Women's Midweight Down Jackets
Ten women's down jackets from leading brands go head-to-head in this comprehensive group test. What does 'midweight' even mean? And by that definition, which models stand out? All will be revealed...
Mountain Hardwear's new Super DS Climb Jacket is a hybrid that combines both down and synthetic insulation, and boasts a stretch fabric and an interesting woven baffle construction. Not having used MHW stuff for some years I was keen to give this midweight insulating piece a try, and it had its first outing on a summer (if chilly) Cuillin bivvy.
The verdict? Its woven construction is snazzy, and I want to like it just for that. But some basic yet important details are poor, and this lets it down for use as a more techy climbing-oriented jacket. Despite its name, I'm unsure what role the Super DS Climb is really aimed at.
At 510g in a size Medium this is very much a midweight down jacket. In a 2018 group test of lightweights we looked at models more in the 300-400g ballpark. While the best of those (with their high fill power innards) outclass the Super DS Climb in terms of insulating performance, this jacket feels thicker and heavier, and as you'd expect it doesn't pack down quite as small.
Both men's and women's versions are available. North American sizing can be generous, and with the Super DS Climb Jacket (from here on the Super DS for short) I went down from my usual Large to a Medium. This is about right for me; I could have tried a size Large but I've no doubt it would have been too big in places - and an oversized jacket is an inefficient insulator.
The Super DS has a fairly slim fit in the body, so while there's room to wear it over a thin fleece you're unlikely to layer it on top of lots of other clothes, winter belay jacket-style. On me the cut feels particularly close around the shoulder blades and underarms, and also at the elbow. The stretchy fabric mitigates this to an extent, but nevertheless I find arm movement a little restricted with more than just a baselayer underneath.
The Super DS is fairly long in the body, sitting just below waist level at the front and with a drop hem at the rear that gives you decent bum coverage. When you're stood about in the cold the jacket feels long enough to keep you snug around the middle, and I do like that drop hem. You also get the usual hem adjusters to keep the breeze out at the waist. Unfortunately, however, the tailoring around the sleeves is just too close, and this results in a lot of hem lift as soon as you raise your arms. And while it's specifically designed long enough to fit beneath a harness, I've found the Super DS always rides up at the front when you start climbing.
Down at the sleeves there are pros and cons. On the plus side the wide cuff easily fits a bulky glove, and is readily rolled up over your forearms if you're overheating on the move; on the other hand, with no volume adjustment (in fact no attempt to make the sleeves close-fitting around the wrists at all) the wind is free to get in, and snow would too if you were to try winter climbing.
Since it's too close-fitting to wear as a winter belay jacket, and not tailored well enough to climb in, then I think it fair to ask how it merits the 'Climb' bit of its name. Mountain Hardwear gave us this feedback:
"Super DS Climb was never designed to be a mountaineering jacket. It's for crag, bouldering, belaying etc. It's also meant to be for approach to climbs."
Of course you can wear it on a chilly autumn belay, or to walk to the crag on a cold day; but then any old non-technical jacket would do for that. As an all-round non-climbing jacket it's pretty nice, but I have to admit I'm still nonplussed about what it's really for.
Around most of the body, the upper side of the arms and the hood, a 700 fill power 90:10 goose down provides the main insulation. This is only a mid-standard quality of down, where most top end models boast fill powers around 750-850, so if warmth-for-weight is a priority then you're going to find better alternatives elsewhere.
The Super DS feels snug enough for a chilly autumn day at the crag, but it's clearly not the warmest option at this weight. When it comes to the warmth of any jacket, as well as the quality of the down another obvious consideration is how much of it there is. Here you get 88.4g of down in a size medium (not a figure provided on the MHW website). This isn't loads, especially considering the weight of the jacket overall, and bearing in mind that some lighter rivals offer significantly more - and better quality - fill. The down is RDS-certified, but not hydrophobic treated, which for use in damp British conditions arguably puts it at something of a disadvantage, though opinion is divided in the industry on treated down.
