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Down jacket selection

Hey everyone,

Ran into this web page last night when researching down jackets. I found a really great thread and realized I should probably just post my question here as many of the members seemed extremely experienced and knowledgeable. Anyways I'll give some background and then get to my question!

I currently have an arc'teryx atom lt hoody that I use when snowshoeing, hiking, backpacking or even around town. This keeps me warm when just walking around with just a t-shirt down to the low 40's F. When hiking, backpacking or snowshoeing, it seems to be pretty good into the upper 30's with just my baselayer and down to just below freezing when wearing a baselayer, fleece and the atom.

I'm now looking into doing some mountaineering and will be taking a course come January into mid-May. I live in the PNW and intend to do some summit in the area (three sisters, mount hood, st helens, adams and eventually shasta). I surmise this current setup won't exactly cut it for the conditions I may be experiencing on those climbs. I have been reading extensively over the past month on down jackets, synthetic jackets, proper layering, etc. I ended up ordering the Eddie Bauer Downlight storm that has 800 fill and claims to be warm down to -20 with layering and moderate activity. I think this is a bit of an overestimate but I do really like nearly everything about this jacket aside from the fact that it seems to be leaking way more down than it should. Although I am no down jacket expert, I will likely return this and not even sure it this jacket would fit the bill for my needs.

I'm looking for some suggestions on down jackets preferably but open to a synthetic option that I would use in addition to my mentioned layers above. My current thought is that I my baselayer, fleece, synthetic atom and shell will hold up just fine when active. From what I've read, the down jacket comes into play when you stop for a snack break, lunch, sitting around the camp and beginning early morning summits, primarily. Correct me if any of my thinking is wrong here. 

So my question is, do I need a down jacket for these activities, primarily summits? Am I correct that if I were to get one it would be used for low to no activity and my other layers would serve as my hiking layers? And lastly and most importantly, what jackets do you all recommend? My budget is about $300 FYI 

Thanks for reading and any suggestions are welcome.

Me? I'd definitely add down if I was going to summit in the pnw...or most any other place in winter. Just keep it dry.

Buy the best you can afford.

I have a parka from EMS. It was their best 15yrs ago.

There are some fine synthetic jackets and they do retain most of their loft when wet where down does not but down is lighter for the same loft when using high fill powers. Down also compresses much better and does not loose its loft over time like synthetic fills do. I have both kinds and wear the synthetic fills around town mostly and always take the down into the canyons and mountains with good rain garments.

Good luck finding the right loft and warmth jacket for your particular climbs.

I am no PNW old salt, but back in the day I did my share of the cone peaks, a lot of High Sierra trekking, and some high altitude trips in Alaska and South America.  What you'll need depends on the season, and what altitude you start from. 

I don't recommend down if you expect to spend hours in rain, as everything gets sweaty, damp, while toiling upwards, even under the most bomber rain shell.  Under that condition, you'll appreciate the fast drying characteristics of fleece.

I don't recommend down for a layer when performing heavy physical effort, even in pretty cold conditions, because it will absorb your sweat then freeze somewhere within your layers, especially in the down, which tends to be one of the outer layers.  Over time the accumulated frost in this layer will either melt and defeat the insulating qualities, or accumulate and form clumps of ice entrapped down, which also defeats the layer's function.  

I find down is best used for at-rest situations: while providing belay, rest breaks, and in camp.  Given my attraction to high elevations and snow, it is ironic; I hate cold!  The setup I resort to is considered overkill by some, but bad experiences with cold compel me to such practices. 

I use the typical under layers - long johns and fleece while under way in the cold. I carry two medium weight fleece tops, one oversize to fit over the smaller one without compressing the insulating layers underneath.  A single fleece suffices for the medium cold (high 20s), while the second fleece added will take me to the low teens.  When at rest, I'll break out my down layer(s) and wear on top of the fleece.  If there is a breeze my hard shell goes on top, regardless what other layers are utilized.

In really cold conditions I'll add a third fleece (2 sizes larger than my normal size) over my other fleece.  And the down clothing I bring will be rated to address the temperatures I anticipate.  Thus a puffy or two are used for conditions down to the 20s, while I bring more lofted down for lower temps. 

