One of our tester has spent his life — more than 30 years — trying out and professionally testing puffy jackets. But there’s one that he says rises head and shoulders above the rest.
I’ve been testing gear professionally for three years, but in reality, I’ve been doing it my entire life. I grew up as a park brat with two ranger parents, went on to guide whitewater trips in the Arctic, ran marketing for an outdoor startup, and spend these days getting paid as a keyboard warrior, waxing poetic about the latest and greatest outdoor products.
In this 3-decade process, I’ve come to learn one near-ubiquitous truth: The majority of gear is, for all intents and purposes, the same.
There’s an obvious explanation for this. The best brands across the industry source from a small subset of suppliers, work within similar manufacturing processes, and share best practices for testing new products. So, it should come as no surprise that much of what is produced is, relatively speaking, homogeneous.
You name it — shirts, pants, coats, and packs are differentiated by just minor differences, often centered on color, fit, and personal preference.
But that’s not the case with insulated jackets.
Mountain Hardwear Super/DS Stretchdown Hooded Jacket
In my unsolicited opinion, Mountain Hardwear’s Super/DS Stretchdown Hooded Jacket is simply better than the rest. Launched in early 2020, the Super/DS received high praise from most testers but had an underwhelming rollout into the market due to factors beyond its control (ahem, COVID).
REI gave it love as one of its top sellers, but broadly speaking, it lacked the media overture it deserved. I’m going to atone for that sin right now (and in the process, do something I rarely get permission to do: write about old gear).
The Super/DS is my go-to puffy jacket for almost everything in the backcountry, aside from the far ends of the spectrum. If you’re not winter camping in Wyoming or ultralight bikepacking in the tropics, it has a place in your pack.
The Stretchdown works well in the alpine, at the crag, in snow, in mud, and in thick, oh-shit-how-did-we-get-here bushwacking moments. Trust me, I’ve been there.
Why It’s the Best Puffy Ever
I’ve taken the Super/DS up Orizaba, the third-highest peak in North America; heliskiing in Valdez, Alaska; climbing in Tuolumne, Moab, and the Wind River Range; and found it indispensable on a 3-week bike-to-ski volcano tour.
It excels when you’re moving — not stationary — unlike the plethora of other insulated jackets on the market. While on the go, it’s comfortable, durable, and hits the warm-but-not-too-warm sweet spot — plus it’s insanely stretchy.
Some ounce-counting nerds may dock the Stretchdown for being marginally heavier than other puffies, but I’ll happily take that weight penalty (3-4 ounces for most jackets) in exchange for reliability, weather resistance, and stretch.
Minimalists may say it doesn’t compress into its own pocket like most down jackets these days, and they’re right — the Super/DS is made to be worn, not hidden at the bottom of your pack.
Thanks to the unique baffle design, the Super/DS offers almost no reduced movement. That alone is a game-changer for ski touring, fringe seasons, fickle weather, and long trips with a variety of conditions.
The concept behind the jacket was to improve performance for climbing jackets, which opened up the door for much more.
Because a good rock climbing jacket requires a high level of durability and stretch, the Super/DS is useful for other activities as well. The shell fabric has a high elastane content that creates stretch. Paired with a discontinuous baffle pattern, movement is uninhibited by linear quilt lines.
Super/DS: Double Weave
Abrasion from rocks, branches, and brush is one of the biggest challenges for all lightweight jackets, as it can easily break the stitching and create holes for down to escape through.
Instead of quilting two layers of woven material together, Mountain Hardwear used a double weave material that connects the shell and lining together in a new pattern, eliminating the need for quilting to keep the fill in place.
Better Than the Competition
Over the last decade, I’ve tested puffies from at least a dozen manufacturers, but none fit the bill like the Stretchdown D/S. Mountain Hardwear’s arguably more popular Ghost Whisperer 2 is lighter and more packable, but not nearly as durable or comfortable on long days out.
Overall, I put a premium on durability, and nothing has stood the test of time like the Stretchdown.
Sure, the Super/DS has its flaws. It’s more expensive than most puffy jackets and, as I mentioned above, slightly heavier.
But the tradeoffs are more than worth it. I’ve tested dozens of jackets over the last few years and routinely go back to this one again and again. Suffice to say the Super/DS Stretchdown Hoody is the one puffy to rule them all.