What's the most versatile ultralight gear item you own? Chances are good it's your ultralight down jacket. An ultralight down jacket, weighing less than 14 ounces (397 g), is truly multi-purpose gear - wear it in camp to stay warm, wear it in your sleeping bag to extend its range, wear it on cold weather day trips, put it on when you reach the summit, wear it après ski, and wear it on a trip to town. Same jacket, many uses.

Why down? Because it's very lightweight and has the highest warmth-to-weight ratio, it retains its loft and can last a lifetime, and it's highly compressible. Synthetic insulations are steadily improving, and do have a few advantages over down - they are water resistant and insulate when wet, they dry quickly, they are easier to care for, and they are cheaper. But the disadvantages are significant: synthetic insulations break down with repeated stuffing, synthetic insulated jackets are distinctly heavier (with a few exceptions), and their cost is not that much different from a down jacket. The bottom line is: when you want the most warmth with the least weight, go with down.

It seems like nearly every outdoor apparel manufacturer has an ultralight three-season down jacket these days. There are definitely a lot more of them around since our last review of lightweight down jackets in 2005.

ARTICLE OUTLINE

  • Introduction
  • The Conditions
  • Technique
  • What's a Three-Season Ultralight Down Jacket?
  • Not All Ultralight Down Jackets are Created Equal
  • The Loft Conundrum
  • Baffles and Quilts
  • Features Add Weight
  • Preview of Parts 2 and 3
  • Acknowledgments

# WORDS: 4040
# PHOTOS: 8

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