First Ascent Downlight Sweater Review
Eddie Bauer has a long and impressive heritage of equipping some famous expeditions but has lost a lot of its prestige over the last decade. With the 2009 introduction of the First Ascent line, I believe they have made a phenomenal return to high-quality expedition-ready apparel. They have worked with mountain guides and professionals to ensure that all the gear they release is tested in real world tough conditions and this shows in the features of the products. This review is of a product from their Downlight insulating collection called the Downlight Sweater. They offer a range of top layers in this line including a hooded jacket and a vest. The Sweater is a non-hooded long-sleeve jacket that makes a great mid-layer or light jacket.
Fit: I am reviewing the men’s large jacket and I found the fit to be excellent. Definitely a performance based athletic fit that doesn’t feel overbearing as some down jackets can. The jacket comes down to right where I like it on my somewhat long torso (6’1″) and the arms are the perfect length. I am really picky about the neck of jackets and mid layers and this lived up to my standards. The neck provides just enough height to be a decent draft collar without touching the area of your throat right behind the chin. Another key area for me with a mid-layer like this is the fit when put under a shell. I tried layering this with two different jackets to test it out as a mid-layer. With the First Ascent Frontpoint softshell, the Downlight seemed like it was designed in tandem with the jacket, providing a great fit without bunching. It also was great with a Mountain Hardware Obsidian shell.
Insulation: The Downlight Sweater is insulated with 800 fill power goose down from Northern Europe (which Eddie Bower makes a point of mentioning) and it is excellent down. The down is incredibly comfortable and provides a large amount of warmth for the size. 800 fill is very high quality and it’s apparent.
This jacket can serve multiple purposes well. I found it to be a great insulation layer piece for people who like to wear a lighter shell and have a choice of mid-layers. In a typical day on the slopes in Colorado, you will rarely need more than this combo. The sweater also makes a great in-town jacket by itself due to a few smart features. The outer is made of a 20-denier ripstop nylon with Stormrepel DWR finish making it water resistant and windproof. This makes it plenty adept at keeping out light snow and I found it to repel a light rain sufficiently as well.
Other Features: While there aren’t any drawcords around the waist or cuffs, which I would have liked to see around the waist, the elastic binding at both places kept out chills well. The zippers were well thought out, which is really important for down, and the main zipper has a piece of hard coating under it to keep the down from getting caught. They run smoothly and were easy to grab with gloves, due to the extended zipper pulls. One of the most comfortable aspects of the jacket is the two side pockets. They are lined with a luxuriously soft microfleece and are great for warming up your hands.
Finally, one of the greatest aspects of real down is its compressibility and this jacket inherits that quality. It packs into its own pocket and compresses to about equal the height and double the width of a Nalgene.