There are two other consideration that need addressing: what goes on the bottom and what to wear in camp.  I am a big fan of cycling tights for my legs. These can be combined with long johns, and when worn under hard shell pants they provide huge warmth for the volume/weight.  At camp I'll continue to wear my active wear layers, allowing body heat to evaporate accumulated sweat.  But eventually I change to my camp attire, which is my sleep wear long johns, and my aforementioned down layer(s).  If it is real cold, I bring down bib pants for additional warmth while in camp.

You can see the answer to your question is not as straight forward as one would hope.  In reality a mountaineer's layering strategy often overlaps with their chosen sleep system.  I don't like feeling bound up, so prefer sleeping in just long johns, socks and a balaclava, and rely primarily on my bag for warmth.  But many will cut a couple of pounds from their kit by relying on fleece or down clothing layers as part of their sleep system, thereby getting by with a lighter sleeping bag.

Lastly how you care for your layers while out on a trip affects their performance.  Let your stuff get wet and fleece will be less effective, and down even more more so.  Thus this topic leads to another topic entirely: how to maintain performance of your layers while on a trip.  You'll need methods to protect items from moisture, and a set of techniques for drying out items that become sweaty damp.  The best strategy is not allowing moisture to accumulate in your layers.  Protect items from the elements when not in use, and regulate physical effort to minimize sweating into your layers while under way.  I'll layer up just enough to leave me feeling cool, while under exertion, then limit my effort (going slower) so I don't sweat excessively. 

There is much much more to this topic than I address here.  We haven't touched on hand wear or head wear.  But what you should take away for my post is whatever layering options you select, make sure outer layers are sized large enough to fit over under layers without compressing loft.  Thus my hard shell drapes over me when I have no layers underneath, like dad's coat on his son - not stylish, but effective.  Additionally you will need more layer options in your closet to address the PNW, than most other regions, because of the wide variety of weather conditions you'll encounter.  I found more success equipping for Alaska high peaks than the PNW, because of the widely variable considerations one must consider whenever stalking one of the PNW cone peaks.


Ed---Switchbacks-below-Bishop-Pass.jpg
Above - A short rest stop, just short of Bishop Pass, Sierra Nevada.  High altitude and late season has the morning temps hovering in the teens.  I am wearing a long john top, cycling tights, a fleece top and a hard shell, fully un-zipped, while hauling my pack to the pass.  Note how over-size the shell is, to accommodate layers I may add if I get too cold.  I am a M size; this shell is XL.  I am not warm, nor am I uncomfortably cold.  This minimizes sweating into my layers.

Ed

That is a good post Ed. I do agree with the fleece layering when moving in cold and puffies only when stopped.

Hey Ed thanks for the insightful feedback! So the down puffy is primarily used in low activity to no activity situations as I surmised. Thanks for confirming that. I imagine most of my climbs won't have any rain and if they do I have a hardshell that I will put over my baselayer, fleece and synthetic. The down will stay in the pack if that were to occur. I am primarily looking for a down well quipped for summits in the PNW during the months of March through mid-summer. As you mentioned it will come out during rest breaks, evenings at the camp and early morning summits until I feel like I can shed the layer. My sleeping bag is rated 12 F but I really don't feel warm unless I've got on my base layers and a fleece below freezing. I do know if I were to go with a down jacket I would want a hoody. I typically wear a medium but I think I might go with a large so I can fit it over layers. I've got my eyes on the Marmot Mens guide down and the Marmot Mens Highlander down. I'm also entertaining the Alpine light down parka by Montbell. It's a shame the Eddie Bauer downlight storm is bleeding so much down because I really liked it. Do these jackets seem warm enough to hold up above the timberline and on the peaks in the PNW? Any preference between the three or other suggestions are welcome.

Once again, Ed does the heavy lifting, so that I can chime in and add that you should be shooting for a garment with around 6-8 ounces of down, Taylor.

The Marmot Guide Hoody should work just fine. It's got a shell that's slightly heavier in weight than most, and Marmot stands by their products. Other perenial favorites in the class include Montbell's Frost Line, and Rab's Neutrino.

Hey Pillowthread,

May I ask why you say 6 to 8 ounces? I imagine this also depends on the fill power. For example 6 would be fine for 800 to 900 fill and 8 ounces for 600 to 700 fill, roughly speaking. 

