Gear Review: L.L. Bean Ultralite 850 Down Jacket
L.L. Bean Ultralite 850
$179, 1 lb. 1 oz. (men’s medium), $189 tall
Sizes: men’s S-XXL, tall M-XXL, women’s XS-XL, petite XS-XL
In heavily falling snow at around 9,000 feet on Copper Mountain in Idaho’s Boise National Forest, I felt the cold touch my bones. We had been climbing uphill on skis, breaking trail, for about 90 minutes; I was wet, and now the wind on the exposed ridge where we had stopped for a bite hit us. I pulled this down jacket on over my shell jacket and kept it on while skiing back downhill—I was that cold—realizing the snow could saturate the feathers and thinking, “Well, we’ll see if this water-resistant down works.”
Not only did this puffy return my core temperature to normal, but even after getting snowed on for some 30 minutes, and getting wet on the inside from having been pulled on over the wet exterior of my shell jacket, it still kept me warm. That’s due to the water-resistant DownTek treatment, a new technology that causes down feathers to repel water, keeping the insulation drier in wet conditions and helping it dry faster once wet. I’ve worn it several times in similarly wet circumstances, including light rain, with the same results: no noticeable loss of warmth. Worn over light insulation, the jacket has kept me quite warm standing around in 15-degree temps.
The fit is roomy but not cavernous; I can layer a light fleece underneath. The jacket stuffs into a zippered inside pocket, packing down to a nice camp pillow size, thanks to the high quality, 850-fill power down feathers. Bean got all the details right, too, including a no-snag zipper; a collar with a soft lining that zips snugly around your neck to keep the wind out without strangling; three zippered outside pockets, including two hand warmers, and an inside stretch-mesh pocket; elastic cuffs; and a drawcord-closure hem to seal out wind. The water-resistant down also lets you machine wash and dry the jacket without fear of feathers clumping. And for people with allergies, good news: Bean says the down is hypoallergenic. At this price, you get big value in a puffy jacket that’s versatile for chillier three-season trips and winter conditions down into the 20s or teens for some people (with other layers).
If you need a warmer down jacket for winter, see my review of the Outdoor Research Maestro Jacket and Rab Infinity Jacket. For reviews of other puffy jackets I like, type “puffy jacket” into the Search box at left.
NOTE: I’ve been testing gear for Backpacker Magazine for 20 years. At The Big Outside, I review only what I consider the best outdoor gear and apparel. See all of my reviews by clicking on the Gear Reviews category at left or in the main menu.