Shower Test: Water-Resistant Down Puffy gets soaked in Bathroom 'Lab'

The piney forests of Washington state would seem a safe bet for rainy-weather gear testing. But last month I got sunny skies at Mount Rainier National Park on a backpacking trip.

Back home, I decided to get in the shower instead.

My “lab” was the main floor bathroom, a downpour of artificial rain ready at the twist of a facet knob. I was the lab rat and Sierra Designs’ Cloud Puffy jacket, new for 2013, was to be my test subject for the night.

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The author mid-test in the “shower lab”

The lightweight insulated jacket features Sierra Designs’ new water-resistant down insulation. Called DriDown, the treatment puts a polymer on down plumes to give them resistance to water.

Wet down without a treatment mashes and collapses, losing its loft and insulating traits. DriDown, new this year, aims to keep down loftier and insulating even if soaked in a storm.

My pseudo-storm blasted from the showerhead. I stood in the stream for about 30 seconds. Ours is no low-flow showerhead, so the jacket got a heavy soaking in short order.

To my surprise, after the drips ran off, the jacket was almost 100 percent dry. The water-resistant properties of the exterior fabric coupled with the hydrophobic down were pretty sweet at first go.

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Water beads on the fabric face

I went outside and stood in the cold Denver air. It was a 40-degree night. With just a single thin base layer and the showered-on puffy, I was warm even after several minutes of idle time in the breeze.

Time for test No. 2. Back in the shower I pondered the qualities of the puffy — the jacket’s exterior fabric, coated with a DWR treatment, shed water like a duck’s back.

Indeed, I elected to stand in the shower for a full five minutes for an extreme test. I got bored. After about three minutes, for kicks, I vigorously rubbed water into the shoulder areas on the coat.

This experiment forced water finally inside. The down was getting wet. At the five-minute mark I noticed moisture on my shoulders, water at last soaking through to my base layer shirt.

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Treated down feather has water-resistant characteristics

With wet shoulders I stumbled outside. I stood and observed. The down insulation was indeed damp around my shoulders and chest. Despite a soaking, however, it retained most of its original loft, and I could still feel the insulating properties as I stood still.

Test done, I hung the coat on the back of a chair. It was completely dry in two hours. DriDown touts “quick drying” times if the feathers do get wet, and this chair test seemed to prove it.

The Cloud Puffy jacket comes to market next year for $249. It weighs about 12 ounces and packs super small. The company uses an 800-fill down with the DriDown treatment.

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Sierra Designs’ three-piece Cloud Layering System; Cloud Puffy is on right

You will be able to buy the puffy alone or as a part of Sierra Designs’ Cloud Layering System, which is a three-piece outerwear system that we awarded with “Best in Show” recognition this past summer at the Outdoor Retailer trade show (go here, scroll down).

Currently, Sierra Designs has other down puffy coats similar to the Cloud model that use DriDown, including its $229 Gnar Lite and $259 Tov models.

Beyond my shower test, as noted, I wore the Cloud Puffy backpacking around Mount Rainier. I took it to Chile, too, on a week-long trip. It has been a great backup piece, as it packs so small. Aesthetically, it’s slick enough to wear anywhere outside or around town.

My shower test was not the end-all decider on waterproof down for me. But it was a literal test of how the treated feathers handle water raining down.

I look forward to wearing the jacket over the coming months for a further test, this time in the outdoors, be it rain or shine.

—Sean McCoy is a contributing editor in Denver.

Posted by Nathan Moody - 10/23/2012 08:41 AM

Nice review; DWR-treated down is a pretty weird approach, but thanks for running such a punishing indoor test.

Any sense if the down’s DWR treatment makes it loft less than untreated down? This is a great test, but it’d be super helpful to get a sense of how warm the piece is relative to other down jackets with standard, untreated feathers.

Posted by Sean - 10/23/2012 08:51 AM

Thanks Nathan,
I personally didn’t notice an difference between the down in this jacket and untreated down when it was dry. This particular jacket is fairly light – good when the weather is right around freezing or a little colder as a stand alone jacket. It is really designed to be used as part of a layering system and I think there it would really shine.

Posted by Doug - 10/23/2012 07:43 PM

Any interest in a 5 hour deluge test? On the side of the Iowa road it has been pouring. I’ve run in puffy’s before and why not, Ill wear one for science. If there up to it let Sierra Designs know I will be crossing the mississippi tomorrow and chicago land soon and with my luck the rain will be following.

Love the pics.

Posted by Ed Urbanski - 10/26/2012 02:49 PM

L.L. Bean also has a “Ultralight 850 Down Jacket”, $179 reg; $189 tall, that features a moisture resistance “DownTek” treatment. It received the “Editors’ Choice” award from Backpacker magazine. I personally own this jacket and I am very pleased with it! I’m sure many other companies will be coming out with their “water repellent down treatment”.

Posted by John - 10/26/2012 08:38 PM

30 seconds? That’s a bit ridiculous.

Posted by chipk - 10/29/2012 09:17 AM

30 seconds and even 5 minutes doesn’t sound like a punishing test to me. If that’s all the jacket can take, it doesn’t seem like good outdoor gear. I require my gear to withstand a little more.

Posted by Maddie - 01/09/2013 04:24 PM

what does his back look like after the shower? that’s the part that’s really being tested, unless he faced the showerhead too…

Posted by blu - 02/28/2013 10:40 AM

I think you did a nice job testing this and being fair. Yes, of course 30 seconds or even the 5 minutes with encouragment isn’t scientific and as thorough as a lifetime of abuse in, say, the NW. But at least you understand what the technology is supposed to do for you, so thanks for the review. Chipk, of course you should expect and require more than five minutes performance, but I don’t think the writer or anyone else is saying this is the longevity of the performance. DWR on the face will wear off. The down will get MORE wet, the performance will fade over time, however, it’s still really interesting. If you need warmth and protection from wet conditions, buy synthetic. But with dwr down, you’ll be safe and warm in the event of unexpected bad weather and if you work a bit too hard and soak through from the inside out. The loft question is tricky. DWR down supposedly has better loft than regular down at the same quality. But I’ve heard from several sources that it’s more a matter of the dwr “tricking” the loft test. Having been coated, the down is slightly tacky against the cyclinder which gives it the impression of higher loft because it doesn’s settle in the glass tube.
There’s a time and place for this technology, there’s no golden ticket…yet.

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