Fill power, sizing, and the cut/design of the garment: boxy vs close, sewn through vs baffled. Montbell, for instance, tends to be a fuller cut, while Rab's stuff has a more athletic fit. Depending on what your layering system is, the cut can make a difference.

But generally, the amount of down is the most important factor. For a hooded outerlayer intended to be used for everything besides deep-winter sedentary activities, I'd shoot for that 6-8 ounce range.

Taylor Bates said:

"..It's a shame the Eddie Bauer downlight storm is bleeding so much down because I really liked it..."

Don't worry about the leaky feathers thing, it doesn't affect the performance in the least bit and is only a cosmetic thing.

Ed

If you have down pants to go with it, then it will not matter that much which jacket you chose. 

Hey Ed,

Thanks for that detail about the down leakage. I was very concerned that the jacket wouldn't last long. I may consider riding it out with this jacket if you say it won't be detrimental to warmth. 

ppine,

Any down pants that have worked well for you?

Taylor Bates said:

ppine,

Any down pants that have worked well for you?

 I do not own these but have read good things by northern Canadians about 'Goosefoot Gear'down pants.

I would not rely on an insulated soft shell as my outer layer.

I want my outer layer to do only two things: shed wind and rain.  Quite often I work up enough steam while under way that I strip down to a light skin layer and the shell.  If my shell had insulation it would be too hot.  

I would no rely on a soft shell if I anticipate a vigorous downpour or sustained light rain lasting more than an hour.  Basically if you are on a cone mountain, rain is a possibility much of year at mid elevation.

I would not rely on most soft shells as my summit outer garment.  Soft shells greatly reduce wind but even a reduced high altitude wind can sap body heat.

Taylor I had only one pair, that were made for the pipeline workers on the Alaska Pipeline.   They were really good.  They had a nomex outer layer and were held up with suupenders.  I only used them when it was below zero. 

First Ascent down jackets are good quality and loft; the Eddie Bauer/First Ascent downlight is a down sweater that I don't think would be appropriate for your intended use, for two reasons. First, it's not warm enough for the places you might go in the winter, even if you're pretty hardy in the cold. second, it's a very athletic cut, and you're looking for a puffy jacket to put on top of other layers when you're in camp or otherwise standing still (lunch, rest stop, belaying someone) and not moving. You're correct that the gear you have should work for the conditions you outlined, when you're moving. now, if you look at their BC Downlight, that's a good choice for your intended use.  (and perhaps that is what you meant in the first place!).  

my rules of thumb for this category are a jacket that will keep me warm to zero or a bit below, hood is a must, lightweight, not too heavy, and has the space to pull on over other layers.  if it's really cold, like the upper Northeast or Adirondacks in the middle of winter, where i'm looking at persistent zero to minus 30 as the target range, i wear a heavier parka - more than you would need, probably.  

Other than here, a good resource for jackets in this category is Rock and Ice Magazine because  the reviews tend to be more focused in this technical category than you might find on other more traditional publications or sites. 

you can go down or synthetic for what you are looking for.  Down, you could look at jackets like Patagonia Fitz Roy or Encapsil jackets, RAB Neutrino or zero-G; arcteryx ceres, feathered friends helios, western mountaineering meltdown, Valandre Split-S. (i considered all of these before I purchased a couple of years ago). for synthetics,  RAB Photon Pro, Mountain Hardwear Super Compressor, black diamond belay parka, arcteryx dually. synthetic is better if the temps could rise into the 30s and lead to any significant rain or wet run-off. These are examples - lots of choices out there.  

for winter/spring in the places and summits you listed, I think you have to anticipate, on average, 0-15 degrees if it's a normal to cold situation. any colder, probably means a storm that you don't want to be hiking in anyway.  I use a predecessor of the Rab zero-G, reviewed here: https://www.trailspace.com/gear/rab/infinity-endurance-jacket/ and before that, I used a Mountain Hardwear down jacket, the phantom (with hood), reviewed here: https://www.trailspace.com/gear/mountain-hardwear/phantom-down-hoody/#review27245  (now called the Phantom Parka).  

for pants, I don't like down unless it's brutally cold, persistent and significant sub-zero weather because i find them too warm. I use Patagonia's nano puff pants, have had the same pair for years. Note, mine have full side zips and are sized to pull on over other stuff, and they don't have belt loops; i used a pair of clip-on suspenders unless i'm just hanging around in them.  today's version, no side zips, has belt loops, and look like they are cut a fair bit leaner. if you prefer primaloft or some other synthetic to down, probably best to look for pants intended for belay use and see what's out there.  

