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Reviews > Clothing > Jackets and Vests > Patagonia Mens Down Jacket > Richard Lyon > Test Report by Richard Lyon
PATAGONIA MEN'S DOWN JACKET
PERSONAL DETAILS AND BACKPACKING BACKGROUND
Male, 60 years
I've been backpacking for 45 years on and off, and regularly in the Rockies since 1986. I do a weeklong trip every summer, and often take three-day trips. I'm usually camping in alpine terrain, at altitudes 5000 to 13000 ft (1500 - 4000 m). I prefer base camp backpacking, a long hike in with day trips from camp, but I do my share of forced marches too. Though always looking for ways to reduce weight, I'm not yet a lightweight hiker and I usually choose a bit of extra weight over foregoing camp conveniences I've come to expect.
One other bit of personal information colors this review. I am cold-prone and chill easily. I sleep cold even at home, I regularly add a layer during hiking breaks even in summer, and I always wear a hat of some kind when the mercury drops below 50 F (10 C). For this reason I tend to pack a layer that offers greater warmth than the conditions might otherwise dictate.
Manufacturer: Patagonia, Inc.
The Patagonia Down Jacket is a hoodless, zippered waist-length down-filled jacket with two hand warmer pockets and a third pocket (which Patagonia calls a "stash") inside the Jacket over my left breast. It is an intermediate among Patagonia's down-filled jackets, heavier and puffier than the Down Sweater but less bulky than the Down Patrol Jacket and Down Parka. Patagonia markets the Jacket for "Expedition Climbing, Ice, Mixed, & Alpine Climbing; Base camp warm-up; and Backcountry Skiing."
Fit. The Jacket in size XL provides an excellent fit for me. When worn over a base layer and heavyweight wool sweater, it fits comfortably and not too snugly. The hem sits slightly below my waist, several inches above the powder skirt on my ski parka and the bottom of my usual winter rain jacket. I did not feel stuffed or constrained when wearing either of these outer layers over the Jacket. Much more unusual for me, the sleeve length is near-perfect for my 37+ in (94 cm) arms; the cuff comes exactly to the end of my wrist.
Features. The Jacket zips up to the top of the collar, eliminating the need for a snap or button to keep out drafts. Under the zipper is a draft flap that Patagonia describes (and I so far have found to be) "no-snag." All three pockets are zippered and the interior of the handwarmer pockets is lined with a soft, chamois-like fleece. This same fleece lines the inside of the collar. The sleeve cuffs have elastic bands that keep the cuffs firmly but comfortably against my wrists. At the waist is a drawstring secured by two toggles that I found ineffective in cinching up the jacket. The Jacket has sewn-through baffles, with several panels stitched separately adjacent to the pocket openings in a slightly different (olive drab) color fabric. The Jacket comes with a waterproof stuff sack that allows me to pack it down to a reasonable size. All stitching and other construction appear to be excellent, exactly what I expected from this manufacturer.
Insulation. This jacket will keep me warm. I first wore it outdoors when walking my dogs at a gusty 35 F (2 C) and my torso was toasty while my ears were cold. And I was warm during a brisk walk at -4 F (-20 C) on an early morning walk in Montana. Zipping the collar all the way up kept out any drafts.
Appearance. I like the color and I like the overall look of the Jacket. Trim and sleek are adjectives that come to mind. It will be stylish as well as functional at any ski area.
I shall wear the sweater as a layering piece - over a base layer or base layer and shirt and under a shell when needed for protection against rain or wind - while hiking and skiing in the Northern Rockies. I don't expect to wear it all the time, as it likely will provide too much warmth during strenuous aerobic activity such as uphill climbs or bushwhacking. I'll put it on at all breaks and meals, wear it in camp in the morning and evening, use it to supplement my warmest sleeping bag, and wear it as a mid-layer when skiing downhill in colder temperatures. I'll wear it outdoors after inbounds skiing and around town on all front country venues. While I'll test the DWR treatment against falling snow, blowing snow, and falls into the snow while skiing, I do not intend to rely upon the Jacket for protection against the rain. That would be risking too much in the cold; a saturated down garment is worse than useless.
Testing around home will include morning dog walks and day hikes on colder days, and a possible Christmastime backpack in Oklahoma.
I'll clean the Jacket at least once during the four-month test period. I always air-dry down garments and I intend to adhere to this practice notwithstanding Patagonia's advice of using tennis balls to assist machine drying.
Field Conditions. I've worn the Patagonia Down Jacket often during the last two months. Dallas has had an unusually chilly winter, with early morning temperatures below freezing on half a dozen days and in the 30s F (0-5 C) on many more. With a t-shirt and fleece or wool vest underneath the Jacket has kept me warm on my half-hour morning walks with my dogs in these temperatures amid gusty winds, the occasional snow flurry, cold fog, sleet, and one short period of heavy rain.
