Down Puffy Jackets

By STEPHEN REGENOLD

Visions of the Michelin Man might come to mind. But for untold thousands of winter lovers, horizontally-banded, ultra-insulated puffy down jackets have become the ubiquitous choice for the coldest of days.

I am one of these mini Michelin Men. In my home state of Minnesota, where temps regularly dredge to 20-below, a down-stuffed puffy is often the only viable defense against the cold.

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Puffy down jackets by Sierra Designs (left) and Rab

This winter, I’ve been testing two new puffys, including the Flex Jacket from Sierra Designs and the Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket. They are puffys of different types, though both equally cozy in the snow.

Made for alpine climbing, winter hiking, and “fast and light” pursuits, the Rab Microlight weighs less than a pound. For stowing in a backpack, it scrunches down and packs into its own chest pocket.

But on your back, with panels of goose down ensconcing the body, you’d never know the Microlight Alpine was made with the minimalist in mind. In my test, paired with just two layers underneath, the Rab jacket was warm to about zero degrees.

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Rab Microlight Alpine Jacket

The Rab costs $150 to $200 on most retailer web sites. (Its msrp is $215.) It has an insulated hood. There are two hand-warmer side pockets and a single zipped chest pocket. On the harshest days, the close-fitting Rab can be worn underneath a shell jacket for optimal warmth.

My gripes with the Rab jacket (http://us.rab.uk.com) are few. But watch out for its Pertex face fabric. It is not as durable as fabric found on most winter shell jackets. Another point: I often wished for more pockets on the Rab. Internal pockets to store an extra hat and handwear were missed.

A final small annoyance with the Rab. If you wear a wool top or a sweater under this puffy, look out for residual feather “dust.” My wool mid-layer shirt would become coated with fine feathers and down fibers after a couple hours, necessitating the use of a de-linter roller at home to revive the shirt and make it presentable again. This phenomenon was not present with synthetic mid layers.

The second jacket tested this year, Sierra Designs’ Flex Down Jacket, is a different type of puffy beast. It is warmer than the Rab. But it is bulkier and cannot be easily employed as a layer underneath a shell jacket.

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