Monday, March 10, 2014

Inexpensive Lightweight Down Vest

Yesterday it was 67 degrees at my house in central Virginia and later this week the weather is promising more of the same.  This is a bit odd in my neck of the woods for two reasons.  First, the average high in March is in the 50’s.  Secondly, we’ve had two snowstorms in the last two weeks and the lows have dipped into the teens and twenties almost every night.  Fortunately, with March comes the annual push to clear out winter gear for most shops and a chance for those of us in the position to buy to get some inexpensive gear.


I travel weekly for the job I’ve held for the last year.  It isn’t ideal, but it’s been paying the bills.  Getting ready for week after week on the road has taught me how to be more efficient with my traveling gear and my lightweight mentality has continued to serve me well to keep weights low.  I was in need of an inexpensive lightweight down vest now that warmer months are ahead.  “Lightweight” down vests are easier now more than ever to find, but “inexpensive” is not.  Down has been steadily increasing in cost for the last several years primarily because of a down shortage.  Bird flu, coupled with Asian countries consuming less down, means feathers are more costly nowadays.  Secondly, the rise of hydrophobic (waterproof) down has higher manufacturing costs.  While treating down isn’t “the norm” just yet, it is becoming more common as there hasn’t been sufficient long-term studies to enable anyone to claim whether the treatment will compromise the down after a period of time and “waterproof down” sure seems enticing.


Bottom line, I checked all the usual suspects for down vests and decided prices were too high.  My next stop was eBAY where I sourced a new down vest for $18 which included shipping.  The size was XXL, in loden color and was just slightly above 7 oz.  I would imagine a medium would be closer to 5 ounces.  While I do not know the amount of fill, I do know that 550 fill-power was used.  For those that don’t understand the concept of fill-power, the lower the number the more resilient the down and also less expensive.  It also means more is required to achieve the same warmth than if higher fill-power is used.  High fill-power is fluffier, thereby it takes less quantity, resulting in less weight, to achieve the same warmth.  But, high fill-power is more costly and harder to source.  Most budget-conscious down products are made from 550-750 fill-power and these items are usually heavier.  The manufacturer was Hawke and Co., whom I had no previous knowledge, but I believe they have fashion affiliation with companies like Macy’s.  Similar to more expensive apparel, seams are neat and straight and the ankle and waist cuffs are elasticized.  Two zippered hand-warmer pockets are plenty useful and there is an interior stuff pocket to enable the vest to be stuffed into its own pouch.  Even the tags are printed to the fabric versus the annoying dangling tags that seem to always tickle and (gasp!) are unnecessary extra weight.  The fabric is nylon of some kind.  The use of YKK zippers is very welcomed.


I compared this vest to my Stoic vest which I referenced HERE.  The weight and features are very similar, but there are some compromises.  On my Hawke and Co, there are no waist or neck cinches and arguably the cut is more boxy than the Stoic.  While the Stoic has no hand-warmer pockets, it is made of Pertex and is slightly longer with a bit of a drop tail.  While it was tough to tell if either had more fill, I’d give the edge to the Stoic.


Bottom line, if you’re looking for a good-enough inexpensive lightweight down vest, take a look at eBAY for Hawke and Co., search by price, and you can take home a purchase that may also work for your needs.