe trip.

I’m just looking for feedback on these new-to-me light and puffy, shorter-length down jackets, even if the experience has nothing to do with canoeing.

I have
The Patagonia Men’s Down Sweater


works well…had it for several years…comfy and warm and small and light to pack (I give it 5 stars out of 5)

Best Wishes


There’s lots of reviews on these at
www.trailspace.com which may help you.

Even here in Florida, I carry a small down vest for the December evenings under a rainproof jacket, and they keep things very comfortable.

I have and use the north face down coat for camping. Very compact. No hood…who uses a hood anyway, that’s what hats are for.

You can get then for about a hundred bucks too from that NJ gear warehouse that we all get catalogs from…ya know the 80 pages black & white gear catalogs that come in the mail…can’t remember their name.

advice on down fill

– Last Updated: Nov-30-11 10:47 AM EST –

I worked for a number of years in the outdoor gear biz which included factory training by the major gear manufacturers in the materials and designs of their products. I also used to design and sew my own gear, including down garments and sleeping bags. And I guided trips and taught outdoor skills including winter backpacking and mountaineering and consulted people equipping themselves for expeditions of various sorts. I have owned and heavily used multiple versions of just about every type of clothing and gear you can name over 40 years of adventurous recreation and working outdoors. So I would qualify myself as very well-informed on the subject of wilderness wear.

Honestly, I find the marketing of 800 fill down as being "superior" in this current crop of thinly quilted jacket pretty ludicrous. A higher fill power down is not inherently "warmer." The "fill" of a particular down product is a measure of how much total volume in cubic centimeters an ounce of the fluff naturally expands to under controlled conditions. It is trapped air that keeps you warm, not the fill itself. The density of the expanded garment compartment will be the same whether it is 400 fill domestic Chinese duck down or super-fine 700 or 800 fill European goose or eiderduck down. So if you have a garment whose structure creates an 800 cubic cm internal volume, it will have the same warmth whether you fill it with 2 ounces of 400 cc fill or 1 ounce of 800 cc fill. Or, for that matter, however many ounces of shredded toilet paper will maintain that expanded volume. The only place this really matters and higher fill is an advantage is in something high-volume like a winter sleeping bag, king-sized duvet or giant baffled expedition polar parka, where you might save a half a pound or more in weight by using the more efficient down fill.

However, for a 1" to 2" thick closely quilted jacket like this latest round of styles, the weight and compressible volume differential between using a few ounces of standard down and costly high-fill down, or even a quality synthetic, is so microscopic as to be negligible. In fact, with the small volume of fill in these jackets, the synthetic makes more sense since the restrictive closed quilting of the styles naturally compresses the down plumes so restrictively that the more resilient crimped fibers of a synthetic will maintain a more consistent loft. Down excels in applications where it is allowed to expand and trap air in sizable compartments, like the baffles in sleeping bags and comforters. Compressing it in these tightly quilted jackets is, frankly, a waste of the material's talents.

In the interest of transparency, I will admit I recently bought one of the close-spaced thin quilted down jackets like the ones you are looking at. It is an oddball brand (no touting of "premium" fill)but well constructed, quite similar to the North Face, Patagonia and Mountain Hardwear versions I had looked at. I bought it solely because it was dirt cheap (under $40) and I knew it would be a useful liner for my Goretex shell. Also it stuffs down to about the size of a large can of chili so it will be great for airline travel and I now carry it in my daypack for short hikes on chilly days. I have found it to be about as warm as my Helly Hansen fuzzy polarfleece jacket while being about a third of the packed volume.

But would I take this jacket on a paddling or overnight backpacking trip as my primary insulation layer? No, I would not. It is too fragile and too vulnerable to dampness and damage. Every time you wash a down item you are accelerating it's eventual demise, too. The fibers in the plumules eventually start to break down and separate with both dry cleaning and wet laundering until there is little or no lofting effect. A well-used down jacket or sleeping bag will start to lose loft within 5 years and be about half its original volume at the 10 year mark. It has to be cleaned -- left dirty the fibers will degrade even faster.

Oh, by the way, storing down garments (or bags or duvets) compressed tightly in a stuff sack also degrades the down over time. They should never be stored long term that way. They should be hung up in a closet or stuffed loosely in a pillow case or breathable cotton or mesh laundry sack.

And there is no way I would pay a premium for "800 fill" down that would only render the jacket more costly and no warmer than one with cheaper fill, and only lighter by less than the weight of a granola bar.

