The weather has turned cold, so the fleece and other winter wear has come out of hiding for the season. How cold? On November 11th the mercury was dipping toward single digits in the evening before I went to bed. Even more than the temperature dropping was the feel of cold weather. It just feels like winter is coming in your bones.
This year I wanted something to replace my nearly decade old softshell jacket for those days when the full-on winter coat is just too much. Plus, I wanted it to be stowable for travel.
Down was out of the picture. The down feather industry just seems pretty nasty. If viable options existed that could provide warmth without the cruelty I was down. Pun intended. Plus, natural down is known for losing its insulation properties when wet because it loses its loft. Synthetic insulation does not necessarily have this problem.
I first looked at the Nano Puff from Patagonia. This is usually my first and last stop for casual outdoor clothes. Something just did not fit. The large was much too snug and the extra-large felt like it is was roomy in all the wrong places. Reading reviews it became apparent that the fit had been changed recently. Oh well.
The new Thermoball jackets from The North Face seemed like it might be the ticket. There were two problems that I had with the Thermoball. First, it felt like I was the Michelin man when I wore the jacked because of its puffiness or loft. This may seem silly given that the loft is one of the reasons why these jackets insulate so well, but I am willing to sacrifice some technical proficiency for a little bit of fit. Second, the price. The price tag was ~$200. Even with my annual fall member coupon from REI I was staring at a $160 jacket to bridge me between the warm fall days and my full on winter coat. Seemed a little excessive.
Enter the L.L. Bean Ascent Packaway Jacket:
The cut is a little looser than the Nano Puff, but it is not as puffy as the Thermoball. Filled with 60g PrimaLoft One the jacket is plenty warm, blocks the wind, and packs away into a really small package for stowing somewhere until needed.
The cost hit a nice target for me as well. I got this jacket for ~$80 using a 20% off coupon and free shipping. At half the cost of the Thermoball I think the tradeoff in performance for price and fit was a worthy bargain.
Jackets that stuff down into manageable sizes are critical when you’re traveling. If you’re stuck doing the airline tango you want to carry as little as possible because there is probably some new fee where you have to pay for space to put your feet. Or, if you’re like me and have kids, space is at a premium when you are packing the car for a trip. Trust me, by the time you get the gear all loaded up the back of the Outback is pretty jammed.
We tend to travel to places where the weather is a little schizophrenic. I have been in Colorado Springs visiting family friends and seen the temps swing as much as forty degrees in the days that we are there. Or, if you end up driving from the Front Range to altitude the temperature drops. Having a warm jacket that is packed away discretely is a life saver that makes things just that much more comfortable. I wish I had one of these jackets when I was in Amsterdam in 2008. My friend and I were at the main train station in mid-March watching snow fall on the massive bike parking area wondering why we did not pack warmer clothes.
As much as I like my Ascent jacket, I do have to point out that L.L. Bean heir Linda Bean’s Maine Lobster eatery is a pretty nasty place for a crustacean to spend its last moments on Earth.
Note: I receive no compensation for writing about this product and actually purchased it with my own money.