Puffy Down Jackets

Puffy down jackets from the likes of The North Face have ascended the heights of mainstream consumer fashion. But before hip-hop stars started wearing them a couple years back climbers, skiers and other hard cores depended on these quilted coats for warmth and performance in the outdoors.

Models like the Outdoor Research Trance Sweater — one of two down pieces I put to the test this month — balance warmth with performance. Indeed, this $169 jacket (www.orgear.com), which is insulated with 700-fill down, fits close enough to allow for unencumbered movement while swinging an ice axe or skiing a steep chute.

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Like most of these down creations, the Trance Sweater is packable too, weighing less than a pound and squeezing into an included stuff sack the size of a 1-liter water bottle.

The other model I tested, Cloudveil’s $199 Inversion Jacket, is a consummate cozy coat. It’s a bit bulkier than the Trance Sweater, and thus even more toasty.

The company (www.cloudveil.com) uses a 650-fill down in the Inversion, creating a less-than-1-pound jacket that packs into a tiny stuff sack.

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In a size medium, the Inversion fit my 6’1’‘, 190-pound frame about perfectly. (I wore a size medium Trance Sweater as well.)

Both Cloudveil and Outdoor Research make nice coats, but drilling down to the details there are some differences. I like the oversize inside pockets on the Trance Sweater, for example, as they allow me to quickly stash away gloves, hats and other cold-weather accoutrements.

As stated, the Inversion is bulkier than the Trance, and I found the neck opening on the Inversion to be a bit drafty without a thick collar on the layer underneath.

But Cloudveil’s coat is sharper-looking than the Outdoor Research, with a nicer face fabric, sleeker stitching, and little details like an internal pocket readymade for an iPod.

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