I’ve found softshells to be somewhat rain resistant out of the box but with little use and a wash or two after the first week or so they just get wet. They are warmer in dry cold conditions than thin nylon open weave but don’t make reliable rain gear. Mine do dry fast when the skies clear up but so do my other nylon pants. Now cotton will stay wet for a month of Sundays.

For down pants I have a pair of ultralight MontBel that you wear under your shell pants. They are super light and warm. WM makes a pair of Flight pants that are loftier and warmer yet but packable for climbing and backpacking.. 

I have the light 800 fill First Ascent down jacket you see in my avatar. But last year I bought and Eddie Bauer First Ascent PEAK XV expedition parka. It compares to the Patagonia Fitzroy parka but for only $250. when on sale.

If your can WAIT FOR EDDIE BAUER'S WINTER SALE and get that parka. I bought some DWR treated down (quart freezer bag full) then opened the top of the inner zipper baffle and filled it with down. That baffle has only a little synthetic fill and is too flat, IMHO.

Otherwise this parka is excellent for its many features, especially its Cordura brand shell which is a light, diamond patterned nylon a bit heavier than the usual ripstop nylon and a lot tougher. The hood is helmet compatible, many interior & exterior pockets and fully baffled, not sewn-through.

I'm 5' 10" and 190 lbs and a size Large was good enough to evener a light down vest. But since the PEAK XV is good to -30 F. you should not need a vest inside. 

Eric B.

My 2 cents Taylor 

I have 5 down / fibre fill jackets  One for every eco-region and every season. 

Long story short they absorb perspiration the thicker / heavier the material the warmer the jacket. 

Arc'teryx fan here. I use a Cerium LT here in the PNW winter. As others have noted, only at rest.

In the warmer months, I use a Cerium SL, and layer it over a thin fleece (Delta LT). I use the fleece for walking, if it's cold out.

As the weather gets colder, I switch to a Cerium LT, and if it's very cold I switch out the fleece for an Atom LT. The Atom is great for walking because it's got that fleece ventilation panel.

All hoodies. Always hoodies.

I haven't had any feathers leak from the Cerium yet. And it's a nice mix of materials: sporting synthetic fill at the cuffs, collar, and shoulders -- those spots most likely to get wet -- while still using down for the bulk of insulation.

Hey zalman,

I have looked at the cerium lt. It's just that price point that gets me. I've also saw that the denier is really low on that jacket and I'm concerned that it won't hold up for long.  I have loved my atom lt though so I imagine the cerium is a pretty great piece. Thanks for the input and relating your experience to my location. I will take that into mind if I can find it on sale 

Yeah, the price point is always an issue with Arc'teryx gear! Worth it to me personally. I don't know if I can make claims about the durability of the the Cerium LT yet, as it only gets evening use, but I'll note two things:

1. I use the bejeebus out of my Delta LT and Atom LT, and they both show zero signs of wear. So that gives me faith in the brand at least.

2. While the denier might be low, the weave is very tight. That not only prevents feather leakage, but also deters the fabric from catching on anything. And the fabric feels a lot tougher than its weight, for what it's worth.

300wingmag and Andrew,

Sounds like both of you own the eddie bauer peak XV and have some experience wearing it around. I was looking at this jacket but felt it was a bit overkill despite the exceptional sale price. Most of the jackets I have been looking at for alpine range from 5 to 10 oz fill. The peak XV on the other hand is 14 oz of fill. I was looking for a jacket closer to 8 oz fill around 800 fill power. Both of you have mentioned that it would be a good piece for my intended use. Do you disagree my sentiment that it is more jacket that I need or still stand by it as a viable option? Also, above Ed mentioned the leaking down will not contribute to performance and mostly aesthetic. While this may be true I dont want a leaky jacket. Has the peak XV been leaky in your experience? 

