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the old down jacket - not so bad

9:06 p.m. on January 4, 2014 (EST)
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until a couple of years ago, my go-to winter parka was mountain hardwear's sub zero parka.  for several years, actually.  it saw quite a bit of use, and it was too heavy and warm for a lot of situations, so i ended up instead with a much lighter mountain hardwear down jacket for most of the time.  i also ended up with eddie bauer's peak XV for brutal cold, due to a hard-to-resist sale price and some nice updates (better down, better hood, smart design in some respects.  i also had the lurking feeling that the sub zero was past its prime after being smashed into stuff sacks and beaten up.   the sub zero parka is no longer available under that name, though mountain hardwear sells a similar parka they call the 'chillwave.'  i guess that is supposed to be a cooler name.  to put this in perspective technically, the sub zero weighs in at 40 ounces for size XL and is filled with 650 fill down.  it is warm enough to keep you comfortable, at a standstill, at -20 to -30 if you are otherwise dressed for the weather.  the chillwave might use slightly fluffier down, but it is a similar piece of gear in most respects.  

in the last month or so, i found myself wearing the old parka again.  i spent some time in Ukraine recently and have experienced unusually cold weather here and there in the middle atlantic this winter.  because that lightweight mountain hardwear jacket's zipper partially disintegrated recently, it is back to the manufacturer for repairs.  the peak XV? it's a beast, and the hood doesn't detach.  so, i have ended up wearing the old parka when the mercury outmatches my down sweater.

taking nothing away from the new jackets, which are loaded with 800 or 850 fill power down and very well designed (well, except for that zipper, which was always troublesome and probably manufactured badly at the outset), the old parka is not bad.  the pockets are in all the right places for a long time outside in the cold - two at the chest, two for your hands, a zippered pocket and a mesh bottle pocket inside.  the hood is absurdly well-stuffed.  the outside arms, shoulders, and lower back have a much sturdier fabric that adds weight but also kept the thing in pretty good shape.  

My point is that the 'advances' in down jackets and parkas over the last decade or so may not necessarily mean as much as anyone thinks, and certainly not as much as the manufacturers want you to believe.  while the higher fill power down and the lighter/wispier nylon shells are indeed marginally lighter and fluffier, and perhaps a little easier to stuff, we're talking about differences that are slight at best.  

my other point is that you don't have to spend a small fortune to stay really warm and happy.  You could purchase that chillwave today, on sale at various websites, for under $250 (i picked up the sub zero on sale for under $200 years ago).  

9:35 a.m. on January 7, 2014 (EST)
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interesting about the old down jackets. i have a down jacket my dad gave me that he used when I was born in the early 80's, and it has been stupid cold here in tennessee (got down to 2 last night), but with that jacket, haven't even felt the cold. couldn't tell you the brand of the jacket, as the tag was gone out of it long ago. Good quality stuff will last you for sure.

5:52 p.m. on January 11, 2014 (EST)
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Yeah I'm a big fan of the Sub-Zero jacket. It's a shame Mtn. Hardwear decided to stop offering it ( I believe they rebranded it the Hunker Down but got rid of that as well). It's still my go to jacket for the harse Chicago winters.

 

I've been looking for something like the Sub-Zero but haven't really come across anything that is as warm yet packable.

 

 

5:58 p.m. on January 12, 2014 (EST)
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the hunker down is a different jacket.  it has a fair bit less down (weighs almost a pound less and does not have a similar configuration of pockets as the sub zero.  probably not as warm. 

the "Chillwave" parka, which is still available, is a very similar design to the sub zero.  it has evolved in a few ways - slightly fluffier down, replaced the waterproof/breathable (and absolutely windproof) but heavy outer shell wiht a thinner and lighter nylon, though the shoulders and hem are still reinforced with a more durable and heavier nylon. 

either way, though, parkas of this ilk have to be seriously considered as an economic alternative for a standing-still outer insulating layer in the winter.  if you want to spend big dollars, the Mountain Hardwear Nilas  is uber-warm and a full pound lighter - with correspondingly light outer shell fabrics and top end, super-fluffy down fill.  for twice the price, unless you find a good sale. 

April 20, 2014
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