The Outdoor industry is always updating and changing it’s product lines to keep up with the changes made in technology and demands made by professional athletes. These days there is also the green factor. But these changes aren’t always in the best interest of the user. Some features are a industry standard for a reason, but in the interest of “better” design features will end up dropped or modified.
Here’s part 1 of a 3 part series examining the new line of down products from Patagonia. We’re going to look at Patagonia’s new designs fit, durability, if they meet industry standards, and of course report on how warm they are. Lets get to it!
The Patagonia down sweater vest is first up. Wearing it in freezing weather, I was pleasantly surprised about how warm it kept me even with I was wearing little more than a flannel. Construction is fairly standard, without any serious weak points. But also without any great strengths. I am let down by the lack of any real reenforcement. For a premium brand, the vest really isn’t made any tougher in many regards than the cheap Eddie Bauer vest I had a few years back. The stitching is solid, I didn’t find any flaws or loose threads out of the box, but there’s several areas where I would have liked the stitching to be backed over a second time, rather than singled stitched. The thin elastic type fabric sewn to reinforce the arm holes is already showing some wear after a single season. It’s single stitched to the vest without any reenforcing and has a light surface texture that is easy to snag. Luckily on the vest this is the only place the fabric is used.
“Patagonia can’t claim the lack of tape is for green reasons, and there is no technical reason for this to be excluded from the design.”
The fabric for the arm reinforcement can be easily overlooked by many as this has become the industry standard for armholes on down or synthetic vests. What can’t be so easily forgiven is the “Durable shell fabric is made of 100% recycled polyester ripstop treated with a DWR (durable water repellent) finish“, which I found to be anything but windproof and seemed to have no water resistance at all. In fact, the very first time I wore it, the heat from my body was enough to be melting the snow on the shoulders, which promptly soaked right into the vest. Even the sweat from the back of my neck was enough to soak right in and create light staining during the first use. Below you can see a screen shot, right from Patagonia’s site claiming the vest is “windproof” – not wind resistant or nearly windproof, but “windproof“.
So right away I have some trust issues with the Patagonia marketing. I’ve worked in the outdoors industry, both in sales and in professionally testing products for dozens of industry leaders. If you say something is windproof, I better not feel wind blowing through on a chilly Ohio day. Yet this is just what happened. And in the Tenn mountains it was even worse. The wind came through with the normal resistance that any outdoors ripstop shell would offer. This would have been fixed if Patagonia choose to make their vest with a superior fabric choice such as Pertex, one of the industries leaders. Pertex is to fabric, what Goretex is to water proofing. They lead in many regards because they offer a far superior product. But many brands, such as Patagonia leave Pertex for green reasons, or far more likely, because using Pertex cuts into their bottom line. There are many true believers in going 100% recycled and moving away from fabric choices like Pertex, and according to Patagonia marketing that just why they used the recycled fabric they chose. I’m sure the savings on not having to buy fabric from another company is just a healthy bonus. But while Patagonia gets a healthier bottom line and gets to feel good about saving the planet, the user gets saddled with a fabric that isn’t nearly as water repellent or durable as Pertex. Which still leads the market with strength to weight ratio, unmatched durability in micro thin fabrics and in ultra light weight fabric that doesn’t sacrifice performance. After only a handful of uses, I found multiple small tears or snags in the green recycled fabric. Another vest of mine using those other guys fabric, is dang close to water proof and nearly completely windproof 7-8 yrs after I bought it.
“But many brands, such as Patagonia leave Pertex for green reasons, or far more likely, using Pertex cuts into their bottom line.”
Moving on to warmth…
Here the Patagonia down sweater vest really shines. It’s “800 fill” goose down is quite good. According to the tag, it’s about 90% goose down and 10% feather content. This is fair, and keeping well within industry standards and legal qualifications for being called a down product. They also point out the down is traceable and humanly sourced, which is of course saying they’re not live plucking or abusing the geese. This is important for them to point out as several times over the past 7-8 years brands have been accused of cruel sourcing practices. Videos have even surfaced showing down farms where geese were riddles with cuts and bloody from inhuman plucking and sheering for down. So with this kind of abuse being a danger, why use down at all? Well there are multiple reasons…
First, down is not only very light, but it can be as much as 50-75% lighter then synthetic blends or pure synthetics. This is a huge weight difference when mountaineering, climbing, backpacking, or just counting your weight since you’re already lugging around those heavy lenses. Down does has some shortcomings when compared to a insolation like Primaloft though, the main one being that down is worthless when wet and it’s not fast drying. The type of down, and down to feather count matters as well. Duck down isn’t nearly as warm as goose down, feathers offer no warm at all and break up when compressed. Unlike down which springs back into shape moment after being decompressed. Goose down also compresses much better than duck and to a smaller size. Duck down also tends to break down faster in my experience. Nothing matches goose down for warmth to weight ratio or packing ability. So a better goose down, with a lower feather count will keep you warmer than anything else in that weight class.