Trail wear has included numerous day hikes around North Texas, including several during the cold weather, and nine days of skiing – three in Alta, Utah in mid-December and six in the area around Jackson, Wyoming in mid-January. Temperatures in Utah were 20-30 F (-7 to -1 C) during the day, 5-15 F (-15 to -10 C) at night. Jackson was much colder, no higher than 15 F (-10 C) during the day and as low as -27 F (-33 C) at night. Seven days were in-bounds skiing, two in the backcountry. Inbounds I wore the Jacket as a mid-layer over a merino top and under a Thinsulate-lined ski suit at Alta and Jackson, but found it to be too warm during hikes (very common inbounds at both ski areas) and even rigorous downhill skiing, so I returned it to a waterproof stuff sack in my pack, taking it out for lunch and water breaks in the really cold weather in Jackson. Out-of-bounds in Jackson I retrieved it from my pack and pulled it over a wool sweater at every break, adding a ski parka on the colder day (high temp 2 F, -19 C).
I wore the Jacket as a casual top in Texas whenever the temperature failed to reach 50 F (10 C), over a shirt, and on those cold nights in Utah and Wyoming, over a merino base layer and heavy wool sweater. On cooler or windier day hikes I wore the Jacket at all breaks.
Observations. Wearing the Jacket has modified several of my initial impressions reported above. With a bit of practice I've mastered the drawstring at the waist, which is fairly easy to adjust (even when wearing mittens) and which does help keep out drafts when walking. It's not much of a powder skirt, as I found out during a bathroom break in the backcountry when I slipped into a small tree well. Sleeve length is still adequate when I'm at rest or just walking, but during uphill hiking on ski or normal motion at other times (tossing a ball for my dog to retrieve, for example) I've found the sleeves to be an inch or two short. In especially blustery winds I occasionally catch a draft down the collar. I should point out that I have very long arms (a size 37 in/94 cm sleeve) and comparatively small (16 in/41 cm) neck; I need the XL size for body length and chest size and it's a rare garment that accommodates all my upper body measurements.
I'm quite pleased with body length, usually another problem sizing area for me. If this were an expedition parka I'd prefer several extra inches, but the Jacket's purpose, as advertised and as I expected, is as a sweater or outer layer for rest and play in less rigorous conditions and never as the outer layer in really foul weather. I haven't noticed any bunching up at the waist when I stretch, and during breaks when skiing it has always covered my longish torso completely.
The side pockets are perfectly placed for hand warming, and when I'm not wearing gloves the soft fleece lining keeps my hands warm and comfortable. That same fleece lining at the neck is similarly appreciated and helps prevent chafing. The stash pocket, just inside the zipper on the left about halfway between collar and waist, provides a convenient cache for car keys, lip balm, and similar small items that might easily fall out if stored in side pockets with gloves or bandana.
Patagonia doesn't promote the Deluge® DWR-treated fabric as waterproof ("water resistant" instead) but I haven't had a single problem. Not even when I was caught out in a Texas-size downpour when walking the dogs one morning and sprinted three-quarters of a mile back home. On that day the seams and outer fabric were wet but not saturated, and I noticed no loss of loft in the down. The fabric has effectively repelled mist, light rain, and sleet on several occasions, and my fall in the snow. The fabric is downproof; I haven't lost a single feather.
Neither the elements nor muddy dog paws have left any residue that I couldn't easily sponge off with a damp cloth. Certainly nothing that's required a cleaning. Nine half-days in a compression sack haven't squashed the loft. All stitching and zippers are intact. In a phrase, after two months the Jacket looks and performs like new.
What I Like. The really pleasant surprise has been the Jacket's versatility. By adjusting the zipper from full up to wide open I've been comfortable when walking on flat ground from -27 F/-33 C (in the early morning in Jackson, with several other layers) to 50 F/10 C (near home, over a cotton t-shirt). For me the Jacket really is a useful garment at home and on the trail.
I also appreciate the Jacket's simplicity and lack of frills. Occasionally I've thought that pit zips, an extra inside pocket, or a detachable hood would add functionality, but on reflection I prefer the lighter weight and smaller compressed size. When stuffed down the Jacket easily fits into my day pack, a big improvement from a bulkier, more-featured down ski jacket from another manufacturer. These features are available on other Patagonia down jackets that are intended for more extreme conditions. As a mid- or outer-layer that's meant for both backcountry and front country this Jacket has everything it needs.
The Jacket looks great in Patagonia's understated, preppy way, quite suitable for my clothing style. And it does what it's supposed to do – keep me warm. Once I figured out the waist cord everything works – no problems with zippers, elastic, or anything else.
Of the features I especially like the fleece on the collar and in the pockets, and the stand-up cadet-style collar.
What I Might Change. I'd like slightly longer sleeves, and might go up to an XXL if Patagonia offered it. I wish it came with a true compression sack rather than an ordinary stuff sack. A powder skirt instead of the drawstring waist cord would be welcome and would add very little weight.
This concludes my Field Report. Check back in April for my Long Term Report.
LONG TERM REPORT
Testing. Colder and damper weather than normal in North Texas lingered through February, provided further opportunities for use during early morning walks and day hikes. Once daytime temperatures reached the mid 50s F (~12 C) in late February I found the Jacket to be too warm even as a cover-up during rest breaks. Easter weekend gave me one last home testing opportunity, and the Jacket kept me warm and cozy through the snow flurries as I sat through the Rangers' (baseball team) first night game of the year, at which the public address announcer reported the coldest game-time temperature ever at the ballpark, 38 F (4 C).
