I’m not exactly what you call a freeze baby.  I can sweat in 60 degree weather, I keep my office at a brisk 67 degrees and, as my fiancee will tell you, I usually sleep with one leg sticking out of the covers (I call it my heat sink).  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t need to keep warm when the mercury dips below freezing.

Since recently I’ve been getting more into outdoor activities in the winter, I figured I needed to upgrade my winter weather gear.  And as anyone who spends a significant amount of time outside in the cold will tell you, the best way to stay warm (apart from going inside) is down.

Contrary to what I used to think,  down insulation is not made of feathers. Instead, down is actually the fluffy stuff under a bird’s weather resistant feathers (how do you think ducks stay warm when they go diving for dinner in near freezing weather?).   Down works for us just like our fine feathered friends, by trapping heat that’s trying to escape our body in little air pockets.  And because it is also breathable, down allows unwanted moisture to escape.  The coolest part about down?  Even today, science has yet to develop a synthetic insulation that works as well as natural down!

Having a down jacket adds a lot of insulation for your body and can be worn with a water/windproof shell in extreme conditions, or all by itself when out shopping around town.    And because it’s so light, you can pack in your bag and pull it out any time the weather takes a turn for the cold.

Before I went shopping for my down jacket, I determined the following criteria for anything I was going to purchase:

-Warmth – Has to be at least 650 fill power, the rating system used to determine how dense, ie warm, the down filling is

-Weight – Has to be lightweight and packable

-Fit – Long enough in the sleeves and body to fit my 6’7″ frame, without being too bulky

-Fabric – The nylon fabric has to be light and breathable, but I don’t want to worry about it tearing on everything I brush against

-Zipable pockets – I lost stuff out of my pockets  like no one’s business without this

-Colors – Neon yellow and hyper blue might look cool in Nepal, but I don’t want to look like a North Face ad from 1982

I tried out several down jackets and finally settled on the Patagonia.   A lot of the jackets I tried out had a lot of great features, but the Patagonia turned out to be the closet thing to perfection for me.     I can wear it around town in 25 degree temps with nothing but a t-shirt underneath, but it doesn’t sweat me out when I have to wonder into a for more than 5 minutes.

My only gripe?  I wish it was a little longer in the back.  Maybe it’s because I have such a long torso, but it has a tendency to ride up on me a little bit when sitting down.  A minor complaint, but noteworthy nonetheless.

The real test of this jacket will be when I do the big Mt. Washington climb later this month.  But based on the reviews I’ve read from true mountaineers, I have no doubt this jacket will perform like a champ.