Even the best down is delicate stuff, and not very effective when compressed. To get around this Mountain Hardwear have included a synthetic insulated component, a midweight 60g/m2 fill which they place around the lower body and under the arms. In the latter area the jacket is thinner, which helps stop you getting too hot and sweaty on the move; down around the hem it's thicker and warmer, which I assume equates to a double layer of the synthetic fill. For the areas that end up under a harness or a rucksack hip belt it's a good idea to use synthetic fill, and while such mixed insulation is not unique to the Super DS I do think this is a successful application of the hybrid principle.
The jacket is made from something called Toray I-Tube (Toray are a Japanese textile manufacturer). This is a tough 138g/m2 fabric, and after scrambling on the Cuillin in it I'd say the jacket is pretty resistant to scuffs or tears. It stretches a little to aid freedom of movement, and seems quite wind resistant too - always welcome on a breezy summit. The DWR is effective when new, but still this isn't a jacket you want to be wearing in the rain. In a market full of shiny competitors I like the soft matt finish here, though I guess it is a little loud and swishy when you walk.
According to MHW "the Super/DS is the first puffy to weave face, back, and baffles from a single fabric". We've seen woven baffles before of course, for instance in Rab's Microlight Summit, so I'm not sure about that 'first' claim. But the Super DS's woven baffles are certainly a little different, as you can see from the pictures, forming a sort of open 'cell' arrangement rather than the usual rows. As well as allowing the fill to loft well, I assume this cell design also helps the jacket stretch, which does seem to work. How do they stop down migrating around inside? I'm not sure, but so far that does not seem to be an issue. The chief advantages of woven baffles are that there are no stitched or glued seams to fail, and fewer potential cold spots at the seams. Its up-to-date construction is one of my favourite things about the Super DS.
Less good is the hood. If you're designing a jacket for climbers then it's fundamental that the hood works with a helmet, since you'll want to wear both at some point whether you're climbing in the jacket or just stood on belay. This one barely works. While it does have space to pull up over a helmet, you can't both do up the main zip and move your head much. Side-to-side motion is impaired; looking straight up or down even more so. It works a little better with the zip undone, though you'd then get a cold neck. Alternatively this soft low-profile hood does fit underneath a helmet, though this too feels restrictive.
The collar comes high to cover most of your lower face, but with no means to tighten the fit around your head the hood simply catches any breeze and flaps around like a wind sock if you wear it without a helmet. The lack of a stiffened brim doesn't help in this regard either. Overall it's a poor hood for climbing, and no use in stormy weather.
Two zipped hand pockets are provided, a decent size for gloves and the like, and positioned high enough to be used with a harness or rucksack hip belt. Unfortunately there's no inner chest pocket, something I missed when looking for a warm safe place to carry my phone. These days a lot of jackets are designed to stow inside one of their own pockets, but not the Super DS; you don't even get a stuff sack.
The midweight YKK main zip feels suitably robust, but without a second zipper you can't as easily access the front of your harness when wearing the Super DS on a belay, another small but niggly climbing fail.
While the Super DS Climb Jacket works well as a general purpose warm layer, in its advertised role as a climber's jacket it is seriously let down by a constricting fit, hem lift, and a very lacklustre hood. The woven baffles seem excellent, and I like the tough-but-stretchy fabric too, but it seems as if Mountain Hardwear have concentrated on these headline features at the expense of the unglamorous but essential business of tailoring. The down fill, meanwhile, is not a match for higher quality rivals; and somehow MHW have managed to give you only a lightweight quantity of it in a jacket that's very much a midweight overall. If you're looking for a light-ish down jacket with a climbing-oriented cut and feature set, then at this price you'll do better elsewhere. However, I think it does look stylish.
Mountain Hardwear's Super/DS™ technology provides the warmth and durability MHW clothing is renowned for. Super/DS™ Climb Jacket adds a 2-way stretch fabric for ultimate DS™ (Dynamic Stretch) and hybrid insulation zoning for improved climbing performance. The dynamic and innovative stitch-free baffle construction eliminates cold spots and promotes free movement. The longer skirt is harness compatible.
For more info see mountainhardwear.com
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