If there's one piece of gear that has grabbed my attention more than any other over the past year, it's the classic puffy jacket. Being from the Pacific Northwest, the puffy jacket is a commonly worn item but it wasn't until early 2015 that I owned one of my own. Since I'm new to the world of puffy jackets having owned only one so far, I'm going to refrain from writing this as a gear review, but rather a gear suggestion. With that said, the jacket I currently own and abuse is the Sierra Designs DriDown Hoody (this link will take you to their updated model). It's been an amazing companion on the trail, while hunting, at work, on travel, and everywhere else I can think to take it. I've become so attached to my puffy jacket that I may have actually worn the thing out after only a year.
For those of you who prefer bullet points right up front, here are some pros and cons that I've come up so far with owing a down puffy jacket:
· Down has an incredibly high warmth to weight ratio.
o For something that weighs only 12oz., my down hoody packs a punch.
· Fills up that empty space in my pack made by bulky non-conforming items. Down compresses into a ball or contorts itself into any tight spot.
· Contributes to a reduction in overall pack weight by weighing only 12oz and replacing other warming layers that are no longer needed (fleece, soft shell, etc.).
· Versatile. It can provide padding for delicate items in your pack, be used throughout all 4 seasons as a warming layer, and can serve as a nice pillow.
**Don't let the length of the below text fool you, I'm choosing to explain the cons which happens to take up more space.
· Not so great in the rain or extremely humid environments.
o Regardless of whether or not you have waterproof or resistant down in your jacket, don't use the puffy as a rain jacket unless it's advertised as one. The repellency of the down is more of an insurance policy in the event you get wet. I've only once had to use mine as a rain jacket and though it performed fairly well, after a few hours in the rain the loft was beginning to dwindle and I could tell my body heat was not being retained as efficiently as is should be. If you are traveling in a humid environment or know you'll be wearing it around in the rain a lot, I suggest you go with synthetic insulation, but for dry climates, waterproof down is hands down the best route to go. Best warmth to weight ratio!
o Down puffy jackets are not cheap but I promise they're worth the investment.
· Lacks breathability (this can be a pro)
o If you think you want to hike in your puffy jacket, think again. You might start off your hike in it, but after just a few minutes you'll find yourself packing it away. Save your puffy for when you're taking a break on the trail or at camp. If you need a warming layer during the first few minutes of your hike, use a merino base layer instead or just tough it out until your body warms up.
· Can lack durability.
o I've worn my Sierra Designs jacket a lot over the past year and I can tell it's taken its toll on the garment. The down isn't as lofty and I think I'm pretty sure I can feel small feathers poking me from time to time. I'm the type that likes to have my gear hold up after years and years of abuse, but there are some gear items out there that just can't sustain that kind of abuse. Eventually the overall structure of the jacket will begin to fail, however given how much I abuse this jacket but how highly I value it in the backcountry, I have no issues with this at all. Once it's to the point where it's time to move on, I'll gladly purchase another one…or two. For me, durability is not an issue. My Sierra Designs DriDown Hoody takes a pounding and has yet to rip open or fail me yet.
My hobby of researching outdoor equipment kept leading me to these "puffy jackets" which nearly every major outdoor clothing company has in their catalog. Looking back on it now, I had always wanted one but never made the purchase because they're not exactly the cheapest item in the stores. For a down filled puffy, you're likely going to pay no less than $160 and probably more like $220 (ball park). At those prices, I just couldn't get myself to do it, especially when I wasn't sure I even liked them. Also, for those Seinfeld lovers out there, I was a slightly afraid of looking like George in his winter puffy (if you love Seinfeld, you'll understand or google George Costanza puffy jacket)
So why Sierra Designs?
I have a pro deal through Pro Motive for being a Veteran and was able to purchase my jacket for roughly 40% off. I think I paid around $130 for it after the discount and it's been worth every cent. There are so many of these jackets on the market that it was nearly impossible for me to decide which one to go with, but when I found myself with a deal hanging out there, the decision was pretty easy to make.
My first trip out with my new puffy jacket was on my 2015 circumnavigation of Mount St. Helens. I learned right away while packing for the trip that I could use the puffy to fill up that unused space in my pack while giving added protection to a few items bouncing around inside. Because of how packable it is, the puffy jacket fit inside the unusable space surrounding my stove and other non-conforming items. Since I didn't plan to wear it while hiking, I was fine with it being in the middle of my pack hanging out.
After those long days on the trail, it’s great to put on a warm jacket while doing whatever I do around camp. The second the air begins the chill, I’ll toss on my puffy and am instantly insulated from the wind and cold. Down has a way of warming its host quickly and efficiently and I can literally wear this jacket all night long without needing much else. Combine a merino base layer with a puffy jacket and you have one killer system that will take care of the majority of your needs in the backcountry throughout the summer and even fall months.
Since that trip around St. Helens, I've yet to leave home without my puffy jacket. It's always in my bag and is one of the first things I pull out when I get to where I'm going. It has a way of fulfilling multiple needs while weighing practically nothing and taking up little to no space in my pack. During the summer and fall months, pairing a puffy jacket with a merino base layer will have you covered for nearly anything the backcountry can throw at you, besides rain. Toss a lightweight rain shell in the pack and you'll be ready practically anything Mother Nature can serve up.
Adding a puffy jacket to my backcountry kit has been one of greatest decisions I've made. It was a welcomed surprise to find that this type of jacket turned out to be so versatile and became something I can't live without on the trail. From here on out, there will always be a puffy jacket in my pack and I highly suggest if you don't currently have one of your own, you should.
Stay safe and stay puffy!
One last note on down. Manufacturers are doing a great job of moving towards incorporating a cool technology where the feathers are coated in a waterproof membrane which helps retain loft when they're wet. I've yet to find a downside to this technology and though each company has their own way of doing it, it's always a win in my book. Wet down is an insulation killer and something you want to avoid in the backcountry. I can think of no reason why I wouldn’t purchase waterproof down.