Mainly because of its excellent design, our testers have put in a great deal of time with the Primo Down by Patagonia. When we don't want to think about it, we grab this contender. 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 makes the cut.
Overall, the Patagonia is a strong contender. It is second place in a fleet of jackets that is thoroughly excellent. Notable is the newcomer Stio knocking on Patagonia's door with their Shot 7 jacket. We actually thought, numerous times, that the Stio Shot 7 seemed like the earlier version of the Primo Down. And in some ways, we liked the easier version of the Primo better than the latest update.
The Primo Down jacket in use. Lead test editor Jed Porter at Belleayre Mountain in New York.
Patagonia uses only down insulation in their Primo Down jacket. Only the Stio Shot 7 uses just down insulation. All the other insulated jackets we tested include at least some synthetic puff. 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, have 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 Primo is the lightest insulated jacket in our test, yet ranks among the best in warmth. The Arc'teryx Macai and Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0 are very similar in warmth to the Primo Down. The Best Buy Columbia Whirlibird Interchange is significantly warmer, while all of the shell jackets are less insulating than the Primo Down. As compared to its sibling, the Patagonia 3-in-1 Snowshot, the Primo Down is more insulating and offers a greater range of motion.
The Primo Down, in early season Teton backcountry skiing. November 2016.
Patagonia's jackets, including the synthetic-filled Snowshot and the Primo Down, have among 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.
Cold, raw conditions skiing in the Northeast US. Patagonia Primo Down on the left and in its element, with the Top Pick, specialized Arc Teryx Modon on the right and pressed far outside of its comfort zone.
The other Gore-Tex jackets in our test (Arc'teryx Macai and Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell) all vie with the Primo Down for top marks in this category. With similar technology and features, the protection of the Primo Down is about the same as the Arc'teryx Macai; the Primo falls behind the Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro Shell. The Norrona Lofoten Gore-Tex Pro, with industry-leading hood and cuffs and a one-of-a-kind zip and snap interface with the Norrona pants, has weather protection that is unmatched by any product we've used.
The removable powder skirt of the Primo Down does the job.
This competitor 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 mean 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 ventilation with scores near the best in this category. Only the 3-in-1 style jackets and some of the shells scored better, simply because the degree of insulation can be customized to the conditions.
Of the fully insulated pieces, the long zips of the Stio Shot 7 vent almost as well as the Primo Down. The shell jackets, notably the Outdoor Research White Room, offered a higher performing ventilation system and overall left more options for climate control than any of the insulated pieces we tested.
The Primo 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.
A forearm ski pass pocket is one of the handier ski-specific features on the Primo Down jacket.
Similarly, the Helly Hansen Alpha 3.0 and the Spyder Leader have excellent combinations of ski features. If the small features are important to you, but synthetic insulation is preferable, check out one of these other two jackets.
Fit and Comfort
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 appreciate 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 uses 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.
You can take the time to make them work, but the design works against 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, it is totally usable, but when a simpler solution would work just fine why complicate matters?
The hood and collar of the Primo Down are among the best in the business. The cords are a little fiddly, but they do the job.
Second, 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 Alpha and add softly textured lining to the front pockets. Even better is the fully insulated hand warmers of the Best Buy Armada Carson Insulated. The loose fit of the Primo Down is most similar to the Spyder Leader. The close-fitting hardshells from Arc'teryx, the Sabre and Macai, contrast with these boxier jackets.
Having now tested three annual versions of the size medium Primo Down, we find the cut gets looser and looser each year.
The style of the Primo is decidedly neutral, and that's 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 FlyLow Gear Genius. Some testers found this latest version of the Primo Down to be boxy and baggy, especially compared to the similarly loose but more carefully tailored Spyder Leader. The shell jackets, like the FlyLow Gear Genius and Outdoor Research White Room, are a decidedly different look.
This versatile jacket works well on the lifts and can be brought along on backcountry missions, as it is lightweight and warm.
Ski jackets aren't just for skiing. Most people will also use the same piece for routine cold weather tasks.
This contender is among the most expensive jackets in our fleet. Its suggested retail price is well more than three times that of budget benchmark Columbia Whirlibird Interchange, our Top Pick winner. It is also three times the cost of the Best Buy Armada Carson. 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 Primo Down will cost far less than any other jacket in the test.
We love the all-down insulation of the Primo Down, but we wish the cut and fit would stay consistent from one year to the next. The latest version is baggy and loose fitting.