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Today I shall take a break from the seasonal gorging of mince pies and Christmas pudding to write a little bit about down parkas.

WithUKretailers pushed to show a profit, many outdoor retailers started discounting in the run-up to Christmas. In some cases, even Boxing Day sales were moved forward to Christmas morning. I admit, I was one of those people scouring for a deal… and what deals there are to be had! Before I cover some of the highlights that I uncovered, I would like to clarify a bit about down.

 

Which down is best?

Down is name of the soft fluffy feathers found underneath birds’ hard exterior feathers. Some baby birds are covered entirely in down, leading to “aww, ain’t they cute” being blurted out by casual bird watchers. The down has fantastic insulating properties, because of its unique ability to trap air. It is unsurpassed by man-made materials for its insulation properties, though if wet it loses its insulation properties unlike mad-made Primaloft which retains most of its insulation properties when wet). As most down ajckets are not fully waterproof, this explains why down jackets in the rainyUKare rather pointless.

When purchasing outdoor gear with down, you will encounter a term refers to as “fill power”. This is the volume occupied by a particular weight of down. The higher the fill power, the larger the volume of space occupied by the given weight of down, therefore the greater its ability to trap more warm air. The ability of the down to “loft” is its ability to fluff up. The greater the fill power, the greater its lofting ability.

In outdoor shops you may find down with a fill rating from 600 up to 800, though variations do occur.UKdown ratings differ from US down ratings, with aUKdown rating of 600 being equivalent to aUSdown rating of 700. That means if you plump for the Peter Hutchinson Designs 900 fill power down, it would be 1000 on theUSscale. If purchasing American brand items in theUK, double-check whether the advertised down fill power uses theUSvalues orUKvalues.

Down finds its way into many high performance insulating clothing items, not just jackets. For example, Father Christmas got me a pair of Peter Hutchinson down booties which I am now using as slippers round the house, but will be taking up Denali (at least to the 14200ft camp, at any rate).

Now that we have covered some of the basics of down, here are some of my Christmas down parka finds!

Go Outdoors: Mountain Equipment Annapurna Jacket RRP £250, sale price £150. Now all sold out. This jacket has a solid feel but is rather boxy. It weighs in at about 1200g, which is somewhere in the middle of the jackets I have tried. I kept feeling like cold air would come streaming in through the bottom of the jacket.

Mountain Equipment: All Mountain Equipment down parkas 25% off. Of note, the Gasherbrum has similar level of fill to the Annapurna but because of the Helium skin it weighs a tiny 800g, with a pack size almost half of theAnnapurna. It is a more fitted cut than theAnnapurna, which I found better at keeping out draughts from the bottom of the jacket. The downside is that the jacket is not as durable as some of the heavier ones.

Ellis Brigham: All North Face down parkas 25% off. Of worthy note is the Himalayan Parka, down to £350. Weighing in at about 1250g, this one has been used for the first winter ascent ofGasherbrum2 (aka K4), giving it some serious credibility. The North Face have created a jacket that looks and feels pretty much bomb-proof.

Peter Hutchinson Designs: OK, this store needs no sales, but I thought I would mention them. Its kit is serious, with options of fill power from 700 to 900. My only gripe is not the price but the lack of colour choices compared to the larger brands. Their Xero jacket is rated down to -35c, at a similar weight to the North face Himalayan Parka, and their Omega jacket is rated down to -50c and comes with a warning that it is too warm for active wear even at very low temperatures! …And that is before you opt for the 900 fill down which takes its operating temperature down to a gnarly -55c!

Right, I’m off to order a North Face Himalayan parka now, then celebrate the purchase with a mince pie 🙂

 

Keep on running!

-GeekintheHills

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