Patagonia’s UltraAlpine Down Crew doubles down on ultra-lightweight layering. But is the world ready for a puffy shirt? We tested it to find out.
When Jerry Seinfeld donned (and lamented) his puffy shirt, he could not have imagined what the minds at Patagonia would cook up almost 30 years later.
Where Seinfeld had pirate-worthy ruffles, Patagonia’s new UltraAlpine Down Crew down shirt boasts feather-filled baffles. This unorthodox zipperless design pairs with the lightest shell fabric Patagonia has ever used. The result is an ultralight down shirt, targeted as a midlayer, cool-weather outer layer, or too-lazy-to-get-dressed weekend top.
But while puffy jackets have cemented their place as a primary winter defense, this down crewneck shirt leaves some room for interpretation. And at $200, you’d be forgiven for being a little skeptical. Who is this unconventional piece for? And in what environs would you put it to work?
Like all things Patagonia, it will garner lots of interest, so we’ve been wearing one for a couple of months to understand where it fits best.
In short: This might be the ultimate “love it or hate it” piece. The very thing that makes Patagonia’s UltraAlpine Down Crew so versatile and hard-working, might also make it too much of a winter gear stretch for others.
It doesn’t really doesn’t fit as any one thing; instead, it offers better-than-average midlayer warmth in an ultralight package. But it suffers the shortcomings any lightweight puffy would — namely, its blocky construction as well as a lack of breathability and durability.
Patagonia ‘Puffy Shirt’
When offered the chance to test the UltraAlpine Down Crew, I was immediately intrigued. It looks so … weird, and if I specialize in anything as a gear editor, it’s the fringe (see: color-changing ski jacket, 3D-printed snowblowers, and whale-tooth, goat-hoof knives).
But Patagonia has always been a pretty safe bet, testing-wise. The brand commands a legion of loyal consumers, as much motivated by Patagonia’s social stances as its storied gear.
Still, this puffy shirt has the capacity to both polarize the Patagonia faithful and woo some of its detractors. Even skeptics will have to appreciate this top weighs a quill over 6 ounces, less than its famed Nano Puff (11+ ounces) and Down Vest (almost 10 ounces) — and that doesn’t even have sleeves!
What’s more, the shell fabric uses 100% post-consumer recycled nylon, derived from old fishing nets. Coupled with the 800-fill traceable goose down, that shell is the secret behind the entire Alpine DownLab line. At 7-denier, it’s the lightest material the brand has ever brought to market.
All in all, this piece ticks a lot of the technical outerwear boxes. But none of that matters unless you can actually use it.
Alpine DownLab Crew Review
With the exception of Mammut’s Eigerjoch down T-shirt, I haven’t seen down shirts hit the mainstream. And even the Eigerjoch has a quarter-zip, so the Alpine DownLab Crew stands in a class of its own.
To be sure, wearing a zipper-less puffy is a fashion statement. So if you throw it on for a walk to the coffee shop, you’ll turn a head or two on the way. And if the construction alone didn’t do enough to impact your style, Patagonia chose to mix it up on the color palette as well.
You can opt for a straight black (enigmatically called “smolder blue”), or one of two bombastic alternatives: the tangerrific “metric orange” that I was sporting, or the dual-hued “float blue”—green on the upper half, blue on the lower.
Patagonia built the Crew with elastic on the cuffs and hem, so it’s easy enough to don despite having no zipper. Though the elastic prevents the shirt from billowing too much, it still drapes a little awkwardly. Kind of like dancing and not knowing what to do with your hands, this puffy shirt looks uncertain how it should behave as you move.
That said, if you’re using it as a layering piece, this aesthetic should be an afterthought as it has no impact on the shirt’s performance.
I tested a size large, and like some of my other Patagonia pieces, it runs comparably bigger than other brands. I’m 6’3″ and about 190 pounds, and I suspect I could fit a medium just fine.
Getting into and out of the UltraAlpine Down Crew is plenty easy. And once it’s on, it offers good range of motion. Even with a base layer underneath, you can reach, bend, and turn more like you’re wearing a shirt, and less like you’re wearing a coat.
However, as of this writing, Patagonia has not imbued the Alpine DownLab line with stretch, so there’s a limit to just how nimble this piece can be.
The real note on feel is for those throwing it on as a standalone, which you almost certainly will at some point (after all, it is a shirt). Sure, the shell is ultralight 7-denier, but it’s still nylon and it’s still stuffed with down. Thus, you should not expect this to breathe like a shirt — or even a sweater.
The UltraAlpine Down Crew is an insulator and it performs admirably. Next to skin, it will feel stifling and synthetic-y.
I began wearing the puffy shirt in November. Arguably, that was just about the sweet spot for this garment. I put it on for crisp morning dog walks over a T-shirt and was plenty comfortable. With temperatures between 30 and 60, you can lie to yourself that frigid temperatures are not on their way.
Not being a true jacket, this Crew feels more natural to throw on in the shoulder seasons when you’re not sure whether it’s really time to break out the winter gear and rotate the front-hall closet.
When fall gave way to winter, I flexed the UltraAlpine Down Crew in midlayer mode and have been wearing it under a jacket. And here’s one of the use cases that may appeal to some.
With a down shirt, you can get more mileage out of lighter jackets into colder temperatures. The issue, of course, is that when you’re inside and take off the jacket, you’re now wearing a down shirt — and everyone will notice.
Still, being warm is always more important than looking cool. And this puffy shirt adds a layer of protection to your core without feeling like you’re wearing an entire extra layer.
Patagonia Alpine DownLab Crew: Should You Buy?
There are a number of scenarios where this puffy shirt might make a good addition to your snow-season wardrobe. First and foremost, this is an excellent piece for anyone who’s going to wear a shell or parka over it. Think skiers and ice climbers.
For one, the UltraAlpine Down Crew removes one more set of zippers from the equation. And if you’re layering up, especially with gloves, you’ll be happy to have one less area for cold to ingress and your outer zipper to snag.
This is also a stellar piece for those who stretch their camping season past Labor Day. The puffy shirt is perfect to throw on when you first emerge from the tent and get ready to make coffee.
Moreover, its scant 6.3-ounce weight and ultra-packable 800-fill down frees up tons of pack space no matter where you stow it.
For all that the Crew does as a shirt-type layer, it still wears like a puffy — which is to say, you should still treat it more like an outer layer and less like a daily wear (despite how this author has chosen to use it).
But there’s a catch to that — as an outer layer, the UltraAlpine Down Crew is not well-equipped to handle rough environs. When you do emerge from your tent and start making coffee, you’ll need to be careful not to scuff any rocks, snag any branches, or catch any embers.
The 7-denier shell fabric will hold in the feathers, but it won’t put up much of a fight when the everyday outdoor hazards come knocking.
But if you’re investing in a Patagonia piece, you should also invest in Patagonia’s marketing: If it tears, patch it. If it sheds, repair it. Lots of folks — myself included — like a good scar. So even though it’s not the toughest garment you’ll own, don’t baby the damned thing — just be careful.
And if, after all this, you’re not keen on owning a puffy shirt, Patagonia has other super-lightweight Alpine Downlab pieces — including vests, jackets, and more. Check out the entire Patagonia Alpine Downlab line for men and women.
Patagonia’s Alpine Downlab Crew is available now and retails for $199.