Down jacket or vest?

Posted by: NitroSteel

Down jacket or vest? - 10/26/08 02:32 PM

Through this site I've done the research and ended up with a perfect sleeping bag, and several other items that I'm very happy with.

When it comes to layering with down vests and jackets - - how do you know which one to get? Is there a rule of thumb concerning whether to get a jacket or vest, how much of a fill you need, etc? I assume the same rules apply as to sleeping bags, with the higher down fill the better. Part of me has assumed that WM is probably one of the better companies to choose from in regards to getting a down vest/jacket. I looked at the Mountain Hardwear brand and noticed a few complaints about length with at least certain models of them.

It seems like there are alot of things to consider and also a huge price difference in what is available. Whatever jacket or vest I get will be for wearing under my Browning HydroFleece Gore-Tex hunting jacket. I want to be warm while sitting still (still hunting) down into the low teens (at least). I've been using a synthetic fill insulated layer (made by Columbia) underneath my outer layer and have been warm most of the time (too warm while moving) - but sometimes it does get chilly and it is so bulky to carry. My light down sleeping bag has made a believer out of me as far as how well it insulates.

I think no matter what I'll have to keep using my Browning jacket as the outerlayer because it is so quiet.

Thank ya'll again for your help.

Posted by: bmisf

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/26/08 03:08 PM

I have a montbell ultralight down vest and a Western Mountaineering Meltdown jacket - love them both, and highly recommend both brands. (Feathered Friends and Nunatak are good as well, and then there are a lot of fine brands in the next tier down, including Mountain Hardwear and Marmot and even LL Bean).

I also have some synthetic vests and jackets - mostly from GoLite, which I picked up on clearance. More on that in a second.

I think the vest vs jacket (and hooded versus non) choice comes down to personal preference and climate. Vests save a bit of weight and volume and are fine when you aren't in extreme cold or if your arms tend to stay warm - they're also a little better for use when moving.

Down fill power: obviously the higher it goes, the lighter the garment for the same amount of loft; however, the higher it goes, the more careful you have to be about keeping it dry, as in my experience the higher fill powers take less moisture to collapse.

Regarding down versus synthetic - if you're only out for overnights or day trips, down will likely be a fine choice pretty much always; for longer trips in challenging wet conditions, or where you're on the move wearing the layer and might sweat into it even in extreme cold, the synthetics get a nod.

I use my montbell down vest most of the year outside of snowy conditions, and pair it with an ultralight windshirt. Great combo. For snow camping, I bring the Western Mountaineering jacket, or a combo of a GoLite synthetic vest and a synthetic fill parka; I can wear the vest while on the move or at quick stops, and save the parka for when it's really cold at night, often wearing both layers together. I've sized all of these items so I can wear an Arc'teryx GoreTex shell over them for extreme weather.
Posted by: TomD

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/26/08 04:29 PM

I have two down parkas and a light synthetic vest. The parkas are for either extremely cold weather or moderately cold weather. I wear a long Capilene midweight base layer and a light fleece jacket much of the time in cold weather, then put on the parka when I stop or in the evening.

The big parka gets little use. If your temps are in the teens, something like a TNF Nuptse (what I have), should be fine. It doesn't have an insulated hood, which would be nice, but I have hats for that.

My vest isn't very heavy duty, so I just use it in slightly cold weather. I like having my arms covered, but it adds a bit of warmth if I am out walking at night.

If you are sitting around all day, I would think a parka would be what you'd want. Otherwise, your arms and shoulders are likely to get cold.
Posted by: Spock

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/26/08 08:09 PM

Just my humble experience, but if I'm moving, a short wool T over a long wool T, a vest with one layer of Climashield, a fleece cap and a windbreaker will take care of me to about into the low teens. Things are different if you are sitting around in camp. If I'm UL, I just wrap up in my quilt. Otherwise, going heavy, a full insulated jacket is real nice. But, hey, that's just me.
Posted by: Keith

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/26/08 08:47 PM

I was sold on the concept of a vest and tried a high end one out back in the day (Gerry down vest). It didn't work for me and from my experience, I don't really comprehend vests. The design really isn't efficient for keeping you warm by itself because the fill power is almost irrelevant compared to the convection losses happening out of the unsealed arm holes. Kind of like having a house insulated to R100 and leaving both the front and back door open. Even a thin sleeve will seal off air convection losses. I expect a shell over a vest would be much more efficient. But now you have an extra garment -- OK if that is your outfit, anyway but not if it is something extra. My thought is that something less lofty and covering more of your body may be equally warm and potentially provide more versatility.

Of course, if someone has "hot arms syndrome", the vest might be ideal. For me, I prefer a more even distribution of warmth rather than have a toasty core and chilly extremities.

I took the vest back and got a "down sweater" with sleeves and was very satisfied. I still have that Gerry down jacket, but it definitely has seen better days. I'm now in the market for a different one having burned off the arm of my North Face down sweater this past May in the Grand Canyon.
Posted by: AUHiker

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/27/08 05:49 AM

This is something I've debated on ad nausium my self- but this is the conclusion I came to.

I have my long sleeve base layer first, if it gets colder I put on the vest, AND my rain shell and am good until about 30 deg F, or a little lower. after that I need my down jacket (closer to 15 deg F, or a wind chill of the same)- which I always have just in case- and it doubles as my pillow when in a stuff sack...
Their is also nothing worse than being at the campsite without a long sleeve insulating unit if you need it, and that is for 4 season- even summer can have wind chills in the mountains (and I live in Georgia) so I use my GoLite Cayenne, and take it on every trip as a pillow if nothing else.
Posted by: jamieS

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/27/08 01:01 PM

I want to be warm while sitting still (still hunting) down into the low teens (at least).

