1. BEST ALL-AROUND
Montbell Plasma 1000 Alpine Down Parka $439; 8.4 oz.; m’s XS-XXL, w’s S-XL
With temps in Utah’s Little Death Hollow hovering around freezing on a November trip, the Plasma 1000 kept us warm over a T-shirt and light fleece as we did camp chores. On ski tours in the Rockies, we paired it with a base layer and mid-layer for comfort into the single digits. While sitting around camp, we overheated in this puffy at around 55°F.
For a jacket with such a dialed feature set, the Plasma doesn’t take up much space. It leverages premium, 1000-fill down (it’s not hydrophobic, but still jacks the price up) to squish into an eggplant-size cylinder with its included stuff sack. This feat is all the more impressive given that it’s the warmest jacket in the test.
The 7-denier ripstop nylon is among the most delicate here, crinkly, and saw its share of dings over a season. While scrambling up boulders to get a photo of the night sky from Little Death Hollow, one sleeve suffered a small tear on a sharp corner; we experienced a few of these tiny snags over 5 months of testing, but they never spread and we patched them easily.
A beefy, fully insulated hood (not helmet compatible) is adjustable on the sides and back. The Plasma 1000’s full zipper makes for easy on/ off, and two zippered hand pockets keep your digits toasty and hold small items. A DWR treatment was welcome while we pushed through dewy brush, but it doesn’t hold up to more than a quick drizzle.
2. MOST DURABLE
Western Mountaineering QuickFlash Jacket $365; 8 oz.; m’s S-XL, w’s XS-L
When the temperature dropped to 15°F on the final climb to the top of 10,804-foot San Jacinto Peak in California, the QuickFlash, paired with a midweight baselayer, was all we needed to finish the hike in comfort. We also stayed warm while wearing the jacket in camp on a sunny afternoon with temperatures in the high 30s.
On the lower, warmer slopes of San Jacinto Peak we barely noticed the 850-fill QuickFlash inside our packs, owing to it’s half-pound weight and compressibility to cantaloupe size. The jacket doesn’t pack into its own pocket or come with a stuff sack, though.
“Durable ultralight puffy” might sound like an oxymoron, but the QuickFlash is the most resilient in the test thanks to its 12-denier nylon fabric and sturdy accents. Over a few days we spent schlepping climbing gear around Joshua Tree National Park—during which we scraped the jacket along the park’s notoriously coarse rock—the material didn’t rip once. The beefy front zipper also spat out sand like it was nothing.
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