These jackets are 75% fashion and 25% function, more for commuters than rugged outdoor users. In fact, Trailwise, which was one of the premium wilderness sport down gear manufacturers back in the 1970's, came out with a line of similar ultralight down sweaters made of a superfine nylon taffeta back in the day. We sold a ton of them because they felt good -- people were seduced by the cozy feel, trim appearance, feather weight and silky fabric. I got one free from Trailwise as a dealer promotion. But they just were not all that warm for most conditions and quite useless in wind.

If you really think you need to have one of these, ignore the labels and go for the cheapest and simplest. (L.L. Bean has well-made light down jackets for $80 to $150). Get a windproof fleece balaclava instead of a hood to keep your head and neck warm. And wear the jacket under a shell to keep it clean and protected from damage. You'll need the shell in most wintry conditions anyway -- the quilted stitch lines in these styles allow a lot of heat loss to wind. And ignore the low temperature "comfort ranges" stated by the vendors for these jackets (LL Bean is guilty of this as well.) No way is a through-quilted down jacket with less than 2" of loft going to keep anyone warm at 20 below zero. Or even 20 above, for that matter. I can't justify $300 for a jacket like these that is really only useful for nominal warmth in the 35 to 50 degree range (where a $40 fleece or wool jacket would do just as well). For comparision, I do own a huge $400 Marmot down jacket, baffled interior, below hip length, with 6" of loft and windproof shell with powder skirt and double zipper baffles. It has kept me cozy on remote power plant sites in Arctic conditions with dead air temps of minus 20 and wind chills near 50 below. THAT has been worth the money.

Ounce for ounce (and dollar for dollar), the most practical jacket for most outdoor recreation is one made of Polartec Windbloc.

Avoid Campfires
I’ve seen people with expensive down jackets get

seriously angry as sparks, cinders, etc. popped out

of the campfire and put holes in their jackets.

If your going mountain climbing, above tree line,

and not near a campfire, they probably work great.

Each piece of gear has it’s time and place;

not everything works well everywhere all the time.

write-up…Thank You:)

I got my Patagouchie 800 fill down sweater for under $100 at the last day of a store closing sale…they only had one left and it happened to be my size.

even after all the written word about how it doesn’t work any better than…I still give it a 5 star rating. packs small and is very warm…love it and I have used it for back packing etc. The only drawback I have found is that you have to be careful in the brush and around fires…and it packs so small it doesn’t make a good pillow all by itself. but for a small package (packed) and a warm layer in camp …superb:)

Best Wishes


yep, price was right
You paid the right price for the function you get from yours, just like I did for my cheapie.

But the OP is looking at $200 to $300 pricing on those fancy new PataGucci’s and other ilk – and my half-Scottish genetic thriftiness just can’t fathom that kind of price outlay for a coat unless I know it could save my life in the most extreme conditions.

Patagonia puff ball----yep.

Marmut Dry clime----yep. This one is much thinner.

Primaloft or down
I use a down bag for backcountry camping (for best compressibility), but for clothing I stick with synthetic fill. After all, the bag stays in a dry bag except when in the tent, unlike a jacket.

The closest thing to down for compressible warmth that I’ve used is Primaloft. It packs up very small, so no complaints about that. Also is surprisingly warm. Mine has an adjustable hood but few frills. Frills tend to add bulk such as zippers, Velcro, and other items that do not compress at all.

If it’s cold enough for
me to break out my arctic rated down parka there won’t be any water around here that is liquid. Design and construction are as big a factor as fill material. I look to layers and ability to seal out wind rather than single bulky garments. Also, I spend more time outdoors in severe conditions working than for recreation and have to consider all material used in the construction. Synthetics melt when subjected to electrical arc/flash. Granted, not everyone encounters that possibility. I select natural fibers before any other consideration.

I can happily cross over my wool work wear for paddling, hiking, and camping - with the appropriate shell. The little bit of extra weight is minor compared to the comfort of the wool. Nothing is better on a damp day. Re. built-in WindStopper, I avoid it. I’m too active. WindStopper on me is just like wearing a sweaty plastic bag. In the woods I prefer a breathable shell with vents that I can open and close as needed.

Down Sweater
I think that is what it is called. Is down filled but lighter due to less fill and maybe more suited to three season use.

You can have a lot of down with a high fill power and an Arctic Parka or a lot less with a lower fill power for more temperate conditons.

The name sweater connotates pull on to me but they do have jacket zippers.

go for synthetic
Down especially the light stuff in Patagonias etc is going to collapse when wet. A primaloft or other synthetic is a better choice. I have had a Patagonia Puffball for years and it still works well. I have slept in just that and no sleeping bag on some climbing trips. I also have one of their down sweaters but just use it ski touring.