The vest kept me very warm and even though I wasn’t a fan of the armholes and I didn’t find it windproof, a quick do it yourself DWR treatment took care (mostly) of the waterproofing issue. There’s also some nice features like a “garage”, which is a little fabric pocket for the zipper up under you chin. This keeps the zip from cutting into your skin and rubbing on your chin or catching in a beard. The stacked stitching in the collar kept the down from migrating around in the collar, which was fantastic as that can be a big issue. Collars without these pockets for the down allow for the down to settle in the low spot. So you end up with some clumps of down along the back of your neck, which is now cold. The stacking also keeps the collar against your neck when zipped up, keeping heat in and creating better warmth. Here’s the part where I remind you about those sweat stains…
With Patagonia making the claim they have such a wonderful DWR finish on the fabric, I didn’t do a DWR treatment myself until I found out their treatment wasn’t sufficient. Because the down count is high and seemingly very good down, my neck got hot and sweaty, because their DWR treatment wasn’t sufficient that sweat soaked into the collar and into the down. So now I had wet down and instead of my neck sweating because it was too warm, the warmth was leached out of the collar and now my neck was cold and wet. This is another reason why DWR on a down product can be even more important than DWR on a synthetic product. A synthetic like Primaloft for example, retains up to 96% of it’s insulating ability, while down when wet… Pretty much doesn’t retain any.
“Here the Patagonia down sweater vest really shines. It’s “800 fill” goose down is quite good. According to the tag, it’s about 90% goose down and 10% feather content.”
All the pockets are nicely sized, the inner pocket doubles as a stuff sack. Which is a common feature, but always a good one. You flip the pocket inside out, and stuff the whole vest inside, then zip it up to compress it down for storage when hiking, climbing etc. NOTE: never store you jacket or vest stuffed for long terms as it will break down and compress the insolation, leaving you with a vest or jacket that won’t “fluff” back up.
Behind the front zipper is a wind flap, it’s a little small, but it’s there. Missing from it however is seam tape (more on that in a moment). Zips are all plastic, a material Patagonia’s site listed as Vislon. It’s seems durable enough, even though chunky teeth tend to bite into fabric and break off, I’m not missing any teeth yet. I did have it bite into the fabric, something that would have been very easy for Patagonia to prevent with seam tape along the inside of zip. I actually can’t remember the last time I saw any down product that didn’t have seam taping, but here we are. Patagonia can’t claim the lack of tape is for green reasons, and there is no technical reason for this to be excluded from the design. I have multiple snags on the wind flap behind the zip from the lack of taping. This is a cut corner that hurts the longevity of the garment. Cutting corners by not taping the pocket zips is fairly common, but just about everyone tapes the inside of the front zip. It’s the most common to be caught in a zipper and gets the most abuse. There is no excuse for the lack of tape behind the zipper. It’s a cost cutting measure I’m sure, but for a industry leader like Patagonia that charges some of the highest prices in the industry for their products, this is not something they should have missed with the design.
I’d forgive this with many smaller brands like Mountain Khakis or even North Face or Columbia with all the cost cutting those two been up to over the past decade for a profit increase, but Patagonia has been a trusted leader known for not cutting costs for a better bottom line. So when I see a Patagonia down product, one of the pieces their well respected and known for, the standard is raised (and rightly so). Lack of seam taping along the front zipper, poor DWR (I’m still not convinced there was any at all), poor wind proofing, these are all huge mistakes that left me very frustrated in Patagonia’s latest down offerings. But I was very impressed by the warmth provided by the high quality goose down and the low feather count. The tag says 10% feather count, but I couldn’t see or feel any at all and that’s how it should be. It’s light, comfy and after a quick home DWR treatment, it performed very well in action. Patagonia also offered some better colors than in years past, so one doesn’t look like they belong at some weird black light festival in neon pink and baby poop green. Thankfully they also kept the hem cord, so you can draw that down and keep the heat in. It compresses neatly and with ease, making it very backpacking or travel friendly. Sizing is good, with a regular fit, I wore an XL with some extra space, and it felt true to size. No crazy skinny hipster fit here.
The vest is made overseas, in Vietnam. I would like to see Patagonia move manufacturing back here, but that’s most likely never going to happen. Even Canada’s Arcteryx moved their manufacturing overseas some years ago to increase profit margins and production rates. Just one of the many reasons here in America, are EPA regulations brands like Patagonia are in favor of placing on U.S. based companies, these cut into profits and make it very hard to manufacture here affordably. Many of these regulations just don’t exist in places like Vietnam. But that’s a story for another time…
If they hadn’t overlooked a few very basic things, Patagonia may very well have had the best down vest on the market. As it is, you can do worse, but there’s some mistakes that will annoy or could even cause failure in the field. Still, it’s a very capable mid layer and if you don’t mind paying a premium to DWR your own product, the high quality, high fill goose down will keep you warm, as long as you keep it dry.
5.5/10, Above average quality down, but over all the build doesn’t live up to the legacy or expectations we have of the Patagonia brand. FP LINK
Photography note: All shots used in this review are taken with the Leica SL, they’re JPEGs with no post. Camera default settings.