Fleece is so 1997. Unless you’ve been living under a rock this winter, you will notice a major trend shift in outdoor fashion. Consumers are going gaga over down. At Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2011, every major apparel maker was showcasing down jackets. Nine out of ten attendees were probably sporting down. Feathers are all the rage right now – from Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis in the Black Swan to Kate Middleton’s fascinators.
Historically, down has been an essential piece of clothing for mountaineers. For decades, down jackets have provided toasty insulation for expeditions of every caliber, including milestone expeditions to Everest and Antarctica. However, in recent years, advances in panel designs and fabrics have given down jackets a new makeover. You don’t have to look like the Michelin Man anymore. I like down for several reasons: First, it keeps you warm without overheating your body. It adapts well to your body temperature and allows your layering system to breathe. Second, down has unmatched compressibility. I use down as a mid-layer. I use down as a shell for skiing. I use down as a casual everyday jacket.
Down apparel also gives the user the ability to coordinate his/her layering systems by using the appropriate jacket or vest with its “fill power” rating. Fill power measures the loftiness of the product. The higher the rating, the more insulating air pockets the down has for better insulating and compressing ability. Therefore, two similar jackets, one with 500 fill versus 800 fill, will have noticeable differences. All other things being equal, an 800 fill jacket is lighter, warmer and more compressible than a 500 fill down jacket.
Here are some of my favorite down jackets:
Marmot Zeus Jacket
Marmot is a titan in the outdoor business. It started as the Marmot Club, a student run project at the University of Santa Cruz in 1973, by a couple of mountaineers. The founders made a vest, sweater, parka and sleeping bag. Since then, Marmot has become one of the most recognizable brands in the outdoor industry for its unparalleled quality and value. The Marmot Zeus Jacket is no exception. Priced at $165, the Zeus Jacket offers an 800 fill jacket in a wide variety of colors. The jacket has protective wind flaps to shield your core from bitter drafts and elastic cords to keep snow out. It is highly compressible and stuffs into its own pocket. I’ve used this jacket climbing Mount Rainier to skiing the Cascades of Washington. It has kept me warm at -10 degrees with 50 mph winds. It’s your all-purpose down jacket.
Rab Microlight Jacket
Rab was also born on mountains by alpinists. The UK company has focused its business on insulation wear for over 30 years. The Rab Microlight Jacket just looks cool. It can be worn on light days skiing either as a midlayer under a waterproof shell. It is also durable enough to wear as a shell in drier conditions. The jacket boasts a Pertex shell with 750 fill goose down. The panelling is narrow to give the jacket a form-fitted look. So, it looks stylish enough for casual wear. I find the jacket a great insulation piece for early spring and early fall when the temperature starts dropping below 50 degrees.
Outdoor Research Transcendent Hoody
Hardcore enthusiasts swear by Outdoor Research. Developed and marketed for world class mountaineers, OR has found cult status among amateurs and professionals. Their products can be found on the guides at International Mountain Guides, the rescuers at Remote Medical and even the ski instructors of the Summit at Snoqualmie. The Transcendent Hoody is a killer jacket that replaces your every day hoody. Unlike your heavy, fleece lined hooded sweatshirt, the Transcendent Hoody is lightly stuffed with 650 fill down. The shell is made of 20D Ripstop polyester with a Taffeta lining. One great feature is the down filled, dual pull, adjustable hood. It keeps your melon warm and sheltered from harsh elements. This is a must have.