Thanks again to everyone posting here. It's really giving me some insights and helping me make soke decisions.

my peak XV hasn't leaked. I agree with you - for Pacific Northwest conditions, except for a very unusual storm you wouldn't or shouldn't hike in anyway, the Peak XV is overkill. 

their prices are hard to beat, and the quality is good; if you looked at the original 'downlight,' which is a lighter, athletic fit down jacket, eyeball the BC downlight.  http://bit.ly/2LFNLrd warmer, roomier fit, adjustable hood. a good middle ground between down sweater and overkill.  

I've got 6 Rainier summits and laps most of the other Washington volcanoes. So here's my two cents:

Scan my pics and reviews.  I've kinda got this dialed in.

For my standard kit I wear light a long sleeve hoody base layer and MH stretch cargo pants on the move to base camp.  I wear a light visor and put on my hood for sun protection. 

For Summit day I wear either the OR Illuminate Down Hoody or the OR Ascendant hoody (synthetic) over the shirt while I'm moving.  I have no preference. I wear a base layer on my legs as well.  On summer climbs I NEVER wear gaiters.  Once on the summit or if it gets wet/snowy I add a hard-shell over the mid layer, something like a ski shell (MH Alchemy usually). If the summit is especially nasty I toss my Big Agnes Hole in the Wall puffy over it all.  Bigger, thicker puffys over the top are ok too.

For gloves I wear mid weight gloves on the move that I can slip into my OR WPB mittens with an added hand warmer if I feel chilly. 


IMG_20190803_114526999.jpgon the move to Muir. I wear this shirt literally everyplace


20190721_061239.jpgMother-F*$%ing windy on top of Baker

IMG_20190601_070148354-EFFECTS.jpgMt Hood


FB_IMG_1472486227359.jpg
Rainier summit, horrible weather


IMG_0084.jpg
Adams summit

 

Well, if you haven't decided yet I'd recommend you look at the LL Bean down jacket/parka offerings.

Very well made and very decent prices. Good DWR treated down,"responsively harvested".  The better versions are 800 fill down.

Eric B.

Losing fill used to stress me out....stupidly. I now know it would take a few years of feather loss to affect the warmth. I have had coreloft and primaloft gold...but still love my very old 750 fill jacket.  Once not moving....that is...

My problem with the arcteryx cerium is that even a little bit of perspiration and the altra fine fibres wet out leaving it useless. 

I used to cross country ski with a loose club when I lived in Wyoming.  We went every weekend even in bad weather.   It could be below zero with a lot of wind and we still went.  It was a good proving ground for clothing. 

We learned that down clothing was mostly too hot for active skiing, even below zero.  Down was perfect for wearing during rest stops and breaks. 

If there is any chance of rain, it is too warm for down and too risky.  Snow does not bother it except near freezing.  For wet snow you need a light parka to protect it.  Best to leave it at home when it is that warm. 

For high altitudes you need down pants. 

I have a Filson down coat with an extra layer of material over the down.  It has a sheep fleece collar.  It is a great coat but too warm most of the time. 

I love my EMS Feather Pack down jackets, both with & without hood. They’re lightweight (~13oz w/o hood and ~15oz w/hood) with a LOT of down - 5oz w/o hood and 5.5oz with, IIRC. (The website sucks for info now.) But they’re very warm, I’ve worn mine in below zero F temps with light & midweight Merino layers underneath and been plenty comfy. Cons - no inside glove/water bottle pockets, though the inside packing pocket is large enough for either, and handwarmer pockets are too low to use with a hip belt. But it’d have to be very cold to wear this while backpacking!

I also have a Marmot Greenland Baffled Down Jacket, I haven‘t worn it in well below zero F temps other than while setting off New Year’s Eve fireworks on a frozen lake, wind chill was around -30F and I was warm with just a T-shirt underneath. This would probably be more in line with what you’d want for breaks while climbing in winter. 

LL Bean has some of the best down jackets and parkas for the money. Their quality is always excellent and their down is DWR treated. 

Bean's warmest backpackable parka is their "Big Baffle Puffer" down parka that is actually as it says, baffled, not sewn-through. But they have sewn-through parkas and jackets one step less warm that, under a hardshell GTX parka will be enough for all but Arctic temperatures.

Eric B.

I second the Marmot Down Hoody. Hell of a coat for the money. Id also look at Mountain Equipment and RAB, especially their synthetic fill options for all that Pacific Northwest rain. 

May 16, 2022
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