I wore the Jacket in the field in and around Nelson, British Columbia, Canada, while participating in the First Annual Cold Smoke Festival at Whitewater Ski Area. Whitewater and many backcountry gear and clothing manufacturers and retailers sponsored this three-day event, which included clinics in telemark and randonee technique, the opportunity to test new gear, and plenty of in-bounds and backcountry skiing. Again I tested the Jacket as an outer layer while skiing lift-served terrain, and again I found the Jacket to be too warm for vigorous aerobic activity, even though daytime temperatures didn't get above 25 F (-4 C) in windy and snowy conditions. It is wonderfully windproof, which may explain why it is (for me at least) too much insulation while skiing even when gravity is in charge. That's unfortunate, as the weatherproofing is robust enough to keep from the down from soaking through even a ski day in a blizzard.
As before though, while in the backcountry the Jacket worked well as an extra layer every time we stopped for tea, lunch, or instruction, and I again found it to be an ideal outer layer in the very chilly nighttime, 10-15 F (-12 to -9 C), around the ski area and in town. Both Festival evenings featured some sustained outdoor time and I was warm and protected from the wind throughout.
Upon returning home from Nelson I washed the Jacket, though it really didn't need it. I washed it separately, in a front-loading washer on "delicate" setting, using a capful of Atsko Sport-Wash, a non-detergent soap. Following my customary practice I simply hung the Jacket up to air-dry, rather than using the dryer. Less than twenty-four hours after washing the Jacket was clean, completely dry, and fully lofted; in short, it looked as good as new.
I discovered a new use for the Jacket – for smaller dogs at least it's a great day bed. After wearing the Jacket on a chilly morning at home I tossed it into the back seat of the car before setting out for a Saturday morning of errands. My golden retriever, pictured at the top of this report, left her usual perch in the front seat to curl up atop the Jacket and slept contentedly for the next ninety minutes, not arising even to go into the pet store. Back home I hung the Jacket up and it quickly regained its loft, and I simply wiped it off with a damp cloth to remove the settled dog hair.
I had planned to wear the Jacket on my last ski trip of the season, to Jackson, Wyoming, in late March, but the weather forecast called for very warm days and this time the meteorologists got it right – well into the 50s F (10-16 C) during the day and barely freezing at night. I was glad I left the Jacket at home.
Final observations. The opinions and observations in my Field Report haven't changed much, but another two months of use have reinforced them. The Patagonia Down Jacket has earned a place in my winter closet for as long as it lasts, which (if the past four months is a good guide) will be many years. For me a down jacket or vest is an essential piece of clothing on any backcountry ski or any backpack where below-freezing temperatures are expected. The Jacket works extremely well for either of these events. It packs small, it's lightweight, it's fully-featured without unnecessary frills, it's far more waterproof than I expected from Patagonia's description, and – most importantly – it truly keeps out the wind and the cold. The Jacket reflects its very high quality materials and workmanship, typical of Patagonia. After four months' frequent use I can't find a loose thread or sweat stain and I haven't seen a single down feather escape. The shell fabric hasn't been damaged by brushes with trees, rocks, or doggie toenails. Everything works as it should. Nothing's gone wrong. It doesn't need much care and it's easy to clean. Not to mention that it's useful and stylish in the front country.
I'm adding the inside zippered pocket to my list of features deserving special commendation. I've always found an inside zippered pocket useful for small items that I need to bring but may not ever use until a backcountry day is over, like camera batteries, car keys, or cash.
I consider the Jacket too warm for use while hiking with a pack, at least at the temperatures I encountered during the test period (see Field Report section). One reason for this is that I've found that a backpack, even a day pack, has an insulating effect almost equal to an extra layer. For me a base layer, mid-layer, and down jacket keep me warm enough when walking around camp or town. Adding a pack is too much when hiking or skiing, making me start to sweat. I will say, though, that I didn't feel any chafing on my shoulders, damage to the Jacket, or pack or shoulder straps sliding about when I did wear a pack over the Jacket, either a day pack while in-bounds skiing or a more substantial pack in the backcountry.
As in my Field Report my criticism is limited, and partly influenced by my odd size. If I were buying a new Jacket I would prefer a slightly larger size for the extra sleeve length, so I still wish XXL were available. I'd still like a powder skirt for skiing. Changing my mind somewhat, I now think that a detachable hood would be a worthwhile option; if carefully designed (something Patagonia always does) it would add only a few ounces.
I continue to regard the Jacket's versatility as a plus. From strictly a backpacking perspective I might deem it a mild flaw too, because stripping some of the features that make it so versatile might save some weight and add some functionality in a garment intended solely for the woods. My ideal backcountry down jacket would have a half-zipper, a pouch pocket, and not much else except plenty of down (though I'd keep the inside zippered pocket). For an all-around winter jacket for regular use both in the backcountry and around town, however, the Patagonia Down Jacket is at the head of its class.
Thank you Patagonia and BackpackGearTest.org for the opportunity to test this splendid jacket.
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