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.
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.
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.
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.
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.