Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: $179
Pros: High quality down, inexpensive, hydrophobic down coating, fleecy collar, interior stow pocket, beefy zipper
Cons: Heavy main fabric, no hooded option
Best Uses: Light alpine insulating layer, camping and around town, general winter activities
An inexpensive jacket with high fill quality down, the L.L. Bean Ultralight is a surprisingly good deal. If it weren't for the unnecessarily dense and heavy nylon material from which the Ultralight 850 is constructed, we would really love this jacket. As it is, we still think it is an excellent piece if you are looking for a down jacket without a hood. The fit and the quilting pattern is flattering, we love the fleece-lined pockets and collar, and we like that it stuffs into an interior stow pocket. We are intrigued by the Down-Tek treated hydrophoboic down, but are unsure how durable the treatment is and what affect it has on the life of the down itself. Hopefully after more use we will have more definitive conclusions. For a hooded hydrophobic down jacket check out the Brooks Range Mojave Down Jacket, a unisex jacket with the same technology.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
A comfortable, inexpensive down jacket with the added benefit of using hydrophobic down, the L.L. Bean Ultralight was a surprisingly high performer in our tests.
Comfort & Coziness
The Ultralight 850 has comfort details such as fleece-lined hand pockets and a fleece-lined collar. It is not as cozy as a jacket with a hood, but it does make a comfortable inner or outer insulation layer.
Compactness & Weight
Weighing 12.21 ounces this jacket is fairly light. That is until you consider that it doesn't have a hood and it uses very high quality 850 fill down. It should be even lighter. The MontBell Frost Smoke - Women's uses 800 fill down (slightly lower quality which equals heavier for the warmth) and has a hood, yet still weighs 2 ounces less. The Ripstop Nylon shell that makes up the outside of this jacket is heavy compared to other jackets of similar weight, which counteracts the benefit of using high fill down. L.L. Bean claims that this material is 20% denser than on previous models of the jacket to keep down from escaping, which is an admirable feature, but it makes a potentially very lightweight piece of gear much heavier. It does still compress well and stuffs into an interior stow pocket.
The Ultralight 850 is as warm as the other lightweight down jackets we evaluated. It lacks the warmth of a hood but the high quality down locks in heat without being bulky or heavy.
Since the fabric of this jacket has been beefed up to be more down-proof as well as water and tear resistant, it is more durable than thin materials usually used on lightweight jackets like the Patagonia Down Sweater.
Style & Construction
Exhibiting a standard horizontal quilting pattern, the sewn-through construction of the Ultralight has a casual, attractive look. It fits true to size and could accommodate layers under or over it.
The Ultralight uses DownTek, a hydrophobic coating on the down which increases down's water repellency and dries faster once it does get wet. Read more about our opinions of this technology in our Buying Advice Article. In our rudimentary tests we found that with even sprays of water, the down did seem slightly less clumpy than regular down under similar circumstances, but overall it was difficult to gage how much was the function of the DWR coating on the exterior fabric and how much was the down itself.
One tester wore this jacket skiing on a wet storm day underneath her hardshell. Her shell ended up pretty soaked, but the down stayed pretty dry and retained most of its loft. A normal down jacket would have been much wetter in similar circumstances. We don't think that this coating can replace a synthetic insulation layer in wet conditions, but it does allow the jacket to perform better under a wider range of conditions.
Since this jacket lacks a hood, it works well as a mid-layer for cold weather activities such as skiing, where you want insulation but prefer to have a shell on the exterior. Since it has a little extra protection against water, it is a better choice for damp climates or activities than other non-treated down jackets.
For $179 this is one of the least expensive jackets we evaluated. Especially for a jacket with such high quality down, this is an excellent deal on a technical jacket. By comparison, the Valandre Split S, which is the other jacket we reviewed that uses 850 fill down, costs $470! Most jackets without hoods cost less, but the Ultralight is still lower in cost than other similar hood-less models like the Nitrous and both the non-hooded Down Sweater and Alpine Light Jacket. Also, this jacket also comes with hydrophobic down, a new technology that typically costs more.
Men's Ultralight 850 Down Jacket
Women's Ultralight 850 Down Coat
— McKenzie Long
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Most recent review: December 2, 2012
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