I think you're on the right track. Down is perfect for low-activity warmth. And since you will using it as a layer (wearing a jacket over it), it's just a matter of buying a down jacket that will fill up but not overly compress within the space you have. If you have money to blow, you could go with Feathered Friends or Go-lite brands. But I don't know if you need to worry about weight (and the high price) unless you are facing a huge hike in.

The only downside to this approach is if you ask the down layer to insulate you on the walk in. Any layer that keeps you warm while walking won't be warm enough during sitting. So I think you need to consider keeping the synthetic layer and adding the down layer.

A couple other points: a vest/jacket that has a collar seems to really keep the heat in (probably lots of heat loss around the neck). A down hood is also great, but probably not applicable to hunting situations.

I actually use the vest more than the jacket, mostly as an insurance piece of gear in spring/fall when it is hard to guess how low the temps will go. For the teens, I'd go with the jacket unless it won't fit under your coat. Both are very light for the warmth they provide!

Posted by: thecook

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/27/08 06:58 PM

Up here in the cold north (but not yet the frozen tundra), as long as I am moving I wear soft shell pants, a woven nylon zip T neck that blocks some wind, and a wool hat. If the temp is below about 15 F plus a wind chill then I need to add capilene mid weight top and bottoms and more wind block up top. Stopping, now that is a different matter. 200 level fleece, North Face down jacket, shells top and pants, and a bomber hat will keep me warm down below 0 F as long as I don't just sit completely still. Below -15 F, well just climb in the sleeping bag and stay there. It all depends on what your version of cold is. Phat is probably laughing right now at I call cold <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/wink.gif" alt="" /> I would definately go with the down jacket if you will be sitting still when using it. You can always unzip, but can't add sleeves to a vest.
Posted by: TomD

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/27/08 08:34 PM

Cook, what kind of bomber hat do you wear? I've been considering getting one for sitting around at night. Not sure if I want real fur or not and I guess I don't mind if I look like Marge from Fargo wearing one. Ever try sleeping in one? I'm thinking it might be more comfortable than a Balaclava which feels kind of restricting.

I've seen some nice fur ones online and they are not all that expensive.

I asked this in another thread, so sorry if I am repeating myself.
Posted by: phat

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/27/08 08:41 PM

Below -15 F, well just climb in the sleeping bag and stay there. It all depends on what your version of cold is. Phat is probably laughing right now at I call cold

No, not hardly. I recall being stuck overnight in Minneapolis with nothing but a suit and a dress coat in late january (Thanks Northwest!). Walking outside sucked. I will not laugh at Minnesota weather. (I'd have took the down vest, or frankly, anything to stuff under my coat!)

And besides, your -15F is my -26C - that's serious weather. Coldest it gets here is -40 (C or F, doesn't matter <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/smile.gif" alt="" /> ), and that's only a couple days a year maybe. We'll have a week or two of -30C's, and a lot of -20C, but really I doubt we're *that* much colder than northern minnesota (considering you're just south of Manitoba, and Winterpeg is quite a bit colder than here). (PS, that would be without wind chill of course - wind chills get brutal, fortunately the -40 days are almost always dead still)
Posted by: thecook

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/28/08 11:49 AM

Winterpeg LOL I love it <img src="/forums/images/graemlins/laugh.gif" alt="" />
Posted by: thecook

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/28/08 11:52 AM

Mine was made by CrownCap, as Phat says, in Winterpeg Canada. It is rabbit fur and is very warm. I think I ordered it from the Sacred Feather, a hat store in Madison, WI. I've tried sleeping in it. I find anything other than a simple knit hat too confining and usually don't pull my sleeping bag hood super tight either.
Posted by: Paddy_Crow

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/28/08 12:11 PM

I have a couple of good bomber hats, I really like the leather one from Mad Bomber with rabbit fur lining. I've also got a shearling one from Sacred Feather, only complaint about that one is it fits a little tight.

My dog seems to think the rabbit fur is prey...
Posted by: johndavid

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/28/08 01:07 PM

I'd buy a down jacket at Wal-Mart if I wanted one.

It may be that quilted jackets have a commodity aspect to them. That is, one is as good as another. It's the thickness that is the main variable.

On the other hand, if money were no object, I'd definitely get Feathered Friends, Patagonia, WM etc..

As it is, I have a NF Nunatak, which I found on the sidewalk and is far too warm for most of my purposes.
Posted by: finallyME

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/29/08 07:08 AM


My dog seems to think the rabbit fur is prey...

My dogs do as well. The problem is that all my rabbit fur has live rabbits attached to them. So, far we have only had one "incident". I am thinking of taking my dogs rabbit hunting without a gun, they might just get one. Then again, wild rabbits are pretty darn fast.
Posted by: OregonMouse

Re: Down jacket or vest? - 10/30/08 08:47 PM

Each of us is different. A vest just doesn't work for me; when it's cold I need covering on my arms and, above all, on my shoulders, which tend to get arthritic if not adequately insulated.

I also don't use down for clothing. For one thing, I prefer synthetic clothing since I have a down bag. For another, I am worried about body moisture condensing inside the outer layer of a down jacket in freezing weather. You can prevent this with a vapor barrier liner in a sleeping bag, but I sure wouldn't want to wear a vapor barrier during active hiking! I'd rather have several thinner synthetic layers. I like to fine-tune my insulation so I don't sweat when hiking and don't freeze when stopping, even if this means putting going through the onion peeling/unpeeling routine every time.

Your Mileage May (and probably will) Vary. You might consider some trials with an inexpensive fleece jacket and vest (which you should be able to get cheap at a thrift store) before investing in something more expensive).