Hands-on Gear Review
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Pros: Down insulated. Proven shell technology. Fits and protects very well.
Cons: Uninsulated “hand-warmer” pockets. Fiddly hood toggles.
Best Uses: Resort skiing and riding, for a long time.
The Patagonia Primo Down is our Editors' Choice award winning jacket. It does not earn top scores in any one category, but it presents a solid package of effective and durable performance. The durability and neutral styling will deliver many years of service to even the most dedicated user. Patagonia’s expensive choice to source proven Gore-Tex shell technology and coat it with their proven durable water repellent inspires confidence that the Primo Down will protect the down and the user from wind and moisture through all those same years. The Primo Down is clearly designed by mountain people for use in the mountains. The fit is athletic, allowing for a great range of motion and solid protection from the elements. A few details show room for improvement, but overall we are very pleased with this jacket.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
Mainly because of its excellent design, our testers have put in a great deal of time with the Patagonia Primo Down. When we don't want to think about it, we grab the Primo. It is versatile, well-designed, and comfortable. Whether the weather is foul or fair, the day is short or long, or we're headed to the ski area or out to dinner, the Primo Down makes the cut.
Alone in our test, and standing out as a result, Patagonia uses only down insulation in their Primo Down jacket. Down insulation has been proven to be warmer-per-weight than synthetic, keep its insulating value longer, but suffers when wet. In recent years, as evidenced by the jackets available for us to test, economic pressures and the difficulty in protecting down insulation from moisture in a stormy ski resort setting has led most manufacturers to use synthetic insulation in their ski and board outerwear. Patagonia bucks this trend by charging the consumer for the down and protecting it with a beefy Gore-Tex laminated shell fabric. As a result, the Patagonia Primo Down jacket is the second lightest in our test yet ranks among the best in warmth. Only the Helly Hansen Enigma and Columbia Whirlibird Interchange 3-in-1 kept testers warmer.
The Primo Down Jacket comes equipped with smooth pulling main and under-arm zips. The pit-zips are long and equipped with two pulls each. The stiff shell fabric and the nature of under-arm jacket construction means that the unzipped vents open wide at least a little whenever the arm is moved. A bellows effect, plus the wind associated with a moving skier, combine to leave the Primo Down venting with scores near the best in this category. The Flylow BA Puffy offers similar pit-zip construction and venting performance. Only the 3-in-1 style jackets scored better, simply because the degree of insulation can be customized to the conditions.
Patagonia’s jackets, including the synthetic-filled Patagonia Rubicon Rider and the Primo Down have the best hoods and collars in our test. Both offerings perform equally well at protecting the wearer from the elements. The Primo Down’s zip-off powder skirt stops drafts and snow, while mid-diameter cuffs can be worked and secured over even the bulkiest gloves. The beefy Gore-Tex shell fabric comes equipped with a best-in-test durable water repellent coating. Finally, all zippers are proven waterproof designs with little “garages” to park the zipper pulls.
The Patagonia Primo Down has pockets in just the right places, a pass-clip in the forearm pocket, and clips to attach the powder skirt to Patagonia pants. If it had a goggle wipe in one of the pockets, it would earn perfect scores in this category.
Patagonia, borrowing from its climbing heritage, makes excellent sleeves. The arms of Primo Down clad testers could be waved all around without disturbing the fit of torso or gloves. We appreciated the smooth and high collar and well constructed hood. Whether worn with a helmet or without, the hood can be snugged down and will follow the wearer’s head with every turn. We have two minor beefs with the Primo Down fit and comfort. First of all, the hood utilizes a complicated arrangement of cord locks and channels and shock-cord for cinching. This system is integrated to allow for operation with gloves, while containing face-slapping cord-ends. However, it proved to be virtually impossible to operate while the testers peripheral vision was obscured by goggles.
One can take the time to make them work, but the design works agains efficiency. One end of the loop is fixed in place while the other is continuous with the cord lining the hood. This keeps excessive cord from flapping in the wearer’s face. The intent is that the wearer can pull on the plastic pulls, allowing the cord to pull through and tighten the end going to the hood. Friction prevents that, and the user must feel and experiment to end up pulling on the correct end. Again, its totally usable, but when a simpler solution would work just fine, why complicate matters?
Secondly, the “hand warmer” pockets are outside of the insulation and lined with smooth lightweight nylon. They do little to warm the hands and seem to have been added as an afterthought. Patagonia would have done well to take a hint from the Helly Hansen Enigma and add softly textured lining to the front pockets.
The style of the Patagonia Primo Down is decidedly neutral, and we found that to be a good thing. It comes in solid, bright-but-not-obnoxious colors, fits close and long, and stays clean in use. In this way, it is very similar, yet somehow more confidence-inspiring than the Spyder Sentinel.
This versatile jacket works well on the lifts and can be brought along on backcountry missions since it is lightweight and warm.
The Primo Down is the second-most expensive jacket in our test. It’s suggested retail price is well more than twice that of budget benchmark The North Face Vortex Triclimate. However, the down insulation will hold close to new insulating performance for decades. All of the synthetic jackets in our test will lose much of their loft in a few years of routine use. Per year of useful service, provided the style stays relevant and the seams intact, the Patagonia Primo Down will cost far less than any other jacket in the test.
Our women’s ski jacket test found the female version of the Patagonia Primo Down to be their Editor’s Choice as well.
— Jediah Porter
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Most recent review: February 25, 2014
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