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Is this the warmest down jacket ever made?

The down jacket has been a tried-and-true staple in just about every outdoor enthusiasts closet almost since it was first invented back in the late 1930’s. That’s when Eddie Bauer (yes, that Eddie Bauer), came up with the idea of using goose down to serve as insulation to help keep us warm while venturing outdoors in cold conditions. Up until that point, down was mainly used in bedding, but no one had ever thought of extending it to jackets as well. But after Bauer contracted hypothermia on a winter fishing trip in Washington State, he knew there had to be a better way to stay warm. When he came home from that trip he immediately began working on plans to create a better jacket than the one made of wool that he had been wearing previously. It didn’t take long for him to start producing some prototypes with down insulation, and soon thereafter the military came calling asking if he could make a version for them too. The rest – as they say – is history.

Over the years since the introduction of the first down jacket there have been some significant upgrades to Bauer’s original designs. For instance, the “puffy jacket” – as it is often called – has gotten slimmer and lighter in weight, while still maintaining its ability to keep us warm. On top of that, the fabrics used to create these jackets are now thinner and lighter than ever before, and yet they still mange to remain very durable too. Even the insulation used inside the jacket has gotten substantially better with the introduction of hydrophobic down a few years back. This breakthrough removed the one shortcoming from using goose down, which has a tendency to lose much of its insulating properties when it gets wet. But with the recent introduction of the the new StretchDown jacket, Mountain Hardwear has managed to improve the venerable puffy once again, possibly creating the warmest version ever.

So what makes the StretchDown so special? For starters, the designers at Mountain Hardwear decided to do away with the traditional stitched seams that you find on most down jackets. Those seams are created when a needle and thread pass through the fabrics to stitch the garment together, in the process making thousands of tiny holes in the jacket that allows cold air to pass through and warm air to escape. But for the first time ever, the StretchDown uses a heat-welded seam instead, which is not only more durable, but has the added benefit of not creating any holes in the fabrics either. The result is a jacket that is warmer than pretty much every other puffy out there.

The second innovation that Mountain Hardwear brings to the table is a new type of stretchy fabric designed to allow for more movement by the wearer. Traditional down jackets have long been lauded for their ability to keep us warm, but they haven’t always been easy to move in too. The StretchDown changes that however, bringing a new level of freedom of motion to winter outdoor mountain sports.

The team at Mountain Hardwear are quick to admit that they aren’t the first to use the welded seams, nor are they the first to use these stretch fabrics either. But, they are the first to combine them together to create a new down jacket. This has allowed them to produce a garment that is lighter, warmer, and more comfortable than nearly anything that the competition is producing at the moment, which should make the StretchDown very popular with skiers, snowboarders, and other outdoor winter athletes.

In addition to its unique construction techniques, the StretchDown jacket has a few other features that outdoor enthusiasts are sure to love. For instance, it uses 750-fill, hydrophobic down that when matched with water resistant fabrics helps the jacket to maintain its loft and performance even when it gets wet. It also comes with a number of exterior and interior pockets for warming your hands and keeping important items – such as a smartphone, earbuds, and gloves – close at hand. The unique method of construction of the seams also gives the jacket a look that is all its own too, helping it to stand out in a sea of puffy jackets on the slopes and trail.

The Mountain Hardwear StretchDown arrived on store shelves last month and is available in both a standard and hooded model for both men and women. The regular version costs $250 while adding the hood takes the price up to $290. Those prices certainly aren’t unreasonable for a good down jacket, particularly one that offers such good all around performance. That said, this jacket may be overkill for anyone who is just looking to run errands around town or take the dog for a walk. But, if you’re the kind of person who relishes being outside in cold conditions, it will make a good addition to your wardrobe.

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Kraig Becker
Kraig Becker is a freelance outdoor writer who loves to hike, camp, mountain bike, trail run, paddle, or just about any other…
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