Many don’t think of Eddie Bauer as the go to brand for cutting-edge mountaineering apparel. After all, this where you go to buy a nice pair of khaki corduroys or a worsted wool sweater. It’s definitely a lifestyle brand for your typical Pacific Northwestern resident. However, I am starting to see a ton of “A” logos on jackets around ski resorts and backcountry trips. This “A” logo belongs to First Ascent. If you’ve never heard of First Ascent it’s probably because you’re a North Face or Mountain Hardware loyalist. You will soon.
First Ascent is the world-class expedition and skiwear line of Eddie Bauer. What makes this brand unique is that its built in collaboration with some of the most respected mountaineers in the world. Legends like Ed Viesturs, Peter Whittaker, and Melissa Arnot rigorously test and provide input on materials and design. This is some serious street credibility. The First Ascent guide team takes a practical approach to building world class apparel. They focus on the 3 F’s–functionality, features and fabrics. You will see this in their jackets and pants to hats and gloves. They are minimalist in design and robust in efficiency.
I got my hands on the First Ascent Downlight ® Sweater this summer and couldn’t wait to test it out this winter. The Downlight Sweater should be a core centerpiece for any mountaineer. It’s filled with premium 800-fill European goose down. The shell is a silky denier ripstop nylon with StormRepel and a DWR (durable water repellant) finish. At a mere 13.2 oz, the jacket is light and packs into its own inner pocket.
I already own a bevy of down jackets in my closet. So, I consider myself self-proclaimed expert in feather wear. But when I first put on the Downlight Sweater, I could tell a lot of thought was put in to the finished product. The jacket is comfy and cozy–hallmarks of down. The elastic cuffs aren’t too tight but still offer plenty of protection. There aren’t any frills or features. The minimalist design is refreshing. One feature stood out. The side pockets feature a fleece lining inside to keep your hands warm when wet or dry. Booyah!
This past weekend, I was able to put this jacket to the test. I encountered 30 mph winds, light snow, and beating sunshine – all in one day. Did I get chills from the blistering wind? Did the jacket dust off light snow without absorbing any moisture? Did I get too hot? Yes. Yes. No. Crystal Mountain had received 12-15 inches of light snow overnight. The temperature at 9 am was 18 degrees at the base and 12 degrees at the summit. The upper mountain had winds and gusts between 25 and 30 mph for most of the morning. All I wore was a long sleeve baselayer and the Downlight sweater. It was perfect. I never felt the wind. My extremities never got cold since my core temperature remained constant and warm. A few snow flurries passed by and I easily shed the snow off the nylon shell. Around noon, the sun came out and gave us bluebird conditions. I got pretty nervous that I would boil in my jacket. The temperature started hovering around 26-28 degrees. Even so, I never overheated. I was nice and comfortable. Verdict: Radsauce.
The First Ascent Downlight Sweater sells for $179.00 and comes in a variety of colors. Keep in mind that the jacket is cut with a slimmer fit. At 6′ 185 lbs, a large fits me nice and snug. I could easily go XL but I opt for a closer fit. The Downlight Sweater can be found at Eddie Bauer stores that sell First Ascent or online. Pick one up. You’ll love it.